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Ties that bind: Closely-related players who made AFCON 2023 a family affair

FAMILY has been a theme at AFCON tournaments since the early 60s, and the ongoing 2023 competition has brothers and cousins playing alongside each other in search of that elusive family-won title.

IN the history of the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON), a number of closely-related players have graced the tournament with six siblings winning the trophy.

Ethiopians Italo and Luciano Vassallo won it together in 1962, Congolese brothers Albert Bwanga and Robert Kazadi were part of the 1974 winning team, Cameroonians Andre and Francois Biyik claimed the crown in 1988 while Egyptians Hossam and Ibrahim Hassan triumphed together twice in 1986 and 1998.

Most recently, Zambia’s Christopher and his brother Felix Katongo won the AFCON in 2012 before the Touré brothers of Yaya and Kolo claimed the trophy for Ivory Coast in 2015.

At the 2023 tournament in the Ivory Coast, there were a number of closely related players who came in search of AFCON glory.

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Andre Ayew and Jordan Ayew

The most famous siblings on the continent, Andre and Jordan Ayew, represent African football heritage, being the sons of Ghana legend Abedi Pele Ayew, who was part of the Class of 1982 that won the Black Stars’ last AFCON title.

For 13 years, the Ayew brothers have played alongside each other in the national team and the 2023 edition is their sixth straight AFCON together.

Andre has just made his eighth appearance at the tournament, making history as the player with the joint-most AFCON appearances with 36, alongside Cameroon legend Rigobert Song.

It was, therefore, not difficult for Jordan to fit in when he made his AFCON bow in 2012, the first tournament they played together.

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“Of course, when he arrived, it was my duty to take him under my wing as a team manager but also as a brother,” Andre told CAF in Abidjan.

“I won’t say that playing with Jordan strengthened our relationship. We had always had a strong relationship since September 11, 1991 (when Jordan was born),” he added.

The bond grew stronger and at the 2015 AFCON in Equatorial Guinea, they made history by scoring in the same match.

“Both of us scoring in the same match, during a competition as prestigious as the AFCON, gave me the greatest emotion of my international career,” Jordan remembered.

At this tournament, Andre was a second-half substitute in matches against Cape Verde and Mozambique while his brother started all three, and scored both goals, in their 2-2 draw against the latter.

Even with Ghana crashing out at the group stage for a second straight tournament, the Ayew brothers displayed great resolve and commitment.

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Nouh Mohamed El Abd and Sidi Ahmed Mohamed El Abd

The El Abd brothers became the latest siblings to grace the AFCON when they made the Mauritania squad for the 2023 tournament.

In what was their first AFCON experience, 23-year-old defender Nouh was the lucky one of the two as he was involved in two energy-sapping group games against Burkina Faso and Angola.

Nouh played at the heart of defence in both matches but endured a baptism by fire as his first AFCON match ended in heartbreak.

With Mauritania holding Burkina Faso to a goalless draw, he gave away a stoppage-time penalty after fouling Issa Kabore in the box, allowing the Burkinabe to snatch all three points at the death.

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That did not, however, stop coach Amir Abdou from fielding him yet again in the second group game against Angola, an entertaining clash that Mauritania lost 3-2.

His younger brother Sidi Ahmed Mohamed El Abd was more of a spectator as he could only make the bench for the opening game against Burkina Faso but at 22, the midfielder still has plenty of time to make his mark at the continental tournament.

El Hadji Ba and Lamine Ba

The Ba brothers are among the 200 foreign-born players at AFCON 2023, having been born in France.

Midfielder El Hadji, 30, is the eldest and was recalled to the national team in December 2023, having last played for Mauritania 19 months ago.

The former Racing Lens and Sunderland star earned his place thanks to a good outing with his current club FC Nouadhibou.

El Hadji played three of Mauritania’s four games at the tournament, starting the 3-2 loss to Angola before coming off the bench against Burkina Faso and also came on as a substitute in the Round of 16 defeat to Cape Verde.

His younger brother Lamine, meanwhile, was an ever-present figure in central defence for Mauritania.

Andre Onana and Fabrice Ondoa

Cameroon goalkeeper Andre Onana hit the headlines before the tournament for his decision to delay his arrival and focus on his club Manchester United before being called out again for his poor performance.

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That brought second-choice goalkeeper Fabrice Ondoa into focus as he is the man who took Onana’s place.

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While they fight for a starting place in goal, the two share more than a dressing room. They are cousins who followed a similar career path.

“Fabrice and I have a very nice relationship. We played together as kids,” Onana told NSport.

“Then we were together at the Samuel Eto’o Academy in Douala. So, you can say we have been together in football for nine, maybe 10 years. Five years of that was in Barcelona, sharing a room,” he added of their time together at Barcelona’s La Masia Academy.

It is from here that their careers took different turns, Onana going on to play for Dutch giants Ajax Amsterdam, Italian side Inter Milan and now Manchester United while Ondoa has been shuttling between lower league sides in Spain, Belgium and now at Nimes, in the French third division.

But while Onana is the superstar, Ondoa has played more for the national team. He has earned 51 caps to Onana’s 38, three of those coming at the 2023 AFCON where his cousin was selected once.

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By JOEL OMOTTO, BIRD STORY AGENCY

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