The first round of matches at AFCON 2023 has had just about everything apart from perhaps an own goal and a hat trick.
The games have been close, even when the favourites have nudged a result. This makes the next round of matches potential humdingers.
The second round is littered with blockbuster clashes that will tell us more about the destination of the AFCON trophy and the trajectory of some big names which are facing elimination.
There are also potentially more shocks on the horizon.
On the one hand, you have wounded big guns looking to put their campaigns back on track, and so-called minnows looking to make their own piece of history.
Here is a wrap of the first-round matches of the Group Stage.
Morocco is statistically the most impressive team from the first round of matches with Senegal a close second.
They scored convincing 3-0 victories over Tanzania and the Gambia respectively, but the North Africans had more shots on target (8 of 14 attempts).
Of course, both Teranga and Atlas Lions benefitted from red cards that unraveled their opponents. The hosts are not far behind after an assured 2-0 win over Guinea Bissau.
It is however too early to start dreaming of glory after Nigeria’s campaign wilted dramatically in 2021 despite a 100% Group stage record.
The gap on the pitch is closing. For years, AFCON shocks were few and far between. The smaller format ensured that smaller teams rarely made it to the party.
That has completely changed since the expanded format was introduced in 2019. Equatorial Guinea, Gambia and Comoros all took major scalps at Cameroon 2021.
In the first round of this tournament alone, the underdogs have taken 9 points off their more illustrious opponents.
The best of the lot is probably Cape Verde’s 2-1 downing of Ghana. Namibia also grabbed a first win at the AFCON, against Tunisia.
The six Cote d’Ivoire pitches seem to be holding up well so far after 2 matches at each venue, although there are concerns over the longevity of the Allassane Ouatara stadium pitch which is scheduled to host matches all the way to the final.
After the drama and angst of 2021, the referees and their VAR support have so far scored top points in their consistency. There is no let-up for the Black Knights as the stakes get higher in the next round of matches.
This wrap will be incomplete without a word on Lamine Diara, who was the star of the first round of matches. The youngster’s emergence sums up everything that has propelled Senegal to the top of African football.
69% was the percentage possession Cameroon finished with against 10-man Guinea. Unsurprising Guinea had the lowest possession of any team at 31%.
43 is the number of yellow cards so far.
27 goals from 12 matches an average of 2.25 per game.
4 penalties were awarded with 3 converted. Percy Tau missed the penalty awarded to South Africa against Mali.
3 players were sent off. Red cards were issued to Gambia’s Ebrima Adams, Francois Kamano of Guinea, and Novatus Dismas Miroshi of Tanzania.
1 is the number of shots Ghana had on target. The lowest among teams that had a shot on target.
0 is the number of scoreless matches in round one.
Best quote: “I am sad, the players are also sad, but God gives, and God takes. Next game, God could give us,” – Nigeria coach, Jose Vitor Peseiro after his side’s 1-1 draw with Equatorial Guinea.
Credit: Samuel Bartels (@SamuelBartels)