It promises a busy Monday as the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations gets into full steam. There are four matches on the card. There will be battles in both Group B and Group C.
The line-up is appetising. One of the cup favourites, Senegal take on Zimbabwe at the Kouekong Stadium, Bafoussam.
But the big match of the day is that of Morocco taking on Ghana in a titanic battle that could be dubbed as ‘final-before-final’.
The two giants of African football will be playing at the Stade Ahmadou Ahidjo in Yaoundé.
Morocco’s Atlas Lions, with high-profile players, such as Achraf Hakimi and Sofiane Boufal, are among the favourites to counter their opponents.
But Ghana, led by Thomas Partey and André Ayew, can easily complicate the Moroccans’ plans and even go on a promising streak.
Bosnian coach Valid Halilhodzic will lead Morocco in their 18th AFCON appearance, seeking to win their second title after having done so 46 years ago (1976).
In turn, Ghana, four-time champion, is also touted as one of the powers of world football and also favorite for triumph.
Despite having won the four titles, Ghana team has the most lost finals in the competition – five times.
The Black Stars lost the finals of 1968, 1970, 1992, 2010 and 2015. The last great Ghanaian selection had the Ayew brothers.
Former stars, such as Michael Essien, Asamoah Gyan and Anthony Yeboah did not raise the desired AFCON trophy, but the biggest of them, Abedi Pelé, won the last titlr for the Black Stars in 1982.
In another match of lesser appeal, West African giants Senegal have to cope with the tenacious COSAFA representative Zimbabwe in Group B opener.
It will certainly be no walk in the park for the Teranga Lions, as they will have to earn their way past a motivated Warriors team.
The Teranga Lions missed out to Algeria in the 2019 final match, losing by a lone goal to Algeria. Senegal also lost the 2002 final on penalties to Cameroon.
Zimbabwe have only made five appearances at the AFCON and have never made it past the Group stages. Zimbabwe will be hoping to defy all odds and man an appearance in the knockout stages.
Led by Liverpool star Sadio Mane, Senegal will be hoping for a different outcome in Cameroon but first they have to negotiate past Zimbabwe in their opening fixture.
Coach Aliou Cisse team for the tournament in Cameroon is headlined by Premier League stars Edouard Mendy of Chelsea, Sadio Mane of Liverpool and Chiekhou Kouyate of Crystal Palace. Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Idrissa Gana Gueye and Napoli’s Kalidou Koulibaly are also in the squad.
Zimbabwe coach Norman Mapeza named a severely weakened national team squad missing several key players.
Mapeza’s options have been severely limited following the retirement of South Africa-based star Khama Billiat, the absence of Tendayi Darikwa and injuries to Marshal Munetsi, Marvelous Nakamba and recently capped defender Brendan Galloway who were expected to form the spine of the AFCON squad.
Also at the Ahmadou Ahidjo Stadium in Yaounde, debutants, Comoros will start their first ever Africa Cup of Nations campaign against Gabon.
After Madagascar (2019), Cape Verde (2013), the Comoros Islands go down in history and have a say in this competition.
With no big names in their squad, Amir Abdou’s team will have reinforcements to evolve in French football, as are the cases of Fouad Bachirou and Ahmed Mogni.
The Comorian coach will also have strong support from forward Mohamed Youssouf of AC Ajaccio and his team compatriot Youssouf Ibrahim.