Saturday, February 24, 2024

AFCON 2023: All Eyes On Cote d’Ivoire As  Heavyweights Set Sights On Glory

A glittering array of global superstars will lead Africa’s traditional powerhouses in pursuit of continental glory when the TotalEnergies CAF Africa Cup of Nations kicks off in Cote d’Ivoire on Saturday.

The stage is set for Africa’s heavyweights to showcase their star power as the battle to be crowned kings of the continent begins.

Liverpool ace Mohamed Salah heads a cast of household names like Saido Mane, Victor Osimhen, Riyad Mahrez and Mohammed Kudus and at the 24-team tournament. 

Salah is hungry to finally get his hands on the trophy after twice finishing runner-up with Egypt, but this could be the most open TotalEnergies CAF AFCON in years.

The defending champions Senegal boast a wealth of talent like keeper Edouard Mendy and defender Kalidou Koulibaly as they bid to retain their crown.

However, coach Aliou Cisse is taking nothing for granted: “I believe this Nations Cup will be the toughest to win.” 

Morocco, Africa’s top ranked side after their historic World Cup semi-final run, loom as serious contenders to add to their 1976 title.

“We have an experienced coach in Walid Regragui and we believe we can win it,” said Morocco midfielder Sofyan Amrabat who has top players Achraf Hakimi, Yassino Bounou and Azzeddine Ounahi as his team-mates.

Meanwhile, hosts Cote d’Ivoire are chasing a third triumph on home soil led by top stars like Franck Kessie, Simon Adingra and Jeremie Boga.

Four-time winners Ghana also possess European pedigree in West Ham sensation Mohammed Kudus.

After crashing out prematurely in 2021, Algeria are on a redemption mission under mastermind Djamel Belmadi, boasting Riyad Mahrez and Mohammed Amoura.

And Nigeria’s hopes rest on Napoli hitman Victor Osimhen, crowned African Footballer of the Year few weeks ago after firing the Italians to the Serie A title.  

The 24-team format means this TotalEnergies CAF AFCON promises major drama and shocks with group stage upsets and tense knockout clashes.

With seven different winners in the last seven editions, the tournament is wide open as the continent’s heavyweights vie for supremacy.

“I want to win this competition having come so close twice,” declared Egypt’s Salah, still stung by final defeats with the Pharaohs in 2017 and 2021.

The Liverpool superstar is desperate to lead his nation to a record-extending eighth African crown.

But he faces intense competition from the likes of Senegal’s Mane, Algeria’s Mahrez and hosts Cote d’Ivoire desperate to conquer Africa on home soil. 

This TotalEnergies Afcon boasts an intriguing blend of wily veterans like Andre Ayew of Ghana, Youssef Msakni of Tunisia and emerging talents like Morocco’s Sofiane Boufal primed to shine.   

Whoever prevails by February 11th will etch their name into TotalEnergies CAF AFCON folklore by lifting the trophy under the Abidjan night sky. 

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