Five MUACOL players were called up to their respective national team squads for the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations, which somewhat confusingly took place in January 2024, in the Ivory Coast. There wasn’t a huge amount to celebrate for any of them as they all experienced somewhat disappointing campaigns. You can read a summary of their involvement below.
Manchester United players at AFCON 2023
Goalkeeper Andre Onana was called up by Cameroon for the tournament, although he seemed a bit reluctant to go. Perhaps he was fearful of losing his starting place at United to his Turkish understudy Altay Bayindir, as he delayed his departure until the last possible moment. He played in United’s Premier League match against Spurs on the 14th of January and had hoped to make it to the Ivory Coast in time for Cameroon’s opening fixture against Guinea the next day.
However, in the event, he arrived too late and missed that game. He finally took his place in the starting line-up for the second Group C match against Senegal, but was unconvincing in a 3-1 defeat, which resulted in him being dropped for the 3-2 win over Gambia that qualified Cameroon for the second round.
Onana remained on the bench throughout the subsequent 2-0 defeat to Nigeria that saw Cameroon eliminated from the tournament, so his involvement in the competition amounted to ninety underwhelming minutes. It did, however, mean that he was able to return to England in time for United’s 4-3 win at Wolves on the 1st of February. He’ll be relieved to have only missed one match – the 3-2 win at Newport County in the FA Cup.
Sofyan Amrabat was ever present for Morocco during their Africa Cup of Nations campaign. He met up with the squad in time for their 3-1 win over Sierra Leone in a warm-up match, before helping them top Group F with wins over Tanzania and Zambia and a draw with DR Congo. Playing in his usual defensive midfield role, he was powerless to prevent Morocco’s surprise elimination by South Africa in the second round and he ended the tournament on a personal low by picking up a red card for a second bookable offence in stoppage time.
Athletic Club players at AFCON 2023
Iñaki Williams was the sole Athletic Club player at the tournament, representing his native Ghana. However, he was used sparingly by coach Chris Hughton. He came off the bench for the last half hour in the opening game against Cape Verde with the score at 1-1, but had little impact and Ghana succumbed to an injury time winner.
Hughton did hand Williams a start in Ghana’s second Group B fixture, a clash with highly fancied Egypt. He played the first 73 minutes on the right side of attack before being replaced with Ghana leading 2-1, and could only look on from the bench as Egypt equalised soon after he had left the fray.
Williams was only brought on with a minute of normal time remaining in the final group match against Mozambique. Ghana were two goals to the good at the time, and looked to be coasting into the second round. However, a late capitulation saw them concede twice in stoppage time and crash out on the back of a 2-2 draw.
The silver lining was that Iñaki Williams was able to make it back to Bilbao in time to take a seat among the substitutes for their Copa del Rey quarter-final against Barcelona the following day. He boarded a plane from Abidjan to Paris just a couple of hours after the final whistle and flew through the night before transferring to a flight to Bilbao the next morning.
It was all worthwhile because he came off the bench just before the hour mark with the score at 2-2 and played a decisive role in slaying the Catalan giants. He scored what proved to be the winning goal at the start of the second half of extra time and then set up his younger brother Nico to make it 4-2 and wrap things up in the final minute.
Olympique Lyonnais players at AFCON 2023
Ernest Nuamah was also in Chris Hughton’s Ghana squad, but he didn’t get a lot of playing time. He featured as a substitute in a warm-up game against Namibia at the Baba Yara Stadium in Kumasi, replacing Jordan Ayew for the last twenty minutes. It was a similar scenario in Ghana’s first group game against Cape Verde in Abidjan where he came on in the 62nd minute with the score at 1-1 but was unable to prevent an eventual 201 defeat. He was then an unused substitute in the 2-2 draws against Egypt and Mozambique that sealed Ghana’s elimination from the tournament.
Mama Baldé started at centre-forward in Guinea-Bissau’s opening match against the hosts, Ivory Coast, at the Stade Olympique Alassane Ouattara in Ebimpé, in the north of the capital Abidjan. However, he wasted a couple of chances and ended up getting substituted with five minutes to go. He appeared to have picked up a minor knock prior to being replaced with Dálcio.
Guinea-Bissau’s second Group A fixture was against Equatorial Guinea at the same venue. This time Mama Baldé started on the left side of attack, but things didn’t go his way and he was again withdrawn before the finish by coach Baciro Candé. This time he was replaced with Marciano Sanca after 63 minutes with Guinea-Bissau trailing by four goals to one. They went on to lose 4-2. Mama Baldé wasn’t involved at all in the final group match against Nigeria where a 1-0 defeat confirmed their exit from the competition.