New Morocco coach Herve Renard begins his quest for a record-equalling third Africa Cup of Nations title if he steers the Atlas Lions to the 2017 finals, starting with the double-header qualifiers against Cape Verde Islands in Praia on Saturday and in Marrakech Tuesday.
The two teams tie in Group F when both countries beat Sao Tome e Principe convincingly and Libya narrowly in the last qualifiers.
The 47-year-old Renard succeeded Badou Zaki last month after indifferent Moroccan performances. He guided no-hopers Zambia to 2012 glory and repeated the feat with perennial underachievers Cote d’Ivoire last year.
Hassan Shehata coached Egypt to three consecutive titles between 2006 and 2010, but only Renard has won the Cup of Nations with different countries. His successes in Africa contrast with failures in France. He could not prevent Sochaux being relegated and a second Ligue 1 stint ended this season with Lille sacking him.
Given that Morocco are ranked only 19 in Africa, Renard has been set a tough target of at least reaching the 2017 Cup of Nations semi-finals by his new employers. And while some pundits remain sceptical as to whether Cape Verde are the strongest African national football team, they are chasing a third consecutive Cup of Nations appearance.
Like Morocco, Cape Verde will have a new coach with local Felisberto ‘Beto’ Cardoso succeeding Portuguese Rui Aguas, who quit after not being paid for seven months.
Cape Verdean football officials said the salary was supposed to be paid by Portugal under a development and co-operation agreement between the countries.
Renard has successfully persuaded France-born Lille midfielder Sofiane Boufal to play for the country where his parents were born.
Other high-profile showdowns involve Nigeria and Egypt in Group G and Cameroon and South Africa in Group M.
Nigeria, who have home advantage first, are another team with a new coach as Samson Siasia took over when Sunday Oliseh quit following a social media rant against his critics.
Argentina-born Egypt coach Hector Cuper has recalled 43-year-old Cup of Nations-winning goalkeeper Essam El Hadary after an injury ruled out first choice Sherif Ekramy.
Egypt, whose three titles in a row were followed by failures to qualify for the last three tournaments, beat Tanzania and Chad convincingly to lead Nigeria by two points.
South Africa, who were held by Gambia and lost to Mauritania, leaving them bottom of the table, meet Cameroon, who are five points ahead.
Home and away fixtures against lowly-ranked Sudan offer defending champions Cote d’Ivoire a realistic chance to win in Abidjan and Khartoum and build a four-point Group I lead.