AFCON 2023 starts in two months: Here’s all you need to know (including why it’s in 2024)

The Africa Cup of Nations kicks off in two months. The biennial competition, which first took place in 1957, brings together the continent’s best talent in a vibrant spectacle.

At the last AFCON, Senegal beat Egypt on penalties in the final to lift the trophy for the third time. Will Senegal repeat their success? Or can Egypt, led by Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah, claim revenge?

There are lots of players and storylines to get excited about, but there are unanswered questions, too. The Athletic gives you the rundown on how Africa’s showpiece competition is shaping up.

Where is the tournament being held and why is it called AFCON 2023?

Guinea was originally announced as the host at a Confederation of African Football (CAF) meeting in 2014. At the same time, Cameroon was announced as the 2019 host and the Ivory Coast as the 2021 host.

For AFCON 2019, the number of teams was increased from 16 to 24 teams and it was moved from January and February to the middle of the year so it did not clash with European domestic leagues.

Egypt replaced Cameroon as the host for the 2019 tournament because of political instability and the stadiums not being ready. Cameroon was then awarded the 2021 edition, but the tournament was moved to the beginning of 2022 to avoid the tropical rainstorm season between June and July.

Ivory Coast was then given the 2023 tournament, with Guinea’s hosting duties moved to 2025. However, the Ivory Coast is impacted by the same weather as Cameroon, which is why it is taking place six months later than originally scheduled. Just to make things even more confusing, it will still be called AFCON 2023 even though it’s taking place in 2024.

For anybody who has managed to keep up, Guinea was then stripped of the 2025 tournament by CAF and it was awarded to Morocco.

Which stadiums will host matches?

There will be 51 matches staged in six stadiums across five cities: Abidjan, Bouake, Korhogo, San-Pedro and Yamoussoukro.

The Alassane Ouattara Stadium, named after the country’s former president, will stage the opening match and the final. Construction on the site was completed in October 2020. It has a capacity of 60,000.

Alassane Ouattara Stadium

The Alassane Ouattara Stadium in September (Sia Kambou/AFP via Getty Images)

The Felix Houphouet-Boigny Stadium was officially opened in 1964 and staged games at the 1984 AFCON, which was the only previous time the tournament had been held in the country. It has been renovated for this edition, with its capacity increased to 29,000. The Stade de la Paix, Amadou Gon Coulibaly Stadium, Charles Konan Banny Stadium and Laurent Pokou Stadium have been built for this tournament.

The CAF inspection team visited San-Pedro, Korhogo, Bouake and Yamoussoukro in October to assess the stadiums, training facilities and accommodation that will be available in these cities throughout the tournament. CAF has a team based in the Ivory Coast working with the local organising committee, too. The CAF Women’s Champions League, which is currently taking place, has been used to test the Amadou Gon Coulibaly and the Laurent Pokou.

How many tickets have been sold and how many people are expected to travel?

The first batch of tickets for the group stages went on sale on Monday, November 13 and are available from CAF’s website. There are three different categories for tickets with prices ranging between $8 and $24 (£6.50 and £19.60).

According to CAF, this is the first time in the history of the tournament that online tickets have been available in advance. “Online tickets will enhance ticketing experience for fans of African football and the general public,” said CAF general secretary Veron Mosengo-Omba.

Are there confirmed broadcasters?

A disagreement between CAF and beIN Sports caused confusion about who would broadcast the tournament in the Middle East and North Africa. However, last Thursday, CAF announced that “it is delighted to recommit to its partnership with beIN after the parties reached agreement on the matters that were in dispute”.

Sky Sports showed all the matches from the 2022 edition but has yet to announce if it has a similar agreement this time.

Which teams are the favourites?

Senegal are the holders and reached the knockout stages of the 2022 World Cup, where they were eliminated by England. Aliou Cisse’s possible squad includes former Liverpool and Bayern Munich forward Sadio Mane, Tottenham Hotspur’s Pape Matar Sarr and Chelsea striker Nicolas Jackson.

They will be one of the favourites, alongside Morocco, who became the first African side in history to reach the semi-finals of the World Cup. Morocco saw off Belgium, Spain and Portugal in Qatar before they lost to eventual runners-up France.

Sadio Mane

Mane playing for Senegal in September (John Wessels/AFP via Getty Images)

In the last two decades, Ghana have been one of the strongest teams but they are struggling for confidence after losing 4-0 to the United States and 2-0 to Mexico in October. Their hopes of progressing deep in the competition hang on the shoulders of West Ham United’s £35.6million attacking midfielder Mohammed Kudus. Former Brighton and Newcastle United manager Chris Hughton is their manager.

Nigeria can call on Napoli forward Victor Osimhen, Fulham’s £21million summer signing Calvin Bassey and AC Milan winger Samuel Chukwueze. Egypt have won the tournament a record seven times but their last triumph came in 2010 — the closest Salah has come were his two runners-up medals from the 2017 and 2021 editions.

Galatasaray’s Wilfried Zaha and Brighton winger Simon Adingra will be crucial to the Ivory Coast’s chances of winning the competition. Bryan Mbeumo, who has scored six goals in the Premier League for Brentford this season, is one of Cameroon’s key players, along with Napoli’s Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa. Algeria’s possible squad is littered with talent, too, including Riyad Mahrez, Said Benrahma and Houssem Aouar.

Why are Kenya and Zimbabwe not taking part?

In November 2021, Kenya’s sports minister Amina Mohamed installed a caretaker committee to run the country’s football federation (FKF). Mohamed intervened due to “governance issues” and the FKF’s “failure to account for all the monies allocated to it by the government”. At the same time, Zimbabwe’s sports commission suspended their football association (ZIFA) “following several incidents of gross incompetence”. Multiple female referees have alleged they were sexually harassed by ZIFA officials.

FIFA restricts government interference within football federations, so, in February 2022, it banned Zimbabwe and Kenya from world football. Three months later, CAF confirmed these bans meant neither country would be allowed to take part in qualifying for AFCON 2023. However, Kenya’s suspension was lifted in November 2022 and Zimbabwe’s in July, which means they will be allowed to participate in qualifying for the 2026 World Cup.

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The Laurent Pokou Stadium in September (Sia Kambou /AFP via Getty Images)

What happened in the group-stage draw?

The group-stage draw was made in October and conducted by the U.S.-born Senegalese musician Akon with assistance from former Ivory Coast captain Didier Drogba, ex-Chelsea midfielder Mikel John Obi, Morocco full-back Achraf Hakimi and Mane.

The opening game will take place on Saturday, January 13 between the Ivory Coast and Guinea-Bissau at the Alassane Ouattara. They have been drawn in Group A along with Nigeria and Equatorial Guinea.

Other eye-catching match-ups include Egypt, Ghana, Mozambique and Cape Verde in Group B, and champions Senegal are with Cameroon, Guinea and Gambia in Group C.

Will there be VAR?

Yes. CAF’s refereeing division hosted a special six-day course in Abidjan last month for officials who are on the preliminary list to feature at the tournament. Thirty-two referees, 32 assistant referees and four VAR officials took part in a workshop, which included physical, technical and theoretical exercises as well as testing their knowledge of the laws of the game and use of technology, including the VAR system.

How much prize money will there be?

Senegal received $5m for winning AFCON 2022 while Egypt received around $2.75m for coming second. The winners of AFCON 2023 can expect to receive a similar amount of money. By way of comparison, Italy received around $29.7 million for winning Euro 2020.

Apsonic, a Chinese-based company that manufactures motorcycles, is the tournament’s official sponsor, along with French multi-energy company TotalEnergies. In October, CAF agreed a deal with sportswear brand Puma to become its technical partner. Puma will provide the official match ball, supply referees with kits and engage in marketing opportunities.

In the same month, CAF also announced that IMG will be its global sponsorship agency for the next two tournaments. According to CAF’s website, IMG will provide “marketing intelligence, data analysis and consultancy services to support CAF in the development of its new commercial sponsorship strategy”.

(Top photo: Ivory Coast supporters during AFCON qualifying in September; by Sia Kambou/AFP via Getty Images)

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