This year’s edition of the African Cup of Nations is poised to deliver thrilling matches, fierce displays and epic battles that sees club friendships tossed out the window from January 13 to February 11, 2024.
Arsenal teammates Thomas Partey (Ghana) and Mohamed Elneny (Egypt) will go head-to-head in Group B, while Nottingham Forest’s players Serge Aurier, Willy Boly, and Ibrahim Sangare (Ivory Coast) will face Taiwo Awoniyi and Ola Aina (Nigeria) in a busy Group A. Meanwhile, Sheffield United’s Ismaila Coulibaly (Mali) and Anis Ben Slimane (Tunisia) will put their club commitments aside as they battle for supremacy in Group E.
Another entertaining friendly battle will take place in Group E, where a host of Mamelodi Sundowns players will face each other as Peter Shalulile’s Namibia will go up against Bafana Bafana in a group that also includes Tunisia and Mali.
Shalulile, who is also the Brave Warriors’ all-time leading top goalscorer with 16 goals, will be aiming to extend his impressive national goal record at the AFCON tournament. The Namibian marksman is likely to come up against one of the most-inform goalkeepers on the continent, Ronwen Williams, whom he knows all too well.
The Gqeberha-born goalie spoke about the clash, which he described as a war, saying, “It will be an exciting match and it will be tough. However, we both know we want to do well for our respective countries, so it is going to be a war. I am looking forward to facing him and stopping him. When you step onto the field, you put friendships aside, and it’s all about representing your nation to the best of your abilities. Peter is a great player and I have the utmost respect for him, but during those 90 minutes, we will both be giving our all for our countries. It’s going to be a challenging battle, but that’s what makes tournaments like AFCON so special.”
The Bafana Bafana captain also commented on the quality of the opposition in Group E, saying, “Mali and Tunisia are very tough teams, and they have a lot of experience at the AFCON tournament. We haven’t been there for some time now, but we believe we have the quality to come out of the group and go all the way. The key will be to stay focused, work together as a team, and give our best on the field.”
Grant Kekana is confident that there will be no room for friendships when South Africa faces the Brave Warriors in the second group game on January 21st.
“We have to focus on the job at hand. Shalulie is a quality player who scores lots of goals and we know the threat he brings. He will be looking to do the same for his country, so it is up to us to nullify his threat. It’s a difficult task because of the kind of player he is, but as long as we have the right attitude, mentality and work rate, we are confident of our chances. Nevertheless, we anticipate a very tough encounter when we meet Peter and his teammates,” Grant stated.
The Sundowns defender also described the highly competitive nature of the group overall, saying, “It is a difficult group because they are all good teams. It will boil down to who wants it the most and who is willing to go the extra mile, leaving a piece of his skin on the field. Everyone who represents his country at the AFCON wants to add value and help his team, so we are looking forward to the challenge our opponents will present.”
The 11 Sundowns players who will be at the AFCON tournament are Ronwen Williams, Grant Kekana, Terrence Mashego, Aubrey Modiba, Mothobi Mvala, Khuliso Mudau, Themba Zwane, Teboho Mokoena, Thapelo Maseko, and Thapelo Morena, representing South Africa, while Peter Shalulile will represent the Namibian team.
The tournament kicked off on the 13th of January with host Nation, Ivory Coast winning the opening match (2-0) against Guinea-Bissau in a thrilling encounter at the Alassane Ouattara Stadium, Abidjan. The six group winners and runners-up will advance to the knockout stage, with the four best third-placed teams also progressing, making it a total of 16 nations moving forward.