Power Ranking: Nigeria sneak inside top 10, Senegal superb, Tanzania bring up the rear

AFCON 2023 Power Ranking: Nigeria sneak inside top 10, Senegal superb, Tanzania bring up the rear

Solace Chukwu 11:48 - 18.01.2024

After the first round of matches, a ranking of the standout nations so far at AFCON 2023 in the Ivory Coast

We get it. There are no prizes for being the best team in the tournament in the opening game. 

Tournaments are notorious for exposing pretenders, and fast starts are rarely a guarantee. Over the last five editions, the average number of points the eventual champions have accrued during the Group Stage is 5.8 out of a possible nine. Clearly, it is not how you start, but how you finish. 

And yet… There is no harm in acknowledging the performances we have witnessed so far, especially in what has been a hugely entertaining 2023 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON). While there have been a smattering of upsets already, some of the big favourites have also justified their tag as such. 

So, here is a ranking of all 24 teams in the Ivory Coast on the basis of their performances (and results) after the first round of matches.


  • Result: 3-0 v Gambia
  • Next game: v Cameroon

The reigning champions oozed class and composure in their dismissal of Gambia, even accounting for the game Scorpions going down to 10 men late in the first half. Most impressive was the quality of their finishing, turning 1.88 xG into 4.56 xGOT and three goals, with Lamine Camara’s finishing a particular highlight. One thing is clear: Senegal will not be giving up their title without a fight. 

🇲🇦 Morocco

  • Result: 3-0 v Tanzania
  • Next game: v DR Congo

Their sterling success at the World Cup marked them out as favourites, but Morocco have a lot to prove still, especially within the context of AFCON. They set about their task gamely, taking Tanzania apart and running away with it in the second half. The performance of Azzeddine Ounahi, whose goal doubled the lead in the 77th, has set tongues wagging, but there will be harder tests.

🇨🇻 Cape Verde

  • Result 2-1 v Ghana
  • Next game: v Mozambique

If this seems a little high, then do reacquaint yourself with the Blue Sharks’ performance against Ghana. Against more illustrious opponents, Cape Verde delivered a nerveless performance full of menace and thoroughly deserved their win. Bubista’s side concede chances, but they give as good as they get  (the xG was 2.99 to 1.74 in their favour) and have put themselves in a fantastic position already.

🇳🇦 Namibia

  • Result: 1-0 v Tunisia
  • Next game: v South Africa

There is fearless, and there is what the Brave Warriors pulled off against Tunisia. In a performance that lived up to their sobriquet, Namibia forced the 2004 champions back in the first half, eking out the better chances over the duration of the encounter. When Deon Hotto ghosted in at the far post to head home the winner, it was the least they deserved. Technically inferior, they made up for it with heart and clarity all over the pitch.

🇨🇮 Ivory Coast

  • Result: 2-0 v Guinea-Bissau
  • Next game: v Nigeria

This was the most routine of routine wins for the host nation: Guinea-Bissau never got going, seemingly overawed by the occasion (as they often seem to be at AFCON). The Ivory Coast also did not convince in many aspects of their play, and will need to resolve some issues with their selection if they are to make a deep run. Still, a win is a win, and if the opponent is taking the majority of shots from distance, you have done something right.

🇲🇱 Mali

  • Result: 2-0 v South Africa
  • Next game: v Tunisia

That opening game could have gone so differently for Mali had South Africa made the most of their dominance in the first half (looking at you, aspiring rugby player Percy Tau). Still, credit to the Eagles for their resilience in the second period, as they got a grip and began to force Bafana Bafana into errors in build-up. It remains to be seen whether their diamond midfield is sustainable, but they are one of the more tactically interesting sides to watch.

🇧🇫 Burkina Faso

  • Result: 1-0 v Mauritania
  • Next game: v Algeria

There really is no other way to put this: Burkina Faso were fortunate to get anything at all, let alone the win over Mauritania. The late penalty papered over the cracks of an insipid performance marked by naivety in attack. Quite why Hubert Velud selected such an inexperienced forward line is anyone’s guess. Algeria will be a much sterner test, but the Stallions can at least count on their defence, which was excellent.

🇨🇩 DR Congo

  • Result: 1-1 v Zambia
  • Next game: v Morocco

Quite how DR Congo did not get the win against Zambia is a mystery worthy of Poirot. Sebastien Desabre’s Leopards battered Chipolopolo all game, racking up an eye-watering 25 shots but only scoring once. It was proof that their attack can cause any team problems, even Morocco who are up next. More worrying, however, was the frustration that crept into their body language as the game progressed. 

🇳🇬 Nigeria

Result: 1-1 v Equatorial Guinea

Next game: v Ivory Coast

Like for DR Congo, Nigeria’s draw with Equatorial Guinea was the sort that, if the match were simulated 100 times, the Super Eagles would win 99. When your best striker and the reigning CAF Player of the Year misses the sort of gilt-edged chances Victor Osimhen (an individual total of 1.95 xG) did, you just have to throw up your hands and laugh at yourself a bit. It certainly has complicated things for Nigeria, with the host nation on the horizon.


  • Result: 2-2 v Egypt
  • Next game: v Cape Verde

It is impossible to not have been impressed by Mozambique, who came within a hair’s breadth of shocking seven-time African champions Egypt. They completely altered the game’s dynamic and scoreline in the second half, but even while the Pharaohs were dominant early, the Mambas carried a threat on the wings and pace in behind. Reinildo Mandava’s handling of Mohamed Salah was particularly masterful.


  • Result: 1-1 v Angola
  • Next game: v Burkina Faso

In the opening half against Angola, Algeria looked unstoppable against a hapless opponent. In the second, however, problems began to manifest: Nabil Bentaleb is not Adlene Guedioura, Fares Chaibi is not Sofiane Feghouli and they still have the front three that won the tournament four years ago, all now in their 30s. This is a team that never seems too far from a nervous breakdown, and they seemed to wilt badly in the humidity of Bouake.


  • Result: 2-2 v Mozambique
  • Next game: v Ghana

The ease with which Mozambique exposed Egypt’s weaknesses at the back must be a worry for Pharaohs boss Rui Vitoria. There were issues going forward as well: too many speculative efforts, very little that was clear-cut (a non-penalty xG of 1.21 from 20 shots is damning), not enough clarity in important moments. Clearly some creative inspiration is needed if Egypt are to live up to their billing, but we have seen them start slow before.


  • Result: 1-1 v Cameroon
  • Next game: v Gambia

While they had their full complement, Guinea were superior to Cameroon, running through time and again and pouncing on looseness in midfield. The red card to captain Francois Kamano forced a retreat, and from their bunker they repelled the majority of what the Indomitable Lions had to throw at them. It was a showing of resilience and solidarity that should bode well for them going forward.

Equatorial Guinea

  • Result: 1-1 v Nigeria
  • Next game: v Guinea-Bissau

Nzalang Nacional have the fates to thank for their point against Nigeria. It was not even the case that they staged a successful rearguard action; the Super Eagles were simply wasteful. Still Equatorial Guinea fashioned and took their goal well, and were game in the first half, working the ball well and pushing Nigeria back at times. It has them set up well: a victory over Guinea-Bissau would certainly guarantee progress.


  • Result: 1-1 v DR Congo
  • Next game: v Tanzania

Chipolopolo had one good idea all game: Patson Daka’s quick throw to Kings Kangwa for their goal and the outstanding comedy moment of AFCON 2023. Beyond that, Zambia’s approach was utterly defensive, belying their strength in attack. A shame, as it made for a marginally less engaging contest, but we can at least credit their willingness to throw bodies in the way of shots. It sets them up well, provided they push on against Tanzania next.


  • Result: 1-1 v Algeria
  • Next game: v Mauritania

For a half, Angola legitimately looked like the worst team at AFCON 2023. By the end of proceedings, you were not quite sure that they weren’t, but somehow they had pulled off an improbable draw against an Algeria side that was fitting to blow them away. Fair play to them, they took the game to Les Fennecs a bit more after the break, and can look forward with some optimism. The play will have to be a lot better though.


  • Result: 1-1 v Guinea
  • Next game: v Senegal

When you have a  numerical advantage for as long as Cameroon did against Guinea, you have to be able to muster more. The Indomitable Lions lacked imagination in their attacking, resorting to crosses (36 of them!) against a disadvantaged opponent with no designs on attacking. It worked once for the equaliser, but something more inventive will be needed if Rigobert Song’s men are to make a serious impression in the Ivory Coast.


  • Result: 0-1 v Burkina Faso
  • Next game: v Angola

The only reason Mauritania are this low is that, ultimately, they lost. That puts them in a precarious position, and means they are immediately under pressure to win their next game. That said, they deserved so much more, and showed a great deal of attacking promise, allied to defensive organisation and an impressive physicality. The loss through injury of Aboubakar Kamara is a blow, but this is a properly good side.

South Africa

  • Result: 0-2 v Mali
  • Next game: v Namibia

Swings and roundabouts, but how different could things have been had Tau stuck away that penalty? To that point, Bafana had been superior, causing Mali’s narrow midfield huge problems. They seemed to lose all composure and clarity after that, however, and played far too frantically afterward. Crucially, their centre-back pairing does not inspire the most confidence, comfortable though they are in possession. 


  • Result: 0-3 v Senegal
  • Next game: v Guinea

The Scorpions may have lost heavily, but considering they actually started the game well before going down to 10 men before the break, they are due some sympathy. Also, in spite of their disadvantage, they still created three big chances in the game and were arguably good value for at least a consolation. They won’t be facing another side of Senegal’s all-around quality, that is for sure.


  • Result: 1-2 v Cape Verde
  • Next game: v Egypt

Ghana’s performance against the Blue Sharks was difficult to understand, as it was never clear what they were trying to do and how the profiles on the pitch were meant to mesh together. Cape Verde were handily better, both in possession and on the attack; what opportunities the Black Stars did get were wasted. With Egypt to come next, Ghana may already be up against it in the Ivory Coast.


  • Result: 0-1 v Namibia
  • Next game: v Mali

Coming in, you know what you are getting with Tunisia, and it is no fun. However, to see the Carthage Eagles sit deep against modest Namibia was shocking, and their lack of ambition ultimately allowed the Brave Warriors to build up their confidence during the proceedings. Rousing themselves for the second half means they escape the bottom of this ranking, but if they do not improve against Mali, questions need to be asked of Jalel Kadri.


  • Result: 0-2 v Ivory Coast
  • Next game: v Equatorial Guinea

While there is no shame in losing to the host nation, especially a star-studded Ivory Coast, Guinea-Bissau ought to be embarrassed by their lack of effort. The Djurtus laid down far too easily, seldom offering a threat to the occasionally flustered Elephants. With a flat midfield and little by way of connectivity between the lines, it is easy enough to see why Baciro Cande’s charges frequently underwhelm on the AFCON stage.


  • Result: 0-3 v Morocco
  • Next game: v Zambia

However much of a talent disparity there is, a team has to have a clear avenue by which it seeks to win, or score at the very least. Tanzania, beyond circulating the ball aimlessly around the back, showed nothing against Morocco, who were happy to let them have it and donate it back after a few passes. Their aggression came back to bite them too, the red card a culmination of a shamefully rudimentary approach.