Why 2023 AFCON is record-breaker yet could end in goal drought


FOOTBALL Why 2023 AFCON is record-breaker yet could end in goal drought

Festus Chuma 09:27 - 11.02.2024

The 2023 AFCON has shattered goal records, yet the final between Ivory Coast and Nigeria may revert to a low-scoring tradition.

The 2023 Africa Cup of Nations has unfolded into an unparalleled spectacle of football shattering records and setting a new benchmark for future tournaments. 

With an astonishing tally of 116 goals scored and only two matches remaining, this year's edition has been nothing short of a scoring frenzy. 

However, as the tournament approaches its climax with the final showdown between hosts Ivory Coast and Nigeria, history hints at a potential shift from the goal-rich narrative that has dominated the proceedings thus far.

Historically, the finals of the African football showpiece have been characterised by their scarcity of goals. 

A review of the past 10 finals reveals a modest total of 10 goals, with a significant portion of these coming from just two deciders.

 The 2004 final saw Tunisia clinch victory over Morocco with a 2-1 scoreline, and Cameroon echoed this result in 2017 against an Egypt team inspired by Mohamed Salah. 

Beyond these exceptions, the finals have largely been tight, cagey affairs, with half of them being resolved by the slimmest of margins or through the nerve-wracking lottery of penalty shootouts after goalless stalemates.

This year's finalists, Ivory Coast and Nigeria, have both demonstrated a pragmatic approach to their game, prioritising solidity over spectacle. 

Their encounter earlier in the tournament was a tightly-contested affair, decided by a solitary penalty. 

The Ivorian Elephants, despite hosting the tournament and enjoying fervent home support, have navigated their way to the final with just six goals in as many matches. 

Their goal-scoring responsibilities have been evenly distributed, underscoring a team that values collective effort over individual brilliance.

Nigeria's journey to the final has been similarly challenging, with the Super Eagles netting seven times in their six outings. 

Their attack, spearheaded by Napoli's Victor Osimhen and supplemented by Ademola Lookman's prowess, has yet to truly ignite, reflecting the cautious nature of knockout football where the margins for error are infinitesimally small.

The stakes for the final are higher than ever, with the champions set to receive a record $7 million in prize money, not to mention the additional financial rewards and advertising opportunities that accompany such a triumph. 

Despite the historical trend towards low-scoring finals, the unprecedented goal tally of this year's tournament provides a backdrop of unpredictability. 

With both teams having demonstrated defensive resilience and tactical discipline, the final could either follow the traditional script of a closely contested, low-scoring affair or break the mold entirely, reflecting the goal-scoring bonanza that has defined the 2023 AFCON.

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