It was a tale of mixed emotions for many African countries as 24 teams qualified for a place in the 2024 African Cup of Nations (AFCON) finals held in Ivory Coast come January next year.
The September international break saw the final qualifiers matches take place for the AFCON finals tournament, completing the list of the 24 nations who will travel to Ivory Coast to trade tackles and skills over the round leather competition for the coveted trophy.
The Nigeria Super Eagles, a three times winner of the competition made the country’s football fans proud by thumping Sao Tome 6-0 inside the Godswill Akpabio International Stadium, Uyo, Akwa Ibom State capital.
The Victor Osimhen, Napoli striker’s led attack blew past the Falcons and True Parrots team from Sao Tome and Principe to join other 23 teams from across Africa.
Cameroon netted thrice to edge out Burundi in their race to AFCON finals, while Guinea-Bissau defeated Sierra Leone 2-1 to qualify behind Nigeria with a total point of 13 against Super Eagles’ 15.
The final round of qualifiers saw the 48 teams divided into 12 groups of four teams, with the top two nations qualifying for the 2024 finals after a home and away round-robin format.
At the end of the qualifying matches, the following 24 countries made it to Ivory Coast: Nigeria, Guinea-Bissau, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Cameroon, Namibia, Egypt, Guinea, Ghana, Angola, Algeria, and Tanzania.
Others are Mali, Gambia, Zambia, Ivory Coast, DR Congo, Mauritania, Tunisia, Equatorial Guinea, South Africa, Morocco, Senegal, and Mozambique.
However, in Gabon, it was a dark day for the football fans as the country without Marseille’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, were perhaps the most disappointed of all the countries to miss out. Also missing out is the Gernot Rohr coached Benin Republic, Togo, Uganda, and Liberia, among others. Already Kenya and Zimbabwe were disqualified via FIFA and CAF suspension as political interference in the running of football in the two countries.
Besides, Comoros, the surprise team of the previous tournament in Cameroon, who made it to the last 16 in that tourney, missed out as well.
Teams such as Nigeria, Ghana, Egypt, Morocco, Senegal and Ivory Coast, the host country, have the highest betting odds to lift the trophy come February 11, 2024 based on their pedigree in the qualifying games and the quality of players they possess.
Nigeria is blessed with talented players such as Victor Osimhen, who is the qualifiers tournament highest goal scorer with 10 goals, Samuel Chukwueze, Taiwo Awoniyi, Wilfred Ndidi, Kelechi Iheanoacho, Alex Iwobi and Ola Aina, among others.
However, as usual, the country is battling the problem of team manager, as Jose Peseiro position is yet not clearly sorted out with barely three months to the tournament.
That could be Nigeria’s worst undoing, as this same challenge played out on the team journey to Cameroon where Austin Eguavoen was drafted in as a makeshift coach, and the result was disastrous.
Senegal, the defending champions, still retains most of the players that won the tournament’s last edition, and with a blend of its enterprising U-23 players, the team is a threat to other teams. Players such as Mane, Sakho, Jakobs, Pape Gueye, Kouyate, Eddouard Mendy and Koulibaly, among others are very much in form to cause damage to their opponents.
Egypt and other North African countries are always more tactical in their approach in the continent’s tournament, and so are expected to make it to the finals, especially Morocco going by their success at the World Cup.
The finals of AFCON Cup will take place between January 13 and February 11, 2024, meaning the likes of goalkeeper Andre Onana of Manchester United, Napoli striker Victor Osimhen, and Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah will miss several weeks of club action this winter.