Former African champions play Cup of Nations catch-up

By AFP

AFP Sport looks at five of the most eye-catching match-ups among the 24 scheduled for this Saturday and Sunday.

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Former champions Egypt, the Ivory Coast, Morocco, Nigeria and Zambia are among teams needing to catch up after losses when 2019 Africa Cup of Nations qualifying resumes this weekend.

It will be easier for some than others during matchday 2 with home advantage almost guaranteeing Egypt and Morocco maximum points against Niger and Malawi respectively.

Nigeria, too, should collect maximum points without undue difficulty away to the Seychelles, one of the weakest African national teams. 

It could be tougher for the Ivorians and Zambians, though, to collect their first points as Rwanda and Namibia respectively can be stubborn hosts. 

AFP Sport looks at five of the most eye-catching match-ups among the 24 scheduled for this Saturday and Sunday.

Egypt

A war of words over image rights and security between Egypt and Liverpool star Mohamed Salah and the national association has overshadowed the clash with Niger in Alexandria.

Salah and the national football body are contracted to different mobile phone companies and the striker also complained about sleepless nights because fans got access to hotels.

After an away loss to Tunisia, Egypt must win under new Mexican coach Javier Aguirre to get back into contention and put a three-defeat 2018 World Cup campaign behind them.

Ivory Coast

New coach Ibrahim Kamara must have wished for a gentler introduction to one of the most demanding coaching posts in Africa than facing Rwanda away after a shock home loss to Guinea.

Kamara, a surprise choice with many Ivorians anticipating a 'big name', must do without Crystal Palace flier Wilfried Zaha, an absentee for undisclosed "personal reasons".

Rwanda will also have a new coach with local Vincent Mashami succeeding German Antoine Hey, who quit after a first-round exit from the 2018 African Nations Championship last January.

Morocco

Defensive general Mehdi Benatia, who criticised Moroccan officials after a winless 2018 World Cup campaign, is a notable absentee for the visit of Malawi to Casablanca.

But most of the action is likely to be at the other end of the pitch with Malawi trying to repulse attacks from opponents keen to make up for a 1-0 away defeat by Cameroon.

Malawi appear to be on a hiding to nothing given that Belgian coach Ronny van Geneugden has managed just two victories in 15 matches since taking charge.

Nigeria

Not fully-fit John Obi Mikel and retired Victor Moses miss out as Nigeria seek to build after coming within four minutes of a World Cup last-16 place before conceding to Argentina.

Coach Gernot Rohr also had to contend with several late withdrawals, including Arsenal striker Alex Iwobi and Serie A defenders Ola Aina and William Troost-Ekong.

However, after being shocked 2-0 at home by South Africa during matchday 1, Nigeria should win convincingly ahead of tougher home and away tests against Libya next month.

Zambia

Belgian Sven Vandenbroeck has opted to go it alone as Zambia coach after assisting compatriot Hugo Broos when they guided Cameroon to a surprise 2017 Cup of Nations title.

He succeeds Wedson Nyirenda, who oversaw a shock 1-0 home defeat by Mozambique, the first time the Chipolopolo (Copper Bullets) had fallen to their fellow southern Africans.

Vandenbroeck has recalled several of the 2012 African title-winning team, including former captain Rainford Kalaba, for a clash with unpredictable Namibia in Windhoek.