Takeaways from the first matchday of 2023 Africa Cup of Nations qualifying

Ghanaian attack looks potent as ever

Even without Thomas Partey, Ghana still pummelled Madagascar to start the Africa Cup of Nations qualifying on the right foot. Ajax’s Mohamed Kudus thrashed a rebound into the top net to open the scoring in the 51st minute. Minutes later, Roma’s prodigy Felix Afena-Gyan flicked a well-placed shot into the top left corner to double the scoring. Kudus found the net again but had his second goal disallowed due to an offside call. But he was not worried. In the game’s last moments, he played a through ball to Osman Bukari. Bukari converted, and the rest is history. Ghana 3, Madagascar 0.

Sure, Ghana had more resources to draw on, more talent to choose from, and more momentum than their Malagasy counterparts. Yet the win will relieve Black Star fans anyway. Kudus’ arrival as a bonafide star on the team and Afena-Gyan’s solid contribution will make even the most pessimistic fan look towards the future with hope.

With Ghana’s wealth of offensive options, one will wonder where their new dual nationals fit. Striker Eddie Nketiah and winger Callum Hudson-Odoi will have to fight for severely contested roles. Brighton’s Tariq Lamptey, who looks almost certain to join the Black Stars later this year, will gradually take the right-back spot from Club Brugge’s Denis Odoi. Yet the Black Stars have some attacking-related questions to consider as a tsunami of choice cascades down to Accra.

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Tunisia too dominant as World Cup looms

A second-half Tunisian masterclass gave them the edge over a beleaguered Equatorial Guinea side as a World Cup bid awaits. It took a while for the Carthage Eagles to get the Tunisian engine starting in the first half. Tunisia could not penetrate Equatorial Guinea’s rock-solid defence. Corners, free kicks, and shots could not get them on the scoreboard.

Heading into the second half, Tunisia found itself desperate to start its campaign the right way. Al-Ettifaq’s Naim Sliti wrestled the ball away from an Equatoguinean defender and smashed the ball into the bottom right corner. Tunisia followed up their goal by drawing a second yellow card from Joanet. From there, it was smooth sailing. Sliti floated a beautiful cross to Seifeddine Jaziri, who scored off a precise header. Just a few minutes later, Sliti sailed a through ball through Equatorial Guinea’s leaky defence to find super-sub Youssef Msakni for a goal. Msakni took the ball away from an Equatoguinean defender in front of his goal and cannoned a banger to complete his brace.

Tunisia can look at this victory as a positive sign as they prepare for the Kirin Cup in Japan and the World Cup later this year. They bullied #99 Equatorial Guinea, scoring four in four minutes. Even better, they did it without Saint-Etienne’s Wahbi Khazri and Koln’s Ellyes Skhiri, two of the best Tunisian players in Europe. They can count on multiple players to produce offensive firepower. Msakni, who scored twice as a substitute, also scored against Nigeria in the Africa Cup of Nations. Tunisia has a consistent threat in Jaziri and a playmaker in Sliti. It will be scary to see what the Carthage Eagles can do in Qatar.

Ivory Coast looks surprisingly strong

In a match that took ages to heat up, Ivory Coast showed how good they can be against Zambia. Jean Kouassi headed a beautiful pass toward Serge Aurier, who scored the Elephants‘ first of the night with a neat strike. Max Gradel later whipped an unstoppable cross towards Christian Kouame for an easy header to double the Ivory Coast’s lead. Kouassi helped widen the Ivory Coast’s lead with a nice through ball to Ibrahim Sangare for the Ivory Coast’s third goal. A defensive lapse at the end of the match practically gave Patson Daka Zambia’s only goal of the night. Yet besides the embarrassing mistake at the end of the match, the Ivory Coast played well.

The match may show which players new coach Jean-Louis Gasset works well with and who he might not gel with. For example, the substitutions of Wilfried Zaha and Kouassi in the 64th minute changed the trajectory of the match. Giving Anderlecht striker Kouame a chance also helped the Elephants achieve their desired result. All in all, it was a match with lots of upsides.

Yet one worrying thing that the Elephants need to work on is how fast they can get going on offense. Sure, there were chances. Max Gradel hit the crossbar in the first half, and the Zambian defence had to put in impressive, extended shifts. Yet stronger nations like Senegal or Egypt will not let the Ivory Coast meander through the Stade de Yamoussoukro looking for a goal for an hour or more. Aiming for the jugular will help them in the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations, so they need to start trying to do it now.

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Algeria unlucky not to score more against Uganda

It was not a bad day for Algeria when they suited up against Uganda. The city of Algiers saw a display of dominance expected from Algeria, but it will still relieve Algerians as they try to restart their mind-boggling unbeaten run.

Algeria’s first goal since their heartbreak in Bilda came from an Aissa Mandi header. Sporting’s Islam Slimani headed a strike via a free-kick, but his attempt flew off the crossbar. Mandi stormed the six-yard box and knocked his shot into the goal. Uganda nearly equalised a few minutes later from a penalty awarded when Rachid Ghezzal ran over Khalid Aucho in the penalty box. Farouk Miya stepped to the spot, swinging a forceful effort to the center of the goal. Thankfully for Algeria, keeper Moustapha Zeghba saved the shot to preserve Algeria’s clean sheet.

Algeria got their second goal several minutes later in the 80th minute. Brest winger Youcef Belaili took the ball and sized up a defender in the wings. He shrugged him off with an array of skills before weaving his way through the Ugandan defence. When he was at the edge of the 18-yard-box, he fired to complete a Maradona-esque strike. GOAL.

That was how the game ended, with Algeria physically and skillfully dominating Uganda. With the starpower at their disposal, how could they not? Even without Riyad Mahrez, Algeria still put in a wonderful performance. The Fennec Foxes limited Uganda to just 20% of the game’s possession and just 85 passes. Their sheer dominance will help put the demons of a failed 2021 Africa Cup of Nations bid and a World Cup qualifying disaster behind them.

Mali shows lethality against Congo

I wrote an article in April about Mali’s head coach options. Among them included Gernot Rohr, Djibril Drame, and Eric Chelle. “He has almost no experience at the highest level. The highest level he has managed is at the third-tier of French football, and it is unlikely that Chelle will be prowling the touchline for the Eagles,” I said.

I was wrong.

The former Mali defender took the pitch as Mali’s manager for the first time. His opponents were a Congo team looking for its first win since June 2021. Chelle was looking for a good start to his tenure as Mali’s manager. 

It was safe to say he found it almost immediately.

Salzburg star Mohamed Camara slammed a piledriver to the top right corner from a long way out in the first minute. It only got better as Yves Bissouma got past his defender in the 11th minute. The Brighton midfielder nudged a pass to El Bilal Toure, who shot the ball inches away from the goal. Mali 2, Congo 0.

In the 40th minute, Ryan Bidounga tripped over his feet while controlling the ball. After attempting a misplaced pass, Toure intercepted the pass and boomed a shot from range to give Mali its third goal. Bissouma got up to his old tricks, floating a precise cross to Kalifa Coulibaly a few minutes later. Coulibaly coolly converted for Mali’s fourth of the game.

Thankfully for Congo, it was the end of Mali’s scoring. Although none of the Malians made the score 5-0 for the Eagles in the second half, they still enjoyed a strong performance. Toure, Bissouma, and Coulibaly were strong in the limited time they played in, and the back line was very sturdy. Mali will hope to replicate the performance later in the Africa Cup of Nations qualification, and Chelle can win games like this.

As for the Congo, the performance is disheartening. Giving up four goals in one half? Pretty bad. Leaving one of the Premier League’s brightest stars, Yves Bissouma, finesse Congolese defenders in 1v1s? Very bad. Congo manager Paul Put will need to fix his leaky defence before he gets fired.

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Disappointing collapse for DR Congo

DR Congo fans attending the Stade des Martyrs de la Pentecote in Kinshasa entered the stadium optimistic but left the match feeling hopeless. It was all thanks to the Gabon team, with Gabonese winger Warren Shavy scoring a header via an Andre Biyogo Poko cross in the 23rd minute of the game. Although a loss to an Aubameyang-less Gabon will hurt a lot, what will hurt even more was the Congo’s wastefulness in front of their goal.

DR Congo could not steer their attempts on target, only placing five of their sixteen shots on target. They were uninspired in atack. Despite completing over 200 more passes than their foes and holding two-thirds of the possession, they could not break down the Gabonese defence.

Unfortunately, the offensive result is similar to previous matches. They scored just once in the second of a two-legged tie against Morocco in a 4-1 rout that denied the DR Congo a World Cup berth. They could not capitalise on several chances as they settled for a 1-all draw with the Carthage Eagles just days earlier.

The Leopards are also having difficulty against smaller nations. In October, they lost to Madagascar 1-0 thanks to a first-minute goal. Two games earlier in September, Tanzania, and Benin held DR Congo to 1-1 draws. They need to stop these bad results before missing another Africa Cup of Nations.

Mane cements his role as a key player for Senegal with a sweeping win

Sadio Mane scored a hat-trick en route to a win over Benin, making history in the process. After a great season, he passed Henri Camara to reach first in most goals scored on the Senegalese national team.

In the early minutes of the match, wing back David Kiki conceded a penalty thanks to a handball. Mane boomed a pile-driver to the centre of the goal to give The Lions of Teranga a 1-0 lead. Only minutes later, Mane received a pass in the wings and wove his way around the Beninese defence. After playing a give-and-go with Nampalys Mendy, Mane blasted a shot towards a net that Dijon stopper Saturnin Allagbe saved. He quickly chipped a shot over Allagbe to get his first-half brace, putting Senegal up by two.

Immediately after halftime, Mane found his way into the most dangerous positions again. He received a long ball just short of the 18-yard-box. But, before he could score, Sessi D’Almeida brought him down. The ref ejected D’Almeida for denying Mane his clear opportunity. It would reduce Benin to ten men. Ismaila Sarr drew a penalty in the 60th minute, adding to an array of fouls and trips. Mane stepped up to the penalty spot and rocketed a fireball to the bottom left corner. Senegal 3, Benin 0.

Benin scored a consolation goal off a counter-attack in the game’s final moments. Zurich’s Aiyegun Tosin took the ball in the midfield and ushered a magnificent through-ball to Junior Olaitan. Olaitan eased his shot to the bottom left corner to net Benin’s only goal of the game.

Senegal’s 3-1 win shows how vital Sadio Mane is to this Senegal side. At the heart of an explosive attack, Mane can create space as well as he can convert chances. Yet others played well too. Pape Sarr on the left wing and Ismaila Sarr on the right proved a nuisance to Beninese defenders. Betis right-back Youssouf Sabaly and Nancy’s Saliou Ciss played well and handled Benin with ease.

The Author

Deolu Akingbade

I'm an African football analyst who loves cheering for the Super Eagles and Atletico Madrid. I am 13-years-old and am featured in WorldSoccerTalk as well.

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