Every major competition has one or more surprises in store. Unexpected players or teams shine, and show themselves to be even better than expected.Which teams could be the surprises of the AFCON 2023?
It’s certainly rare to see a so-called “small” team win a major competition. Hervé Renard’s Zambia in 2012 is one of the exceptions. However, it happens very often, if not every time, that one or more unexpected teams achieve encouraging and surprising results. Like Equatorial Guinea at the 2015 CAF Africa Cup of Nations.
On home soil, the Nzalang reached the semi-finals in only their second appearance at the finals. The Equatorial Guineans rarely come to the continental showpiece (3 times), but when they do, everyone can feel it.As was the case at the last edition. They emerged from a group that included Algeria and Côte d’Ivoire, eliminating Mali in the Round of 8 before being held back by the future African champions in the quarter-finals. This year, Equatorial Guinea are once again in a tough group with Côte d’Ivoire, Nigeria and Guinea Bissau. Even without any big stars, they’ll have to rely on their determination to take on the “Big Boys”.
Mali at last?
Like Equatorial Guinea, South Africa is a team on which we can bet to find our “surprise selection”.Admittedly, they’re a long way from the form they showed in 96, 98 and 2000, when they finished champions, runners-up and third respectively, but Bafana Bafana can count on Hugo Broos to wake them up.
The Belgian coach took Cameroon to the top in 2017, when everyone predicted he would fail to reach the 1st round. Since his arrival on the bench, the South African team has begun to rediscover its competitive character. This is something that Mali may also be lacking. The Eagles have often got off to a good start at the AFCON, with some very talented and daring young players. But, like Senegal before its 2021 consecration, Mali always disappoints at the most unexpected moment.
Gambia, eliminated by Cameroon in the quarter-finals of AFCON 2021, and 2012 champions Zambia are also surprise packages.