AFCON 2023: Top 5 Group Stage Moments

This is already a tournament to remember, littered with so many unforgettable moments, on and off the pitch. There are certainly more to come. We picked our top 5 moments so far
January 27, 2023
Written By
Astorre Cerebróne
In this Article

The Africa Cup of Nations 2023 group stage was historic and thoroughly enjoyable, one that people will rave about for a long time. 89 goals were scored, an average of 2.47 per game, meaning that it was just 11 and 13 goals short of the entire 2021 and 2019 tournaments respectively. More than anything, the underdogs have stepped up to the challenge and raised the level of the competition, causing many of the typical favorites problems. This is already a tournament to remember, littered with so many unforgettable moments, on and off the pitch. There are certainly more to come. We picked our top 5 moments so far:

5. That Emilio Nsue Hattrick and A Bit More

No one had scored a hattrick at AFCON since 2008. Not Drogba, not Aubameyang, not Salah, not Mané, and not even Aboubakar who scored 8 at the last edition. Everyone had started to wonder when we would see a hattrick again at AFCON, with some predicting that in-form players like Victor Osimhen or Mohamed Salah would end the drought. What nobody saw coming was Emilio Nsue doing it. To put that into context, he plays for CF Intercity in the Spanish 3rd division, sometimes as a right-back, sometimes as a winger, and sometimes as a striker. The 34-year-old, who could play the lead in a Joe Budden biopic, came into the tournament having scored only 61 club career goals. He had also only scored 1 goal at AFCON before this tournament. After predictably failing to score in the opening game against Nigeria, he unleashed his ruthless side. He destroyed opponents, Guinea-Bissau, with a sublime hattrick, taking every chance that came his way. He then followed it up with a brace against Cote d’Ivoire. Right now, he is the top scorer of the tournament with 5 goals and looks on course for the Golden Boot. No one could have predicted that he would even be in the running for the Golden Boot. But this is what makes AFCON so special. It can be anybody’s tournament, at any stage of the person’s career. This one looks like it belongs to Nsue, who has still not missed a big chance so far.

4. Mauritania Knocking Out Algeria

Mauritania had never won a game at AFCON in their history and came into the final game still searching for a win, knowing that it would take them to the next round. The problem was, their opponents were the 2019 champions, Algeria. Admittedly, Algeria had not won a game at AFCON since that triumph, but they still boasted enough quality to be contenders. They had also not lost to either Angola or Burkina Faso in the first two games. No one gave the Mauritanians a chance; they were ranked 105th in the world, and Algeria was ranked 30th. In keeping with the theme of underdog excellence at the tournament, Mauritania delivered a shock. With halftime approaching, they found a goal through Mohamed Dellahi Yali. Until that point, it had been the Algerians creating all the chances. The Mauritanians grew in confidence after that and stamped their authority on the game. Algeria went close a few more times but Babacar Niasse, in goal for Mauritania, put in a man-of-the-match performance. The story of this game and its significance in African football will be told for generations.

3. The Viral Images of Drogba & Eto’o

The tournament has seen many legends show up to support their national teams, with some holding positions within their national associations or acting as ambassadors. With Côte d’Ivoire hosting, Didier Drogba, an ambassador for the tournament, has been present at the stadium where the Ivorian games have been taking place, interacting with players and fans. Samuel Eto’o, who is the President of Cameroon’s Football Federation (FECAFOOT), has also been around for all of Cameroon’s games. He is well known to be a passionate micromanager of their affairs, one who likes to get involved while displaying a range of emotions showing how much he feels the pulse of the team. Unfortunately for both legends, who themselves had made their marks in the tournament in their playing days, they had to sit through some painful defeats, with the eyes of the world on them. Drogba watched his country’s humiliating 4-0 defeat to Equatorial Guinea on home soil, with the risk of elimination looming too. Eto’o watched Cameroon get played off the park and lose 3-1 against Senegal, also risking elimination. Two iconic images emerged of the two legends, with pain and humiliation visible on their faces. Those images went viral, and they will be used for years to come.

2. That Girl from Equatorial Guinea

No one has enjoyed the tournament more than the Equatorial Guineans, especially Jennifer Melanie (@J_Mela), who went viral after their opening match against Nigeria. Having listened to many people tell her Nigeria would thrash her country in the game, she made a TikTok video in her country’s jersey, trolling all those who had made those comments. It soon went viral across different social media platforms and made her an internet sensation, drawing more friendly banter. Since then, she has been actively making videos around the tournament, especially after every victory by her country. Of course, she had all the time in the world for the Ivorians, who were reeling from the humiliating 4-0 defeat they suffered against her country. She has been a major highlight of the tournament and has inspired others from her country to also express their enjoyment & engage in more banter.

1. Ghana’s Elimination Drama with an Ivorian Spice

The day Ghana got eliminated might rank as one of the greatest and funniest in AFCON history. Technically, they weren’t eliminated yet, as they still had to wait for the outcome of games for the next few days. But it was pretty much a given that they would be, as they had garnered only two points. It ended up being the lowest of any 3rd-placed team, and they were even officially eliminated the next day. They had reached the 90th minute with a comfortable 2-0 lead and had been cruising to the next round. But then, the widely maligned Andre Ayew gave away a penalty, and then goalkeeper Ofori, inexplicably touched a ball that was going out, as he was suddenly unsure if it had deflected off his teammate. The resulting corner brought Mozambique’s equalizer, effectively ending Ghana’s dream. They have now gone two consecutive AFCON tournaments without a win, crashing out in the group stage both times. The drama that followed was one for the ages. There was a video of ace journalist, Saddick Adams, completely losing his composure as he experienced many different emotions watching them concede the equaliser. Twitter went into full-throttle banter mode, and the entire social media space was agog with it. Meanwhile, other Ghanaian journalists at the game lost their composure and hoped to air their grievances with the team, who refused to meet them. Even though things got a bit feisty and even unprofessional out there, Twitter and TikTok ended up being the places where all the post-game fun happened. As the Ghanaians felt their pain and took all the hilarious banter from other Anglophone countries, the hosts were facing the same from Francophone countries, who were ruthless with the banter. The Ivorian fans themselves provided so much comic relief. What a day!

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