5pts e.w Senegal to win AFCON 2023 at 6/1 (General 1/2 1,2)
3.5pts e.w Ivory Coast to win AFCON 2023 at 7/1 (General 1/2 1,2)
1.5pts e.w Mali to win AFCON 2023 at 20/1 (General 1/2 1,2)
5pts Zambia to finish in top two of Group F at 27/20 (Unibet, BetMGM)
2pts Burkina Faso to win Group D at 4/1 (General)
2pts e.w Vincent Aboubakar AFCON 2023 top scorer at 16/1 (bet365 1/4 1,2,3,4)
If you tune into a major tournament for goals and entertainment then previously it's been likely the Africa Cup of Nations isn't for you.
Notoriously low-scoring, a strong defence has tended to get you far at AFCON. This edition may be different given the emergence of yet more talented attacking players from across the continent.
Let's hope so anyway, though it will be no surprise if we see more 0-0's than 3-2's in Ivory Coast across January and February.
AFCON 2021 saw an average of just 1.81 goals per game, with the first round of group matches seeing just 12 in 12.
Only half of the matches in the tournament saw over 1.5 goals, and 29% went over 2.5.
The most common scoreline was 1-0, which occurred in 35% of matches.
When looking for a strong defensive side rather than a free-scoring attacking one, a couple of sides are immediately ruled out in my mind.
Odds correct at 1330 (06/01/22)
2021 hosts and third place finishers Cameroon (10/1) are the first.
One of few sides to play an open style in the last edition, with 21 goals scored in their seven matches, they carried that approach into the World Cup, where they were involved in a cracking 3-3 draw with Serbia.
It's great for entertainment, but it only gets you so far in a knockout tournament with some teams happy to stifle and squeeze out a win.
The same argument could be made for Ghana, who, under the guidance of Chris Hughton, are a top heavy team that will be missing a couple of key defensive players with Thomas Partey and Tariq Lamptey absent.
Hosts IVORY COAST nearly made that list but they have a strong looking spine to their side all of a sudden, and could give their nation plenty to cheer.
On paper anyway, the hosts have nice balance. Roma's Evan Ndicka and Nottingham Forest's Willy Boly are a solid centre-back pairing and in front of them Jean-Louis Gasset's side can field any of Ibrahim Sangare, Franck Kessie, Seko Fofana and Jean Michael Seri to form a solid unit.
In attack, there is no Wilfried Zaha but Sebastien Haller provides an excellent focal point, with Jeramie Boga, Brighton's Simon Adingra and Christian Kouame to play on the flanks.
With home support, favourable kick-off times and a group they should ease out of (Equatorial Guinea, Guinea Bissau and Nigeria) with two teams qualifying and the four best third placed teams going through too, the hosts should give us a run for our money.
Interestingly, while North African sides make up four of the top five African teams in in FIFA’s rankings, none of them have won an AFCON tournament south of the Sahara Desert since 2010 (five tournaments).
Climate could be a factor with North Africa's desert climate with dry heat, and everything below seeing soaring humidity due to a monsoon climate. That could mean problems for Algeria, Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia.
Since winning AFCON on home turf in 2004, Tunisia have only gone past the quarter-finals once (in Egypt in 2019) while Algeria (2019 winners) haven’t made it past the group stage in three of the four most recent tournaments to be held outside North Africa.
Egypt fit the bill of a strong defensive team, but they offer little threat in attack, which is the same way I view Morocco.
The 2022 World Cup semi-finalists are looking for their first title since 1976 and haven’t reached the AFCON semi-finals in any of the past nine tournaments.
Going slightly further down the continent, Nigeria look like another to plonk in the avoid column.
On paper, they have the best squad in the competition, but looks very imbalanced.
Their forward line is superb, with options such as Napoli star Victor Osimhen and Bayer Leverkusen's red-hot striker Victor Boniface, but their defence looks exceptionally weak, which could leave them vulnerable to a good side in the knockout stage.
We haven't seen too many repeat winners of AFCON in recent editions. Not since 2010 has a reigning champion won the tournament, with Egypt doing a three-peat on that occasion, lifting the trophy in 2006, 2008 and 2010. The only other nation to win back-to-back titles was Cameroon in 2000 and 2002.
Nevertheless, I think 2021 winners SENEGAL are in a good place to join that elite group.
The Lions de la Téranga have been very consistency under Aliou Cissé since 2015 and the core of the starting XI has been playing together for a similar long period of time. That familiarity stands them in good stead.
They have though welcomed through some younger players to combine with established stars Sadio Mané, Idrissa Gueye and Kalidou Koulibaly, providing an excellent blend within the squad.
As defending champions, Senegal have been there and done it, they know what it takes to get over the line and they can win in many ways, be it through controlled possession or a deep block, and they are more than happy to go the distance if required.
The climate shouldn't be an issue either given Senegal's success in Cameroon in 2021, with the climate in the Ivory Coast very similar.
Everything points towards a strong title defence and to say they haven't got worse - with a strong run to the last 16 at the 2022 World Cup - it is strange to see them at 6/1 here given they were the 7/2 favourites in 2021.
MALI were put up on these pages for 2021 and could again be dangerous as outsiders at 20/1 to WIN AFCON.
They won the group for us in Cameroon at a big enough price (9/4) only to be knocked out on penalties by Equatorial Guinea in the last 16 despite dominating the 120 minutes. That experience should serve a young group well for another crack at the big one in Ivory Coast.
Their squad looks better than 2021 given the emergence of yet more young talent now plying their trade across Europe, and given the majority of their squad have come through the international ranks together - African champions at Under-17 level, silver medallists at the U17 World Cup and Under-20 World Cup bronze medallists between 2015 and 2017 - they have continuity and familiarity that should serve them well at an international tournament.
They enter AFCON with a new coach in Éric Chelle, who is young and unproven but the early signs are good. He oversaw a W5 L1 record in qualifying and more recently in friendlies his side won three and drew their other against hosts Ivory Coast.
Mali being a neighbouring country to Ivory Coast has to be seen as a positive too, with the climate unlikely to be a problem while we could see a large amount of travelling fans crossing the border to support their team, giving them a potential edge over rivals.
They should ease out of a group featuring Namibia, South Africa and Tunisia - the team who beat them over two legs in the final stage of World Cup qualifying - especially with four third placed teams making it through as well, and they then look well set up to go deep in the knockouts.
Of the big priced teams, BURKINA FASO (50/1) always seem to overperform at AFCON, making it to the semi-finals in three of their last four outings. But rather than taking them to win the whole thing, I think there is value in taking them to WIN THEIR GROUP at 4/1.
They are in a group alongside Algeria, Mauritania and Angola, so it really looks like a two-team shootout for the top spot between them and Algeria.
The North Africans flopped to finish bottom of a group containing Equatorial Guinea and Sierra Leone in the last edition while Burkina Faso finished second to hosts Cameroon.
Like Mali, Burkina Faso neighbour host nation Ivory Coast so should be suited to the climate while also perhaps having more support from travelling fans.
Both could make the difference, and the stubborn collective of the Burkinabe could see them edge the quality of Algeria.
Another outsider who nearly made the staking plan in the outright was ZAMBIA (66/1). The Copper Bullets, now managed by former Chelsea and West Ham boss Avram Grant, are an improving nation who have to be taken seriously at AFCON.
From a betting perspective though, they are simply overpriced to FINISH IN THE TOP TWO OF GROUP F, available at 27/20 to do so.
They caused a shock by topping their AFCON qualifying group ahead of hosts Ivory Coast, and since Grant came in they have won nine of 14. Their squad on paper doesn't look great, but they are more than the sum of their parts, and certainly warrant being ranked second in Group F behind Morocco, as opposed to third behind them and DR Congo.
DR Congo are not the team of yesteryear. They failed to qualify for the last AFCON tournament and they head into this one having won just one of their last six - against Mauritania - despite playing no one of note (South Africa, New Zealand, Angola twice and Sudan).
They are easily opposable and with Tanzania making up the group, it's Zambia who can take advantage and finish in the top two.
In terms of the top scorer gong, the top of the market is stacked, with Mohamed Salah, Victor Osimhen, Sadio Mane and Riyad Mahrez in the top five.
None of them makes great appeal at the prices though, but a little further down comes VINCENT ABOUBAKAR.
He is worth chancing to repeat his feat of winning TOP SCORER in 2021.
Cameroon will be fun to watch at this AFCON. They play with an attacking style which led to them scoring a tournament high 14 goals in 2021, with Aboubakar getting eight of those.
They followed that up at the World Cup, netting three against Serbia - Aboubakar scoring off the bench - before beating Brazil with Aboubakar netting the winner.
He has scored two in four qualifying games since, and the the Indomitable Lions captain can lead his exciting team with yet more goals this month.
Odds correct at 1600 GMT (08/01/24)
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