CAIRO – Egypt’s national team coach Rui Vitoria said that “tough opponents” lie in wait for his side at the Africa Cup of Nations, Côte d’Ivoire 2023.
Egypt was drawn against Ghana, Cape Verde and Mozambique.
The Pharaohs, who have won a record seven AFCON titles, face a stern test in Group B as they bid to reclaim the crown in Côte d’Ivoire.
“I’m not surprised by the AFCON draw. I always think about balance and I believe our group has tough opponents,” Vitoria said following the draw.
Four-time champions Ghana poses the biggest threat according to the Portuguese manager.
“We have Ghana, a really good team that has always been a favourite to win the competition, and there are also Cape Verde and Mozambique who also have really talented players,” he said.
But Vitoria insists Egypt will be ready for the battle.
“All group games will be tough but we are prepared because we need to win such games to reach the final and win the title,” he added.
Egypt, who last lifted the trophy in 2010, will fancy their chances of progressing from a group containing teams they have dominated in recent AFCON meetings.
Yet as Vitoria identified, emerging top of Group B represents a real test if Egypt are to embark on another glorious AFCON campaign.
The draw took place in Abidjan last Thursday, three months before the continent’s showpiece event gets underway on January 13 until February 11, 2024.
Six venues across Côte d’Ivoire will host matches, including two stadia in Abidjan along with newly constructed venues in Bouake, Korhogo, San Pedro and Yamoussoukro.
The top two in each of the six groups will progress along with the best four third-placed teams.
The final will take place at Abidjan’s 65,000 capacity Alassane Ouattara Stadium on February 11 as the new African champions are crowned.
Regragui anticipates grueling AFCON
Morocco’s head coach, Walid Regragui, is anticipating one of the most challenging tournaments to date when the AFCON 2023 is played in January.
The tactician, who led his side to the semi-finals of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, made this observation in the wake of draw.
The draw placed the Atlas Lions in Group F, alongside DR Congo, Zambia, and Tanzania which led to thoughts of the Atlas Lions getting a favourable draw in the 24-team competition.
Morocco, under Regragui’s guidance, gears up for an AFCON that promises intense competition and high aspirations among the all participating nations.
While Morocco’s formidable squad might be considered favourites, Regragui was quick to laud the high level of competition that awaits.
“The next AFCON will be the toughest,” Regragui asserted during an interview with the Moroccan Football Association’s official website.
He noted that there are no weak teams or easy matches in this tournament.
“I don’t think it’s an easy group, but rather balanced,” he said.
In his perspective, balanced groups in competitions of this stature require every team to be thoroughly prepared.
The coach also acknowledged that every participating team, including Morocco, aspires to win the trophy, emphasizing that his players share the dream of winning.
The draw, which unfolded in Abidjan three months before the tournament’s kickoff on January 13 next year, highlights the significance of the event for African football.
Six venues across Côte d”ivoire, including two stadiums in Abidjan, along with newly constructed facilities in Bouake, Korhogo, San Pedro, and Yamoussoukro, are set to host matches.
As the tournament progresses, the top two teams from each of the six groups will advance to the knock-out, alongside the best four third-placed teams.
Algeria eyes AFCON glory
Algeria coach Djamel Belmadi said that there are ‘no small teams in Africa’ as the 2019 champions look to win the AFCON 2023 title.
The Desert Foxes coach was offering his thoughts on the competition following the final draw of the tournament.
Algeria was drawn against Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Angola in Group D.
But Belmadi knows Algeria must be wary of all their opponents when the tournament kicks off on January 13.
“Burkina Faso is a solid and strong team, and all teams are progressing,” he said at a press conference when asked about the pressure from the fans to win another title.
“We will study our opponents and prepare ourselves well for the Africa Cup of Nations. Fans have the right to demand another trophy and we certainly dream of winning it again.
“There are no small teams in Africa and this was evident during the international breaks.”
Belmadi led the country to the AFCON title in his first major tournament in charge three years ago after beating Senegal in the 2019 final, but were knocked out in the group stage last year.
The Desert Foxes are keen on replicating their 2019 historic success in Côte d’Ivoire and have started preparations with friendlies during this week’s international break.
Six venues across the host nation will be used including new stadiums built in Abidjan, Bouake, Korhogo and Yamoussoukro.
Tanzania ‘ready to shock’ giants
Tanzania’s national team players are unfazed by facing African heavyweights at the the AFCON 2023, insisting they are ready to “shock” the continent’s top sides.
The Taifa Stars were drawn in Group F alongside Morocco, DR Congo and Zambia for the finals in Côte d’Ivoire.
Morocco represents the biggest threat in Group F as semi-finallists at last year’s World Cup, with DR Congo and Zambia also boasting greater AFCON pedigree.
Despite being pitted against teams with far greater AFCON pedigree, Tanzania’s squad remains upbeat about causing an upset.
“We have already gained experience in this competition and we are aware of the strength of these two teams we’ve played before,” said striker Simon Msuva, referring to DR Congo and Zambia.
“The important thing is for us to go and fight hard. Even those nations seen as African football giants started like us. We are now going up and I’m sure we will shock them.”
Msuva, who plays club football in Algeria, believes the team’s European-based players can help bridge the gap if they perform to their potential.
Fellow forward Novatus Dismas echoed Msuva’s defiant tone, stating: “There are no big names anymore in football. We will not be weak but will fight hard as the nation’s hope.”
Tanzania has never progressed beyond the group stage in four previous AFCON appearances, most recently in 2019.
But the Taifa Stars are confident of holding their own against the continent’s star-studded sides when the finals kick off in 100 days time.
Group A: Côte d’Ivoire, Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea, Guinea Bissau
Group B: Egypt, Ghana, Cape Verde Islands, Mozambique
Group C: Senegal, Cameroon, Guinea, Gambia
Group D: Algeria, Burkina Faso, Mauritania, Angola
Group E: Tunisia, Mali, South Africa, Namibia
Group F: Morocco, DR Congo, Zambia, Tanzania