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AFCON Is the CRAZIEST International Competition in a Long Time

5 minute read Published February 1, 2024

Every other year African players take a little bit more than a month off their club duties to play the Africa Cup of Nations (or Afcon, as it’s also known plus it’s annoying writing that whole name out every time). This year they all went to the Ivory Coast to fight it out with their respective nations.

The tournament is played in six different stadiums around the Ivory Coast and the final played at the Alassane Ouattara Stadium in the capital, Abidjan. 

It means that European clubs have been forced to get by without some of their best players. For example Mohamed Salah, Idrissa Gueye and Mohamed Kudus who are all nailed on starters for their clubs. Nottingham is the most affected Premier League team - six of their players are representing their country. 

Ligue 1 and Serie A are the two European leagues losing the most players to the competition, 56 and 51 players respectively, have been called up to represent their countries. Among them are some of the biggest stars in football at the moment, such as Victor Osimhen. From La Liga, 28 players were called up to their national teams.

What a tournament it has been so far. Heading into the tournament there were two standout favourites to win - Senegal and Morocco. Alongside those two, Algeria, Egypt and the Ivory Coast, as hosts, were expected to have good tournaments. But things have not gone the way anyone thought.

Group stages

Senegal was probably the only team that lived up to expectations in the group stage. They cruised through their group, taking all available nine points from Cameroon, Guinea and Gambia. 

Speaking of Cameroon, they started their first game without, arguably, the team's biggest star - Andre Onana. The Manchester United goalkeeper decided to push joining the team to be able to play Tottenham in the league, which Manchester United ultimately lost. 

The Cameroonian manager, Rigobert Song, was, maybe rightfully, very annoyed with his decision and played Devis Epassy, the third choice goalkeeper at Abha Club who are currently second from last in the Saudi Pro League. Onana spent the entire Afcon on the bench.

The Ivory Coast came into the tournament as one of the favourites to win it all, partly due to them being hosts. They started out well, winning their game against Guinea-Bissau but then lost to both Nigeria and Equatorial-Guinea, finishing the group with three points and a -3 goal difference, which meant that, barring a huge surprise between Ghana and Mozambique, they were out of the competition. 

This was a huge disappointment of course and the Ivorian FA decided to take immediate and decisive action and sack manager Jean-Louis Basset. After 90 minutes played in Ghana - Mozambique, it looked to go the way everyone expected, with Ghana leading 2-1 - but with the last kick of the game, Reinildo Mandava made it 2-2. Ivory Coast made it through to the knockouts by having the best record as third placed team in the group stage. So there they were, through to the knockouts and without a coach. 

Reportedly, the Ivorian FA immediately reached out to former Saudi Arabia and current France women's national team coach Hervé Renard about a loan until the end of the tournament. That’s two firsts from the Ivory Coast - sacking the manager mid-tournament and loaning a manager?

Though unconvincing in many cases, all top rated teams, except for Algeria, made it through to the knockouts.

Round of 16

Now, finishing as the best third placed team, Ivory Coast got a very tough draw in the RO16 - Senegal - who they would be forced to take on with a caretaker manager. Maybe it was the new manager's bounce, maybe it was luck but somehow the Ivory Coast managed to take the game to penalties. And won.

That wasn’t the only game that ended with a penalty shoot-out as DR Congo also managed to hold onto a draw against Egypt long enough, and defied the very long odds by winning, making it through to the quarter finals. In Egypts defence, Salah got injured early in the tournament and was sidelined for this game.

Alright, so Egypt is out, Senegal is out. It’s Morocco’s chance to win it then? Nope, the North African team lost to South Africa. Bafana Bafana won the game 2-0 in a thriller that stayed 1-0 until the 95th minute.

Next round

So here we are - these are the quarterfinals in Afcon:

Nigeria vs Angola
DR Congo vs Guinea
Mali vs Ivory Coast
Cape Verde vs South Africa

Interestingly, here are the team that made it to the quarterfinals in the 2021 Afcon:

Senegal vs Equatorial Guinea
Egypt vs Morocco
Burkina Faso vs Tunisia
Gambia vs Cameroon

Notice anything? That’s right, none of the teams that made it to the quarter finals in 2021, made it this time.

So who’s going to win it now that all the favourites are out? Ivory Coast were among the top rated teams before Afcon began but due to their very shaky start to and them having only a caretaker manager, people are less positive to their chances.

Nigeria have played pretty well and are now favourites to win it. The Super Eagles offence is stacked with Osimhen leading the line and players like Lookman, Iwobi, Iheanacho available. Unfortunately, one of the breakthrough players in the Bundesliga this season, Leverkusen Victor Boniface, couldn’t make it due to injury. 

But, it’s defensively that they’ve looked the best, having only conceded one goal, in their group stage game against Equatorial Guinea. They also got a decent draw in the quarter finals, Angola, one of the most surprising teams to make it through. And, as usual, Nigeria has the best kit in the tournament.

The quarter finals are played tomorrow and Saturday, try to catch a game!

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