Previewing the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON)

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Fireworks go off during the opening ceremony prior the Soccer Club World Cup first round soccer match between Al Ittihad and Auckland City FC at King Abdullah Sports City stadium in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2023. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)

This Saturday, the World’s eyes will look to Africa for the playing of the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON). This will be the second AFCON in a row to be played half a year after it was intended to be played (which is why it’s called AFCON 2023, not AFCON 2024); nonetheless, the tournament is a chance to see some of the world’s best players play for national pride!

Fireworks go off during the opening ceremony prior the Soccer Club World Cup first round soccer match between Al Ittihad and Auckland City FC at King Abdullah Sports City stadium in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2023. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)

Another Enthralling Africa Cup of Nations

Senegal won the last edition of the AFCON over Eygpt in a game for the ages. Now, 24 nations are ready to battle it out to be called champions of Africa!

The 2023 AFCON is taking place in the Ivory Coast, and they are joined by 23 other nations looking to make the most of this tournament. The tournament itself will have a group stage and then a knockout stage beginning with a Round of 16.

There are six groups of four teams making up a field of 24! Let’s take a look at each group and team that will be playing to claim the AFCON!

Group A: Ivory Coast | Nigeria | Equatorial Guinea | Guinea-Bissau

Hosts Ivory Coast are joined by giants Nigeria and two nations looking to punch above their weight: Equatorial Guinea, and Guinea-Bissau in Group A.

Ivory Coast is a team that played their way to giant status in Africa a decade ago riding their talisman Didier Drogba. He and those teams of old are gone now, but the hosts of AFCON 2023 are hoping to show that they deserve to be talked about amongst the giants. They only lost three times last year while they prepared for this tournament, can that form and home-field advantage carry them to the knockouts?

Nigeria is still a giant in the world of African football. They may not be the powerhouse that they were in years past, but they are still strong and will be favorites to win Group A. Their form isn’t the best winning just three games all of last year. However, look for their striker Victor Osimhen to play a big role in how far Nigeria goes, he has seven goals and two assists for Napoli in Serie A, the top division in Italian football.

Equatorial Guinea is one of the two underdogs in group A. They are a team that may not be known well, but their recent form speaks for itself. They went undefeated in AFCON qualifiers in 2023 to make this tournament; obtaining three wins and a draw. They always seem to keep things close in their matches; could that help them be a shocking addition to the knockout rounds?

Guinea-Bissau is not thought of as a threat at this AFCON. They are ranked 103 in the FIFA World Rankings. While this is the lowest ranking out of any team in Group A, they will still be looking to get results now that they made the tournament. They split games against Nigeria last year winning one and losing one both by the score of 1-0. Maybe those types of performances will be able to make them make an improbable run!

Group B: Eygpt | Ghana | Cape Verde | Mozambique

Runners-up from the last AFCON, Egypt are joined by a fallen giant Ghana, a nation that made a surprise run to the knockout rounds last tournament Cape Verde, and a nation making their fifth appearance in the tournament, Mozambique.

Eygpt played their hearts out in the last AFCON, falling short in PKs to eventual champions Senegal. The Egyptians also fell to Senegal in PKs to miss out on the 2022 World Cup as well. Since then this nation has rallied losing just three matches over the last two years. Will their talisman Mohamed Salah be able to carry this favorite on another deep run? It’d be foolish to bet against him and this team right now.

Ghana used to be one of the toughest nations to play against in international football. They were a team that was together in all phases of the game, and it made them hard to beat. However, recently they have fallen off from that persona. In 2023 they had five wins, three draws, and five losses. They are an average team now, but will they be able to rise above that to make a run to the knockout rounds of this AFCON?

Cape Verde made a surprise run to the knockout rounds of the previous AFCON. They are the team that has the experience of being an underdog that punches above their weight. They’ll hope that they can do this yet again at the 2023 AFCON. Their form says otherwise, as they went 3-2-3 all last year. Will the high caliber tournament awake their diamond in the rough mentality?

Mozambique is the biggest underdog in Group B. They rank 111th in the FIFA World Rankings. Compared to Cape Verde’s 73, Ghana’s 61, and Egypt’s 33, it is clear that this team will be the least likely to make it out of the group. This is a nation that is always competitive, but falters against better opponents. Five of their 10 matches last year were one goal matches. Can Mozambique use this ability to stay close to make what might be the biggest shock run to the knockout rounds?

Group C: Senegal | Cameroon | Guinea | The Gambia

The winners of AFCON 2021, Senegal, are joined by the 2021 hosts Cameroon as the top two teams in Group C. They are joined by Guinea and The Gambia who are looking to do what many nations would like to at this tournament, make a shocking run to the knockout rounds.

Senegal won the last AFCON in impressive fashion. They went undefeated on the way to the championship and only gave up two goals all tournament. They went on to make the 2022 World Cup and made the knockout rounds, but fell to England 3-0 in the Round of 16. This is one of the strongest teams in Africa, they’ve only lost once in their last 13 matches. Will they have another undefeated run to the championship?

Cameroon is one of the giants of African soccer. They took third place at the last AFCON, and are hoping for another deep run at this tournament! After a disappointing World Cup showing in 2022 where they failed to make it out of the group, Cameroon had a down year in 2023. They won three matches, lost four, and drew three matches all last year. Should they want to make a deep run at this AFCON, they will need to prove they can beat teams below them and play up to the favorites Senegal!

Guinea is a team looking to overtake one of both of the giants in Group C. They are another underdog ready to rise above expectations. Last year, Guinea played seven matches, winning three, losing three, and drawing one. Just the other day they won a match against Nigeria in a friendly to get ready for this AFCON. If they can beat Cameroon or Senegal in this fashion, then they might just make it to the knockout rounds! 

The Gambia may be the least favored team to make it out of this group, but that would t deter them. In the previous AFCON, they made a shocking run to the knockout rounds, making the quarterfinals! They followed that performance by playing six matches last year; going 2-3-1. This time around they will need to rely on the experience from their last AFCON. If they play that way, The Gambia will be off to the knockout rounds yet again.

Group D: Algeria | Burkina Faso | Mauritania | Angola

In Group D there is one clear favorite, Algeria, a nation looking to rise to compete with the bigger nations, Burkina Faso, and two more crazy underdogs joining the field in Mauritania and Angola!

Algeria is one of the strongest teams in Africa, but they have not had the best luck in major tournaments. They failed to make it out of their group in the last AFCON, and lost a two leg playoff against Cameroon to miss out on the last World Cup. Since then however, they have lost one match in their last 27 matches! This is the most in form team, and are the favorites to win Group D. We’ll see if they can keep this amazing form going in this AFCON!

Burkina Faso made a shockingly deep run to fourth place at the last AFCON. Their ability to stay in matches and never give up helped them all the way to the semifinals where they fell to eventual champions Senegal! They’ve gone on to win seven of their last 16 games; over that span they’ve lost just three times. Their togetherness will be key to this Burkina Faso team getting out of Group D!

Mauritania struggled mightily in the last AFCON. They lost all three of their group stage matches, conceded seven goals and scored none themselves. Since that time however some things changed. Mauritania has played 17 matches since their debacle at the 2021 AFCON; they’ve won nine, lost four, and drew four. Could this turn in form allow for them to shock the other nations in Group D? We’ll have to watch to find out! 

Angola is the lowest ranked team in Group D; they’re ranked 117th in the FIFA world rankings. This is the only team in Group D that didn’t play in the previous AFCON, and they’re hoping to shock the continent now that they’re in the tournament! They could just do that as Angola only lost once all of last year; however, they only won one game, and drew six others. Can Angola draw their way to a shocking knockout berth? 

Group E: Tunisia | Mali | South Africa | Namibia

Tunisia and South Africa are the two favorites showcased in Group E; Mali looks poised to be the darkhorse of the tournament while Nambia is looking to play spoiler and shock the continent by making the knockout rounds!

Tunisia is the top ranked team in Group E. They made it out of their group at the last AFCON and made a run to the quarterfinals. They followed that up by qualifying for the last Men’s World Cup where Tunisia failed to make the knockout rounds but did get a victory over France. This past year, they played 10 matches; winning six, losing three, and drawing once. While they may be the top team in the group, it will take a group effort from them to win it and to make a run in the knockout rounds!

Mali is all too familiar to being in Tunisia’s shadow. The two squared off to make the 2022 World Cup; Tunisia won the two-legged playoff then. While this is the case, Mali will be looking to emulate what they did in their last AFCON, making it out of the group. This time around they’ll be hoping to make it past the Round of 16, and will need to lean on a pair of Premier League midfielders, Yves Bissouma and Boubacar Traore to do so! 

South Africa will also be hoping to rise to the  cream of the crop in Group E as well. They were not a part of the last AFCON, and are looking to come back with a vengeance. They played nine matches last year to prepare for the is tournament; South Africa won four, lost once, and drew four times. That’s not bad for an AFCON tune up! Can this team rise up against some stronger opponents and beat them to make a run to the knockout rounds?

Nambia, like other nations rounding out groups at this AFCON, is the lowest ranked nation in their group. They rank 115th on the FIFA World Rankings. After not making the last AFCON, Nambia did well to qualify for this edition. In their preparation last year they won twice (once against Cameroon), lost twice and drew twice. They’re in the tournament, could they produce the best t big upset?

Group F: Morocco | Zambia | DR Congo | Tanzania

The final group, Group F, has a favorite to win the tournament, Morocco, coupled with Zambia and DR Congo, two nations looking to show they can play with the big dogs, and also Tanzania, yet another underdog looking for their chance to make a run!

Morocco may be the top team in all of Africa. They made a run to the quarterfinals of the last AFCON, qualified for the 2022 World Cup, and went on all the way to the semifinals. They beat Spain, and Portugal in the knockouts, but fell to France just before the final! Their dominance in that competition has them as betting favorites to win the 2023 AFCON! To do so they will need the same spirit and play that head coach Walid Regragui instilled in them at the last World Cup! 

DR Congo are the main challengers to Morocco in Group F at this AFCON. They’re 5-3-2 in their last 10 matches, but have failed to win over bigger nations. They’ll need to rely on Premier League striker Yoane Wissa to lead their line and score their goals! If he can do so, then DR Congo will be on to the knockout rounds! 

Zambia is another nation that was not in the 2021 AFCON. However, their strong form over the last year could prove vital to their hopes to making a run at the 2023 edition! With four wins and two draws in their last eight games Zambia poses a threat to their opposition. They’ve scored 15 goals and conceded eight in those games. If they can continue scoring like that, then they may just make a run at this AFCON!

Tanzania rounds out the nations at the 2023 AFCON. The 121st ranked nation in the world will feel hard done to compete with their Group F foes. However, they do play their opponents hard; all but two of their seven matches in 2023 were decided by a goal or less! They seem to struggle against the top teams in Africa, but maybe there will be some magic in this AFCON that sees Tanzania get enough points to make it out of the group! 

Who will claim the AFCON trophy?

With less than a week until the start of the tournament, Morocco has the best odds to win AFCON 2023; they sit at +600. Other top teams joining them are Senegal at +650, Ivory Coast at +750, Algeria at +800, and Eygpt at +900. Those are the top five heading into group-stage play.

Will one of those five be the team to hoist the AFCON trophy when everything is all played out? Only time will tell. Other big teams like Cameroon, Nigeria, Tunisia, Ghana, and Mali make up the top ten favorites to win.

The matches begin this coming Saturday, and the action can be watched here in the United States through Bein Sports, they have the broadcast rights. So if you have access to that station, be sure to catch the action on the pitch, and come back to Philly Sports Network as we will have breakdowns after every group matchday, and stage of the knockout rounds!

Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah, left, and Arsenal’s Oleksandr Zinchenko fight for the ball during the English Premier League soccer match between Liverpool and Arsenal at Anfield stadium in Liverpool, England, Saturday, Dec. 23, 2023. (AP Photo/Jon Super)

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Mandatory Credit: AP Photo/Manu Fernandez & AP Photo/Jon Super