We’re only just through the group stages, but the 2023 AFCON has been one of the most exciting in history. And we’ve got the numbers to show you why.

The group stage of the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations fizzled out with a whimper. One goal across four games on the final day of action? Oh, great.

But that soporific end belied the fact that this has been one of the most action-packed, drama-laden and exciting AFCON tournaments in history, one filled with goals, late thrills and giant killings.  

And we’ve got the numbers to show you why.

Goals, Goals, Goals

We’ve already seen 89 goals at this year’s African Cup of Nations. That’s almost as many as in the entirety of the 2021 (100) and 2019 (102) editions.

In fact, at a current goals-per-game rate of 2.47, it’s the highest-scoring tournament in 15 years, dating back to the goal-fest of 2008. Just four tournaments in the AFCON’s history (looking at tournaments consisting of 16 teams) have seen more goals scored per game.

Africa Cup of Nations Stats - Goals per Game

And before the lull on the final day of the group stage, the tournament had averaged 2.75 goals per game – tied for the third most in history.

Unfazed in Possession

One noticeable thing during the last edition of the Africa Cup of Nations was a lack of long spells of possession for teams.

The tournament’s group stage averaged under 12 sequences of 10+ passes per game, fewer than half seen at the UEFA European Championship in 2021 and lower than both Copa América in 2021 and the FIFA World Cup in 2022.

Passing Data - Major Tournaments

And although AFCON 2023 still lags behind those other major tournaments by the same metric, we’ve seen a huge increase in the number of 10+ passing sequences per game, jumping up 31% to 15.2.

Over the course of the entire 2021 edition, just three goals came from passing moves consisting of 10 passes or more. We’ve only just finished the group stage, but already the 2023 tournament has doubled that tally, with seven goals coming from 10+ passing moves.

That points to an increase in the technical quality of the players participating at this year’s tournament and the more general numbers support that notion.

This tournament is the first one in history to average over 600 successful passes per game…

Passes per game - AFCON history

… while it is also the first tournament where passing accuracy has eclipsed 80%.

Best passing accuracy in AFCON history

Late Drama

The final set of fixtures in Group B encapsulated the madness of the group stage. With Ghana leading 2-0 against Mozambique, Egypt knew they needed to beat Cape Verde to qualify. Cue the emotional carnage then, when Mostafa Mohamed thought he’d scored a 93rd-minute winner for the Pharaohs, only for that elation to turn to horror as Cape Verde equalised in the 99th minute. Egypt were out.

Or they would’ve been had Ghana not conspired to throw away their two-goal lead by conceding two stoppage-time goals against Mozambique. Instead, it was Ghana who were eliminated, with Egypt progressing as group runners-up.

That crazy night in Group B gave us four goals in the 90th minute or beyond. Those were four of a whopping 13 stoppage-time goals we witnessed in the group stages alone this year, a figure that’s already more than twice as many as in every single edition since 2010.

Africa Cup of Nations Stats - 90th Minute Winners

Giant Killings

This tournament has three remarkable stories brewing. The first is the rise of Equatorial Guinea, who stunned everyone by finishing top of Group A ahead of hosts Ivory Coast and fellow African giants Nigeria. Juan Micha’s men owe much of their success to Emilio Nsue, who currently sits top of the goalscoring charts with five strikes.

Emilio Nsue goals Africa Cup of Nations

Equatorial Guinea have now reached the knockout stages in all four of their Africa Cup of Nations participations (2012, 2015, 2021 and 2023). Since the group stage was introduced in 1963, they are the only nation to play in more than one AFCON and reach the knockouts on every occasion.

The second compelling narrative unfolding is that of Mauritania, who made history by claiming their first ever Africa Cup of Nations win against Algeria, condemning Riyad Mahrez and co to bottom spot in group D in the process. Mauritania hadn’t won any of their first eight games in the competition (D2 L6), and yet with their maiden win have now qualified for the knockout phase for the first time in three AFCON appearances.

Algeria have now been eliminated at the Africa Cup of Nations group stage in two consecutive AFCON tournaments for the first time in their history (20 participations).

The third fairy tale of AFCON 2023 involves Namibia, who also picked up their first ever tournament win by beating Tunisia 1-0 in their opening group game, in what was their 10th game in the competition. Despite it being the only goal they scored in Group E, Collin Benjamin’s side qualified for the last 16 as one of the best third-place teams, reaching the knockouts for the first time in their history.

With some mouth-watering ties in the round of 16, we can only pray that we continue to see the same trends. Give us goals, give us late winners, give us a team firing their coach halfway through the tournament despite qualifying for the last 16 – oh, right.

Above all, give us drama.

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