The group stage of the 34th edition of the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) came with a whimper and fizzled out with a lot of shocks. 2023 AFCON has been one of the most exciting in history.
The tournament saw African heavyweights like Senegal – the defending champion, Egypt, Cameroon, and Ghana tumble, paving the way for countries like Cape Verde to reach the quarter-finals for the first time after narrowly beating Mauritania 1-0 Monday.
As the game progresses, it becomes more action-packed, drama-infested and goal-laden. Ivory Coast 2023 has been one filled with late thrills and giant killings.
Here are the reasons why AFCON 2023 is the most exciting tournament ever:
Ivory Coast moves from best loser to quarter-finals: The host of the tournament, Ivory Coast, who were beaten by Nigeria and ruthlessly thrashed by Equatorial Guinea in a 4-0 game, came out as the best loser in group A.
Surprisingly, the two-time African champions will meet with Mali to advance their ambition or exit the game.
Highest scoring tournament in 15 years: 2023 Africa Cup of Nations has witnessed over 89 goals already, almost as many as in the entirety of the 2021 (100) and 2019 (102) editions. In fact, at a current goals-per-game rate of 2.47, it is the highest-scoring tournament in 15 years, dating back to the goal-fest of 2008.
Just four tournaments in the AFCON’s history (looking at tournaments consisting of 16 teams) have seen more goals scored per game. And on the final day of the group stage, the tournament had averaged 2.75 goals per game – tied for the third most in history.
Best passing accuracy in history: The 2023 AFCON tournament is the first one in history to average over 600 successful passes per game. Similarly, it is also the first tournament where passing accuracy peaked at 80 percent.
The rise of Equatorial Guinea: The rise of underdogs Equatorial Guinea has stunned everyone. Finishing top of Group A, unbeaten ahead of hosts Ivory Coast and fellow African giants Nigeria, Juan Micha’s men owe much of their success to Emilio Nsue.
Emilio currently sits at the top of the goalscoring charts with five strikes.
Another giant killing by Mauritania: The North African nation who made history by claiming their first ever Africa Cup of Nations win against Algeria, condemning Riyad Mahrez to the bottom spot in Group D.
Mauritania hadn’t won any of their first eight games in the competition, yet with their maiden win, they qualified for the knockout phase for the first time in three AFCON appearances.
But their historic outing was cut short by Cape Verde, narrowly winning the Mauritanian side.
The ousting of Algeria: Algeria has now been eliminated at the Africa Cup of Nations group stage in two consecutive AFCON tournaments for the first time in their history after 20 participations.
Namibia had their first ever AFCON win: Another fairy tale of AFCON 2023 involves Namibia, who picked up their first ever tournament win by beating Tunisia 1-0 in their opening group game, in what was their 10th game in the competition.
Despite it being the only goal they scored in Group E, Collin Benjamin’s side qualified for the last 16 as one of the best third-place teams but was outclassed by the ten-men Angola team in a stunning 3-0 win.
Cape Verde’s unbeaten history: After a shocking run in the group stage, which saw Cape Verde going unbeaten and leading a group involving two previous AFCON champions, Egypt and Ghana, the Blue Sharks are on their way to making a historic turnout in the 2023 edition of the game.
With the shocking exit of the tournament’s champions, Nigeria’s Super Eagles hope to end a decade of no AFCON trophy while they take on Angola on Friday.