Nigeria, South Africa and Morocco could be placed in the same group when the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) draw is made in the Ivory Coast on Thursday.
The six top seeds include Morocco, who created history at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar by becoming the first semi-finalists from Africa.
Nigeria are among the second seeds while South Africa have had to settle for a place among the third seeds for the draw in Abidjan, the Ivorian economic capital.
Add surprise 2021 Cup of Nations quarter-finalists Gambia from the fourth seeds and it would be a striking “group of death”, the term given to particularly tough sections.
Nigeria, three-time winners of the premier African football competition, and former champions South Africa were unlucky not to be seeded higher.
The Super Eagles lie sixth in the continental rankings and, ordinarily, would have been a top seed, avoiding Morocco, title-holders Senegal, Tunisia, Algeria and Egypt in the group stage.
But host countries not only automatically qualify for the two-yearly tournament, they are also always among the first seeds.
To accommodate ninth-ranked Ivory Coast, sixth-placed Nigeria had to give way and now share second-seed status with Cameroon, Mali, Burkina Faso, Ghana and Democratic Republic of Congo.
South Africa had been ranked above DR Congo for some time but, in the rankings that decided the seedings, they were placed one place below the Congolese.
It was an ironic change of positions as South Africa defeated DR Congo in a friendly match just a couple of days before the rankings were released.
The other third seeds are Cape Verde, Guinea, Zambia, Equatorial Guinea and Mauritania while the fourth seeds include Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, Namibia, Angola, Gambia and Tanzania.
Shock 2012 champions thanks to a penalty shootout victory over Didier Drogba-inspired Ivory Coast, Zambia are back at the Cup of Nations after three straight failures to qualify.
Zambia and Mozambique, whose last appearance was in 2010, are the only qualifiers who have not featured in at least one of the last two tournaments.
Despite a poor Cup of Nations record, Morocco are set to be installed as favourites to win the January 13-February 11 competition.
They have been champions just once in 33 editions – topping a 1976 group in Ethiopia in one of only two editions where a mini-league determined the champions.
In the last Cup of Nations, hosted by Cameroon in 2022, Morocco were eliminated by Egypt in the quarter-finals.
Morocco coach Walid Regragui, mastermind of the stunning World Cup campaign after taking charge just a few months earlier, says he will quit if his team fail to at least reach the semi-finals.
“We must be at least in the semi-finals of the CAN (Cup of Nations). If I do not go to the semi-finals, I will leave on my own,” he told the Moroccan media.
“I told my players that we cannot be kings of the world before being kings of our continent. Everyone wants to beat Morocco after our results in Qatar.
“This makes it more difficult for us to win, but it also motivates the players to improve and I welcome that.”
All six top seeds plus Nigeria, Cameroon, Ghana, DR Congo, South Africa and Zambia have won the Cup of Nations. The other champions – Ethiopia, Sudan and Congo Brazzaville – did not qualify.
Shadab Khan provides an update on his injury
Pakistan all-rounder, Shadab Khan suffered an unexpected injury during National T20 Cup match between Rawalpindi and Sialkot in Karachi on Sunday.
The incident took place as Shadab was fielding during the match, having bowled two economical overs. The unfortunate mishap occurred when the ball unexpectedly rose above his foot, resulting in a sudden and painful ankle twist.
The video footage of Shadab being carried off the field piggyback style by a teammate went viral on social media, raising concerns about the severity of the injury.
نیشنل T20 کرکٹر شادب خان انجری کا شکار شاداب کو کندھوں پر اٹھاکر ڈرینسنگ روم منتقل کیا گیا راولپنڈی کی کپتان سیالکوٹ کے خلاف میچ کھیلتے ہوئے پائوں کی انجری کا شکار ہوئے @76Shadabkhan @TheRealPCB #shadabkhan #IslamabadUnited pic.twitter.com/mEnGqmayi2
— KHIZAR AZAM (@KHIZARAZAM) December 3, 2023
In an exclusive interview with Cricket Pakistan, Shadab recounted the incident and explained the severity of the pain that left him incapacitated for a few minutes, making it difficult for him to comprehend the extent of the injury and eventually he had to seek assistance.
“When the ball came above my foot, I had an ankle twist. When the ankle twisted, I couldn’t even comprehend it for 2-3 minutes because the pain was severe. Then I tried to walk to the sidelines. The boundary on the side was a bit short, so I walked out there, but after that, I didn’t have the courage to continue walking. Then there was a guy there, so I thought of somehow making it to the dressing room,” Shadab said.
Fortunately, Shadab provided a glimmer of optimism when discussing his current status of his fitness.
“Now the fitness is improving. The injury is not too major. The report has come, but the doctors haven’t told me how much time it will take. As soon as they tell, the rehab will start according to their instructions.” he further added.
Shadab highlighted the proactive approach being taken to ensure effective rehabilitation process ahead of Pakistan’s T20I series against New Zealand in January.
“The injury doesn’t seem too prolonged. The physios will assess it and plan accordingly for the New Zealand series.” he concluded.
Shadab Khan opens up about Babar Azam’s resignation from captaincy
Pakistan all-rounder, Shadab Khan, has expressed his perspective on Babar Azam’s recent choice to relinquish the captaincy across all formats of the national cricket team.
In an exclusive interview with Cricket Pakistan, Shadab conveyed his admiration for Babar’s decision and conveyed his heartfelt best wishes.
The leg-spinner also shared positive sentiments regarding the newly appointed T20I captain for the national side, Shaheen Shah Afridi.
“Look, everyone has their own decision, and Babar has stepped down. We send him our best wishes. We’ve had a great time with him as the captain for Pakistan. Now, Shaheen has taken on the role, and we’re excited about it. We’ve witnessed his [Shaheen’s] captaincy in the PSL, and it feels great. Let’s see how it goes playing under his captaincy for the first time; it will give an idea of how much fun it is, and I am very excited to play under Shaheen’s captaincy,” Shadab said.
On November 15th, Babar relinquished his captaincy following a meeting with Zaka Ashraf, the chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) Management Committee.
After stepping down, Shan Masood was appointed as the Test captain of the Pakistan Men’s Cricket Team, and Shaheen Shah Afridi was named as the T20I captain by the PCB.
Shaheen’s first task as the T20I captain for the Men in Green side will be leading the team against New Zealand in a five-match T20 series scheduled to take place from January 12 to January 21, 2024.
Pakistan vs New Zealand T20I series schedule:
- January 12: New Zealand vs Pakistan – First T20I in Auckland
- January 14: New Zealand vs Pakistan – Second T20I in Hamilton
- January 17: New Zealand vs Pakistan – Third T20I in Dunedin
- January 19: New Zealand vs Pakistan – Fourth T20I in Christchurch
- January 21: New Zealand vs Pakistan – Fifth T20I in Christchurch
Messi’s Argentina to face Chile in Copa America
Lionel Messi and Argentina will get the chance to avenge their defeats to Chile in the 2015 and 2016 Copa America finals after being grouped with their old rivals in the draw for next year’s tournament on Thursday.
Reigning Copa America champions Argentina will defend their title in the United States next summer in an expanded 16-team tournament which features 10 South American teams and six qualifiers from the CONCACAF region.
Argentina, winners of last year’s World Cup, will kick off the tournament on June 20 in Atlanta against either Canada or Trinidad & Tobago, who meet in a playoff next year to determine one of two remaining CONCACAF slots.
The Argentines will then face Chile in East Rutherford, New Jersey, on June 25 in a repeat of the 2016 Copa America Centenario final held at the same venue.
Argentina, beaten by Chile in Santiago on penalties a year earlier in 2015, also lost the 2016 final on spot-kicks, with Messi blazing his penalty over the bar.
The Argentine captain later announced a short-lived retirement from international football after the defeat, before reversing the move and continuing his career.
The world champions will wrap up their Group A campaign in familiar territory for Inter Miami’ Messi, facing Peru in Miami on June 29 in their final first-round game.
Elsewhere, Mexico were drawn in a Group B alongside Ecuador, Venezuela and Jamaica, while the United States face Uruguay, Panama and Bolivia in Group C.
Five-time world champions Brazil, beaten in the 2021 final on home soil by Argentina at the Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, have a potentially tricky group containing Colombia, Paraguay and either Costa Rica or Honduras.
Next year’s Copa America is being seen as an effective test run for the 2026 World Cup taking place in the United States, Canada and Mexico.
CONMEBOL president Alejandro Dominguez said at Thursday’s draw that the tournament would be a “Copa America of the World.”
“The world champion team (Argentina), the only five-time world champion team (Brazil), the first world champion team (Uruguay) will take part, along with the best players in the world, who are Latin Americans,” Dominguez said.
Brazil open their campaign at the SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, the futuristic home of the Los Angeles Rams NFL team, against either Costa Rica or Honduras on June 24.
They face Paraguay in Las Vegas on June 28 before concluding their group play against Colombia at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, home of the San Francisco 49ers.
A total of 14 stadiums will be used for the tournament, most of them large capacity venues that belong to NFL teams.
If Argentina win Group A, they will face the runner-up from Group B in the quarter-finals on July 4 at Houston’s NRG Stadium – where they defeated the United States in the semi-final in 2016.
The Arlington, Texas home of the Dallas Cowboys will host another quarter-final on July 5, with Las Vegas’ Allegiant Stadium and the State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, rounding out the last eight venues.
The semi-finals will take place at East Rutherford on July 9, and in Charlotte on July 10, with the final taking place at Miami on July 14.
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