The TotalEnergies Confederation of African Football (CAF) Africa Cup of Nations 2023 (AFCON2023) kicked off in Côte d'Ivoire on Saturday 13 January 2024. The 34th edition of Africa’s biggest sporting event will see 24 national teams compete to win the championship on Sunday 11 February 2024. AFCON2023 promises to be an exciting tournament filled with fierce competition and thrilling matches.
The opening ceremony was held at the Stade Olympique Alassane Ouattara in Ebimpé, located just outside the capital city of Abidjan. The 60,000 seater facility was opened in 2020 and is one of four new stadiums built at a cost of over €750m. The tournament will be played across six stadiums in Abidjan, Bouake, Yamoussoukro, Korhogo and San Pedro.
The widely televised event was attended by a jubilant Ivorian President, Alassane Ouattara and his French wife, Dominique. The Ouattaras were greeted by CAF President and South African billionaire, Patrice Motsepe, and FIFA President, Gianni Infantino. President Ouattara has tasked his government with delivering the greatest tournament in the history of AFCON after spending €1.5b. He allegedly fired the Prime Minister and Sports Minister in September 2023 after an international friendly match against Mali was abandoned when the Ebimpé pitch became waterlogged.
The beautifully choreographed opening ceremony was a spectacular display of Ivorian culture and the African spirit with traditional dances such as Zaouli and Gle. Nigerian superstar Yemi Alalade, Egyptian pop icon Mohamed Ramadan and Ivorian group, Magic Systems, jointly performed the tournament’s theme song, Akwaba, which means ‘welcome’. Other performers include local artist, Josey, and Congolese-French duo, Dadju and Tayc, who sang their hit, I love you.
The schedule of play for the whole tournament can be found here.
Many bookmakers have picked Senegal, Morocco, Côte d'Ivoire, Egypt and Algeria as the top five teams likely to win AFCON2023.
We think the title battle with be between Senegal and Morocco. The defending champions, The Teranga Lions, have recalled most of their key players and will mount a strong defence of their title. They should have a fairly easy run until the quarter-finals. The Atlas Lions became the first African team to reach the World Cup semi-finals in 2022 after beating Portugal and Spain. They have not won the AFCON tournament since 1976 and will host AFCON2025 - they are hungry to win.
Egypt, Algeria and Côte d’Ivoire are the next strongest contenders. The Pharaohs are keen to win after losing in the 2017 and 2021 finals. They are also the most successful team and have won the tournament seven times - without Salah. They had an embarrassing start to AFCON2023, drawing 2-2 with Mozambique who were ranked least likely to win by The Sporting News. The Les Fennecs were the defending champions who lost in the group stages in 2021 - will they choke again? After watching the opening match between the host nation and Guinea-Bissau, we do not think The Elephants will make the most of their home advantage. Perhaps President Ouattara can work his magic and incentivise the team?
Other teams unlikely to win the championship include Nigeria, who drew their first match against Equatorial Guinea. The coach has been repeatedly panned on social media. Truth be told, the Super Eagles have lost the hunger and drive that helped them lift the trophy three times.
Perhaps AFCON2023 will be the year of the underdog. The tournament has a history of producing surprises and perhaps this year will be it.
AFCON2023 was originally scheduled to be played in June/July 2023. Unfortunately this is the height of the rainy season in Côte d’Ivoire. CAF made the decision to stick to the traditional schedule of early 2024. This move disappointed European football clubs who have been lobbying for AFCON to be held during the northern hemisphere summer.
It is a known fact that the French national football team, Les Bleus, is dominated by Africans with French passports. Therefore, it should not be surprising to learn that the French Ligue 1 will lose 56 players during AFCON2023. Catastrophe!
Marseille FC, which is currently ranked seventh in Ligue 1, will lose seven players: Ilman Ndiaye, Ismaïla Sarr and Pape Gueye (Senegal); Amine Harit and Azzedube Ounahi (Morocco); Chancel Mbemba (Democratic Republic of Congo); and, Simon Ngapandouetnbu (Cameroon). Monaco, which is currently ranked third, will lose five players. Toulousse, which is third from the bottom, will lose four players. Teams such as Lorient, Montpellier Hérault SC, Nantes and Reims will also be severely impacted.
The English Premier League will not be spared. Clubs such as Nottingham Forest are losing half the team: Serge Aurier, Willy Boly and Ibrahim Sangaré (Côte d’Ivoire), Moussa Niakhaté and Cheikhou Kouyaté; Ola Aina (Nigeria). Forest currently rank in the bottom six of the English Premier League. The teams that will lose two players each include Fulham, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspurs.
Egypt’s captain, Mo Salah (Liverpool), and Morocco’s right winger, Achraf Hakimi (PSG), will also be in attendance.
Funny story: Leicester City winger, Abdul Fatawu, turned down the call to play for the Ghana Black Stars at AFCON2023. On the day the tournament opened, Fatawu was sent off the pitch after receiving a red card. He will only be able to play again from 10 February 2024, a day before the tournament ends. The ancestors were clearly not pleased.
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