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Africa Cup of Nations

Ivory Coast out to kick-off with a bang, Gambia avoid tragedy

AFCON Diaries: Ivory Coast out to kick-off with a bang, Gambia avoid tragedy

The 2023 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) kicks off on Saturday with hosts Ivory Coast facing Guinea-Bissau in the tournament’s curtain raiser at the Alassane Ouattara Stadium.

Ivory Coast have progressed from the group phase in eight of the previous nine editions of the AFCON and an imposing display against Guinea-Bissau could ensure the continuation of that tradition.

The Elephants wiped the floor with Sierra Leone in the build-up to the tournament, claiming a 5-1 victory, with their final third precision stealing the spotlight.

They’ll need to repeat that feat on Saturday but their goalscoring form gives the expectant home support a reason to be optimistic ahead of the weekend clash.

As for Guinea-Bissau, not only have they failed to advance to the knockout stage in the past three editions, they have not won any of their last nine group-stage games since 2017 (D3, L6).

The Djurtus suffered obliteration at the hands of Mali in the lead-up to the AFCON and they’ll be hoping to avoid a similar fate in their curtain-raiser against the host nation.

However, it is easier said than done for Baciro Cande’s side, who sit 54 places below the Ivory Coast in FIFA’s rankings heading into the competition.

Injuries threaten to undermine Nigeria’s title charge

Nigeria have been hit with an unfortunate rash of injuries that is threatening to undermine their bid for a first AFCON title since 2013.

Paul Onuachu became the latest replacement player to be called up for Nigeria ahead of their opening game against Equatorial Guinea on Sunday.

The Southampton-owned striker was named in place of the injured Sadiq Umar, just days after Bayer Leverkusen top scorer Victor Boniface was replaced by OGC Nice forward Terem Moffi.

For a team whose strength is centred on a terrifying attacking talent, Nigeria have been left without at least five of their best players heading into AFCON.

All eyes will be on Napoli striker Victor Osimhen – one of our players to watch for AFCON 2023 – who is set to lead the line for the Super Eagles, but even the Serie A marksman is threading on tightropes, having suffered injury problems this season.

Gambia avoid tragedy en route to Ivory Coast after oxygen scare

The Gambian national team avoided tragedy on Wednesday as their journey to Ivory Coast for the AFCON tournament took a perilous turn.

Assembled aboard a small 50-seater propeller plane registered to Air Cote d’Ivoire by the Gambian Football Association, the team faced a critical situation when the plane’s oxygen supply failed.

Gambia head coach Tom Saintfiet disclosed that the malfunction caused some team members to lose consciousness, prompting the pilot to make a swift decision to return to Gambia’s capital, Banjul.

“We were really dying in the plane,” Saintfiet said. “There was no oxygen in this plane. Everyone fell asleep and became a little bit unconscious. The pilot decided after nine minutes of being in the air to return to save our lives.

“There were no oxygen masks dropping down. I am ready to die for Gambia, but on the football pitch, not off it. I had short dreams where my life passed. I had moments where I thought I was dying.”

After overcoming the significant scare during their initial journey, the Gambia team has successfully arrived at Ivory Coast, setting the stage for their AFCON opener against defending champions Senegal on January 15.

Today’s AFCON Fixtures

Ivory Coast vs Guinea Bissau – 8.00 pm (GMT) kick-off.

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