Afcon 2023 – Let the show begin!

Senegal celebrate after winning the 2022 Afcon title. File photo

The greatest footballing spectacle on the African continent, the TotalEnergies Africa Cup of Nations 2023, kicks off in Abidjan tomorrow evening when the hosts the Ivory Coast take on Guinea Bissau.

The 60 000-seater Olympic Stadium of Ebimpe is expected to be packed to the rafters to herald in a month-long footballing jamboree of colourful sights, sounds and spectacular action that Afcon has become known for. 

The tournament was originally due to take place in June and July 2023, but was moved by the Confederation of African Football (CAF) to 2024, due to the rainy season and adverse summer weather concerns in the Ivory Coast.

Everything is now set for the continental showpiece, with a dazzling display of football from Africa’s top nations in store as they compete for the coveted trophy which is steeped in history. 

Since its inception in 1957, it has been held 33 times all over the continent, with Egypt the most successful nation, winning the title a record seven times. 

They will once again be amongst the favourites, led by their talismanic Liverpool forward Mohamed Salah, but although they reached two of the last three finals, they finished runners-up in both and havent lifted the trophy since 2010. 

Some of the other favourites include the defending champions Senegal, who lost the 2019 final to Algeria, and then finally won the title for the first time in 2022 when they beat Egypt on penalties, with their star player Sadio Mane winning both the player of the tournament and African player of the year awards.

Morocco, despite having only won the trophy once, in 1976, made history in 2022 when they became the first African country to reach the semifinals of the Fifa World Cup, while they are currently the top ranked team on the continent with a world ranking of 13th. With a host of international stars like Sofian Amrabat of Manchester United, Hakim Ziyech of Galatasaray and Achraf Hakimi of Paris Saint Germain, they will be amongst the favourites.

Algeria, who won their second title in 2019 and are currently ranked fourth in Africa, will fancy their chances, as will another north African team, Tunisia, who are ranked third in Africa, although their only title came 20 years ago when they won it on home soil. 

Nations like Cameroon (second only to Egypt with five Afcon titles), Ghana (four titles) and Nigeria (three titles) are African heavyweights and will always start amongst the favourites, while the home nation, the Ivory Coast, ranked eighth in Africa, will fancy their chances of winning their third title since 1992 and 2015 in front of their fanatical fans. 

Other former winners that will be in action at Afcon 2023 include two-time winners DR Congo (1968, 1974), South Africa’s Bafana Bafana, who won their only title in 1996, and Zambia’s Chipolopolo who also won once, in 2012.

Other nations that might fancy their chances include Burkina Faso, who have finished second, third and fourth over the past five tournaments and are currently ranked 10th in Africa; and Mali who are currently ranked ninth in Africa, and although they have never won the title, have a solid track record having finished as runners-up in 1972; third in 2012 and 2013; and fourth in 1994, 2002 and 2004. 

And then what are the chances of some upsets. How far can The Gambia go – can they continue their fairytale story of 2022 when they reached the quarterfinals in their debut tournament under former Namibian coach Tom Saintfiet; and what about Cape Verde – a nation of barely 600 000 people that has now qualified for their fourth Afcon finals over the last decade. 

And that brings us to Namibia’s Brave Warriors – qualifying for only the fourth time in history, after previous appearances at Burkina Fason in 1998, Ghana in 2008 and Egypt in 2019 – can they make history by winning their first match at Afcon, and who knows, qualifying for the knockout stages from a tough Group E that includes Tunisia, Mali and South Africa. 

They certainly have a strong squad, led by one of Africa’s top players, Peter Shalulile, and including experienced players like Denzil Haoseb and Ananias Gebhardt in defence; and Petrus Shitembi, Deon Hotto and Absalom Iimbondi in midfield.

Under coach Collin Benjamin they have built up a competitive record of four wins, five draws and five defeats, which included the giantkilling act of beating Cameroon in Johannesburg on 28 March 2023. 

They have as good a chance of success as any of their predecessors, and hopefully the stars will align in the Ivory Coast so that the Class of ’24 can write a glorious new chapter in the annals of Namibian footballing history. 

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