Aurelien Tchouameni's first senior international goal secured France a last-gasp 2-1 friendly victory over Ivory Coast at the Stade Velodrome on Friday. 

Nicolas Pepe put the visitors ahead in Marseille, but Olivier Giroud marked his first Les Bleus cap since Euro 2020 with a rapid equaliser midway through the first half. 

The game looked destined to be heading for a draw with Kylian Mbappe remaining an unused substitute five years to the day since his international debut. 

However, Tchouameni – the Monaco midfielder linked with the likes of Chelsea and Liverpool – headed Matteo Guendouzi's corner home in the 93rd minute to complete the turnaround and give France the win. 

Kyle Walker-Peters and Tyrick Mitchell have been called up to the England squad for the first time after Gareth Southgate was forced to make four changes to his squad.

A hamstring injury to Liverpool's Trent Alexander-Arnold and fitness concerns over Chelsea's Reece James left the Three Lions with Luke Shaw as their sole fit full-back in the 25-man squad that was named on Thursday.

Newcastle United's Kieran Trippier and Chelsea's Ben Chilwell are injured, while Kyle Walker of Manchester City was left out as Southgate considered his options. Manchester United man Shaw, while called up, has not played since the end of February after contracting coronavirus.

Southgate has reacted to the latest setbacks by calling in Southampton full-back Walker-Peters and Crystal Palace's Mitchell, who could make their senior debuts across friendlies against Switzerland and Ivory Coast.

Walker-Peters won the Under-20 World Cup in 2017, but Mitchell has not featured for any of England's youth sides.

Meanwhile, West Brom goalkeeper Sam Johnstone replaces Arsenal's Aaron Ramsdale, who missed Saturday's 1-0 win at Aston Villa with a muscle injury.

The final change saw Tammy Abraham, who scored twice in Roma's 3-0 derby win over Lazio on Sunday, drop out as Aston Villa striker Ollie Watkins comes in.

England boss Gareth Southgate said Marcus Rashford is "clearly not at his best" after dropping the out-of-form Manchester United forward.

The 24-year-old has registered just six goal involvements in 19 Premier League appearances in a frustrating campaign for the Red Devils, and will not feature in England's upcoming home friendlies against Switzerland and Ivory Coast.

Rashford has earned 46 caps for his country and scored 12 international goals, his last strike coming against Romania in a pre-Euro 2020 friendly last June.

But the forward has made just 10 league starts for United this season, leading to suggestions he could seek to leave Old Trafford in the summer, ahead of the World Cup at the end of the year.

"He is in the same position as everyone else, whether they are in the squad or not," Southgate said. "They've all got to play well towards the end of this season and, in particular, at the beginning of next season.

"It is a difficult time for him, he's clearly not at his best, but there is plenty of time. We know what Marcus can bring, and hopefully, he can rediscover the form he's capable of."

 Rashford was not the only United attacker to be left out of Southgate's squad, with Jadon Sancho remaining absent despite registering five goal involvements in his last six Premier League appearances, having recorded just one in his first 18.

Southgate acknowledged Sancho's club form has improved after the winger made a slow start to his United career, stating his absence was due to the competition provided by England's other attackers.

"You just have to look at the other attacking players in the squad: Bukayo Saka, Emile Smith Rowe, Phil Foden," the England boss said. "Jadon's performances have improved at Manchester United, but it is an area where we have big competition for places."

Southgate also left Manchester City right-back Kyle Walker out of his latest group but was keen to emphasise the upcoming games represent an opportunity to look at other right-back options.

"I had a chat with Kyle; we felt this was an opportunity to have a look at the two younger full-backs," Southgate said.

"We know all there is to know about Kyle; he's a very important player, and he'll be back with us in June [for Nations League matches].

"We are very happy with what he's done. He's been a huge part of the progress we've made with this team, and you can see in the biggest matches with Manchester City this year, he's still been a key player for them.

"These young full-backs [Trent Alexander-Arnold and Reece James] are exciting."

The England boss also hit back at suggestions Manchester United defender Harry Maguire could have missed out on the squad, highlighting his importance to England despite there having been recent criticism of his displays at club level.

"There wasn't a chance we weren't going to call him up," Southgate said. "He's one of our best centre-backs."

Manchester United forward Marcus Rashford has been dropped from Gareth Southgate's England squad, while Crystal Palace defender Marc Guehi has been handed his first senior call-up.

Fellow Red Devils attacker Jadon Sancho has also been omitted from the 25-man squad, having also been left out of Southgate's last party in November 2021.

Rashford has endured an underwhelming season at Old Trafford, registering a paltry four goals and two assists in 19 Premier League appearances as his team fights for a top-four finish.

The 24-year-old's frustrating campaign has led to suggestions he could leave Old Trafford, and he described himself as "upset" and "disappointed" after being heckled by his own fans following Tuesday's Champions League defeat to Atletico Madrid.

Meanwhile, 21-year-old defender Guehi could make his Three Lions debut in the Wembley friendlies against Switzerland and Ivory Coast, having impressed for Patrick Viera's Eagles this season.

Guehi has made 28 Premier League appearances since leaving Chelsea for Selhurst Park in July, with the Eagles keeping eight league clean sheets this term, a tally betted by just seven Premier League sides.

Along with Rashford and Sancho, Manchester City defender Kyle Walker is another big-name absence, with Southgate favouring Trent Alexander-Arnold and Reece James in his right-back position.

Alexander-Arnold and James have been two of the Premier League's three most creative defenders this season, having recorded 11 and six assists so far this term, respectively (Liverpool's Andrew Robertson has registered 10).

England host Switzerland on March 26 and Ivory Coast three days later, as the Euro 2020 runners-up ramp up their preparations for this year's World Cup in Qatar.

France boss Didier Deschamps insisted his decision to drop Kurt Zouma was "only a sporting choice" and not linked to an incident that saw the defender appear to attack a pet cat.

Zouma was called up for World Cup qualifiers against Kazakhstan and Finland in November but was notably absent when Deschamps named his latest squad on Thursday.

Animal welfare charity the RSPCA has begun the process of bringing a prosecution against the West Ham player and his brother Yoan after video footage emerged of the alleged attack on the cat in February.

Zouma has continued to be selected by West Ham boss David Moyes in spite of public outrage, although the 27-year-old has been fined "the maximum amount possible" – reported to be £250,000 – and has apologised.

Deschamps was asked about the reason for leaving Zouma out of his plans for friendlies against Ivory Coast and South Africa, and stressed he had not taken off-field factors into account.

"I don't know if it's a strong choice," he said of Zouma's omission. "I don't know, because I haven't called him up systematically.

"In November, he came because Raphael Varane was injured. This remains a sporting choice, only sporting, as with all the choices I make.

"I've had him on the telephone and spoken with him about this affair, but I'm not going to go back over that. I've spoken about it. It remains solely a sporting choice."

Zouma started four games for France in 2021 but was often not actively involved, as Deschamps indicated.

There was also no room in France's latest 23-player group for Olivier Giroud, despite the veteran striker helping Milan lead the way in the Serie A title race.

Giroud has not featured for France since Les Bleus exited Euro 2020 at the hands of Switzerland last June.

Deschamps said: "It's going well for him at the moment. He's scoring important goals with Milan. I'm happy for him.

"I've got decisions to make. I know what Olivier is capable of doing with us. He remains available to France even if I haven't called him up for this get-together."

The head coach handed first call-ups to RB Leipzig forward Christopher Nkunku and Lens defender Jonathan Clauss, saying he had been impressed with their club performances and adding: "I think now is the right time to have a look at them."

France play Ivory Coast in Marseille on March 25, and South Africa in Lille four days later.

France squad: Areola (West Ham), Lloris (Tottenham), Maignan (Milan); Clauss (Lens), Digne (Aston Villa), L Hernandez (Bayern Munich), T Hernandez (Milan), Kimpembe (Paris Saint-Germain), Kounde (Sevilla), Pavard (Bayern Munich), Varane (Manchester United); Guendouzi (Marseille), Kante (Chelsea), Pogba (Manchester United), Rabiot (Juventus), Tchouameni (Monaco); Ben Yedder (Monaco), Benzema (Real Madrid), Coman (Bayern Munich), Diaby (Bayer Leverkusen), Griezmann (Atletico Madrid), Mbappe (Paris Saint-Germain), Nkunku (RB Leipzig).

Eric Bailly missed from the spot as Egypt progressed to the quarter-finals of the Africa Cup of Nations by knocking out Ivory Coast on penalties.

The most frequently contested match in the tournament's history – this was the 11th time these sides have met – was decided when Mohamed Salah swept home to secure a 5-4 win in the shoot-out after 120 goalless minutes in Douala.

In a tight first 90 minutes of few chances, arguably the best fell to Amr El Soleya, who blasted over after being teed up in space by Salah.

Egypt goalkeeper Mohamed El Shenawy tipped over a Sebastien Haller header before keeping out a Wilfried Zaha effort, but he was replaced with two minutes of normal time left due to injury.

A bright start from Egypt to extra time saw El Soleya presented with another chance, the Al Ahly midfielder unable to keep his awkward header down from six yards out.

A speculative Ibrahim Sangare strike was well saved by Mohamed Abou Gabal, and Simon Deli got in front of the replacement goalkeeper from the resulting corner only to head over.

Salah's cut-back set up Trezeguet with practically the final kick of extra time, but the Aston Villa man shot straight at Badra Ali Sangare from six yards.

The opening four penalties of the shoot-out were scored before 'Gabaski' clawed Bailly's effort onto the crossbar, the Manchester United defender's run-up not fooling the keeper.

Zaha swept home to put the pressure on Salah, who found the bottom-right corner to set up a last-eight meeting with Morocco.

Ivory Coast and Egypt will contest arguably the tie of the round on Wednesday as the two giants hope to book their passage to the quarter-finals of the Africa Cup of Nations.

Carlos Queiroz's Pharaohs failed to impress during the group stage, ultimately reaching the knockouts thanks to 1-0 wins over Guinea-Bissau and Sudan, teams many would expect them to beat comfortably.

They got the job done but now come up against one of the more eye-catching teams from the first round in Ivory Coast, who rounded off the group stage with a 3-1 win over defending champions Algeria.

In Wednesday's other last-16 contest, and the final game of the round, surprise package Equatorial Guinea will hope to continue their promising campaign against Mali, who will be firm favourites.

Ivory Coast v Egypt (16:00 GMT)

Mohamed Salah and Egypt have struggled to rise to the occasion so far in Cameroon – if they cannot get themselves up for this, they will surely be heading home.

This will be the 11th AFCON meeting between these two sides, making it the competition's most-played fixture, and Egypt boast a good record against the Elephants in knockout games.

Ivory Coast have not been successful in any of the previous four elimination clashes – the two most recent were in the 2006 final when Egypt won on penalties, and the semi-final two years later as they ran out 4-1 winners.

As such, Ivory Coast will surely feel they have a score to settle, and Egypt's record of losing each of their past two AFCON knockout matches should give them some optimism.

One to watch: Nicolas Pepe (Ivory Coast)

He may be struggling to get a look-in at club level with Arsenal, but Pepe is undoubtedly key for the Elephants. Only Algeria's Youcef Belaili (24) was directly involved in more shots than him in the group stage (19 – 12 shots, seven chances created), while the former Lille winger has been directly involved in more goals than any other Ivory Coast player in the tournament so far (three – two goals, one assist).

 

Mali v Equatorial Guinea (19:00)

Mali may have come through the group stage unbeaten, but Equatorial Guinea will not be writing themselves off producing a shock here.

After all, Les Aigles have had to largely rely on penalties to get their goals, highlighting that their route to this stage has not been entirely emphatic, while Equatorial Guinea have overcome greater odds.

In their previous four AFCON knockout games, they have progressed twice – both of those came in 2015, when they caused upsets by getting past Tunisia and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

This edition of the tournament has seen its fair share of shocks already. Could Mali be the latest to be guilty of complacency?

One to watch: Adama Noss Traore (Mali)

As mentioned, Mali have almost entirely got by on penalties, with three of their four goals coming via Ibrahima Kone's spot-kicks. That meant they scored just once from 27 open play shots in the group stage, yet their non-penalty expected goals (xG) of 3.6 suggests chance creation was not the issue. Traore was their most effective player in that respect with his set-piece deliveries, tallying a squad-high key passes.

 

Ivory Coast marched into the last 16 of the Africa Cup of Nations and sent holders Algeria crashing out with a 3-1 victory at Japoma Stadium.

Algeria needed a win to stay in the tournament, but the sorry defending champions are heading home after finishing bottom of Group E.

Ivory Coast exploited Les Fennecs' frailties to cruise through as group winners and set up a showdown with Egypt, Franck Kessie setting them on their way by volleying in with his left foot to finish off a slick move midway through the first half when Nicolas Pepe squared the ball into his path.

Ibrahim Sangare capitalised on terrible defending to double their lead with a free header six minutes prior to half-time and Pepe was allowed to run forward unchallenged before picking his spot to add a third goal early in the second half.

Riyad Mahrez rattled the right post with a penalty after Simon Deli was adjudged to have fouled Youcef Belaili before Sofiane Bendebka scored Algeria’s first goal of the tournament with a header 17 minutes from time.

Sebastien Haller had what he thought was the Elephants' fourth goal ruled out for offside right at the end, but they gained sweet revenge for a defeat to Algeria at the quarter-final stage of the 2019 showpiece.

Algeria could become the second major casualty of the Africa Cup of Nations as the group stages are concluded on Thursday.

The defending champions head into their final – and arguably toughest – Group E match in a desperate position after failing to impress in their first two outings.

Thursday will also bring an end to Group F, where Algeria's neighbours Tunisia have plenty of work to do as well.

Ivory Coast v Algeria (16:00 GMT)

With one point from two matches, Algeria head into matchday three bottom of Group E and staring into the abyss of elimination.

Only a victory against group leaders Ivory Coast will be enough to take them into the knockouts, otherwise they will fall at the first hurdle for the third time in five AFCON tournaments.

Ivory Coast will be hoping to gain a measure of revenge for their 2019 quarter-final penalty shoot-out defeat to the Fennec Foxes, with the Elephants heading into the game unbeaten in five AFCON games.

They too have something to play for, with top spot still up for grabs.

One to watch: Youcef Belaili (Algeria)

You certainly cannot fault the effort of winger Belaili, given his eight shots is three more than any of his team-mates and he has also tallied the most touches in the opposition's box (11), but there is little getting away from the fact Algeria in general need to sharpen up in front of goal if they are to avoid following Ghana into shock elimination.

 

Sierra Leone v Equatorial Guinea (16:00 GMT)

Before the tournament started, few would have given this pair much hope of finishing in the top two, yet either could grasp that opportunity on Thursday.

Equatorial Guinea are second and hold a one-point advantage, meaning a draw may well be enough to get them through at least as one of the best third-placed teams.

But Sierra Leone drew 2-2 with Ivory Coast last time out following a goalless stalemate with Algeria – the results showed they are not to be taken lightly.

Equatorial Guinea will be favourites, however, and they have only ever lost two of their eight AFCON group games.

One to watch: Mohamed Nbalie Kamara (Sierra Leone)

Kamara has been one of the standout goalkeepers at the tournament so far. His 12 saves are the most of anyone, and those stops have seen him record a 'goals prevented' record of 2.1, the second-best record among keepers at the AFCON.

 

Gambia v Tunisia (19:00 GMT)

Although Tunisia could potentially sneak through as one of the best third-place teams with their current haul of three points, it would be a disappointing group stage total for a side that came into the tournament with high expectations.

Yet the Carthage Eagles' situation is slightly complicated by the fact they recorded seven new positive COVID-19 cases in the build-up, with key players Wahbi Khazri and Ali Maaloul among them.

That will be a boost to Gambia, however, with the Scorpions aiming to become only the third AFCON debutants this century to go unbeaten in the group stage.

But Tunisia have not lost to an AFCON debutant since the 1996 final.

One to watch: Hannibal Mejbri (Tunisia)

Manchester United youngster Hannibal has been used sparingly in this tournament, playing just 45 minutes so far. Yet, his tally of two chances created is only bettered by Khazri and Maaloul (both on three), and given Tunisia's COVID-19 issues, a first start may be on the cards.

 

Mali v Mauritania (19:00 GMT)

A wonderful chance presents itself here for Mali, as they target topping Group F.

If they better Gambia's result against Tunisia, that is exactly what they will achieve, as well as extending their longest ever group stage unbeaten run to seven matches.

Anything other than a Mali win would be a significant surprise given Mauritania are bottom of the group and pointless, their five goals conceded second-worse to Ethiopia, who have played a game more.

One to watch: Ibrahima Kone (Mali)

Kone has played a prominent role in Mali's solid start to the tournament, scoring a penalty in each of their two matches. If he nets against Mauritania, he will be the first Malian to tally get three goals in a single AFCON edition since former Barcelona midfielder Seydou Keita in 2013.

 

A stoppage-time clanger from goalkeeper Badra Ali Sangare meant Ivory Coast could only draw 2-2 with Sierra Leone at the Africa Cup of Nations.

Sangare attempted to prevent a late corner but shockingly let the ball squirm from his grasp and Steven Caulker was able to capitalise, crossing for Alhaji Kamara to scramble home.

It was the second costly major error from Ivory Coast who squandered a 12th-minute penalty when Franck Kessie saw his kick pushed away by Mohamed Kamara, after Wilfried Zaha was sent sprawling by Umaru Bangura.

Kamara was the hero of Sierra Leone's opening goalless draw against Algeria, but he was beaten here in the 25th minute when Zaha's excellent pass found Sebastien Haller, and the Ajax man took a touch before rifling into the bottom-right corner.

Sierra Leone surprisingly drew level in the 55th minute when Musa Kamara produced some outstanding footwork to drive into the penalty area and send a left-footed strike into the top-left corner.

Ivory Coast restored their lead with a delightful team goal in the 65th minute, the ball being worked swiftly from left to right before Nicolas Pepe drove a low 20-yard shot beyond the Sierra Leone goalkeeper. Yet there was a sucker-punch to come in the third minute of stoppage time, Sangare left embarrassed and injured in the process of conceding the dramatic equaliser.

Sunday's action at the Africa Cup of Nations will see two former winners go in search of much-needed points.

Algeria, champions in 1990 and three years ago, were held to a surprise draw by Sierra Leone on matchday one and sit second in Group E.

North African neighbours Tunisia, who won the tournament back in 2004, started their campaign with a 1-0 defeat to 10-man Mali and are in desperate need of a result against Mauritania.

Mali will take on Gambia, while the Ivory Coast will look to consolidate top spot in their group when they meet Sierra Leone.

 

Gambia v Mali

Gambia are bidding to become the first debutants to win their opening two matches at the Africa Cup of Nations since Equatorial Guinea did so in 2012.

That said, Mali are on a run of three wins in five AFCON games – as many as in their previous 15 in the competition – and are looking for consecutive victories to start the group for the first time since 2004.

In what will be a first meeting of these sides in this tournament, the advice is to keep your eye on the action in the second half: in the past 12 years, Mali have scored 21 of their 31 goals in this competition after half-time, a figure second only to Ivory Coast (25).

One to watch: Hamari Traore

Rennes captain Traore made nine final-third entries against Tunisia, the most of any player, as he proved a dangerous outlet. He could be a major threat.

 

Tunisia v Mauritania

Tunisia's shock loss to Mali was their third in a row at the AFCON, something they last suffered in 2004. They have never before lost four consecutive matches at this tournament.

The 2004 champions are also enduring a four-game winless run in the group stage and were held to a goalless draw by Mauritania in 2019 in their only previous meeting in this competition.

Mauritania, still without a victory at the Africa Cup of Nations, will at least hope to end a three-game run without a goal.

One to watch: Wahbi Khazri

Khazri missed a crucial 77th-minute penalty against Mali during a frustrating performance. The Saint-Etienne forward will be more determined that anyone to make amends.

 

Ivory Coast v Sierra Leone

Ivory Coast are seeking a third consecutive win in the AFCON group stages, something they last managed between January 2010 and January 2013.

History is on their side against Sierra Leone: they won the only previous meeting at this competition 4-0 back in 1994, in which Joel Tiehi scored a hat-trick - something no Ivory Coast player has managed since in the AFCON.

Sierra Leone have not scored in five of their previous six games at this event, only managing to do so against Burkina Faso in 1996, but they do have a man in good form at these finals...

One to watch: Mohamed Nbalie Kamara

Having studied Algeria's Riyad Mahrez by watching Manchester City footage, Sierra Leone goalkeeper became a national hero for his performance in their opening game. He even won praise from the country's president, Julius Maada Bio, who delivered a personal message of thanks on social media.

Algeria v Equatorial Guinea

The third-highest-ranked African side were frustrated on matchday one, and there will be a determination to put things right.

They do at least boast an impressive defensive record, having gone unbeaten in nine matches in this tournament and kept six clean sheets in their most recent eight games.

Equatorial Guinea have won just one AFCON match since getting two victories on their tournament debut in 2012. Still, they were unbeaten in five games before these finals and beat Tunisia in World Cup qualifying towards the end of last year.

One to watch: Youcef Belaili

Belaili created six opportunities on matchday one, taking his tally to 18 in the competition overall. That is double the amount of chances created by any other Algeria player since his debut three years ago.

 

Max Gradel's fifth-minute stunner was enough to see Ivory Coast start their Africa Cup of Nations campaign with a 1-0 win over Equatorial Guinea.

In just the second AFCON meeting between the two nations, experienced winger Gradel sent a thunderous first-time effort into the top-right corner to put the Elephants ahead in their opening encounter in Douala on Wednesday.

Yet despite facing a star-studded Ivory Coast side, Equatorial Guinea can consider themselves unfortunate not to have taken something against the two-time AFCON champions.

Indeed, Gradel's effort was the only attempt on target from Ivory Coast until substitute Nicolas Pepe forced a save from Manuel Sapunga in the 81st minute.

Emilio Nsue squandered Equatorial Guinea's best opportunity just after the hour-mark, drilling straight at Ivory Coast goalkeeper Badra Ali Sangare when through one-on-one.

But the Elephants were not made to pay for their relatively blunt attacking, given the quality at their disposal, as they took the lead in Group E and ensured their run of avoiding defeat in AFCON openers continued, having last gone down in such a game in 1996.

Wednesday sees the last remaining Africa Cup of Nations group get under way, with Tunisia and Ivory Coast set to be the biggest draws.

Both countries have designs on going deep into the tournament and will be eager to make positive starts to ensure they are not playing catch-up.

While Tunisia and Ivory Coast have racked up 44 AFCON qualifications between then, Gambia will be making their bow.

 

Tunisia v Mali (13:00 GMT)

Africa's second-highest ranked nation, Tunisia, are appearing in a 15th successive AFCON this year, setting a new record.

But they have only been beyond the last eight once (in 2019) since winning the tournament as hosts in 2004. The Carthage Eagles are, some might say, frequent under-achievers at this level.

Yet they head into the tournament in reasonably good shape having reached the final of last month's Arab Cup, only losing to AFCON champions Algeria after extra-time.

Mondher Kebaier will be expecting first opponents Mali to represent their toughest challenge in Group F, with the Eagles having never lost their AFCON opener (W6 D5).

One to watch: Hannibal Mejbri (Tunisia)

Manchester United midfielder Hannibal started all six of Tunisia's games as they reached the final of the Arab Cup. He may not feature quite as prominently in a full-strength squad, but he possesses the kind of off-the-cuff abilities that could help unlock stubborn defences. Expect him to draw a lot of fouls, such is his natural talent.

Mauritania v Gambia (16:00)

Gambia, along with the Comoros, are one of two nations debuting at the AFCON this year and will be eager to produce a positive showing.

In theory, they begin with arguably the most winnable of their three Group F games, with Mauritania coach Didier Gomes Da Rosa likening the match to a "semi-final".

His counterpart Tom Saintfiet has a better-travelled squad, however, his selection made up mostly of Europe-based players – Sampdoria, Gent, Spezia, Real Valladolid and even Roma are among the clubs represented.

The west-African nation may be the lowest-ranked team in the competition (150th), but they reached Cameroon as the only side to come through both the preliminary and group stages of qualifying, shocking Gabon, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Angola to top the table.

One to watch: Musa Barrow (Gambia)

Barrow is one of six Gambia players to ply his trade in Italy, though the 23-year-old is the most polished. The left winger also has an end product, with his 24 non-penalty Serie A goal involvements since the start of last season a highly respectable effort that is bettered by only 15 players.

 

Equatorial Guinea v Ivory Coast (19:00)

Ivory Coast might have gone all the way back in 2019 were it not for their somewhat surprising penalties elimination by Algeria in the last eight.

They are among the favourites once again and will have a shot at revenge when they meet Algeria in Group E, a clash that will likely determine who finishes top.

But first they tussle with an Equatorial Guinea side competing for the first time as a non-host nation, having been knocked out by Ivory Coast in the last eight 10 years ago and then reaching the semis in 2015.

Juan Micha's side will do well to see off the Elephants here, though, with Ivory Coast suffering just two defeats in their previous 20 AFCON group games.

One to watch: Sebastien Haller (Ivory Coast)

Ajax striker Haller is having an incredible season at club level, boasting a goals haul of 22 across between the Eredivisie and Champions League already. In fact, his 10 strikes in Europe made him the quickest player to reach double figures for career goals in the Champions League (six games), and he matched Cristiano Ronaldo's record of scoring in every single game in a single group stage.

 

We may only be a week into 2022, but the first major international football tournament of the year is on the horizon, with the Africa Cup of Nations kicking off on Sunday.

It's been a long time coming as well – it was initially due to take place in June and July 2021 but was brought forward to January 2021 due to concerns about the weather. It then had to be pushed back a year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Of course, fans and teams have had to put up with the usual posturing from those at certain clubs regarding the inconvenience of relinquishing players in the middle of the season, but despite that there remains a healthy selection of big names.

In fact, given the standard the likes of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane, Riyad Mahrez and Achraf Hakimi usually play at, some might even argue this is one of the highest-quality groups of players to feature at a single AFCON.

But the beauty of every international tournament is that there's more to them than the big names – there are plenty of promising younger players looking to impress for a global audience.

Kamaldeen Sulemana, 19, winger – Ghana

Hold on to your seats! Kamaldeen is sure to ramp up the excitement at AFCON, such is his rather chaotic approach to attacking – and acrobatic celebration. The teenage winger is immensely tricky and agile, with his 246 take-on attempts in the 2020-21 Danish Superliga nearly twice as many as anyone else – to put that into context, only Lionel Messi managed more (261) in the top five leagues. He's carried that into Ligue 1 following his move to Rennes, with his average of one shot involvements from a ball carry every 43 minutes being the second best in Ligue 1 (min. 900 minutes played) after Kylian Mbappe – that's obviously pretty good.

 

Ibrahim Sangare, 24, defensive midfielder – Ivory Coast

While good performances at AFCON alone may not be enough for players to convince big clubs they're worth a punt on, showing promise might just get a few more eyes on them. Sangare is definitely one of those who could put himself 'in the shop window'. The PSV midfielder has a lot about him, particularly when it comes to defending. In this season's Eredivisie, only three players (at least 500 minutes played) have averaged more than his 3.4 tackles per 90 minutes, while he ranks fifth for interceptions frequency (2.5) and third for middle-third recoveries (5.7). He's also technically proficient and happy on the ball, with only three players attempting more passes (81.1) on a per-90-minute basis than him.

Hannibal Mejbri, 18, attacking midfielder – Tunisia

A former France youth international, Mejbri may have only declared for Tunisia in 2021 but this will already be his second international tournament. The Manchester United midfielder started all six of Tunisia's games as they reached the final of the Arab Cup in December, eventually losing to Algeria in the final. Hannibal may not feature quite as prominently in a full-strength squad, but the midfielder possesses the kind of off-the-cuff abilities that endear him to fans – if not opponents. He is known to be targeted for fouls when playing for United's second team, such is his natural talent.

Ilaix Moriba, 18, central midfielder – Guinea

2021-22 hasn't quite gone as Moriba presumably thought it would. He left Barcelona after failing to agree a new contract, despite having broken into the first-team setup at Camp Nou. The midfielder had shown exceptional promise, particularly on the ball – he averaged 3.2 dribbles per 90 minutes, a total bettered by only four team-mates, and boasted a success rate of 89.3 per cent, with only Miralem Pjanic bettering him. The €16million signing has played just twice in the Bundesliga since the move to Leipzig and will surely be relishing some competitive action.

Edmond Tapsoba, 22, centre-back – Burkina Faso

If Burkina Faso go on to have a good tournament, Tapsoba will almost certainly have had something to do with it. The centre-back is an extremely elegant player for someone roughly the size of a small building and whose name sounds like a hipster bar, and at club level he performs a vital function in getting Leverkusen on the front foot, with his 13.5 progressive ball carries in the Bundesliga this term second only to Alphonso Davies. If he can translate that to the international stage, Burkina Faso will have a real weapon in the middle – even if he doesn't, he'll still give them aerial threat at set-pieces.

 

Abdul Fatawu Issahaku, 17, forward – Ghana

The case of Issahaku is a rather intriguing one. Transfer rumours in 2021 suggested Liverpool had signed him for £1.5million, but that soon turned out to be false. He remains in his native Ghana, but the exciting attacker has seemingly done enough to earn a shot at international level despite being just 17 – he's the second-youngest player at the tournament. But he's used to that sort of situation. After all, before he'd even turned 17 in March he was named Player of the Tournament at the Under-20 Africa Cup of Nations. While that Liverpool move never materialised, he's got himself another opportunity to shine.

Sunday finally sees the start of a tournament that has already been rescheduled twice as the Africa Cup of Nations 2021 begins in Cameroon.

Originally scheduled for last year, organisers decided to move the tournament from the original dates of June and July 2021 forward to January and February due to concerns about the "unfavourable climactic conditions" in Cameroon.

Then the COVID-19 pandemic saw the whole thing pushed back by a year, and so here we are. Third time lucky, and with some of the game's biggest stars ready to create more memories as Africa's best tussle it out for the continent's biggest prize.

On the eve of the competition, Stats Perform takes a look at some previous memories and classic moments from Africa Cup of Nations history, with penalty shoot-outs featuring heavily.

An Englishman won an international tournament (no, seriously)

Referee Ali Bin Nasser oversaw one of the most controversial moments in football history as far as England are concerned, missing the relatively clear handball by Diego Maradona as the great Argentine's "Hand of God" helped dump the Three Lions out of the 1986 World Cup.

One particular Englishman may have been more forgiving about Bin Nasser though as the Tunisian official also took charge of that year's Africa Cup of Nations final, which saw Mike Smith's Egypt side lift the trophy. Perhaps Bin Nasser felt England had already won enough that year by the time he got to Mexico City.

The Egyptians had won the first two iterations of the competition in 1957 and 1959, before finishing as runners-up to Ethiopia in 1962.

However, they had not reached another final before hosting the 1986 AFCON, and so there was plenty of pressure on Smith – a former Wales boss – to deliver.

It did not start well as the hosts lost 1-0 to Senegal in Cairo in their opening game, but wins against the Ivory Coast and Mozambique, and then a semi-final victory against Morocco saw Egypt into their first AFCON final in 24 years.

The reportedly 100,000 in attendance will have feared the worst as the game with Cameroon went to penalties following a goalless encounter, especially with an Englishman in charge, but when Andre Kana-Biyik shot wide for the Indomitable Lions, Smith and Egypt had their hands on the trophy and a famous victory.

A penalty shoot-out is a marathon, not a sprint

Many players know what it is like to take a pressure penalty in a shoot-out and score, some know what it is like to do so and miss, but very few have ever done both, especially in the same shoot-out.

The final of the 1992 AFCON between Ghana and the Ivory Coast had not exactly been a classic, and inevitably went to penalties, where finally some drama occurred.

After seven successful penalties, Ghana's Isaac Asare missed, giving Joel Tiehi the chance to win it. He also missed, and when Tony Yeboah just about scored his penalty, it was back level.

That is how it stayed until every single player, including the goalkeepers, had taken one, now level at 10-10. Ivory Coast's Basile Aka Kouame stepped up to take his second penalty, and hit it straight at Ansah, who somehow failed to stop it.

This meant that Ghana's Anthony Baffoe, who had calmly slotted his penalty at the start of the shoot-out, had to do so again. His second effort was saved and the Ivory Coast had won, leaving Baffoe to come to terms with the rare experience of being both a hero and a villain in the same shoot-out.

Bafana Bafana win maiden tournament

South Africa had actually never played in the AFCON until they hosted in 1996, having been disqualified from the first tournament for refusing to field a multiracial team and subsequently banned during apartheid, before failing to qualify in 1994.

However, with Kenya stripped of hosting duties two years later due to financial irregularities, South Africa were given a place in the tournament after agreeing to step in.

One helping hand in their quest to lift the trophy on home soil was a diplomatic row between Nelson Mandela and General Sani Abacha, the military leader of Nigeria. As a result, the defending champions, who would also go on to win Olympic gold in Atlanta in 1996, did not compete.

A crowd of 75,000 in Soccer City watched their historic first AFCON appearance, which was a rather surprising 3-0 win over Cameroon. This was followed by a 1-0 win against Angola, which meant that they topped their group despite defeat to Egypt in their next game.

Six months prior, South Africa's rugby union side had lifted the World Cup on home soil, and now Clive Barker's team were also exciting the nation as they booked their place in the final back at Soccer City after wins over Algeria and Ghana.

They faced Tunisia in front of 80,000, who saw two late Mark Williams goals secure a surprisingly routine win to become the continent's champions.

As it turned out, that remains South Africa's one and only AFCON success to date, having not even reached a final since 1998.

Football is best when it means nothing

With the 2010 AFCON just days away, suddenly, the football did not seem so important.

A terrorist attack on the Togo team bus saw the driver, the team's assistant manager and media officer lose their lives, while several others suffered injuries.

The continent and the game was shaken, but the tournament still went ahead as planned, albeit without Togo who understandably withdrew.

The opening game between hosts Angola and Mali began with a moment's silence, before a frenetic 90 minutes that saw Angola throw away a four-goal lead with only 12 minutes remaining.

Flavio scored twice in the first half, and then a Gilberto penalty and another from former Manchester United striker Manucho gave Angola a seemingly comfortable advantage, only for Seydou Keita, Freddie Kanoute, Keita again and finally Mustapha Yattabare to complete a remarkable comeback.

It was galling for the hosts, though they still ultimately topped the group while Mali went out, but provided a welcome distraction from the horrifying events of days prior.

Zambia's greatest night

Nineteen years after the tragic plane crash that took the lives of all 30 passengers, including 18 players and the team coach of the national team, Zambia returned to Gabon to sensationally win the 2012 AFCON.

The team from 1993 had been on their way to a World Cup qualifier, in a reasonable position to qualify, when the old military plane they were on exploded over the Gulf of Guinea shortly after taking off from Libreville, Gabon. It was a devastating disaster that soured relations between Zambia and Gabon for years.

Fast-forward to 2011, and coach Herve Renard, who had been at the helm for the 2010 AFCON where Zambia were eliminated on penalties by Nigeria at the quarter-final stage, was brought back for another go ahead of the 2012 competition, which was to be held jointly by Equatorial Guinea and Gabon.

After winning the group, Zambia came through the quarter-final against Sudan with a routine 3-0 win, only for Ghana to await in the semi-final, who had captured the hearts of the world in their journey at the first ever World Cup held in Africa in 2010.

An Emmanuel Mayuka goal with 12 minutes remaining was enough to see them cause somewhat of an upset and advance to the final against arguably the strongest African side at the time, the Ivory Coast, in Libreville, just a few miles from the 1993 crash site.

Ahead of the game, the squad visited a beach nearby and sent an array of flowers floating out to sea.

The opponents' line-up included Premier League stars Salomon Kalou, Kolo and Yaya Toure, Didier Zokora and Didier Drogba, but a spirited young Zambia side matched them, taking them all the way to penalties after a goalless 120 minutes of football.

After seven successful penalties each, Zambia looked to have been handed their moment when Kolo Toure had his effort saved, only for Rainford Kalaba to shoot over.

However, when Gervinho did the same, it came down to Stoppila Sunzu, who smashed the ball into the net to win the trophy for his nation and seal a fitting tribute to those who were lost almost two decades earlier.

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