The beat towards next year’s TotalEnergies Africa Cup of Nations, Cote d’Ivoire 2023, is quickening as the continent’s heavyweights stepped up preparations with a series of international friendlies this week.
With the 24-team finals now just months away, teams are using every opportunity to hone tactics, assess options and build momentum.
*Cote d’Ivoire held again
Tournament hosts Cote d’Ivoire continued their disappointing build-up with a 1-1 draw against South Africa in Abidjan on Tuesday.
Themba Zwane snatched a 9th minute lead for Bafana Bafana before Sebastien Haller equalised midway through the second half.
It means the Elephants have won just one of their last five matches as they struggle to find form.
*Burkina Faso see off Mauritania
Burkina Faso warmed up with a 2-1 victory over Mauritania in Casablanca as they tune up for a difficult AFCON group.
The Stallions earned victory thanks to goals from Aziz Ki and Mohamed Konate before Ibnou Ba grabbed a late consolation.
*Guinea held by fellow finalists Gabon
Elsewhere, the clash between Guinea and Gabon ended in a 1-1 draw in Portugal.
Guinea’s in-form striker Serhou Guirassy put Syli Nationale ahead before Gabon levelled from the penalty spot after the break.
*Madagascar return to winning ways
After disappointing recent results, Madagascar bounced back with an important 2-1 victory over Benin in Morocco.
The Barea fell behind early on but a second half comeback sealed the win to restore confidence.
Madagascar can take heart as they aim to better their remarkable 2019 AFCON run where they reached the quarter-finals.
*Mali continue strong form against Saudi Arabia
Mali made it back-to-back wins by defeating Saudi Arabia 3-1 thanks to goals from Moussa Doumbia, Hamari Traore and Lassine Sinayoko.
The Eagles have emerged as dangerous outsiders for AFCON 2023 glory after qualifying impressively under coach Eric Chelle.
They carry momentum into a favourable looking group alongside Tunisia,South Africa and Namibia.
*Japan inflict defeat on Tunisia
However, it was disappointment for Tunisia as they slipped to a 2-0 defeat against Japan in Kobe.
First half goals from Kyogo Furuhashi and Junya Ito extended Japan’s unbeaten run to six games as Carthage Eagles struggled.
With a testing group also containing Mali, South Africa and Namibia.awaiting in January, Tunisia still have work to do.
*Senegal edge rivals Cameroon
Finally, the two AFCON 2023 favourites met in a highly anticipated clash as Senegal beat Cameroon 1-0 in France.
Sadio Mane tucked away a 35th minute penalty in a tight encounter between the continental giants who both have eyes on the title.
They will renew hostilities in Group C on 19 January in a match that could decide who tops the pool.
*Ghana hammered by the USA
Four-time AFCON chmapions Ghana suffered a heavy defeat against USA in as friendly in Nashville on Tuesday night.
The Black Stars have a lot to do ahead of the tournament in Cote d’Ivoire as they conceded all the four goals in the the first-half.
Meanwhile, Comoros defeated Cape Verde 2-1 in a friendly in France and the Blue Sharks know they must improve in an AFCON group comprising Egypt and Ghana.
Elsewehre, two goals by Patson Daka helped Zambia to defeat Uganda 3-0.
With the stakes rising, coaches everywhere now face major decisions as they shape AFCON squads capable of going all the way.
*Credit: CAF Media.