If there is anything that year’s African Cup of Nations has taught us, it is to expect the unexpected. With the group stage having been completed only a few days ago, AFCON has already proven to be an underrated tournament. Goals that are jaw-droppingly insane, and unexpected match winners have been a delight so far.
As the round of 16 gets underway, let us take a look back at what we have learned from a thrilling group stage.
Underdogs trumping over giants
Some teams were expected to ease their way through the tournament, however, that was not what went down.
In a group that had Ghana and Egypt, it was Cape Verde that came out on top. Cape Verde won their first game which was against Ghana with a last-minute goal. A 2-2 draw with Egypt and Mozambique was enough for the Blue Sharks to top their group.
Another nation that was not expected to top their group yet still did was Equatorial Guinea. The Central African country was in the same group as Ivory Coast and Nigeria. They managed to hold their own and sustain a draw against Nigeria, but it was their dominant wins against Guinea Bissau and Ivory Coast that ensured they topped their group.
Mauritania, a country that has participated in only two previous tournaments managed to secure their place in the RO16. They did this by winning against 2019 AFCON winners, Algeria who have been sent home.
Last minute winners
The group stage had 36 games in total, and from those games, we saw 51 goals. In fact, 19 goals were scored after the 80-minute mark across the group stage. Needless to say, a healthy number of the goals scored were game-changing last-minute ones.
Represented by Egypt, Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia, North Africa holds the team with the most AFCON titles – 7-time champions Egypt. However, they barely made it through.
Group B’s final matchday was a game that saw last-minute goals decide the fate of the group. Cape Verde was facing Egypt, with the latter needing at least a point to be safe. However, that was not all. Egypt was counting on Mozambique and Ghana to draw.
By the 90th minute mark, Ghana were leading 2-0, with Egypt and Cape Verde in a 1-1 draw. At this point, Ghana had seemingly secured their place in the RO16. But if AFCON has taught us anything, it is that the game is not over until the final whistle has been blown.
In the first minute of stoppage time, Ghana conceded a penalty to Mozambique. All they had to do was ensure they wouldn’t concede another goal. But moments later, they conceded an open-play goal. Meanwhile, Egypt took the lead in stoppage time with Cape Verde quick to equalize.
And by the skin of their hair, Egypt made it through even without their star Mohamed Salah. Ghana, however, was sent home packing.
It also went down in the last few minutes in Group C. Senegal was already safe, but Cameroon and Guinea were fighting for second. Cameroon needed a win and it was a stoppage-time goal that gave them exactly that. Guinea had needed at least a point, but a loss to Senegal saw them sitting in third. On the bright side for Guinea, their points were enough to secure a spot in the RO16.
As it stands now, Senegal looks like the favourites to win this year’s tournament.