Africa Cup of Nations

Afcon 2021: Six big disappointments of the group stage

06:54 EAT 22/01/2022
Partey Afcon Ghana Comoros 2022
Not everyone has enjoyed the first round of the Africa Cup of Nations

  • Mahrez Algeria Afcon 2022


    It’s hard to start anywhere else.

    The Africa Cup of Nations has made mockeries of reputation and legacy in years gone by, with reigning champions infamously having a hard time of things at the continent’s high table.

    Nigeria and Egypt failed to qualify after their most recent triumphs, while Zambia and Ivory Coast both fell in the first round after their latest successes in the tournament.

    However, Algeria, with their immense technical talent, their 35-game undefeated streak, were expected to go the distance and potentially even become the first team since 2010 to retain the title.

    Ultimately, their campaign was a disaster—a ‘total failure’ said head coach Djamel Belmadi—as the Fennecs exit the tournament with one point and one goal scored.

    Rarely have reigning champs come crashing down to earth as quickly.

  • Andre Ayew Jordan Ayew Alexander Djiku Ghana


    Following just behind Algeria are Ghana who, despite not having the success of the North Africans in recent years, still came to the tournament amidst talk of ending their 40-year wait for the Nations Cup.

    Needless to say, that one didn’t end well.

    The Black Stars also woefully underperformed in Cameroon, taking just one point from their three matches—including a miserable defeat by tiny Comoros—and sullying their proud name with their antics at the conclusion of their game against Gabon.

    Andre Ayew, for his tournament of intoxicating highs and bitter lows, could have had a while entry in this list just to himself.

  • CAN 2022 - Egypte Mohamed Salah


    Unlike Algeria and Ghana, Egypt have snuck into the Last 16, although an argument could be made that—had they been in either the Fennecs’ or the Black Stars’ groups—things might have been very different.

    They were outplayed by Nigeria in their opener, fortunate that Guinea-Bissau’s late equaliser was disallowed in their second match, and then laboured past a limited Sudan team in their final game.

    An over-reliance on Mohamed Salah isn’t getting the best out of him, and the Pharaohs need to improve dramatically if they’re to advance past Ivory Coast in the next round.

  • Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang Gabon Guinea-Bissau 14012017

    Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang

    The saga of the opening week of the Nations Cup focused on whether or not Gabon skipper Aubameyang would be able to take to the field with the Panthers after testing positive for coronavirus upon his arrival in Cameroon.

    At first, he was out, then, before the Ghana game, he tested negative and was set to return, only for Caf doctors and Gabon’s medical officials to prevent him from returning after tests suggested the virus had left residues in his system.

    Both he and Mario Lemina were eventually released to return to their club sides ahead of the Central Africans’ final group game against Morocco, and yet another tournament has passed Auba—one of the great goalscorers of his generation—by.

  • Sadio Mane of Senegal during the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations.


    Tipped as one of the genuine contenders for the Nations Cup, Senegal have grown dramatically under Aliou Cisse, reaching the World Cup in 2018 and the Afcon final a year later.

    Their natural progression—and the quality of Sadio Mane—should take them to the latter stages of the competition, and they demonstrated in the World Cup qualifiers that they can find a cutting edge to see off some of Africa’s lesser sides without too much difficulty.

    However, they’ve struggled to get going during this tournament, only breaking down Zimbabwe at the death, being held by Guinea, and then drawing with lowly Malawi in their final group game.

    They’ve shown none of the ferocity in attack that some of their rivals have—despite being in one of the easier groups—and their performances must improve if they’re going to realise their title credentials.

  • Janny Sikazwe

    Janny Sikazwe

    Obviously, circumstances have been revealed and context has been understood since Zambian referee Sikazwe first blew to end the Tunisia-Mali match 13 seconds before full time (having earlier ended it at 85 minutes) which somewhat excuse his unfortunate error.

    However, as is the case with such scandals, the details can get lost amidst the opprobrium, and Sikazwe’s initial error will generate far more column inches than the more nuanced explanation ever could.

    Therefore, his moment to forget was beamed around the world and used as fodder to ridicule the Nations Cup and belittle the state of the continent’s refereeing.

    Dreadful moment, no doubt, and Tunisia’s reaction was always going to be incendiary, but this makes the list more for how disappointing the portrayal was, rather, perhaps, than the reality.