Group C Preview will be one of the pools to watch at the delayed 2021 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) which begins on January 9 in the Cameroonian capital of Yaounde.
The group involves Ghana, Morocco, Gabon and debutants Comoros. They will play their matches at the Stade Ahmadou Ahidjo in Yaoundé. The first match will be between Morocco and Ghana on Monday, January 10.
The two are seen as the outright favourites to progress to the round of 16 from this group but Gabon is no pushovers while Comoros will be out to make a mark and show they are also worthy opponents.
SportsLeo takes a look at the group in depth.
AFCON appearances – 18
Tiles won – One
Coach – Vahid Halilhodžić
Much of the pre-tournament talk surrounding the Atlas Lions were the omission of Chelsea’s star player Hakim Ziyech from the initial and final squad for the tournament.
Ziyech, one of Morocco’s star players of the last three years was left out with the Bosnian tactician saying his presence in the team was an upset of team balance, accusing the former Ajax FC man of lack of respect and not putting in enough effort.
While his decision received praise from most of the Moroccan supporters, the burden of proof will be on him when the team sets out for a second attempt at African glory, to prove that the team is better without Ziyech.
Among the players who are set to be vital for Morocco include PSG right-back Achraf Hakimi and Sevilla forward Youssef En-Nesyri.
Hungary based striker Ryan Mmaee who was vital in the last round of qualification matches for the World Cup will also be another player to watch on the Moroccan side.
Goalkeepers: Yassine Bounou (Sevilla, Spain), Monir El Kajoui, (Hatayspor, Turkey), Anas Zniti (Raja Casablanca, Morocco).
Defenders: Achraf Hakimi (Paris Saint-Germain, France), Sofiane Alakouch (Metz, France), Souffian El Karouani (NEC Nijmegen, Netherlands), Adam Masina (Watford, England), Sofian Chakla (OH Leuven, Belgium), Samy Mmaee (Ferencvaros, Hungary), Romain Saiss (Wolves, England), Nayef Aguerd (Rennes, France).
Midfielders: Aymen Barkok (Eintracht Frankfurt, Germany), Sofyan Amrabat (Fiorentina, Italy), Faycal Fajr (Sivaspor, Turkey), Azzedine Ounahi (Angers, France), Ilias Chair (QPR, England), Imran Louza (Watford, England), Selim Amallah (Standard Liege, Belgium).
Forwards: Munir El Haddadi (Sevilla, Spain), Zakaria Aboukhlal (AZ Alkmaar, Netherlands), Abdessamad Ezzalzouli (Barcelona, Spain), Sofiane Boufal (Angers, France), Ryan Mmaee (Ferencvaros, Hungary), Youssef En-Nesyri (Sevilla, Spain), Ayoub El Kaabi (Hatayspor, Turkey).
AFCON appearances – 23
Tiles won – Four
Coach – Milovan Rajevac
Ghana’s last conquest of the African title was way back in 1982 and the best they have done since then is reaching the final in 2015 and losing it to the golden generation of Ivory Coast in 2015.
The Black Stars have struggled to get back to the top of the African ladder, but among the 24 teams that have qualified for this year’s showpiece, they are one of the most experienced.
Ghana has reached the Cup of Nations the third highest number of times, after Egypt (25) and Ivory Coast (24).
The team recalled veteran tactician Milovan Rajevac just before the last round of matches in the penultimate round of qualification for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, and now they also hope the Serbian tactician can guide them to Cup of Nations glory again.
Rajevac was Ghana’s coach when they reached the quarter-final of the World Cup in South Africa in 2010 when they painfully lost to Uruguay on penalties. Will his magic tick again in Cameroon?
For the tournament, Ghana will look on to the inspiring attacking duo of the Ayew brothers in Jordan and Andre. The two have been in good form in their respective clubs, Jordan being a regular starter at Patrick Viera’s Crystal Palace while Andre is the second best scorer in the Qatari League turning out for Al Sadd.
Arsenal man Thomas Party who has been rediscovering his mojo after a tough start to life in North London will also be key. A huge absentee for the Black Stars will be midfielder Mohamed Kudus.
The Ajax youngster has slowly cemented himself as one of the players to watch out for but his involvement at the AFCON was shattered by injury. Kudus has just returned to training and Ajax preferred to take him for their mid-season training camp as they didn’t think him fit enough to play a high profile tournament.
Among players to watch in the Ghanaian side is youngster Abdul Fatawu Issahaku. The fleet footed midfielder was the best player of the tournament as Ghana won the Under-20 AFCON in February and has been named in the final Black Stars squad for Cameroon.
Goalkeepers: Joseph Wolcott (Swindon Town), Abdul Manaf Nurudeen (Eupen), Richard Attah (Hearts of Oak), Lawrence Ati Zigi (St. Gallen)
Defenders: Andy Yiadom (Reading FC), Philemon Baffuor (Dreams FC), Baba Abdul Rahman (Reading FC), Gideon Mensah (Girondins Bordeaux), Daniel Amartey (Leicester City), Alexander Djiku (Strasbourg FC), Jonathan Mensah (Columbus Crew), Khalid Abdul Mumin (Vitoria de Guimaraes)
Midfielders: Baba Iddrissu (Real Mallorca), Edmund Addo (Sherif Tiraspol), Thomas Teye Partey (Arsenal FC), Mubarak Wakaso (Shenzhen FC), Mohammed Kudus (Ajax Amsterdam), Daniel Kofi Kyere (St. Pauli), David Abagna (Real Tamale United)
Wingers: Abdul Fatawu Issahaku (Dreams FC), Samuel Owusu (Al-Fayha), Kamal Deen Suleymana (Rennes FC), Dede Ayew (Al Sadd SC), Joseph Paintsil (Genk)
Strikers: Jordan Ayew (Crystal Palace), Richmond Boakye Yiadom (Beitar Jerusalem), Maxwell Abbey Quaye (Great Olympics), Benjamin Tetteh (Malatyaspor)
AFCON appearances – 8
Tiles won – 0
Coach – Patrice Neveu
The worst possible news that Les Panthers could possibly receive less than four days before their opening match is that star skipper Pierre Emerick Aubameyang and fellow forward Mario Lemina have tested positive for COVID-19.
Lemina and Aubameyang are perhaps the biggest figures in the Gabonese squad and as they prepare to return to the tournament for the first time since they hosted it in 2017, will be scratching their heads on the possibility of missing them for two games.
A positive PCR test will mean the two will have to self isolate for at least seven days and that essentially means they will only play one last group stage match.
Their best ever AFCON performance was a quarter-final appearance in 1996 and 2012 when they co-hosted with Equatorial Guinea. But, can they surpass that performance?
Gabon qualified second from Group D after accumulating 10 points, same as leaders Gambia with three wins, a draw and two losses. Their warm-up to the Cup of Nations was a friendly match with Gabon which they lost 3-0, without some of the key players in Dubai.
In Cuba and Lemina’s absence, the hunt for goals will be spearheaded by Saint Etienne’s Denis Bouanga.
Goalkeepers: Anthony Mfa Mezui (Rodange 91), Donald Nze (Maniema Union), Jean-Noel Amonome (Uthongathi), Fortson Noubi Junior (Vannes)
Defenders: Lloyd Palun (Bastia), Johann Obiang (Rodez), Bruno Ecuele Manga (Dijon), Gilchrist Nguema (Maccabi Ahi Nazareth), Anthony Oyono (Boulogne), Sidney Obissa (Olympic Chaleroi), David Sambissa (Cambuur), Wilfried Ebane (Vannes), Junior Assoumou (Le Mans), Yannis N’Gakoutou (Lyon-La Duchere), Yrondu Musavu-King (Bengaluru)
Midfielders: Andre Biyogo Poko (Altay), Mario Lemina (Nice), Louis Ameka Autchanga (Chamois Niortais), Guelor Kanga (Red Star Belgrade), Serge-Junior Martinsson Ngouali (Gorica), Alex Moucketou-Moussounda (Aris Limassol)
Forwards: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Arsenal), Denis Bouanga (Saint-Etienne), Kevin Mayi (Umraniyespor), Axel Méye (Ittihad Tanger), Fahd Ndzengue (Tabor Sezana), Aaron Boupendza (Al Arabi), Ulrick Enemy Ella (Brighton and Hove Albion), Jim Allevinah (Clermont), Biteghe Medwin (Al Adalah)
AFCON appearances – 0
Tiles won – 0
Coach – Amir Abdou
The islanders will be one of two countries that will be making their debut at the biennial African extravaganza, having made huge strides to qualify for the event.
Comoros edged out Kenya to qualify second from Group G, finishing with nine points after picking a win at home and a draw in Nairobi. They also plucked a point off record champions Egypt in their path to qualifying for the tournament.
Coach Amir Abdou took on a journey to see the team qualify for its first-ever Cup of Nations by going round most of the French-speaking nations and looking for players of Comoros descent but had left the country.
He managed to come up with a strong squad and he now hopes they can run the full distance with a good performance in Cameroon. They hope to emulate Madagascar, another island nation that made their debut in Egypt in 2019 and went all the way to the quarter-finals.
Among the players who will be looked upon to carry Les Coelacantes into a good show in Cameroon include French-based midfielder Youssouf M’Changama who plays for Guingamp.
Goalkeepers: Salim Ben Boina (Endoume, France) Ali Ahamada (Unattached), Moyadh Ousseni (Frejus, France).
Defenders: Nadjim Abdou (FC Martigues, France), Bendjaloud Youssouf (Chateauroux, France), Abdallah Ali Mohamed (Stade Lausanne, Switzerland) Kassim Mdahoma (US Avranches, France), Younn Zahary (SO Cholet, France), Chaker Alhadhur (Ajaccio, France), Mohamed Youssouf (Ajaccio, France), Kassim Abdallah (Marignane Gignac, France).
Midfielders: Fouad Bachirou (Omonia Nicosia, Cyprus), Youssouf M’Changama (Guingamp, France), Yacine Bourhane (Go Ahead Eagles, Netherlands), Nakibou Aboubakari (FC Sete 34, France), Iyad Mohamed (Auxerre, France), Rafidine Abdullah (Stade Lausanne, Switzerland).
Forwards: Faiz Selemani (KV Kortrijk, Belgium), Mohamed El Fardou (Red Star Belgrade, Serbia), Nasser Chamed (Gaz Metan Medias, Romania), Ahmed Mogni (FC Annecy, France), Faiz Mattoir (SO Cholet, France), Ali M’Madi (SAS Epinal, France), Said Bakari (RKC Waalwijk, Netherlands), Moussa Djoumoi (AS Saint-Priest, France), Mohamed M’Changama (FC Nouadhibou, Mauritania).