what to remember from the first qualifying matches for CAN 2021

Four months after Algeria's triumph in the African Cup of Nations, the continent's selections have turned to the next edition, which will take place in Cameroon.

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Algerian forward Baghdad Bounedjah (center) in a match against Zambia, in Blida, on November 14, 2019.
Algerian forward Baghdad Bounedjah (center) in a match against Zambia, Blida, November 14, 2019. RYAD KRAMDI / AFP

Serious things for the next African Cup of Nations (CAN), scheduled for 2021 in Cameroon, began with the start, Wednesday, November 13, qualifications, which will stretch until November 2020. If certain selections (Algeria, Senegal, Madagascar, Nigeria) began with a faultless, others, among the most posh, have started much more sluggish. And the inevitable surprises, embodied in particular by the Comoros and Ethiopia, are at the rendezvous.

Titles are sometimes difficult to digest. Not for Algeria. African champions in July at the CAN 2019 in Egypt, the Fennecs have lost none of their power since the conquest of the second continental title of their history. They showed it again in their matches against Zambia and Botswana, in a group that also includes Zimbabwe. It started with a resounding success against the Zambians in Blida (5-0), including a doubling of Baghdad Bounedjah, the indefatigable scorer of the Fennecs. Then, thanks to a second victory in Botswana (1-0), Algeria has once again cleared its horizon towards the finals of the CAN 2021. Djamel Belmadi, his coach, relies on the group that had won victory in Cairo, even if he begins to open it to other players.

Read also CAN 2019: a second coronation for Algeria, which has a very political dimension
  • Senegal is still there

Senegal, the only major African football nation whose record remains desperately untouched, has made CAN 2021 its top priority. The Lions of Teranga, vice-champions of Africa 2019, have successfully made their debut in their qualifying group by winning their first two games. Led by their stars Kalidou Koulibaly and Sadio Mané, they dominated the Congo (2-0) at Thiès, then the Eswatini at Manzini (4-1) during a meeting interrupted by heavy rains and where Mané made the subject of particularly brutal treatment by opposing defenders. Like Belmadi in Algeria, Aliou Cissé trusts the backbone that nearly offered Senegal its first title. Even if new faces appear, like those of Racine Coly, Mamadou Loum N'Diaye or Habib Diallo, in order to prepare the future.

Read also CAN 2019: in Senegal, in the village of Sadio Mané

Affiliated to FIFA since 2005, the Comoros, who had recently hooked Cameroon (1-1) and Morocco (2-2), have been growing steadily for four years. And their first two qualifying matches for the CAN 2021 provide further proof. Classified at 142e Ranking of the FIFA rankings, the islanders, coached by the Franco-Comoran Amir Abdou, made two big performances: first by winning against Togo (1-0), then by defeating Egypt – admittedly private from Mohamed Salah – in Moroni (0-0). The Coelacanths, who have never competed in a CAN finals, can now think seriously about it. With a mix of players playing in second-league championships (Romania, Serbia, Sweden), in French Ligue 2 and even in semi-professional divisions, this selection seems to be treading in the footsteps of its Malagasy neighbor, who managed to get out anonymity at CAN 2019, despite limited means.

Read also Football: the spring of African breeders

In March, Gabon was on the brink of depression after being barred from the final round of CAN 2019 by Burundi. Daniel Cousin, the coach, was sacked and some players, including captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, questioned their international career, against a backdrop of conflict with the federation. The appointment of Patrice Neveu last summer completely revived a moribund team. The French technician met individually with his players, developed strict rules of collective life and a well-defined game plan. And after just two days, the Panthers are well off to qualify, thanks to a draw in the Democratic Republic of Congo (0-0) and a success against Angola (2-1), two results to confirm those of October in friendly matches including a spectacular victory in Morocco (3-2). In Libreville, optimism has returned and Aubameyang no longer questions his relationship with the selection.

Read also African footballers more and more expensive
  • Ivory Coast in doubt

It was fifty-one years since Ethiopia had not beaten Côte d'Ivoire. Tuesday in Bahir Dar, the Elephants fell to general surprise (1-2) against a relatively modest opponent (137).e in the FIFA rankings), while Madagascar, in the other match of the group, thrashed Niger in Niamey (6-2). Of course, the quarter-finalists of the last CAN protested against the reception of the Ethiopians, to whom they reproached a fussy behavior and a stopover of more than four hours in Addis Ababa the day before the meeting. But the defeat of the Ivorians, already struggling against Niger during the first day (1-0), just recalled that since the 2015 CAN won in Equatorial Guinea, their performance is not really up to their potential, embodied by Serge Aurier, Max-Alain Gradel, Wilfried Zaha, Nicolas Pépé or Maxwel Cornet.

Read also CAN 2019: Serge Aurier, indomitable captain of the Elephants of Ivory Coast


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