Each team have played two games at the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations – some have already qualified for the last 16, some have very little hope of going any further. What have we learnt from the opening two matchdays so far?

Goals Beginning to Flow

The opening round of group games at the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations saw a dull 12 goals across the 12 matches, with nine of the games ending 1-0. In fact, following MD2 of the tournament, we’ve reached 12 1-0 wins overall, beating the total seen at the 2019 tournament (11) within the group stages. But goals have finally begun to flow at AFCON 2021.

29 goals were scored in the 12 group games across MD2 of the tournament, a huge improvement on the previous matchday (12) and bumping the goals per game average up to 1.71, which is still lower than the group stage at the 2019 edition (1.89).

AFCON 2021 Group Stage

Whilst there was a huge improvement in front of goal by the nations across this matchday compared to MD1, teams still underperformed compared the expected goals total both overall and from non-penalty shots.

AFCON 2021 Goals

The Golden Boot of Aboubakar

Vincent Aboubakar leads the goalscoring rankings at the tournament so far, with his four goals across Cameroon’s two games.

Odion Ighalo won the top scorer award at the 2019 edition with five goals – four of those coming in the group stage, while Aboubakar has already scored more than any player at the 2017 and 2015 tournaments and had equalled the top scorer tally from the 2013 edition.

Aboubakar AFCON goals

The former Porto striker has attempted the most shots at the tournament in the opening two games (11), with six of those finding the target (another high). If he keeps being presented with chances like he has in the opening two games, then he could go on to break the tournament record.

The record goal tally for a single player across a single AFCON tournament stands at nine, set by Zaire’s Ndaye Mulamba in the 1974 edition of the tournament, which came across six games. Should Cameroon go on and make the final of this tournament, they’ll play seven matches and Aboubakar already has a head start on Mulamba with his four goals in the opening two games being one more than the Zaire forward in 1974 (3) after two appearances.

The Build Up (…or Lack Of)

One thing that’s been noticeable from the opening 24 games at the 2021 African Cup of Nations has been the lack of any considerable possession for a team over a period of time.

In the modern game, we’ve come to expect longer sequences of possession and more considered build-up to shooting attempts; spending time trying to draw the opposition out of position and finding the perfect moment to breach the defence. We haven’t really seen a lot of that in this tournament, and the data backs that suggestion up.

This tournament has averaged just under 12 sequences of 10+ passes per game, less than half seen at the European Championships last summer and lower than both Copa America and the Gold Cup in June and July 2021.

The longest passing sequence that we’ve seen leading up to a goal occurred yesterday, with Musa Kamara’s wonderful strike for Sierra Leone against Ivory Coast finishing a nine-pass move – this one of only six goals to have seen more than five passes in the build-up.

We’ve also seen a much lower average of passes per game both over the entire pitch and in the opposition half, with an inferior pass completion rate in both.

AFCON 2021 Passing

The reasons behind this could be a factor of many things – heat and humidity, the condition of the pitches, the lack of preparation ahead of the tournament due to its timing, the effects of players missing because of Covid-19. That’s not something we can really provide a definitive answer on, but the data is there for people to make their own conclusions.

AFCON 2021 Playing Styles

On a team level, Cameroon have been the kings of slow and intricate football so far, with considerable possession whilst still making sure they progress up field.

The same can’t be said for Ghana, who have suffered a poor tournament to date with a 1-0 defeat to Morocco and a 1-1 draw with Gabon, leaving their chances of qualification for the last 16 much lower than it was pre-tournament…

Predicting AFCON – an Update

With two wins from two, our joint pre-tournament favourites Nigeria have made serene progress so far, winning both of their opening group matches. Their chances of AFCON 2021 glory have jumped up from 14.8% to 18.7%. The Super Eagles have already qualified top of their group and therefore – on paper at least – have a simpler route to the final. Similarly, Morocco have enjoyed a flawless competition so far. Their chances of winning the tournament have been knocked back ever so slightly, from 14.8% to 14.1%, as a consequence of Nigeria’s highly impressive start.

No such luck for Ghana, though, who have been very disappointing thus far. With just a point from their opening two games, their chances of qualifying for the last 16 have dropped dramatically from 86.3% pre-tournament to 64.0%. Ghana’s last group game against Comoros in an absolute must-win, if they are to have any hope of qualifying, mostly like as one of the best-placed third-placed finishers. But their slow start means winning the group is now impossible, which will almost certainly mean a tougher draw to the final. Their chances of reaching the showpiece event have dropped from 15.3% to 10.7%

Algeria, too, have struggled. Group E appeared to be a group of two-halves, with Algeria and Ivory Coast massively fancied to progress (92.6% each), and Equatorial Guinea (46.4%) and Sierra Leone (33.0%) given an outside shot. But yesterday’s results, a last-gasp draw for Sierra Leone against Ivory Coast, and a shock victory for Equatorial Guinea have totally flipped the script. Equatorial Guinea now have a 81.0% chance to progress, while it’s a coin-flip (51.9%) for Sierra Leone. Algeria are still in with a shot at 33.0%, but they’ll need results to go their way.

Hosts Cameroon were given just a 3.0% chance of claiming their sixth AFCON title at the outset by our predictor. Six goals and six points later, perhaps that was a little harsh.

Their perfect record has seen their chances of going deep in the tournament increase, going from a 43.2% of making the quarter-finals to 54.8%, and from 19.6% of making the semis to 24.5%.

The predictor still gives them just a 3.6% of winning it all, however. A host, after all, hasn’t won the tournament or even reached a final since Egypt in 2006. That’s seven successive tournaments with disappointed home crowds.

You can see all the up-to-date predictions in our stats hub. These update throughout the tournament, so keep an eye on them as games are played.

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