By Herman Peter Mweguye
The continent’s biggest football showpiece is underway in Cameroon this weekend, and all eyes will be on who takes the crown home come February 6.
However, there will be two debutants in Gambia and Comoros, who will be trying to take the tournament by storm and emulate a similar campaign like last edition’s fairytale first-timers Madagascar, who were impressive in Egypt.
Madagascar were quarterfinalists and were quite a revelation highlighting that 2-0 win against Nigeria in the group stages in 2019.
With several factors at hand, a fairytale of a campaign would be realistic for the two debutants at the prestigious competition in the land.
For starters, the Islanders under the stewardship of coach Amir Abdou are currently ranked 38th on the continent and did the unimaginable by securing a ticket to Cameroon and go into the tournament as one of the underdogs in the 24-nations Cup.
Abdou has kept a majority of the squad that secured the nation’s spot in Cameroon, with key players such as Faiz Selemani, whose solitary goal against Togo buoyed the islanders’ qualification chances, set to lead the attack.
On the other hand, Gambia head coach Tom Saintfiet guided the tiny West African country, ranked 151st in the World, to the AFCON.
And he will be looking up to players like former France U-17 and U-19 midfielder Mahdi Camara, who currently plays for Ligue one side Saint Etienne, AS Roma midfielder Ebrima Darboe and Italy-based duo of Omar Colley and Musa Barrow as well as former Swansea City forward Modou Barrow for a dream debut.
The Coelacanths are drawn in a fierce Group C that consists of two previous African champions in Morocco and Ghana as well as Gabon.
Abdou’s coached side will have all to do as they prepare to write their names in the African football history books, starting with a clash against The Panthers of Gabon on January 10.
On the other hand, the Scorpions, who booked their place in this year’s tournament after winning Group D of the qualifiers ahead of Gabon, DR Congo and Angola, will play their opening match on January 12 against Mauritania in Limbe.
They will, later on, face Mali and Tunisia to conclude the group stages and see what they will have afforded.