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AFCON 2023 Groups Preview: Group E & F

The drum roll for the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations is imminent, as teams have started arriving in Abidjan for the long-awaited tournament.

South Africa

The drum roll for the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations is imminent, as teams have started arriving in Abidjan for the long-awaited tournament. The 34th edition of the biennial showpiece is scheduled to run from 13 January to 11 February of this year, starting when Ivory Coast takes on Guinea-Bissau. 51 more games will follow as the best of the best on the continent battle it out to be crowned champions of Africa. Today, we round up our pre-tournament previews on all teams with Group E & Group F.

Group E


Appearance: 13th

Best Finish: Runners-Up (1972)

Mali comfortably won their qualification group with a game to spare and will aim to build on that in Ivory Coast. The Eagles are in the finals for a ninth consecutive time, a sequence stretching back to 2008 and bettered only by three teams. Except for two 3rd place finishes in Seydou Keita’s pomp (2012/2013), they have not often enjoyed deep runs. Four group stage bows and most recently two Last 16 exits are underwhelming for a nation with so much talent in recent years. Yet, according to our friends at Opta Analyst, they have a 76% chance of reaching the Last 16, just behind Tunisia and just ahead of Bafana.

Key players: Amadou Haidara, Yves Bissouma, Ibrahim Sissoko


Appearance: 4th

Best Finish: Group stages (1998, 2008, 2019)

Picking up four points off Cameroon in the qualifiers was a huge statement for the Brave Warriors, but they will need to back that up with better results at the finals. Three previous appearances have all ended with crushing group stage elimination: 1 point, 1 point, and 0 points in the three tournaments. They face South Africa for a third time in the Groups and will have that fixture earmarked for three points. Not only do they have many players based in the country, but they’ve proved hard to beat in recent meetings too.

Key Players: Peter Shalulile, Deon Hotto, Denzil Haoseb

South Africa

Appearance: 11th

Best Finish: Champions (1996)

A winning history from 1996 and a winning coach from 2017 will inspire confidence in the present Bafana side. Despite continued talk on the absence of some overseas-based players, Hugo Broos still has an embarrassment of riches available to him, especially players familiar with football on the continent – 10 players come from African Football League winners Sundowns. Opta gives SA a 67% chance of reaching the Last 16, but they need a positive result against Mali or Tunisia to maintain that.

Key Player(s): Percy Tau, Themba Zwane, Teboho Mokoena


Appearance: 21st

Best Finish: Champions (2004)

Another one-time winner rounds up the Group in Tunisia. The North Africans are in their 16th consecutive finals appearance, the best record of any side in AFCON history. They have been assigned a 6% chance to win the tournament by the supercomputer but are comfortably expected to progress from the Group (an 85% chance). Their appearance record is matched by their group progress record, but they often come up short in the latter stages – no team has been eliminated in the quarter-finals on more occasions than the Carthage Eagles (7 times). Can 2024 bring a second title?

Key Player(s): Elias Achouri, Youssef Msakni, Ellyes Skhiri

Group F

    DR Congo

    Appearance: 20th

    Best Finish: Champions (1968, 1974)

    After losing their first two games in qualifying, DR Congo won four consecutive games to help them top their Group. However, they have only managed one win in seven since qualifying – across friendlies and World Cup qualifiers. Still, they are second favourites to progress from this bunch, with a 15% chance of reaching the semis as they did in 2015. They did not qualify in 2021 but progressed on each of the previous three occasions when they did, famously reaching 3rd place in 2015. But the pain from 2019 probably still lingers, when they lost to debutants Madagascar on penalties in the Last 16.

    Key Player(s): Chancel Mbemba, Arthur Masuaku, Simon Banza


    Appearance: 19th

    Best Finish: Champions (1976)

    Favourites to win the tournament in many circles, Morocco comes into this tournament with the weight of expectations firmly on their backs. The Atlas Lions became the first-ever African team to reach the World Cup semi-finals just over a year ago, and the bulk of that team is still intact. A continental crown will seal their status as a legendary team. Even if they are heavily expected to progress from the group (89%), they will still need to navigate four knockout games vs teams that know how dangerous they are. Nothing less than the semi-final will appease, especially when you consider it’s been 20 years since they reached the Last 4.

    Key Player(s): Hakim Ziyech, Sofyane Amrabat, Azzedine Ounahi, Achraf Hakimi


    Appearance: 3rd

    Best Finish: Group stage (1980, 2019)

    Ranked 121 in the world (and 32nd in Africa), Tanzania are the 2nd lowest-ranked team in the entire tournament (only Gambia are below). This is only their 3rd appearance at the finals (after 1980 and 2019), but they are still in search of their first win. Opening their campaign against Morocco will be a baptism of fire, but a positive performance there (regardless of the result) could instill some confidence in the Taifa Stars camp. There will likely be more opportunities against Zambia and DR Congo, and a first Last 16 qualification is still possible.

    Key Player(s): Mbwana Samatta, Novatus Miroshi, Simom Msuva


    Appearance: 18th

    Best Finish: Champions (2012)

    Zambia remains one of Southern Africa’s most respected names on this stage, with a 2012 title in the cabinet to show anyone who doubts their pedigree. But the other truth is that they have been absent since 2015, and they will be hoping to remind the world of the talent they possess. Former Chelsea manager Avram Grant will lead them from the dugout, and he has recent experience of staying long in the competition, particularly with Ghana. They are third behind Morocco island DRC in percentages to progress, but a positive result in the opening game v DRC may make things interesting.

    Key Player(s): Patson Daka, Changa Chaiwa, Lameck Banda

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