Shocks light up Afcon 2023

STRONG SUPPORT … Namibian fans getting ready for last night’s big match against South Africa in attire sponsored by Steve Hamunyela of PST Bet (left). Photo: Helge Schütz

With the group stages of Afcon 2023 nearly completed the tournament is still wide open with most countries still in with a chance of qualifying for the knockout stages.

Many of the so-called minnows have produced big upsets, with Namibia’s stunning 1-0 victory against Tunisia on 16 January probably the shock of the tournament so far.

Playing against the third ranked nation on the continent, Namibia, ranked 27th in Africa, were not given much of a chance, but they produced a perfomance for the ages to write a new chapter in Namibian sporting history, as Deon Hotto’s 88th minute header sealed their first-ever victory in four appearances at Afcon.

The trailblazers, the ‘Class of 1998’ could only manage one draw against Angola, the ‘Class of 2008’ also only drew one match against Guinea, while the ‘Class of 2019’ lost all their matches.

The pressure was huge on the ‘Class of 2024’ to deliver a first for the nation, but Collin Benjamin’s charges displayed their professionalism and big match temperament as they lived up to the occasion with a brilliant performance.

In the first half ace striker Peter Shalulile twice came close to scoring, only to be denied by some desperate defence, while at the other end keeper Lloydt Kazapua kept his sheet clean with some point-blank saves.

As the match progressed Namibia stepped up their incisive attacks, with Absalom Iimbondi, Deon Hotto and Riaan Hanamub all creating chances with their pace down the wings and when Deon Hotto swept in to meet Muzeu Muzeu’s cross with a bullet header, a glorious new chapter in Namibian sport was written on a balmy night in Korhogo.

FAN POWER … Ivory Coast fans cheering their team on against Nigeria at the fan park in Korhogo on Thursday.

Namibia held on for a historic victory to send a nation into jubilation, while the Tunisians and their rowdy fans were shocked into silence.

That result threw a spanner in the works of Group E as Namibia suddenly went top of the group along with Mali who beat South Africa 2-0, and when Tunisia and Mali drew 1-1 on Saturday, Namibia was still in a strong position, second on the log behind Mali and ahead of Tunisia and South Africa. Whatever the outcome of last night’s match between Namibia and South Africa, Namibia will still be in a strong position and definitely a contender to qualify for the knockout stages.

Namibia’s stellar performance against Tunisia was not the only fairytale story so far as several more minnows produced upsets to throw Afcon 2023 wide open.

Minnows take charge

In Group A, Equatorial Guinea, ranked 18th in Africa, held Nigeria’s mighty Super Eagles to a 1-1 draw and then beat Guinea Bissau 4-2 to go to the top of the group on 4 points.

Nigeria later spoiled the home nation’s parade when they beat the Ivory Coast 1-0, to join Equatorial Guinea on 4 points, but a 2-0 victory against Guinea Bissau maintained Ivory Coast’s challenge as they moved up to 3 points. All three nations are still in the running for the knockout stages, with only Guinea Bissau on 0 points and out of the running.

In Group B, the small island nation of Cape Verde turned the formbook upside down with some brilliant performances. They thumped Mozambique 3-0 and then beat Ghana 2-1 to go to the top of the group on 6 points to book their place in the next round.

The mighty Egypt, the record Afcon champions with seven titles, have struggled, playing to two 2-2 draws against Ghana and Mozambique, while their star player Mohamed Salah went off injured against Ghana and is a doubt for the rest of the tournament.

They are now on 2 points, while Ghana and Mozambique are both on 1 point, but all three nations are still in with a chance of making the knock-out stages.

In Group C the defending champions Senegal (ranked second in Africa) served notice with two classy victories against Gambia (3-0) and Came-roon (3-1) to go to the top of the group on 6 points and book their place in the second round.

HOT SHOT … Namibia striker Peter Shalulile in action against Tunisia on 16 January.

Guinea, (ranked 15th in Africa) drew 1-1 against Cameroon (7th in Africa) and beat Gambia 1-0 to go second on 4 points, while Cameroon are struggling on 1 point. The African giants, who have won five Afcon titles, still have a chance of going through, but they will have to beat Gambia (0 points) in their final match to stand a chance.

Angola, ranked 28th in Africa, are the surprise leaders in Group D on 4 points, after drawing 1-1 against mighty Algeria (ranked 4th in Africa) and beating Mauritania 3-2.

Burkina Faso joined them on 4 points (they beat Mauritania 1-0 and drew 2-2 against Algeria), while Algeria, who have won the Afcon title twice, are struggling in third place on 2 points. All three nations still have a chance of going through, with only Muritania on 0 points out of the run-ning.

Group F is still wide open with all four nations in with a chance of progressing.

Before yesterday’s matches between Morocco and DR Congo and Zam-bia and Tanzania, Morocco were leading the group on 3 points, followed by DR Congo and Zambia on 1point each and Tanzania on 0 points.

Judging by the results so far, expect some more shocks in one of the craziest Afcon tournaments in recent history.

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