AFCON 2023: Tournament of underdogs or a case of slow starts

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AFCON 2023: Tournament of underdogs or a case of slow starts

Cape Verde became the first country to qualify for the knockout stages of the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations.

The tiny island nation crushed Mozambique 3-0 on Friday evening to book their spot.

The result all but confirms them as Group B winners, a group that has traditional powerhouses like Egypt and Ghana.

Cape Verde defeated the Black Stars 2-1 in their opening fixture at the tournament – a clear warning sign that was not heeded.

“I see a lot of people are surprised. But Cape Verde has been doing this. I think it was three tournaments ago when they smashed Cameroon and got to the quarter-finals, where they lost to bad officiating if I remember well.

“They have not been able to go far in AFCON tournaments. But maybe they could do it this time.

“Look at the game against Ghana, the way they dominated the game and their tactical awareness. It was a flawless performance,” Wale Agbede, the Head of Sports at Plus TV tells DAILY POST.

In their final group game, Cape Verde will face an Egyptian side without talisman Mohammed Salah, who picked up a hamstring problem in their 2-2 draw with Ghana on Thursday night.

Already, most football fans and pundits have dubbed the 2023 AFCON as the ‘tournament of the underdogs’.

Agbede disagrees.

“I think that it is hard to call it a tournament of the underdogs. We have seen a couple of tournaments that produced similar results from underdogs.

“African football is one that is very peculiar. There are countries that though they don’t have high-profile players in top leagues in Europe, it could be an advantage.

“Because they get to play in the same league. Like Cape Verde for instance. Small country, small population. There is a lot of synergy. They play the same style and their ideology is the same. A lot of the time, this tends to bear fortune sometimes, not all the time.

“I’m not surprised. Some of the big guns that we expected to win have won.

“First games in competitions can be very tricky. We have seen it in Europe and the World Cup with teams that have slow starts.

“Some of the big players come from different leagues around the world. For instance, some come instantly from winter in the UK with the Premier League and come directly to play in West Africa, where there is temperature difference.

“What it means is that there has to be acclimatization. There will also be a change in style because they are playing under a different manager and set up.

“The hypotheticals surrounding first matches in football tournaments are enormous.

“Maybe it’s too soon. Maybe if two or three of the underdogs make a deep run in the tournament, then we can have this conversation.

“But will I call this a tournament of the underdogs at this point? I wouldn’t. Anybody who does is jumping the gun in my opinion,” Agbede said.

However, Agbede holds a personal theory that cup competitions don’t always favour the best team.

He adds: “It doesn’t mean the best team can’t win. But it doesn’t always mean the best team won.

“I think as some of the big boys get into the groove and spend more days together, when it gets to the business end of the competition, an extra layer of talent and experience begin to come to the fore. And it is no longer about 22 players kicking the ball around. Some of these x-factor players for the big teams could show their quality and be the difference.

“Can a less fancied country win the competition? Of course, they can. But is it going to happen? Right now, I don’t think so.”


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