“This Afcon is going to be the best Afcon in the history of African football. Cote d’Ivoire will show the world the best football players from Africa and the best football players from the world.”
Those were the words of Confederation of African Football president Patrice Motsepe during the opening game of the competition.
The 2023 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) in Ivory Coast was nothing short of quality, entertainment, emotion, agony, ecstasy, and jam-packed action from start to finish in the six stadiums across five cities of Ivory Coast, including the capital city of Abidjan, Yamoussoukro, Korhogo, San Pedro and Bouake.
The host nation, Ivory Coast, got mauled 4-0 by minnows Equatorial Guinea in their final group stage match before majestically making it into the final against Nigeria.
The Afcon in Ivory Coast has now come to a final stretch of what has been arguably the best continental showpiece to be ever witnessed in the history of the tournament. Sunday World takes a look at some of the best moments at the 2023 Afcon:
The rise of the minnows, the collapse of the top dogs:
Big nations and tournament favourites such as Egypt, Morocco, Cameroon and defending champions Senegal all failed to conjure up decent results in the knockout stages, with Ghana, Algeria and Tunisia not even making it out of the group stages. Instead, it was the smaller nations that rose to the occasion that mattered the most. The likes of Angola, Equatorial Guinea, Namibia, South Africa and the team that won the hearts of many, Cape Verde, outshone the big dogs.
Spot on officiating and prompt VAR usage:
From the first to the final whistle of the Afcon, referees took officiating and the usage of the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) to a whole new level.
All the officials at the tournament were top-notch in all departments and utilised the VAR technology to the benefit of every team. Almost every crucial moment was scrutinised by the officials in the VAR booth, with South Africa’s very own referee, Akhona Makalima, at the heart of things. She, along with the other officials, will go down as the unsung heroes.
Ronwen Williams’ fantastic four penalty saves:
The Bafana Bafana captain rewrote history by becoming the first goalkeeper to save four out of five penalties in the history of the competition.
Williams inspired Bafana to their first semi-final appearance after 24 years when he displayed his prowess against Cape Verde during their quarter-
Stars that impressed and lit up the Afcon scene:
The 2023 Afcon witnessed some of the best individual performances from some of the usual suspects.
South Africa’s midfield duo of Teboho Mokoena and Sphephelo Sithole have themselves a tournament to remember with their colossal contributions to Bafana in the middle of the park.
The strike pairing of Mabululu and Gelson Dala was immense for Angola on their road to the quarterfinals. The duo scored seven goals between them.
Nigeria’s Ademola Lookman and Moses Simon were the standout performers for the Afcon finalists, as they were both a nightmare for defenders with their blistering pace and skill.
Lookman, who has found the net three times so far, would have to score a hattrick in the final if he is to beat 34-year-old Emilio Nsue for the Golden Boot award.
Ivory Coast comeback run on home soil:
It’s unbelievable how the host nation was on the verge of getting eliminated in the group stages of the competition and ended up in pole position to compete for the ultimate prize in the final.
Ivory Coast booked a spot in the round of 16 by a whisker when they qualified as the last third-best placed team.
Their story will go down in the history books as one of the best moments ever witnessed in Ivorian football.