Who will qualify for the AFCON knockout stage?

With the group stages taking shape, we look at who will qualify for the AFCON knockout stage.

Currently, just two sides have reached the round of 16 for certain. Firstly, reigning champions Senegal sealed progress from Group C with victories over Gambia and Cameroon. However, Cape Verde has been the biggest surprise at the AFCON. The Blue Sharks stunned Group B opponents Ghana before thrashing Mozambique 3-0 to reach the AFCON knockout rounds for just the third time ever.

Thanks to the potential safety net of being amongst the four best third-placed teams, nobody is yet assured of elimination. However, Cameroon, Ghana and Tunisia all sit as the joint-worst third-placed nations – which is certainly a surprise, given the amount of respect they command ahead of any AFCON edition.

AFCON title holders have already reached the round of 16 – Photo by Icon Sport

Cape Verde still 33/1 despite heroics

Senegal are flying in their pursuit of retaining the AFCON title. As a result, the Lions of Teranga are favourites to win the competition.

Morocco also started their campaign strongly with a 3-0 win over Tanzania. With a favourable fixture list in Group F against DR Congo and Zambia, the Atlas Lions are anticipated to go deep into the competition.

Despite having already qualified for the round of 16, Cape Verde’s odds of going all the way remain slim. At 33/1, the Blue Sharks’ impressive tournament showing may end during the knockout rounds. 

How far can Cape Verde go in the 2023 AFCON? – Photo by Icon Sport

Who will qualify for the AFCON knockout stage?

AFCON group winner betting odds and predictions

Group A – Nigeria (1/2)

Group A has already caused a shock, with Equatorial Guinea leading Nigeria and Ivory Coast. However, Equatorial Guinea are locked on four points with Nigeria, and the teams face off in the final group game. The Super Eagles are clear favourites to knock Juan Michá’s side off top spot.

Group B – Cape Verde (n/a)

Cape Verde stunned Ghana and Egypt in Group B and already secured top spot with one game to spare.

Group C – Senegal (3/10)

In Group C, Senegal has a two-point cushion over second-placed Guinea. Both sides meet in the third group game, and given the Lions of Teranga’s strong form, they will be backed to secure first place.

Riyad Mahrez could be key to Algeria's AFCON qualification hopes – Photo by Icon Sport

Group D – Burkina Faso (3/2)

Burkina Faso are second in Group D and have a strong chance of winning the group after Algeria have drawn their opening two matches. The Stallions now face a straight shootout to win Group D with top-placed Angola, as both sides have taken four points from two matches.

Burkina Faso have looked solid and conceded just two in their first two fixtures, potentially giving them a slight edge over Angola.

Group E – Mali (1/2)

Mali set their marker in Group E with a strong opening match 2-0 victory over South Africa and held Tunisia to a 1-1 draw. Their biggest potential rivals Tunisia, also lost to Namibia in matchday one, which put Mali in pole position. With seven wins in their last nine, the Eagles are well-placed to win Group E. 

Group F – Morocco (1/5)

Morocco cruised to a 3-0 opening match win over Tanzania and has control in Group F. As one of the standout AFCON favourites, the Atlas Lions will be favoured to keep their momentum going and qualify as group winners. 

Mohamed Salah's injury could hamper Egypt's push for a top two place in Group B – Photo by Icon Sport

Best third-placed team predictions

Equatorial Guinea’s quest to topple Ivory Coast and Nigeria is expected to falter. Nigeria are heavily favoured to triumph in the final group clash against Equatorial Guinea, while Ivory Coast’s home advantage should be enough for them to edge pointless Guinea-Bissau. These fluctuations could see National Thunder secure third place. 

Egypt’s AFCON campaign has not gone to plan following two draws and the loss of Mohamed Salah due to injury. The North African nation is second in Group B but will take on leaders Cape Verde in what could be a tricky encounter. Third-place Ghana, on one point, can also leapfrog Egypt with a win over Mozambique, which would leave the Pharaohs in third place.

Despite taking one point from two Group C matches, Cameroon should have enough quality to bounce back against bottom-side Gambia. These projected four points accumulated could see Cameroon edge to the round of 16. 

Angola showed their strength with a 1-1 draw against Algeria and will fancy their chances of getting another three points minimum from upcoming clashes with Mauritania and Burkina Faso. 

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Alex Waite

Alex is a freelance sports writer with experience writing digital news, blogs, features, exlcusive interviews and SEO. He has a keen interest and knowledge of UK and European football, ATP and WTA tennis, cricket and boxing.