The 2023 Africa Cup of Nations group stage has proven to be a rollercoaster ride, defying expectations and setting the stage for an exhilarating tournament in Cote d’Ivoire.
The drama kicked off on January 13 with the Ivory Coast and Guinea-Bissau clash in Ebimpe, and since then, the tournament has been packed with unexpected outcomes, shattered preconceptions, and standout performances.
Below are some key highlights and surprises that have emerged from the group stage.
The introduction of VAR at AFCON 2023 has been marked by success. The technology looks perfect for the competition
So far, the technology’s utilization has proven effective, providing clarity behind refereeing decisions.
Despite occasional debates over specific calls, VAR has not disrupted the tournament flow, showcasing its positive impact on decision-making.
One of the undeniable highlights of the group stage is the goal-scoring extravaganza, with a total of 89 goals hitting the back of the net. This impressive tally almost rivals the 100 goals count of the 2021 showpiece and even surpasses the 102 total goals scored at the 2019 edition
The average number of goals per game at AFCON 2023 stands at 2.47, exceeding the averages of the previous five tournaments leading into the knockout rounds.
This goal fest has set the tone for an electrifying Cup of Nations.
Emilio Nsue’s dominance
Equatorial Guinea emerged as the surprise toppers of Group A, and much of their success can be attributed to Emilio Nsue.
The 34-year-old striker’s five goals made him the top scorer at the group stage, outshining more prominent names.
Nsue’s hat-trick against Guinea-Bissau showcased his prowess in front of goal, making him a standout performer of AFCON 2023.
Super Eagles’ struggles and luck magic
Nigeria’s Super Eagles faced a mixed group stage, with two of their three goals coming from a penalty and an own goal.
Fire-hot Victor Osimhen has found it hard to find the back of the net.
Despite leading in big chances and expected goals, the Super Eagles’ offensive efficiency remained questionable.
However, their defense stood out with two clean sheets and solid defensive organization, providing hope as they seek their fourth African title.
The three times champions have only relied of it’s opponent misfortune to advance to the second round. A mixture of wastefulness and luck
Host nation struggles
Despite starting strong with a convincing win against Guinea-Bissau, the host nation, Ivory Coast, experienced a dramatic downturn. Surprises unfolded as they found themselves relying on results from other groups to determine their fate.
The unexpected shift prompted the Ivory Coast to sack coach Jean-Louis Gasset mid-tournament, replacing him with Emerse Fae.
The heavy 4-0 defeat to Equatorial Guinea marked the heaviest loss ever suffered by a host nation at the AFCON finals.
Ghana’s unending struggles
Despite having an experienced and formidable team, the black stars faced consecutive disappointments with an early exit from the group stage.
Despite Mohammed Kudus’ efforts, the Black Stars failed to secure a win, extending their winless streak to six games at the AFCON finals.
The team’s inability to hold onto advantageous situations and defensive lapses raised concerns, leading to the dismissal of coach Chris Hughton.
Egypt thrive without Salah
The Pharaos have navigated through the group stage amid controversy surrounding Mohamed Salah’s injury.
The seven-time winners displayed moments of brilliance but were plagued by mistakes, emphasizing the need for greater consistency.
Despite securing a spot in the knockout stages, Egypt faces challenges to clinch an eighth AFCON crown.
Cape Verde’s historic impressive performance
Cape Verde achieved a historic feat by topping their group for the first time in AFCON history. Their strategic approach and resilience were evident in victories over Ghana and Mozambique.
Despite facing late challenges in group-stage games, Cape Verde showcased the ability to secure results in different ways, setting them up as a team to watch in the knockout stages.
Cameroon faced criticism for reinstating Andre Onana and relied heavily on crossing strategies in group-stage matches.
Despite a late comeback against Gambia, the Indomitable Lions’ limitations were evident. Questions linger about their coherence and performance as they head into the knockout rounds.
Namibia’s historic feat
Namibia secured its first-ever AFCON victory, defeating Tunisia with an 88th-minute winner from Deon Hotto.
This historic moment propelled Namibia to the knockout stages, and they now face Angola with confidence.
Morocco’s steady momentum
The World cup semi finalists have maintained its impressive record in the AFCON. Morocco demonstrated their potential as strong contenders with wins over Tanzania and Zambia.
The Atlas Lions showcased positive signs, and coach Walid Regragui’s strategic approach positions them as frontrunners for the continental crown.
Amir Abdou’s coaching prowess shone through as Mauritania showcased organization and controlled aggression.
Despite an unfortunate loss against Burkina Faso, Mauritania’s adventurous play and nervy win over Algeria highlighted their potential in the knockout stages.
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