AFCON 2023: Who will rule Africa again?

As the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) commences on January 13, this writer assesses the national teams poised to potentially claim the throne as the new champions of African football.

Twenty-four nations will vie for continental greatness in the 34th African edition of the football fiesta, with tournament hosts Ivory Coast kicking things off against Guinea Bissau in Abidjan.

Amidst remarkable leaps by underdog squads in the qualifiers, a handful emerge as prime contenders for the coveted trophy. This article dissects seven of these powerhouse teams, taking into context their FIFA rankings both continentally and globally, as well as their number of wins at the event.

 7. Ghana 


World Ranking: 61st

Africa Ranking: 11th

AFCON titles: 4
The Black Stars hold a revered status at AFCON, largely for their legacy rather than recent performances. Their debut win in 1963 as hosts set the stage, followed by a swift triumph two years later with a refreshed squad. Runner-up spots in 1968 and 1970 preceded a lengthy wait until they clinched the title again as hosts in 1978. 

Ghana’s fourth victory, which featured the sensational Abedi “Pele” Ayew at just 17, took place in Libya four years later. However, reclaiming the African throne has proven elusive for the past 42 years, a key factor for their early placement on this list.

Like most African teams, Ghanaian football grapples with persistent issues — administrative shortcomings, coaching lapses, and struggles in talent scouting. Fans are relying on former Irish international Chris Hughton, whose Ghanaian heritage fuels hope for a resurgence. Yet, Ghana’s current outlook appears shaky following losses to Mexico, USA (both in friendlies), and Comoros (in World Cup qualifying). 

Nevertheless, their shot at glory hinges on the seasoned skills of top talents like Jordan Ayew (Crystal Palace), Mohammed Kudus (West Ham United), and Joseph Aidoo (Celta Vigo), although several others such as Thomas Partey (Arsenal), Tariq Lamptey (Brighton & Hove Albion) and Fatawu Issahaku (Leicester City) will be absent due to various reasons.

Did you know? The Black Stars boast a unique feat as the first team to achieve two sets of four consecutive semi-final appearances at AFCON, marking their dominance in 1963, 1965, 1968, and 1970, and a resurgence in 2008, 2010, 2012, and 2013.

6. Nigeria

Nigeria AFCON

World Ranking: 42nd

Africa Ranking: 6th

AFCON Titles: 3

The Super Eagles, like their Jollof rivals, hold a storied football legacy, although their dominance has waned over the past two decades. Their initial victory as hosts in 1980 remained unrivalled until their triumph in Tunisia in 1994, coinciding with their memorable FIFA World Cup debut.

However, a mix of setbacks, missed opportunities, and political issues kept Nigeria from reclaiming the AFCON title for 18 years. Ironically, the Eagles found solace in South Africa, where they skipped defending their champions status in 1996 but secured their third title by defeating Burkina Faso.

Amidst these victories, Nigeria endured four runner-up finishes (the last in 2000) and clinched third place eight times (including three consecutive occurrences in 2004, 2006, and 2008). Yet, despite often fielding squads composed mostly of talented foreign-based players, their performances frequently fell short due to inadequate preparations and lacklustre displays. Internal conflicts among the players and football association officials, alongside reports of corruption, further marred their journey.

The current squad boasts a substantial presence in England, a trio from Italy (including the reigning African Footballer of the Year Victor Osimhen), and a duo from Portugal, hinting at their potential in the upcoming tournament. However, the Super Eagles’ dismal form thus far in the 2026 World Cup qualifiers casts doubts on their ability to secure victory in the Ivory Coast.

Did you know? The Super Eagles reign supreme with the highest tally of podium finishes at AFCON events. Their impressive record of 15 medals — comprising three gold, four silver, and eight bronze — stands unmatched by any other team and will remain unchallenged even after this event.

 5. Ivory Coast

Ivory Coast AFCON

World Ranking: 49th

Africa Ranking: 8th

AFCON Titles: 2

One would expect the Elephants, as hosts, to be among the top contenders for AFCON 2023. Relying in part on home advantage, they aim to clinch victory in this latest tournament. With two previous titles (both secured by defeating Ghana in penalty shootouts) and two runner-up finishes (in 2006 and 2012), expectations are high. However, their record of only two wins in 24 participations does not solidify their dominance in African football. Despite fielding legendary players like Laurent Pokou, Alain Gouamene, Joel Tiehi, and Didier Drogba in the past, sustained success has eluded them.

The Elephants present a formidable squad capable of going the distance on home turf, positioning them among the frontrunners for AFCON 2023. While coaching stability has been lacking, the inclusion of ex-international and seasoned assistant coach Kolo Toure, the return of quality foreign-based players — including goal scorer Sebastien Haller (Borussia Dortmund) — and their recent form bolster their prospects on paper. However, historical setbacks, including four semi-final losses and two final defeats, reveal a tendency to falter under pressure. Consistency remains their crucial factor for success moving forward.

Did you know? Laurent Pokou, honoured with the naming of the official match ball for AFCON 2023, netted five goals for the Elephants during their resounding 6-1 victory over Ethiopia in Sudan in 1970.

4. Cameroon

Cameroon AFCON

World Ranking: 46th

Africa Ranking: 7th

AFCON Titles: 5

The Indomitable Lions stand strong among the top contenders for victory at AFCON 2023, leveraging their rich history and a formidable squad. Cameroon’s resilience is unquestionable. Despite entering AFCON competitions late in 1970, they have clinched five titles, including three victories over Nigeria (in 1984, 1988, and 2000), with a runners-up finish in between. Globally, they have upheld their reputation by securing the Olympic gold medal in 2000 and can boast of memorable World Cup wins against powerhouses like Argentina (defending champions in 1990) and Brazil (in 2022). They have also proven their mettle by holding their ground against prominent teams like Italy, Sweden, and Chile at the World Cup.

Within Africa, the Lions command both respect and fear. They claimed consecutive continental championships at the turn of the century and triumphed last at AFCON in Gabon in 2017, securing bronze as hosts in the previous edition. Goalkeeper Andre Onana (Manchester United) brings solidity between the posts, while midfield maestro Andre-Frank Anguissa (Napoli) orchestrates the play. Vincent Aboubakar (Besiktas), the Brazilian conqueror and team captain, aims to lead the Central Africans to a historic sixth victory. Underestimating them would be a mistake.

Did you know? Ex-Indomitable Lions’ players boast the AFCON records for all-time goals, held by Samuel Eto’o with an impressive tally of 18 goals in 29 games. Additionally, Rigobert Song holds the records for all-time appearances and consecutive matches played, having featured in eight tournaments and an impressive streak of 35 consecutive matches.

3. Egypt 


World Ranking: 33rd

Africa Ranking: 5th

AFCON Titles: 7

As the oldest national team in Africa, the Pharaohs boast a series of pioneering achievements. They hold the record for the most AFCON victories, totalling seven titles. Egypt made history by participating in the inaugural FIFA World Cup in 1930 and the first AFCON event in 1957. This debut saw them clinch the AFCON trophy, which they successfully defended. 

They have made the most appearances in the tournament with 25 events attended and have played the highest number of matches at 107. Their presence in ten final matches and an unbeaten streak of six penalty shootouts solidifies their dominance. The team has also netted the highest number of regulation goals, totalling 168, including extra time.

The Pharaohs’ historical legacy sets them apart, positioning them as formidable contenders to reclaim African glory. However, there exist other formidable teams on the continent ready to challenge their supremacy. The emergence of young talent like forward Omar Marmoush (Eintracht Frankfurt) alongside established England-based players like Mohamed Elneny (Arsenal) and captain Mohamed Salah (Liverpool) bodes well for the Pharaohs. A semi-final finish is within reach for these perennial champions.

Did you know? The Pharaohs boast the longest undefeated streak at AFCON, spanning 24 games from 2004 to 2017. Within this impressive record, they secured a remarkable run of nine consecutive victories and clinched three consecutive AFCON titles (2006, 2008, and 2010), setting an African record. Curiously, the unbeaten streak both commenced and concluded against Cameroon.

2. Senegal

Senegal AFCON

World Ranking: 20th

Africa Ranking: 2nd

AFCON Titles: 1 

The Teranga Lions’ presence on this list is anything but unexpected, especially as they hold the title of defending champions. Since their remarkable feats at the 2002 FIFA World Cup guided by the late Bruno Metsu, Senegal have ascended to become a revered giant in African football. Before 2002, their AFCON record consisted of just three quarter-final appearances. However, that year saw them narrowly miss out on the tournament, falling to Cameroon in a final that extended to penalty kicks.

Following their stunning World Cup debut with a quarter-final finish, they secured two more quarter-final spots in 2004 and 2017. The narrative shifted in 2019 as they reached the final (decided by penalties) and finally triumphed in 2021, avenging their loss to Cameroon (once again, through penalties). Their success continued with a victory in the African Nations Championship (CHAN) the following year in Algeria.

The Lions’ ascent to football stardom and the calibre of players at their disposal, led by cap record-holder Idrissa Gueye (Everton), captain Kalidou Koulibaly, and leading goal scorer Sadio Mane (Al-Nassr), position them as strong favourites for AFCON 2023. With former internationals Tony Sylva and Lamine Diatta in their coaching staff, coupled with recent victories over Ivory Coast, Brazil, and Cameroon, Senegal presents a formidable threat to any team in Africa and beyond. A consecutive title win at this event would not be surprising given their current form and prowess.

Did you know? The current coach of the Teranga Lions, Aliou Cisse, previously captained the team during their loss in the 2002 edition. Interestingly, he transitioned to become their victorious manager in the most recent tournament held in Cameroon.

1. Morocco

Morocco AFCON

World Ranking: 13th

Africa Ranking: 1st

AFCON Titles: 1

Presently, the Atlas Lions hold just one AFCON title, secured in 1976 as hosts, alongside a third-place finish in 1980 and a runner-up effort in 2004. However, their consistent presence as Africa’s top national team in the FIFA World Rankings for three consecutive years (1997 to 1999) highlighted their prowess. Their World Cup history, starting from 1986 onwards, stands as a testament to their impressive record. 

Following their groundbreaking performance in the 2022 FIFA World Cup, where they became Africa’s first semi-finalists, Morocco are now seen as major contenders for the AFCON title. Since the last World Cup, they have risen to be the highest-ranked African/Arab team by FIFA. Their commendable efforts have earned them hosting rights for AFCON 2025 and co-hosting rights for the FIFA 2030 World Cup.

Morocco are currently exhibiting their strongest form. Throughout 2022, they defeated prominent teams like Chile, Belgium, Spain, Portugal, and Brazil in friendlies or competitive games, remaining unbeaten in the games played in 2023. Their squad boasts experienced players like Chadi Riad and Ez Abde (Real Betis), Sofyan Amrabat (Manchester United), Hakim Ziyech (Galatasaray), and Youssef En-Nesyri (Sevilla). These players, most of whom could have chosen to play for their countries of birth, possess the capability to lead the Maghreb Kings to their second AFCON title. 

Their domestic players have clinched the CHAN title twice in consecutive fashion, sharing the record number of wins with DR Congo. Thus, it is an opportune moment for the Atlas Lions to roar their mightiest. All eyes will be on them to replicate their heroics from Qatar at AFCON 2023.

Did you know? At the 2022 FIFA World Cup, the Atlas Lions shattered a minimum of 13 records, spanning both individual player achievements and team accomplishments, across Africa and the Arab world.


What are your thoughts concerning these seven teams? Do you think the eventual winner will emerge from one of them? Or will other competing teams such as Algeria, Tunisia, Mali, or even Guinea, create major upsets? Do let us know in the comments section.

Mac Akin Ajayi

Writer & Blogger

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