The African Cup of Nations (AFCON) is one of the most popular and most-watched events across the entire sports calendar.
Taking place every two years, the AFCON pits the best football nations in Africa against one another to crown a champion of the sport.
While most players play for their club teams throughout much of the season, international football is also a major draw in the sport. Players who hail from the same nation all come together to compete for their country, with national pride at stake.
The AFCON, therefore, is the preeminent international football tournament in Africa, which features the best players around the continent. Major powers like Egypt, Cameroon, Senegal, Morocco, Nigeria, and Ghana will all take part, as will Equatorial Guinea and DR Congo representing Central Africa (UNIFFAC).
Kick442.com brings you all the basics to help casual fans enjoy one of the most popular sporting events the modern world has to offer. Our team-by-team guide of all 24 teams and our expert analysis on all six groups will be made available on this platform to guide you on how to get the best statistics and information on every single detail available on AFCON 2023 in Côte d’Ivoire.
How does the AFCON work?
The AFCON is played every two years to crown the best football nation across the continent.
The 2023 Africa Cup of Nations qualification matches were organised by the Confederation of African Football (CAF) to decide the participating teams of the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations in Ivory Coast, the 34th edition of the international men’s football championship of Africa. A total of 24 teams qualified to play in the final tournament, including Ivory Coast, who qualified automatically as hosts.
All 54 CAF member associations entered the competition. The seeding was based on the FIFA (Federation International Football Association) World Ranking from 23 December 2021 with teams ranked 1st to 42nd receiving a bye to the qualifying group stage, while the teams ranked 43rd to 54th had to participate in the preliminary round.
The twelve lowest-ranked teams were drawn into six ties to be played in home-and-away two-legged format. The six winners advanced to the group stage to join the 42 teams which entered directly.
The 48 national teams involved were divided into twelve groups of four each (from Group A to Group L), which consisted of the 42 teams which entered directly, in addition to the six winners of the preliminary round. The 48 national teams had previously been seeded into four pots of twelve each based on the March 2022 FIFA World Rankings.
The top two teams from each group qualified for the final tournament in Côte d’Ivoire. The 2023 Africa Cup of Nations hosts, Ivory Coast, participated in the qualifiers despite the team being guaranteed a spot in the finals, which meant only the best ranked team within their group apart from Ivory Coast qualified for the finals. The Ivory Coast matches and results counted in determining the qualification of the other teams from their group.
There were 319 goals scored in 132 matches, for an average of 2.42 goals per match.
Then, 24 qualified teams converge at the AFCON to play in a tournament to determine the continental champion:
Côte d’Ivoire (hosts)
What does CAF stand for?
CAF is the continental football governing body that organizes all professional football competitions in Africa. They are the organizers of the AFCON.
The acronym stands for “Confederation of African Football,” and the organization’s headquarters are in Giza, Egypt.
Currently, CAF consists of 54 member nations from across the continent. The current president of CAF is Patrice Motsepe, who was elected to the position on 12 March 2021.
How many teams are at the Nations Cup?
While all 54 teams are eligible to reach the AFCON, they must all first progress through continental qualifying to identify which teams reach the AFCON tournament.
For the 2023 African Cup of Nations, there are 24 teams who have qualified for the final tournament in Côte d’Ivoire. They are broken up into six different groups of four teams each, with the top two in each group advancing to the knockout stage along with four best-placed-thirds.
This is the third edition where the 24-team format is being used.
How are the players picked?
Each national team’s head coach selects 27 players to take part in the AFCON.
The rosters had been restricted to 23 players for the last several African Cup of Nations tournaments, but that was expanded to 28 for 2021 after many coaches supported the increase due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
One of the biggest jobs facing national team coaches is to select the players who will take part in the AFCON. They monitor all players eligible to play for their country, and use past performances combined with current club form to pick the 27 players they believe give them the best chance of success.
Players are eligible to play for any nation they hold a passport for and have “a clear connection” to based on either familial lineage or years spent in a country. For players who hold dual citizenship, they may choose which country to represent. They also may change allegiances once, via what is known as a “one time switch,” but once a player has either earned three competitive appearances for a national team before reaching 21 years old, or one appearance after reaching 21 years of age, they may no longer switch nations.
Who are the favourites to win the AFCON?
The betting favourite to win the 2023 AFCON is Senegal, who are considered to boast one of the deepest player pools in Africa as well as being defending champions.
Seven-time AFCON champions, Egypt, are considered strong contenders to win as well, having made it to the final in the last edition. Also likely to push for the trophy are Morocco, who recently reached the semifinals of the 2022 World Cup.
Cameroon, who reached the semifinals last time on home soil, could also contend, as well as hosts Côte d’Ivoire and Nigeria. Algeria, 2019 champions, Ghana, four-time champions and fellow World Cup participant Tunisia, could also fancy having an outside chance.
Who could be crowned best player of the tournament?
There are a number of players who could make an argument as the best in the tournament, but many will point to two aging greats of the modern game, Sadio Mane of Senegal and Mohamed Salah of Egypt.
Salah is having the better club season, with Mane struggling for playing time at Al Nassr, but the Senegalese superstar is one of the most popular figures in the game and can still prove dangerous for the national team.
Others to watch include Sebastien Haller of Côte d’Ivoire, Victor Osimhen of Nigeria, Vincent Aboubakar of Cameroon. Youssef En-Nesyri of Morocco, is also considered a strong contender.
Whoever has the best tournament will be awarded the Man of the Competition award, which is known as the tournament’s Best Player honour. In 2021, Sadio Mane was given the award as he surprisingly led Senegal to their maiden AFCON final victory.
How many games are played at the AFCON?
With 24 teams slotted across six groups of four, there are 36 group stage matches which will eliminate just eight teams and qualify sixteen for the knockout stage.
In the knockout stage, there are 16 teams, meaning that 15 games must be played to eliminate all but one and leave just one team standing as the champion. Lastly, we must not forget the third-place game that is also penciled in just before the final is played.
In total, that means there are 52 games in total to take in at the AFCON.
What games should I watch?
There are some great games already scheduled for the group stage portion of the tournament.
The one match that stands out above the rest is in Group C between African superpowers Senegal and Cameroon on Friday, 19 January 2024, with the two top-10 ranked sides pulled into the same group.
Another match that will likely be a major talking point is that between Egypt and Ghana, which is scheduled for 18 January. With the two nations holding a playful rivalry plus some past AFCON history, it is already one of the tournament’s most highly anticipated matchups.
In the knockout stage, it’s hard to know which teams will match up, as the participating teams must qualify via their group stage finish. Still, high-profile matchups that are possible in the Round of 16 include Nigeria vs. Cameroon, Egypt or Algeria vs. Zambia, or Ghana vs. DR Congo. Even if those don’t come off in the early knockout matches, the latter stages of the tournament almost always feature games which pit giants against each other.
The AFCON final, one of the most-watched sporting events around the globe, is scheduled for Sunday, 11 February 2024 and will take place at 8 p.m GMT
How do I watch the AFCON?
The 2023 AFCON will be televised in Cameroon by national broadcaster CRTV. The tournament which kicks off 13 January 2024 will also be broadcast in Subsaharan Africa by CANAL+, StarTimes and SuperSport.
New World TV has secured both free-to-air and pay-television rights to major Confederation of African Football (CAF) competitions across sub-Saharan Africa and in multiple languages in the Togo-based satellite broadcaster’s biggest acquisition to date.
Our game-by-game coverage of the tournament will feature an A-Team of kick442.com reporters and correspondents Oyediji Oluwaseun Babatunde, Neilley Claude Ebessa and Sports Analyst Elume Raymond.
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