Africa's new coaches begin renaissance missions
Unsurprisingly, several African giants opted to part ways with their coaches in the wake of the Africa Cup of Nations in Gabon earlier this year, and the opening round of qualifiers offers an early opportunity to assess the impact of the new men.
Ghana, Tunisia, Ivory Coast, Algeria, and South Africa -- all among Africa's top 12 sides according to the Fifa rankings -- have changed their head coach in recent months, with many of the aforementioned heavyweights twisting after an underwhelming Afcon campaign.
While Ghana reached the semifinals once again -- making the final four for the sixth consecutive tournament -- Avram Grant left his post following the third-placed playoff defeat at the hands of Burkina Faso.
The former Chelsea manager's reign began on a wave of optimism, as he guided the Black Stars to the final of the 2015 event. However, his team stagnated in recent years, as the Israeli coach struggled to make the most of his talented attacking options.
Kwesi Appiah returns to the post, having previously qualified the West Africans for the 2014 World Cup, and he'll be expected to make the Black Stars more attractive to watch, while also introducing more local players -- something Grant was accused of neglecting.
Knowing that qualification for the 2018 World Cup may be a long shot, Appiah will be desperate to start Afcon qualification strongly against Ethiopia this weekend, although the absence of Christian Atsu, and Asamoah Gyan's ongoing fitness concerns, may count against him in the short term.
Like Ghana, Tunisia reached the knockout stages in Gabon, but they've also undergone a change of regime since the tournament, with Henryk Kasperczak dismissed and Nabil Maaloul taking his place.
As with the Black Stars, one of the continent's heavyweights have turned to a local coach, and the new man will hope to build on the optimism of a promising Afcon campaign, taking on North African rivals Egypt on Sunday.
Ivory Coast and Algeria were arguably the two favourites heading into the tournament in Gabon, and both dispatched their coaches after flopping in Central Africa.
Michel Dussuyer never looked the part for the Elephants, where he wholly failed to emulate the charisma and drive of Herve Renard, and was duly dispatched following a limp group-stage exit and a miserable title defence.
The 2015 champions have a track record of making some eye-opening appointments, and the decision to turn to Belgian Marc Wilmots is another dubious step.
The former Bordeaux attacker underachieved with Belgium's golden generation, and it remains to be seen whether he's the man to pick up this talented herd of Elephants after their humiliation in Gabon.
He's recruited sensibly since his appointment, but a 5-0 friendly demolition by the Netherlands earlier in the month suggested that Wilmots has his work cut out.
For Algeria, and new boss Lucas Alcaraz, the way ahead appears somewhat more straightforward. The Spaniard has reintroduced Carl Medjani, Ryad Boudebouz, and Sofiane Feghouli to the side, and while World Cup qualification should be beyond the Fennecs, they'd be hard pressed to slip up in a fairly lacklustre group.
Finally, while some of Africa's top performers at the Afcon -- Cameroon, Egypt, Senegal, Democratic Republic of Congo, Morocco, and Burkina Faso -- have all kept hold of their coaches, two of the continent's fallen giants are also at the start of new regimes.
Gernot Rohr was appointed as Nigeria's technical adviser in August 2016, ending a period of uncertainty following the bizarre tenure of Sunday Oliseh.
The German boss has a remarkable collection of young talents to work with, and the early signs are promising, with the Super Eagles starting World Cup qualifying with a bang and flexing their offensive muscles in a recent 3-0 friendly victory over Togo.
However, Rohr will only truly be judged on his performances at the elite end of African competition -- such are Nigeria's expectations -- and ensuring Nigeria end their Afcon exile will be the first step on their road to renaissance.
The Eagles host South Africa in Uyo in their opening qualifier, and while Bafana Bafana also missed out on the 2017 Afcon, their morale will be boosted following the appointment of Stuart Baxter.
The Scot has immediately moved to heal some of the rifts of Shakes Mashaba's time at the helm, and while he's without Kamohelo Mokotjo -- a returnee who has the qualities to transform Bafana's fortunes -- the Baxter effect makes South Africa a much more menacing prospect.
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