Seven things we learnt for Africa from October’s friendlies

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Ansu Fati and Adama Troare are now committed to playing for Spain

October’s international break was the final chance for coaches to prepare their sides for next month’s Africa Cup of Nations qualifying double-headers.

So what have the friendlies taught us? BBC Sport Africa has picked out seven things for you.

1. Covid-19 had a huge impact:

Even before the window began players were unable to travel to join up with their national teams due to the ongoing pandemic. Liverpool and Senegal’s Sadio Mane tested positive just before travelling.

Austrian side Red Bull Salzburg insisted all of its players including several Africans went into quarantine and not join up with their national teams – this after one of its players tested positive.

Several players then tested positive while they were away from their clubs. Among them were at least four players with the Guinea team and then eight with Mauritania. The number of positive tests led to four proposed friendlies being cancelled.

2. Algeria are still the team to beat in Africa:

The reigning African champions are now unbeaten in 20 matches after beating Nigeria 1-0 and then drawing 2-2 with Mexico, despite playing the last 35 minutes with 10 men.

Djamel Belmadi also showed he has depth in his squad, with only three of the regular players from their Nations Cup win last year in Egypt in his starting line-up for the win over against Nigeria.

To make matters worse for those hoping to topple Algeria they can also boast of a few new players already making an impression.

Among them are Metz’s Farid Boulaya and Said Benrahma, who was outstanding for second-tier Brentford in England last year and is now a big-money target for Premier League side West Ham.

Harris Belkebla of French side Brest and Reda Halaïmia, who plays in Belgium for Beerschot, also showed the talent available to Belmadi.

3. Ansu Fati and Adama Troare are now committed to playing for Spain:

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Spanish duo Adama Traore (left) with Ansu Fati (right)
Adama Traore (left) and Ansu Fati (right) have both now committed to playing international football for Spain

Before the October internationals Barcelona’s teenage sensation, Ansu Fati, was still eligible to swap allegiances from Spain to Guinea-Bissau while Wolves winger Adama Traore could have played for Mali.

Fati has now played four competitive games for Spain meaning the 17-year-old can no longer take advantage of new Fifa regulations that allow players under 21 to switch allegiances even if they have appeared in three competitive matches.

It was third time lucky for Traore with Spain as he played in all three of their matches during the break after twice having to withdraw from Spain squads in the last year.

As Traore is 24 he cannot now play for Mali having appeared in two competitive games for Spain.

4. Munir El Haddadi made to wait even longer to play for Morocco:

Former Barcelona player Munir El Haddadi did not make his expected debut for Morocco despite joining the team for a training camp.

El Haddadi, who now plays for Sevilla, was due to take advantage of the latest Fifa rule change and switch allegiances from Spain to Morocco.

He had tried to make the change in the past but was prevented from doing so as he had made a substitute appearance for Spain in European Championship qualifier and under the the old Fifa regulations he was prevented from playing for Morocco.

But Fifa’s recent amendments mean players under 21 can now change national teams even if they have played up to three competitive games.

As El Haddadi was 19 for his lone appearance for Spain the path seemed clear for a switch,

However it was then revealed he played for Spain’s under-21 side after his 21st Birthday prompting the Moroccan federation deciding he could not play in the Atlas Lions friendlies while they clarified the new regulations with Fifa.

5. Goalkeeping spot not the only worry for Nigeria:

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Leicester City and Nigeria's Wilfred Ndidi
Nigeria seem to struggle in midfield when Wilfred Ndidi is not available

Super Eagles coach Gernot Rohr’s main concern ahead of these friendlies was trying to sort the goalkeeping problem that seems to have plagued the team since the retirement of Vincent Enyeama in 2015.

However the games against Algeria and Tunisia have exposed another issue in the midfield in the absence of Leicester City’s Wilfred Ndidi.

While Nigeria look spoilt for choice in several positions, there seemed to be no replacement for the defensive midfield rock. It left Super Eagles lacking a dominating presence in the centre of the pitch and cover for the back four.

Using West Bromwich Albion defender Semi Ajayi’s in the role did not go as planned as the midfield trio in Rohr’s favoured 4-3-3 formation seemed to lack the synergy to create much for the forwards in both games.

There were interesting performances from debutants like Zandy Sanusi which will give Rohr a selection headache at left back and goalkeeper Maduka Okoye making his 3rd appearance looked comfortable over both games.

6. ‘Ghana really do play better wearing yellow’:

Many superstitious football fans around the world believe their club or country have lucky shirts.

Some Ghanaian fans claim that the Black Stars play better wearing yellow rather than their other traditional colours of white or red and it seems they were proved right this week.

Sportswear giants Puma unveiled new strips for several African national teams last week including a white home shirt and a yellow away one for Ghana.

The unveiling sparked a fair bit of arguing on social media about which one would bring the team luck.

The white outfits did not bring any luck at all for Ghana as they were easily beaten 3-0 by African rivals Mali. Things changed though when they donned the new yellow shirts with a 5-1 thrashing of Asian champions Qatar.

So surely all down to the shirts or maybe the fact the team are still finding their feet under new coach CK Akonnor.

7. East African nations are looking to lower tiers of English football:

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Kenya and Barnsley's Clarke Odour
Barnsley’s Clarke Odour made his debut for Kenya against Zambia

Kenya gave a debut to Clarke Odour in their 2-1 win over Zambia as a substitute. The 21-year-old began his youth career with Leeds United and he now plays for Barnsley in the English Championship.

Although Uganda did not play and friendlies they did hold a training camp in Dubai and they too included two England-based players. Roy Jayden Onen is a 19-year-old midfielder with Championship side Reading’s under-23 team while 21-year-old defender Elvis Bwomono plays for the third tier Southend United.

The trio are following in the footsteps of Tanzania’s Adi Yusuf who played in the lower leagues in England and is now on loan at Welsh club Wrexham, who play in the English fifth tier. Yusuf was part of the Taifa Stars squad at last year’s Africa Cup of Nations finals in Egypt.

Results:

Wednesday 7 October

  • Andorra 1-2 Cape Verde Islands

Thursday 8 October

  • South Africa 1-1 Namibia
  • Belgium 1-1 Ivory Coast

Friday 9 October

  • Japan 0-0 Cameroon
  • Kenya 2-1 Zambia
  • Tunisia 3-0 Sudan
  • Mal 3-0 Ghana
  • Morocco 3-1 Senegal
  • Nigeria 0-1 Algeria
  • The Gambia 1-0 Congo Brazzaville
  • Burkina Faso 3-0 DR Congo
  • Mauritania 2-1 Sierra Leone

Saturday 10 October

  • Cape Verde Islands 1-2 Guinea
  • Cameroon 0-0 South Sudan

Sunday 11 October

  • Tanzania 0-1 Burundi
  • South Africa 1-2 Zambia
  • Angola c-c Guinea-Bissau (cancelled due to Covid)
  • Malawi 0-0 Zimbabwe
  • Gabon 2-0 Benin

Monday 12 October

  • Ghana 5-1 Qatar
  • Togo 1-1 Sudan
  • Madagascar 1-2 Burkina Faso

Tuesday 13 October

  • Japan 1-0 Ivory Coast
  • Morocco 1-1 DR Congo
  • Nigeria 1-1 Tunisia
  • Mexico 2-2 Algeria
  • Angola 3-0 Mozambique
  • Cameroon 0-0 South Sudan (locally-based players only)
  • Mali c-c Iran (cancelled due to Covid)
  • Senegal c-c Mauritania (cancelled due to Covid)
  • The Gambia c-c Guinea (cancelled due to Covid)

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