If you’ve been keeping up with the Africa Cup of Nations, you’ll by now be aware that the tournament has one overarching rule: AFCON doesn’t care about your favourites.
But this isn’t new. This is a competition that has always played by its own rules with little respect for the continent’s protagonists. And this year’s iteration hasn’t just kept up that tradition, it’s taken it to new heights.
Egypt, the country with the most AFCON titles in history, were held to a 2-2 draw against Mozambique - a team that’s yet to win an AFCON game in its history. That draw was just the second time Mozambique avoided defeat in the competition since 1996. The Pharoahs have also been eliminated by DR Congo - a side that hasn’t yet won a game in the tournament.
Ghana - who shockingly haven’t won a Nations Cup game since 2019 - lost 2-1 to Cape Verde in their opening match. They also threw away back-to-back two-goal leads, one of which included that Kudus masterclass against Egypt.
Angola, the third-lowest ranked side in competition, forced a 1-1 draw with 2019 winners Algeria, topped their group and are now in the last eight. Namibia qualified for the knockout stages after their first-ever AFCON win against Tunisia. The evidence is abundantly clear: AFCON is not here to laud Africa’s biggest stars.
Victor Osimhen, Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mané and Riyad Mahrez are the four most recent winners of CAF’s African FOTY award, and they’ve all been outshone by the most valiant underdogs.