AFCON 2023 Preview: Title holders Senegal kicks off campaign against Gambia

Senegal players pose for a group photo prior to the start of the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations final soccer match between Senegal and Algeria at the Cairo International Stadium, in Cairo, Egypt, on 19 July 2019. (Photo by Islam Safwat/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Senegal launches their quest to defend the Africa Cup of Nations title this week, facing Gambia at Stade Charles Konan Banny de Yamoussoukro on Monday evening. Group C emerges as one of the competition’s most formidable, with five-time champions Cameroon and the promising Guinea set to clash following this match.

In the AFCON’s history, only three nations—Egypt, Ghana, and Cameroon—have successfully defended the title. Senegal, the favorites this year, aim to break the streak since Egypt’s 2010 triumph.

Overcoming a slow start in the 2021 competition, where they scored just one goal and had two goalless draws, Senegal triumphed against Egypt. The Lions of Teranga, boasting a star-studded lineup with Nicolas Jackson, Serge Aurier, Kalidou Koulibaly, and Sadio Mane, enter the tournament in top form, winning six of their last 10 matches.

Senegal’s last encounter with Gambia in the 2015 African Nations Cup resulted in a 1-0 victory, maintaining an unbeaten record since 2008.

Gambia, the underdogs and lowest-ranked team in Group C (29th among 53 African nations by FIFA), embark on their second AFCON appearance. Despite a notable debut in the past, recent setbacks against Burundi and Ivory Coast in World Cup qualifying have raised concerns.

Their journey to the Ivory Coast faced complications as their flight had to U-turn post-departure due to a lack of oxygen, described by some players as a near-death experience. Regardless, Tom Saintfiet’s team enters the competition as giant killers, aiming to approach the match against Senegal with fearlessness, potentially turning it to their advantage.

Senegal’s recent form in all competitions stands at DLWWDW, showcasing their resilience and consistency, while Gambia’s form, reflected in LWWDLL, indicates a challenging build-up to the tournament. As the AFCON unfolds, all eyes will be on Senegal’s pursuit of defending their title and Gambia’s determination to defy the odds once again.

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