Group B lends itself to being one of the more exciting groups at this year’s tournament. Algeria, Senegal, Tunisia and Zimbabwe will looking to advance to the next round, and there will be at least one upset on the cards. Here is all you need to know.
Player to watch: Riyad Mahrez
The Leicester City player – profiled on page 84 – is the favourite to be named as African Footballer of the Year for 2016, on the back of his remarkable achievements in England. But he has gone somewhat cold in the second half of the year. Mahrez remains the focal point of the team’s scoring hopes and was crucial in the qualifying campaign, netting a brilliant free kick against Lesotho.
Rais Mbolhi – Mohamed Khoutir-Ziti, Aissa Mandi, Carl Medjani, Faouzi Ghoulam – Saphir Taider, Nabil Bentaleb, Sofiane Feghouli – Yacine Brahimi, Riyad Mahrez, Islam Slimani.
Coach: George Leekens
After sacking Milovan Rajevac in October, Algeria made a desperate search across Europe for a replacement and approached several top coaches in France, but were turned down. In the end they turned to veteran George Leekens, just two days after Belgian club Lokeren had sacked him. The 67-year-old coached Belgium in two separate spells, first leading them to the 1998 World Cup and then taking charge again from 2010 to 2012. He was also briefly coach of Algeria for six games in 2003 and managed Tunisia at the last Nations Cup finals.
Nations Cup record
Algeria won the Nations Cup with a golden generation in 1990, when they hosted the competition. But they feel, given their place near the top of the African game, that they have flattered to deceive on many an occasion. This will be their 18th AFCON appearance but they have only reached the final twice, the other time in 1980, when the hosts Nigeria beat them 3-0.
Player to watch: Sadio Mané
The 24-year-old’s biggest asset is his devastating pace off the mark. But he can finish too, as his goal tally in the English Premier League attests
to. Mané, who cost Liverpool £30 million from Southampton in June, has won over the fans at Anfield and has been a regular from the start of
the current campaign. He has been part of the national team since he was 20, after graduating from the Diambars academy in Senegal, to play for Metz in France and Red Bull Salzburg in Austria.
Abdoulaye Diallo – Lamine Gassama, Kalidou Koulibaly, Kara Mbodji, Saliou Ciss – Cheikhou Kouyate, Idrissa Gueye, Mohamed Diame – Keita Balde, Sadio Mane, Mame Biriam Diouf.
Coach: Aliou Cissé
Aliou Cissé was the captain of Senegal’s 2002 World Cup team and played for Paris St Germain and for Birmingham City, when they were still in the English Premier League. Recognisable by his dreadlocks, the former centre-back was named to take over the national team in March 2015, replacing Frenchman Alain Giresse, whose contract was not extended after a disappointing 2015 finals in Equatorial Guinea.
Now 40, Cissé previously had a spell as caretaker coach of the Senegal team and was an assistant when their under-23 side competed at the 2012 London Olympics.
Nations Cup record
Senegal are still living on the heroics of 2002, when they got to the tournament final, narrowly losing to Cameroon on penalties in Bamako. They went on to have an eventful World Cup, reaching the quarter-finals – the second African country to achieve the feat. They have made 13 appearances at the Nations Cup finals but are yet to win a title.
Player to watch: Wahbi Khazri
A £9m buy for Sunderland, who signed him from Girondins de Bordeaux last season, he contributed to their successful bid to stay in the Premier League. But he has fallen from grace this season, while remaining key to the Tunisian national cause.
In a sterile and defensively-minded line-up, he is the one who provides the flair and unpredictability. Born in Corsica, Khazri played for France at under-21 level before switching his allegiance to the ‘Eagles of Carthage’ in 2013.
Aymen Mathlouthi – Hamdi Nagguez, Aymen Abdennour, Chamseddine Dhaoudi, Bilel Mohsni Ali Maaloul – Mohamed Amine Ben Amor, Ferjani Sassi, Anis Ben Hatira, Wahbi Khazri – Hamdi Harbaoui.
Coach: Henryk Kasperczak
Frenchman Claude Le Roy might be the Godfather of national team coaches on the African continent but the former Polish World Cup star Henryk Kasperczak is making his own bid at immortality. His return to the Tunisia job in 2015 is his seventh post in African football – all of them at national team level. The 70-year-old has coached at six previous Nations Cups, two shy of Le Roy’s record. He took Côte d’Ivoire to third in 1994, Mali to fourth in 2002 and was fired midway through Senegal’s tournament in 2008. He was in charge of Mali again in 2015, but they were eliminated after a rare drawing of lots, when Guinea and Mali finished level in the group phase.
Nations Cup record
This will be the 13th Nations Cup in a row and 18th overall for the north Africans. Winning their only tournament at home in 2004, reaching the 1996 final in South Africa was one of their finest moments, losing 2-0 to Bafana-Bafana in the decisive match.
Player to watch: Khama Billiat
His spindly frame hardly marks him out as a footballer. But the way he outfoxes defenders with guile makes him key to Zimbabwe’s cause. Billiat is set to be named CAF’s best home-based African player of 2016, for helping Mamelodi Sundowns win the African Champions League.
The Nations Cup will offer the 26-year-old a great stage to display his skills to a wider audience.
Tatenda Mukuruva – Hardlife Zvirekwi, Eric Chipeta, Costa Nhamoinesu, Onismor Bhasera – Willard Katsande, Blessing Moyo, Marvelous Nakamba, Kudawashe Mahachi – Khama Billiat, Knowledge Musona.
Coach: Callisto Pasuwa
A former international defender, the 46-yearold never played professional football outside of Zimbabwe and will be among the most inexperienced coaches in Gabon. He was formerly the under-23 team coach, taking over in mid-2014, when Peter Ndlovu moved to South Africa. He has coached Dynamos to four successive Zimbabwe league titles, which marked him out as the obvious choice, when a succession of foreigners failed in the job.
Nations Cup history
Zimbabwe had a long history of near-misses, before making their 2004 debut in Tunisia. They made a successive appearance in Egypt in 2006 but they have not reached the finals again until now. It is difficult go see how the Warriors can reach the knockout stages of the tournament, which they have never done in the past.
Sport – New African Magazine