AFCON 2023: six matches to look for in Ivory Coast

Estimated read time 5 min read

The countdown to the 2023 African Cup of Nations, AFCON 2023, is fast losing days. Teams are gearing up for the tournament which kicks off on January 13 and ends on February 11, 2024. The draw took place in Abidjan, hosted by legendary musician Akon and assisted by African football legends, Didier Drogba, and Mikel Obi as well as AFCON-winning Senegalese forward Sadio Mane and World Cup semi-finalist, Achraf Hakimi.

An AFCON tournament was always going to be an interesting sporting event from all perspectives with Senegal emerging as the newest name to be added to the illustrious winners of the competition after claiming the last edition. Since the last tournament in Cameroon which saw some of the continent’s traditional heavyweights battered by supposed minnows, things have changed a bit. Ghana was one of the worst performers at the last edition but shocked the world by beating Nigeria who had a perfect group stage performance at the competition to book a place in Qatar’s World Cup.

Countries such as Malawi, Sudan, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, Gabon, Sierra Leone and the giant slayers, Comoros, have all missed out on this year’s showpiece having all contributed to a thrilling experience in the last edition. All these are making their glorious return to AFCON 2023 in Ivory Coast.

While Algeria and Ghana were two of the biggest casualties of the group stages, it was far from being them alone that suffered humiliation at the tournament. Nigeria and Mali joined the Black Stars and The Desert Warriors after failing to sail past Tunisia and Equatorial Guinea respectively.

Several high-profile returnees are on board for the show in Ivory Coast including South Africa, DR Congo and Namibia only missed the last edition. Mozambique is returning after last playing in the Angola 2010 edition and Zambia is back after missing the last three tournaments. Angola and Tanzania have both also missed the Cameroon 2021 tournament.

So as we head to Ivory Coast in 2024 for AFCON 2023, which matches should we expect to be the epic moments of the tournament in the group stage? Take a look below.

AFCON 2023 Group A: Ivory Coast vs Nigeria

Host nation Ivory Coast will play West African neighbours Guinea-Bissau and Nigeria as well as Equatorial Guinea. The group looks fairly balanced on paper as neither the Ivory Coast nor Nigeria has been the dominant force it was some years ago. Whereas Guinea-Bissau and Equatorial Guinea are both making their fourth appearances at the tournament, the other two group members are veterans and have five AFCON titles between themselves.

No doubt that neither the Ivory Coast nor Nigeria is the same as years before or their recent squads that conquered the continent in 2015 and 2013 respectively, but they will prove a match to watch out for in the group. Host nation Ivory Coast still boasts of superstars such as Wilfred Zaha, Seko Fofana and Sebastian Haller all forming part of an elite Elephants squad. Nigeria on the other hand has the imposing Victor Osimhen, Samuel Chukwueze and Ademola Lookman all in their ensemble.

Group B: Ghana vs Egypt

Ghana and Egypt have both ruled Africa on multiple occasions. While the Pharaohs have seen recent success though the last one came 13 years ago when they beat the Black Stars in a tense final in Angola, the West Africans have yet to taste continental success since 1982. Both teams have played very tense games including the 2010 final in Luanda, and the 2014 and 2018 World Cup playoffs.

While the Pharaohs have stood superior in terms of wins having secured 12 wins as compared to the Stars 7, Ghana has not been an easy opponent for the 7-time African champions. And when they face off in January, their minds will be on the recent casualties each have inflicted on the other. Ghana would remember being denied a place in Russia in 2018 because of the Egyptians but the Egyptians won’t also forget that the Black Stars does not respect when it is in the mood as demonstrated in their 2013 meeting in Kumasi. This definitely sets for a mouthwatering contest in the group stages.

Group C: Senegal vs Cameroon

Defending champions Senegal will begin their defence in a tricky group that involves second runner-up Cameroon, Guinea and The Gambia. While Guinea and the Gambia may prove a point that could open up Group C, Senegal and Cameroon definitely have many bookmakers on their side to advance as the top two teams in the group.

The Teranga Lions have faced the Indomitable Lions on 13 occasions officially with each side clocking five wins with three ending in draws. A very tricky pair it proves to be, their last five meetings produced three draws with each winning one. It must be noted that their last two encounters all came in the AFCON and none scored in either game. The last time a goal was scored in a match involving the two was in 2011 when Demba Ba scored a late winner in injury time in Dakar when the two faced off in an AFCON 2012 qualifying match.

After missing out on the final and watching Senegal lift the trophy, Rigobert Song and his charges would want to atone for their misses and that would begin with a statement against the defending champions.

Check back later for the next episode of our AFCON 2023 series.

AFCON 2023 draw

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