Former African champions play Cup of Nations catch-up

Former champions and other AFCON heavyweights have important matches coming up this weekend as they look to qualify for the upcoming championship.

A graffiti mural in Cairo depicting players of the national football team, including its star Mohamed Salah.   -  AFP

Former champions Egypt, the Ivory Coast, Morocco, Nigeria and Zambia are among teams needing to catch up after losses when 2019 Africa Cup of Nations qualifying resumes this weekend.

It will be easier for some than others during matchday 2 with home advantage almost guaranteeing Egypt and Morocco maximum points against Niger and Malawi respectively.

Nigeria, too, should collect maximum points without undue difficulty away to the Seychelles, one of the weakest African national teams. It could be tougher for the Ivorians and Zambians, though, to collect their first points as Rwanda and Namibia respectively can be stubborn hosts.

We look at five of the most eye-catching match-ups among the 24 scheduled for this Saturday and Sunday.

Egypt

A war of words over image rights and security between Egypt and Liverpool star Mohamed Salah and the national association has overshadowed the clash with Niger in Alexandria.

Salah and the national football body are contracted to different mobile phone companies and the striker also complained about sleepless nights because fans got access to hotels.

After an away loss to Tunisia, Egypt must win under new Mexican coach Javier Aguirre to get back into contention and put a three-defeat 2018 World Cup campaign behind them.

Ivory Coast

New coach Ibrahim Kamara must have wished for a gentler introduction to one of the most demanding coaching posts in Africa than facing Rwanda away after a shock home loss to Guinea.

Kamara, a surprise choice with many Ivorians anticipating a 'big name', must do without Crystal Palace flier Wilfried Zaha, an absentee for undisclosed “personal reasons”.

Rwanda will also have a new coach with local Vincent Mashami succeeding German Antoine Hey, who quit after a first-round exit from the 2018 African Nations Championship last January.

Morocco

Defensive general Mehdi Benatia, who criticised Moroccan officials after a winless 2018 World Cup campaign, is a notable absentee for the visit of Malawi to Casablanca.

But most of the action is likely to be at the other end of the pitch with Malawi trying to repulse attacks from opponents keen to make up for a 1-0 away defeat by Cameroon.

Malawi appear to be on a hiding to nothing given that Belgian coach Ronny van Geneugden has managed just two victories in 15 matches since taking charge.

Nigeria

Not fully-fit John Obi Mikel and retired Victor Moses miss out as Nigeria seek to build after coming within four minutes of a World Cup last-16 place before conceding to Argentina.

Coach Gernot Rohr also had to contend with several late withdrawals, including Arsenal striker Alex Iwobi and Serie A defenders Ola Aina and William Troost-Ekong.

However, after being shocked 2-0 at home by South Africa during matchday 1, Nigeria should win convincingly ahead of tougher home and away tests against Libya next month.

Zambia

Belgian Sven Vandenbroeck has opted to go it alone as Zambia coach after assisting compatriot Hugo Broos when they guided Cameroon to a surprise 2017 Cup of Nations title.

He succeeds Wedson Nyirenda, who oversaw a shock 1-0 home defeat by Mozambique, the first time the Chipolopolo (Copper Bullets) had fallen to their fellow southern Africans.

Vandenbroeck has recalled several of the 2012 African title-winning team, including former captain Rainford Kalaba, for a clash with unpredictable Namibia in Windhoek.

 

What the coaches are saying

“Good young (African) footballers do not play in China. The best players want to play for the best clubs in Europe and appear in top competitions like the Champions League.”

(Cameroon coach and former Netherlands star Clarence Seedorf explains why he ignored several 'Indomitable Lions' based in China)

“It is a huge problem because he is the captain and one of the best players in the team. I cannot cry. I have to find a solution.”

(Kenya coach Sebastien Migne laments absence of injured Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Victor Wanyama for clash with Ghana)

“We cannot underrate the Seychelles -- they are a team from a little island who work together and it will not be easy playing against them.”

(Nigeria coach Gernot Rohr warns against underestimating opponents ranked 44 places lower in Africa)

“Young players are sometimes more eager to listen to a coach. On tactical discipline, they are more motivated and want to show their ability.”

(Gambia coach Tom Saintfiet justifying selection of Italy-based teenage striker Musa Barrow for match against Algeria)

“In Africa, we get constant surprises from countries who only five or six years ago would have been whipping boys.”

(South Africa coach Stuart Baxter tells his squad to respect star-less Libya)

 

 

Africa Cup of Nations matchday 2 qualifying fixtures this weekend:

Saturday — 8 September

Sunday — 9 September

Equatorial Guinea vs Sudan

Comoros vs Cameroon

Morocco vs Malawi

Gabon vs Burundi

Gambia vs Algeria

Seychelles vs Nigeria

South Africa vs Libya

Kenya vs Ghana

Mauritania vs Burkina Faso

Egypt vs Niger

Namibia vs Zambia

Mozambique vs Guinea-Bissau

Uganda vs Tanzania

Madagascar vs Senegal

South Sudan vs Mali

Togo vs Benin

Ethiopia vs Sierra Leone

Congo Brazzaville vs Zimbabwe

Liberia vs Democratic Republic of Congo

Rwanda vs Ivory Coast

Guinea vs Central African Republic

Angola vs Botswana

eSwatini (formerly Swaziland) vs Tunisia

Lesotho vs Cape Verde

 

Note: Group winners and runners-up secure places at finals except for Group B, where 2019 Cup of Nations hosts Cameroon and the highest placed other team qualify

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