What you need to know:
- While the final match promises an exciting culmination to the tournament, these successes extend beyond the pitch.
- Afcon 2023 has served as a powerful platform to showcase African football's development, talent, and potential to the world. It has fostered national pride, economic growth, and a renewed belief in the sport's bright future on the continent.
The 2023 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) has been a thrilling ride, showcasing the best of African football on and off the pitch. While there's still the final match on Sunday, let's celebrate some of the tournament's successes.
Rise in female referees
The 2023 edition witnessed a notable increase in female referee participation, with six officials taking the field compared to four in the 2021 edition in Cameroon.
The six females are part of the 68 match officials gracing the field at the 2023 Afcon – each carrying a torch for increased female representation in the beautiful game. These trailblazers bring a wealth of experience to the tournament, having honed their skills in domestic leagues and international competitions.
The milestone builds on a growing trend of increased representation for women in leadership roles and officiating internationally.
From boardrooms to dressing rooms, and now to the centre of the action, women are carving their space in the beautiful game, inspiring young girls and aspiring referees worldwide.
In addition, this isn't simply a numerical increase; it's a symbolic stride towards greater gender equality in football officiating on the African continent.
The match officials are Salima Mukansanga from Rwanda, a qualified nurse. She broke the glass ceiling by re-writing the history books as Mukansanga became the first female referee to officiate an Afcon men’s game at the 2021 Afcon tournament.
Morocco's Bouchra Karboubi is making her debut at the 2023 Afcon, and she was the centre referee when Nigeria beat Guinea Bissau 1-0 in the group stages. Karboubi added her name to the history books by becoming the second woman to officiate a game at the Afcon after Mukansanga.
Another debutant is South Africa's Akhona Makalima. The hard-working match official is highly rated and respected in southern Africa, where she is known for her no-nonsense approach to her work in SA's top-flight - the DStv Premiership.
"I would say it has been a very good experience. There are a lot of things to learn in a short space of time and a lot of growth, I would say, because previously, in other tournaments, I came as VAR, but to perform at the highest gives me a lot of experience," Makalima said.
Joining the female trailblazers at Afcon 2023 is Zambia's Diana Chikotesha. ‘Super Diana’ is taking on her first-ever men's match assignment.
Cameroon's Carine Atezambong steps onto the Afcon stage, ready to make her mark. This will be her debut as a Video Assistant Referees (VAR) at an Afcon tournament.
The presence of the "fantastic six" on the pitch, touchline and VAR room sends a powerful message to aspiring young referees worldwide, demonstrating that the highest levels of the sport are attainable regardless of gender.
Alongside the strides of female officials, the tournament has witnessed surprising results from underdog nations.
Upgraded prize money
Before the start of the 2023 Afcon, the Confédération African Football (CAF) announced a 40% increase in prize money for the champion team in Côte d'Ivoire.
The victor of the TotalEnergies Afcon Côte d'Ivoire 2023 will be showered with a staggering USD 7 million. The runner-up won't go home empty-handed, pocketing a cool USD 4 million.
And the excitement doesn't stop there: each semifinalist will pocket USD 2.5 million, while the four quarterfinalists will walk away with USD 1.3 million each.
"CAF has made significant progress over the past two years in increasing the Prize Money of the Afcon and all its other major competitions," said the President of CAF, Dr Patrice Motsepe.
"We have increased the Prize Money of the Afcon Winner to USD7 million, which is a 40% increase from the previous Afcon Prize Money. I am confident that a portion of the Prize Money will contribute to developing football and also benefit all the football stakeholders, as well as assist our Member Associations with their administrations.”
The giant-killers at the 2023 Afcon
The tournament has been riddled with unexpected results, with smaller nations like Equatorial Guinea, Cape Verde and Comoros causing upsets against established powerhouses.
This highlights the rising depth and competitiveness of African football across the board. South Africa, whose only title came 28 years ago, made it to the semi-finals for the first time since 2000.
The upset parade signals a shift in African football. The so-called 'smaller nations' are closing the gap on established powers, leading to a more competitive landscape.
The 2021 champions, Senegal, 2022 Fifa World Cup semi-finalists, Morocco, and record African champion Egypt all exited the tournament in round 16.
On the other hand, Algeria, who are the 2019 champions, Tunisia and Ghana, failed even to make it to the knockout stage as they were eliminated in the group stages.
As witnessed in recent weeks, Equatorial Guinea unexpectedly hammered the host nation Ivory Coast 4-0, with Ghana suffering a shock 2-1 defeat at the hands of Cape Verde.
In the group phase, Tunisia also fell to a shock 1-0 defeat against Namibia. Meanwhile, Mauritania served up a shock result as they dumped Algeria out with a 1-0 victory. Mozambique also held Egypt to a 2-2 draw.
“It just shows how much football is changing. In the last four, you had a team with a dominantly local-based squad – South Africa. 20 of the players were South Africa-based, and they beat teams with players playing for top European clubs. The gap is certainly closing,” says Tokelo Mokhesi, a South African football journalist.
Cote d’Ivoire prepared meticulously for the event, boasting world-class stadiums and training facilities that will continue serving the development of African football even after the tournament concludes.
The tournament has significantly boosted the Ivorian economy through tourism, infrastructure development, and job creation.
“There are a lot of things Caf and the hosts have done right from an organising point of view,” says Velile Mnyandu, chairman of the South African Football Journalists Association (SAFJA). “It talks about how a host country can collaborate with Caf to create the best tournament. They’ve built the training pitches in the schools.
They’ve built some in local communities.”
He gives credit to Caf for the idea of building City CAN Villages, where players stayed throughout the tournament.
“Credit to Caf, whose idea was to build City CAN as they anticipated the shortage of hotels. The City CAN is more relaxed and has a much better setup. Security-wise, it’s not easy to budge like in a hotel.
“We struggled to gain entrance into the village to interview Bafana Bafana players. Security was so tight, which is a good thing.
“The set-up is cool for the athletes with everything they need to relax,” explains Mnyandu.
While the final match promises an exciting culmination to the tournament, these successes extend beyond the pitch.
Afcon 2023 has served as a powerful platform to showcase African football's development, talent, and potential to the world. It has fostered national pride, economic growth, and a renewed belief in the sport's bright future on the continent.