The Africa Cup of Nations has delivered unexpected outcomes, from Ivory Coast’s stunning revival to the departure of football heavyweights and surprising successes for underdogs. The last 16 concluded with a significant upset, as South Africa eliminated Morocco, the continent’s top-ranked team and 2022 World Cup semi-finalists, following a crucial late penalty miss by Achraf Hakimi.
Hosts Ivory Coast staged a remarkable comeback, narrowly avoiding a humiliating elimination in the group stage. However, this AFCON has proven to be a challenging battleground for many traditional football powerhouses.
Defeated Morocco coach Walid Regragui maintained perspective, stating, “It is not the end of the world. We are not the only ones. Lots of the favorites have been eliminated. We will come back stronger.” Despite being eliminated, Morocco is set to host the next Cup of Nations.
The tournament has witnessed the early exits of the three most successful teams in the competition’s history—Egypt, Cameroon, and Ghana. Collectively, these teams boast 16 titles, but their campaigns came to an end, with the first two eliminated in the last 16 and Ghana exiting in the group stage. Notably, all five of Africa’s representatives at the 2022 World Cup have already been eliminated.
Senegal’s exit in a penalty shootout against Ivory Coast follows a trend where no reigning champion has won a knockout tie at the Cup of Nations since Egypt in 2010. The last three champions, including Algeria, who triumphed in 2019, have been eliminated, with Algeria exiting in the group stage for the second consecutive AFCON.
The absence of star players such as Mohamed Salah, Riyad Mahrez, Sadio Mane, and Hakimi adds to the tournament’s unpredictability. These African football icons will be watching the remainder of the competition, perhaps grappling with the unexpected turn of events.
Notably, none of the quarter-finalists from the last edition two years ago in Cameroon have advanced to the last eight this time, emphasizing the tournament’s unpredictable nature.