Afcon2023: Surprise results and emerging stars
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Afcon2023: Surprise results and emerging stars
By Mangek Promise

The 2023 Africa Cup of Nations kicked off last weekend with a joyous occasion in Abidjan, where hosts Ivory Coast activated the feel-good factor by defeating Guinea-Bissau 2-0. The international tournament experience can often be driven by the performance of the hosts, setting the tone for how the carnival continues.

This being Afcon, it is not always as straightforward as that, not for the hosts or for any team participating, regardless of their reputation going into the tournament. In their second group game on Thursday, Ivory Coast lost to Nigeria. A Nigeria team that only managed to draw its first game 1-1 against Equatorial Guinea despite having numerous chances to win.

As one team recovers, another takes a step back. Equatorial Guinea, meanwhile, secured another good result, defeating Guinea-Bissau 4-2. In that game, Equatorial Guinea’s right-back turned striker Emilio Nsue, once of Middlesbrough and Birmingham City, scored the first hat-trick an Afcon tournament has seen since 2008. The stars of this tournament often come from unexpected places. Nsue is an example of that.

The European-based big-name players can take some time to adapt to the terrain, figuratively and sometimes literally. International football across the globe generally offers something different from the often predictable top-heavy, money-laden club game. Afcon, due to the size of the continent it embraces and the dynamics of each country, from the Democratic Republic of Congo which is one of the largest countries in the world, to tiny island nations such as Cape Verde, is a prime example of this.

In Group B, Egypt have struggled, scraping a lucky draw against Mozambique when Mohamed Salah scored a 97th-minute penalty to make it 2-2. Their poor start to the tournament was exacerbated when Salah left the field with a hamstring injury in their second game which they eventually drew 2-2 with Ghana. And Chris Hughton’s Ghana have had an even worse time of it than Egypt, losing their opener 2-1 against Cape Verde following an added-time winner scored by Gary Rodrigues.

Elsewhere in the first round of games, Angola managed to draw 1-1 with Algeria and Mali defeated South Africa, but the standout result was arguably Namibia’s 1-0 win against Tunisia. The only goal of that game, scored by Deon Hotto following some great play from Bethuel Muzeu, gave Namibia their first-ever win at an Afcon tournament. “It’s an ecstatic feeling that I can’t describe,” said Namibia’s head coach Collin Benjamin, who hails from Namibia’s capital city, Windhoek “I am proud to be Namibian and be a coach of these players. We were never really given a chance.

“We are just happy that we could go on the field and play a good match and win. “I can only imagine what is happening in the streets of Namibia right now. This victory is dedicated to them. “Tonight, of course, we celebrate but tomorrow it is back to normal. Back to grinding and working hard as a team and for our people back home.” Luckily for some of these big-name teams who have stumbled so far, four of the six third-placed sides in these four-team groups will qualify for the next round. It offers a safety net and some hope that if a struggling team manages to get their act together in time for the knockout rounds, success can still be achieved.


Amid all the team narratives, individual stars can also emerge at this tournament. Perhaps the most eye-catching so far has been Senegal midfielder, Lamine Camara, who scored twice in Senegal’s win against The Gambia. The 20-year-old who currently plays for Metz in France’s Ligue 1, is a product of the Generation Foot academy in Dakar, Senegal’s capital. Its alumni include Sadio Mane and Pape Matar Sarr, both of whom are in the defending champions’ squad for this tournament.

“Lamine Camara is a young player whose time has come,” said Senegal coach Aliou Cisse. “He scored two goals against Gambia and gave a distinguished performance on the field. “The young player must be trusted and developed.”

West Ham’s Mohammed Kudus has also stood out, despite Ghana’s stuttering start, scoring both his side’s goals in that draw with Egypt. Players such as Camara and Kudus, and those teams in each group upsetting the odds, are the stars of Afcon so far.

One of the big names usually wins Afcon, and it would not be a surprise to see Senegal retain their crown. But there is always a chance that a new team could win it, as was the case for Senegal themselves in 2021 and before them, Zambia in 2012. This time around, the outsiders look more prepared than ever to give it a go.