AFCON 2021 Group E&F: All the stats, records, star players and more! 1

AFCON 2021 Group E&F: All the stats, records, star players and more!

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By Babatunde Koiki @BabatundeKoiki

The 33rd edition of the African Cup of Nations #AFCON2021, after much postponement, finally kicks off in six venues across five Cameroonian cities from Sunday 9th January through to February 6 as Africa seek to crown its first champion of the decade.

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In this third and final part, ace writer Babatunde Koiki runs the rule over all 24 participating teams and gives his expert opinions as to who will emerge champions on the last day…

GROUP E

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Algeria

AFCON 2021 Group E&F: All the stats, records, star players and more! 2
Fennecs of Algeria

Qualification: Group H winners (ahead of Zimbabwe, Zambia and Botswana)

Appearances: 19th

Last appearance: 2019

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Record: Winners (1990, 2019)

Coach: There are many in Algeria who believe Djamel Belmadi is more popular than the president. Known as a player with a nuclear warhead temper, he has since reinvented himself as a tactically astute and authoritative coach. He has enjoyed tremendous success since he became Algeria manager in 2018, lifting the Africa Cup of Nations trophy in 2019 as part of a magnificent run of 34 consecutive matches unbeaten. His team plays an expansive, high octane 4-3-3 but he has occasionally deployed a 4-4-2. A 3-0 destruction of Ghana in a pre-AFCON friendly has raised expectations of back-to-back success in Cameroon.

Key Players: Fourteen of the victorious team of 2019 return with some exciting newcomers added. Experienced goalkeeper Rais M’Mbolhi is solid if unspectacular. Aissa Mandi is a solid presence at the back and fullback Ramy Bensebaini is a lethal mix of workrate, delivery and goalscoring, 2019 AFCON MVP Ismael Bennacer remains one of the best midfielders on the continent. If he is expectedly partnered by 2021 Arab Cup revelation Sofiane Bendebka, there will be trouble. Upront Belmadi is severely spoilt for choice as he can call on the talents of Said Benrahma, Youcef Belaili, Baghdad Bounedjah, Yacine Brahimi and Islam Slimani. But captain Riyad Mahrez is the standout player, capable of match winning magic.

Ivory Coast

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Qualification: Group K winners (ahead of Ethiopia, Niger and Madagascar)

Appearances: 24th

Last appearance: 2019

Record: Winners (1992, 2015)

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Coach: Long known as assistant to Herve Renard, Patrice Beaumelle was appointed as manager of the Elephants in March 2022. With the quality of players at his disposal he prefers to employ a 4-3-3. He has been in charge for 14 matches, winning eight, losing just twice and drawing four times. One of those losses was particularly damaging, going down 1-0 to Cameroon in the final group game in the race to Qatar 2022. With no World Cup participation, Beaumelle is under pressure to deliver the Africa Cup of Nations in order to save his job.

Key Players: The defence is led by the tough tackling Eric Bailly and captain Serge Aurier. In midfielder Franck Kessie, they have a powerful, dominant figure. While upfront the exciting talents of Wilfred Zaha, Maxwell Cornet and Nicholas Pepe will cause opposing defenders problems. But if Sebastien Haller can reproduce his awesome goalscoring form with Ajax in Cameroon, then the Elephants could be a force to reckon with.

AFCON 2021 Group E&F: All the stats, records, star players and more! 3
Elephants of Cote d’Ivoire

Sierra Leone

Qualification: Group L runners up (behind Nigeria and ahead of Benin)

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Appearances: 3rd

Last appearance: 1996

Record: Group stage (1994, 1996)

Coach: Just before announcing his squad for the tournament, John Keister revealed that he had received death threats regarding the inclusion of certain players. That is how strongly fans in Freetown feel about the team, adding greater pressure on him and his team who return to the continental showpiece for the first time in almost three decades. He is in his second spell with the team and is tactically flexible using everything from a 4-3-3 in the decisive 1-0 win over Benin which secured qualification, to a 5-3-2 in an enthralling 4-4 draw away to Nigeria where his team dug themselves out of a 4 goal hole.

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Key Players: It’s hard to look beyond veteran striker Kei Kamara. He is the fifth all-time leading goal scorer in Major League Soccer and it was his penalty against Benin which sealed qualification. But at 37 it might be asking too much from him. The arrival of former England international Steven Caulker has raised hopes that the team won’t be drowned in goals. The 30 year old recently switched allegiance and brings a physical presence, experience and organizational skills. Also look for 25 year old forward Issa Kallon who has also made the switch from the Netherlands.

Equatorial Guinea

Qualification: Group J runners up (behind Tunisia and ahead of Tanzania)

Appearances: 3rd

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Last appearance: 2015

Record: Fourth place (2015)

Coach: On 23 March 2021, Juan Micha signed a one-year contract to take charge of Equatorial Guinea. Two days later, his team defeated Tanzania and qualified to the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations. He has since racked up a decent record, racking up six wins, two losses and two draws. His 4-2-3-1 has troubled many opponents, claiming two major scalp last year beating Zambia 2-0 and Tunisia 1-0 in Qatar 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifiers. While the attack has plenty of pace and movement there are plenty of questions around Micha’s defence.

Key Players: Inspirational captain Emliano Nsue is capable of getting his team to raise their game. However he has been clubless for a year so his match fitness will be under question. Experienced goalkeeper Jesus Owono will be key as well as hardworking midfielder Jose Machin.

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GROUP F

Tunisia

AFCON 2021 Group E&F: All the stats, records, star players and more! 4
Carthage Eagles of Tunisia

Qualification: Group J winners (ahead of Equatorial Guinea, Tanzania and Libya)

Appearances: 20th

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Last appearance: 2019

Record: Winners (2004)

Coach: Appointed in August 2019, UEFA Pro License holder Mondher Kebaier has quitely gone about building a hardworking, competitive team. His record stands at 19 wins, five losses and four draws. However he has been criticised for failing to get satisfactory results, after being pushed hard by Equatorial Guinea in the Qatar 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifiers. His choice of players and defensive tactics have also been repeatedly questioned by fans. But a good run in the 2021 FIFA Arab Cup where they went all the way to the final has silenced them somewhat. He favours a 4-3-3 approach but has been known to deploy a three man defence or five man midfield when facing stronger opposition.

Key Players: Kebaier surprisingly dropped Zamalek midfielder Ferjani Sassi and Pyramids forward Fakhreddine Ben Youssef. But captain Youssef Msakni is set to take part in what will be his seventh successive Africa Cup of Nations and his experience will be key. Fellow forward Wahbi Khazri is a talented and hard working performer but watch out for 18 year old Hannibal Mejbri. He was one of keys to Tunisia’s second-place finish at the FIFA Arab Cup. He played in every match and lit up the midfield with his boundless energy.

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Mali

Qualification: Group A winners (ahead of Guinea, Namibia and Chad)

Appearances: 12th

Last appearance: 2019

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Record: Runners up (1972)

Coach: Veteran coach Mohammed Magassouba has been in charge since September 2017 after leaving his post as technical director of the Mali Football Federation to replace Alain Giresse. He plays a 4-2-3-1 designed to bring the best out of a squad short on star names but high on experience and youth. Nearly all of the young players are accomplished youth internationals, comprising of African champions at Under-17 level, silver medallists at the U17 World Cup or Under-20 World Cup bronze medallists between 2015 and 2017.

Key Players: The return of Yves Bissouma after a self imposed three year exile is a massive boost for the team. The midfielder’s power, positioning and boundless energy is a welcome addition. Alongside highly rated Amadou Haidara, they could form an impregnable partnership. But it is the arrival of a consistent goalscorer in the form of Ibrahima Kone that has gotten long suffering Malian fans believing. The Norway based striker scored five goals in the Qatar 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifiers.

AFCON 2021 Group E&F: All the stats, records, star players and more! 5
Eagles of Mali

Gambia

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Qualification: Group D winners (ahead of Gabon, DR Congo and Angola)

Appearances: Debutants

Last appearance: 2019

Record: None

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Coach: Tom Saintfiet has won 10 of his 23 matches in charge, losing eight and drawing five. But the record does not speak highly enough about how he plotted a successful qualifying campaign ahead of bigger and more established teams like Gabon, the DR Congo and Angola. However fans continue to be unconvinced and unappeased by Saintfiet, constantly criticising his team selection and style of play. He favours a 4-2-3-1 but also employs a 4-3-3 occassionally.

Key Players: Central defender Omar Colley will bring all his experience playing in the Serie A with Sampdoria to bear. He is the rock on which the defence is built. Upfront, forward Assan Ceesay has been an excellent goalscorer while the talented and lethal Musa Barrow will be hoping to bring his fine Serie A form to the team.

Mauritania

Qualification: Group E runners up (behind Morocco and ahead of Burundi)

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Appearances: 2nd

Last appearance: 2019

Record: Group stage (2019)

Coach: The team is led by Didier Gomes Da Rosa who has almost 10 years of experience coaching on the African continent. Appointed in November 2021, he led the team to a somewhat decent showing athe the FIFA Arab Cup. It might be a bit too early to judge him after only five matches in charge but he has ditched his ambitious attacking 4-3-3 for a more pragmatic defensive 4-3-3 with two holding midfielders which has yielded two creditable draws in friendly matches against Gabon and Burkina Faso.

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Key Players: Young striker Hemeya Tanjy will be looked up to for goals after the non inclusion of the ageing Bessam. Experienced defender Moustapha Diaw will also be heavily relied on. The inclusion of 16-year old Beyatt Lekweiry in the final list means that all eyes will be on him. The midfielder turns out for Senegalese top flight outfit AS Douanes.

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