AFCON Matchday 3 Recap: The last 16 revealed as Knockout Rounds loom!

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AFCON
Ivory Coast’s fans celebrate a goal scored by Seko Fofana during the African Cup of Nations Group A soccer match between Ivory Coast and Guinea-Bissau in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, Saturday, Jan. 13, 2024. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)

The 2023 AFCON group stage gave fans of the game of soccer what they love! The tournament so far has had so much suspense. There are underdogs beating favorites, shocking results left and right, and loads of drama. The final matchday of the group stage showcased this, and the result was finalizing the last 16 nations that have made it to the knockout rounds!

AFCON
Ivory Coast’s fans celebrate a goal scored by Seko Fofana during the African Cup of Nations Group A soccer match between Ivory Coast and Guinea-Bissau in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, Saturday, Jan. 13, 2024. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)

Matchday 3 Recap

Group A

Equatorial Guinea 4 – 0 Ivory Coast

Equatorial Guinea came into the final matchday of Group A sitting on four points and atop the group. A draw or win against host Ivory Coast would secure they win the group! Ivory Coast came into the final game with a win, a loss, and three points. They could qualify for the AFCON knockout rounds with any result; however a win or draw would be the smoothest route, and a loss would mean they would need a lot of other results to go their way!

Because of the dire consequences Ivory Coast dominated the ball and created a good amount of chances, they took 22 shots and had expected goals of 2.06. The problem for the hosts was that Equatorial Guinea’s defense was stout, and their counterattack was fierce. Equatorial Guinea scored on one of those counters just before halftime to take the lead. In the second half, they stayed compact defensively and scored two goals in three minutes to make it 3-0 in the 75th minute. Ivory Coast kept throwing numbers forward, and Equatorial Guinea added a fourth goal. The game ended 4-0.

Equatorial Guinea knew their win secured them the top spot in group A and a trip to the AFCON Round of 16. Ivory Coast would need to wait to see if their three points would be enough to get them a spot in the knockouts as one of the third-place group finishers.

Guinea-Bissau 0 – 1 Nigeria

Guinea Bissau has had a rough go at this AFCON. They fell in their first two matches and were all but eliminated from the knockout rounds. They’d need a win against Nigeria and to score a whole lot of goals while doing so to make it out of Group A. Nigeria sat on four points, and was sitting pretty in second place in the group; a win or a draw in the final match would help them move on to the Round of 16.

While Guinea-Bissau may not have been the best team at this tournament, they still showed they could hang with the bigger nations. Guinea-Bissau had more shots and shots on target than Nigeria but failed to convert any of their chances. Nigeria would be able to find the breakthrough just before halftime, but in an odd fashion. In the 36th minute, Nigeria had the lead thanks to an own goal from Guinea-Bissau’s Opa Sangante. This would prove crucial as it was the only goal of the game.

Nigeria got the win and secured a spot in the knockout rounds. Guinea Bissau ended this AFCON with no wins and an elimination in the group stage, but they played well enough to take pride in their effort.

Final Group A Standings

  • Equatorial Guinea – 7 pts – Knockout Round
  • Nigeria – 7 pts – Knockout Round
  • Ivory Coast – 3 pts – Knockout Round
  • Guinea-Bissau – 0 pts – Eliminated

Group B

Cape Verde 2 – 2 Egypt

Cape Verde has been one of the stories of this AFCON. Their wins over Ghana and Mozambique had them already qualified for the knockout rounds of this AFCON without playing their final group stage match against favorites of the group, Egypt. Egypt has had to endure at this tournament. They drew their first two matches 2-2 and lost their talisman Mohamed Salah to injury. In this final match, they knew they’d need a win or a draw to qualify for the last 16.

The game began and it was clear that both teams were gunning for the victory. Egypt turned up for this game controlling the majority of possession and creating 27 shots with that possession. Despite their domination of the ball, Cape Verde still came to play and scored the opening goal just before halftime. Egypt would come back in the second half first to tie the match in the 50th minute and then took the lead in the third minute of second-half stoppage time. They thought they had secured their first win at this AFCON, until a Cape Verde equalizer in the ninth minute of stoppage time. The game ended 2-2!

This result was irrelevant for Cape Verde, who were already through, but it did mean that they topped group B. The draw was good enough for Egypt to take second place in the group on three points and make it to the knockout rounds!

Mozambique 2 – 2 Ghana

Mozambique started this tournament with an impressive draw, but then a disappointing loss, however, a win against Ghana could be enough for them to make the knockout rounds! The same can be said for Ghana, a loss and a draw had them in a win-or-go-home position!

Early on in this match, it seemed like things would go Ghana’s way. They scored in the 15th minute thanks to a Jordan Ayew penalty. Mozambique tried to get back into the match after that goal but failed to produce any big chances. Ayew added a second PK to make it 2-0 in the 70th minute and it seemed that Ghana would be off to the knockout rounds. Then second-half stoppage time happened. Mozambique finally found a breakthrough in the first minute of seven added on. The deficit was down to one goal, and they didn’t back down. Three minutes later they had the tying goal. The match would end 2-2.

Ghana fell apart in stoppage time of their final game up two goals, and as a result, they missed out on the knockout rounds with two points. This is the same outcome for Mozambique who came very close to scoring a third goal in this final match; had they done so, they’d be off to the knockout rounds. Both are eliminated from this AFCON.

Final Group B Standings

  • Cape Verde – 7 pts – Knockout Round
  • Egypt – 3 pts – Knockout Round
  • Ghana – 2 pts – Eliminated
  • Mozambique – 2 pts -Eliminated

Group C

The Gambia 2 – 3 Cameroon

The Gambia lost both of their first two matches at this AFCON. They would need a win on the final day of Group C over Cameroon to even have a shot at a third-place knockout round spot. Cameroon picked up one point from two matches in their group stage so far, a win against The Gambia would secure a spot in the last 16 for them!

This game was as open as one would want to see. Possession was just about even, both nations took shots and produced shots on goal. However, it wasn’t until the second half that any goals were scored. Cameroon scored first in the 56th minute, prompting an onslaught from The Gambia who equalized 16 minutes later; they then found a go-ahead goal with five minutes left to play. Unfortunately for them, The Gambia couldn’t hold on. Cameroon equalized just two minutes later and then scored the winner in second-half stoppage time. The final match of AFCON Group C ended 3-2.

The Gambia’s third loss meant they would not qualify for this AFCON’s knockout rounds. Cameroon came back to be able to take second place in the group and make the last 16!

Guniea 0 – 2 Senegal

Guiena has had a very solid AFCON so far with a draw and a win; in their final game of the group stage, they took on reigning champs Senegal. Senegal looks to be the best team in this tournament. They won both of their first two games with ease and looked to complete the trifecta against Guinea.

Guniea came into this match determined to stand up to Senegal, but the main challenge would be breaking them down. Senegal are the most defensively organized team at this AFCON. They defend as a unit and then break out as one to create lethal counterattacks. This is how Senegal found the opening goal in the 61st minute of the game. After repelling Guinea for an hour, the breakthrough came from an Abdoulaye header. Guinea still tried to penetrate Senegal, but they failed, and in the 90th minute Sengal added a second goal to kill off the game. Senegal ended on top of the group with a third win, 2-0.

Senegal is the only nation to win all three of their group stage matches at this AFCON; they topped Group C. Guinea took four points from the group and made the knockout rounds; however, this was only good enough to get third place thanks to having fewer goals scored than Cameroon who finished with the same number of points and goal differential.

Final Group C Standings

  • Senegal – 9 pts – Knockout Round
  • Cameroon – 4 pts – Knockout Round
  • Guinea – 4 pts – Knockout Round
  • The Gambia – 0 pts – Eliminated
AFCON
Ivory Coast’s Evan Ndicka, left, slides as he defends against Guinea-Bissau’s Mauro Rodrigues Teixira during the African Cup of Nations Group A soccer match between Ivory Coast and Guinea-Bissau in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, Saturday, Jan. 13, 2024. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)

Group D

Angola 2 – 0 Burkina Faso

The biggest Cinderella story at this AFCON has been Angola. They rank 117th in the FIFA world rankings, yet came into the final matchday of Group D atop their group. A win against Burkina Faso would see them win the group outright. Burkina Faso also had four points like Angola, and they knew a win would see them atop the group!

Both nations began this game looking to hold the ball and attack; however, neither seemed really good at finding that finishing touch. Burkina Faso produced 20 shots, but only 3 of those shots were on target. Angola took far fewer shots, six, but five of those shots were on target. It’s a cliche, but they say if you put shots on goal, that goals will come. This was Angola’s case as they found the opening goal just before halftime, and again in second-half stoppage time. Angola won 2-0 getting a history Group D win!

Angola won Group D! This is a historic win for the nation who now go on to test their mettle in the Round of 16. Burkina Faso will join them in the knockout rounds at this AFCON; as they look to make another deep run!

Mauritania 1 – 0 Algeria

Mauritania failed to pick up any points in their first two matches at this AFCON, but they were not out of contention for the knockout rounds. An improbable win over Algeria would put Mauritania into the last 16 for the first time. Algeria has had a tough time at this AFCON. Two draws in matches they were favored to win, had them in win-or-go-home territory against another nation they were favored to beat.

This match was a tale of two different types of teams. Mauritania was going to defend their lives, and Algeria was going to go all-out attack. You’d think that the nation ranked 30th in the world would be able to break down the 105th-ranked team in the world, but that was not the case. Just before halftime, Mauritania scored the game’s only goal. Yali Dellahi scored what would be a defining goal. Despite, Algeria’s 16 shots they couldn’t score, and the match ended 1-0.

This is yet another historic result. It meant that Mauritania jumped to third place on three points; which was enough for them to qualify for the Round of 16 at this AFCON! The loss for Algeria meant that they finished last in the group missing out on the knockout rounds!

Final Group D Standings

  • Angola – 7 pts – Knockout Round
  • Burkina Faso – 4 pts – Knockout Round
  • Mauritania – 3 pts – Knockout Round
  • Algeria – 2 points – Eliminated

Group E

Namibia 0 – 0 Mali

Namibia has felt the highs and the lows at this AFCON; they beat Tunisia but fell to South Africa. In their final match against Mali, they knew that a win would qualify them for the knockout rounds, a draw may be good enough, and a loss would mean heading home. Mali sat on four points coming into the final match of Group E. A win or draw would see them go through and possibly even top the group!

The stakes were high for both nations, but both never could really put things together in this final group stage match. Mali looked the better team, creating 10 shots, but only two were on target, leading to 0.84 expected goals. Namibia could only muster five shots, one on target, and 0.65 expected goals. The match was a bit of a snoozer that ended 0-0.

There were no fireworks on the final matchday in Group E of this AFCON, but we still know who is going through to the knockouts. Mali topped the group with five points, and Namibia took four points which was good enough for third place, and a spot in the last 16!

South Africa 0 – 0 Tunisia

South Africa lost their first match and won their second. They came into the final matchday needing a win or a draw against Tunisia with some help to make the AFCON knockout rounds. Tunisia lost their first match, and drew their second; a lackluster showing for a top-30 nation in the world. They needed a win over South Africa to make the knockout rounds, any other result would see them knocked out.

Based on this information, you’d think that Tunisia would come out swinging, but this was not the case. They did not dominate the ball, producing the same number of shots, 11, and shots on goal, 2, as South Africa. The one edge they had was their expected goals were set at 1.00 as one of their shots on goal was good enough to be a goal, but the ball did not cross the line. This was a pretty disappointing match for both nations and it ended 0-0.

South Africa took the point, which gave them four from Group W play. This was enough to finish second in the group and qualify them for the AFCON knockout rounds! Tunisia on the other hand, only took two points from three matches and finished in last place in the group. The favorites were knocked out!

Final Group E Standings

  • Mali – 5 pts – Knockout Round
  • South Africa – 4 pts – Knockout Round
  • Namibia – 4 pts – Knockout Round
  • Tunisia – 2 pts – Eliminated

Group F

Tanzania 0 – 0 DR Congo

Tanzania opened up their play in Group F with a loss to Morocco and a draw against Zambia. Their one point has them still alive to make the knockout rounds of this AFCON, but they’d need a win over DR Congo to make it out of the group. DR Congo is sitting on two draws, and they knew a win or a third draw would help them secure a spot in the last 16.

The match favored DR Congo’s situation, as they just needed to not lose; whereas, Tanzania needed to win. Tanzania felt this pressure, as they kept the ball for the majority of the match, but failed to do anything with it. They created four shots over the 90 minutes, none of which were on goal, and they had a 0.11 expected goals rate. DR Congo needed one goal to ease their passing to the knockouts but they failed to do that creating just 0.60 expected goals on three shots on goal. The match ended 0-0 sealing both nation’s fate.

Tanzania were knocked out with the draw as they finished in last place on two points. DR Congo took three points from three games, which was good enough to get second place in Group F and make the AFCON Round of 16.

Zambia 0 – 1 Morocco

Zambia’s 2023 AFCON was not bad, they took two points from two games heading into their final match. They knew a win or a draw against the mighty Morocco would grant them passage to the knockout rounds. Morocco was sitting pretty in Group F. Their AFCON so far consisted of taking four points from two matches. A draw or a win against Zambia would see them win the group.

The disparity between these two nations in this match was jarring. Morocco kept the ball for the majority of the time and used it well. They created 19 shots, seven on target; Zambia did well creating shots, 11, but only two of there’s were on goal. Morocco found the only goal of the game just before halftime as Hakim Ziyech put home the left-footed effort. The one-goal deficit was too much for Zambia to overcome, especially since they did not have the ball as much as Morocco did. The match ended 1-0.

Zambia’s failure to get a point or the win in this match meant they finished in third place in Group F on two points. They were eliminated from AFCON knockout round contention. Morocco’s win solidified them as the winners of the group. They advanced to the AFCON last 16 as one of the favorites to win the tournament.

Final Group F Standings

  • Morocco – 7 pts – Knockout Round
  • DR Congo – 3 points – Knockout Round
  • Zambia – 2 points – Eliminated
  • Tanzania – 2 points – Eliminated
AFCON
Guinea’s Facinet Conte, left, with teammate Ibrahima Diakite celebrate at the end of the African Cup of Nations Group C soccer match between Guinea and Gambia, at the Charles Konan Banny stadium in Yamoussoukro, Ivory Coast, Friday, Jan. 19, 2024. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)

The Knockout Rounds are set!

The 2023 AFCON has gone from 24 to 16 teams, and the knockout rounds are about to begin! The Round of 16 gets started today, and ends on Tuesday! The Quarterfinals will take place at the end of next week, the Semifinals on Wednesday, Feb. 7th, the third-place game the following Saturday, and the final the following Sunday! Here’s a look at the Round of 16 matchups:

  • Angola vs Namibia | Saturday, Jan. 27 | Noon EST
  • Nigeria vs Cameroon | Saturday, Jan. 27 | 3 pm EST
  • Equatorial Guinea vs Guinea | Sunday, Jan. 28 | Noon EST
  • Egypt vs DR Congo | Sunday, Jan. 28 | 3 pm EST
  • Cape Verde vs Mauritania | Monday, Jan. 29 | Noon EST
  • Senegal vs Ivory Coast | Monday, Jan. 29 | 3 pm EST
  • Mali vs Burkina Faso | Tuesday, Jan. 30 | Noon EST
  • Morocco vs South Africa | Tuesday, Jan. 30 | 3 pm EST

Which nations will make it to the quarterfinals? Which will be sent home from this AFCON? Now starts the tournament inside the tournament; which teams will snatch glory, and which nations will be left wanting?

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Mandatory Credit: AP Photo/Sunday Alamba