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Pan-Africa Football’s AFCON 2023 Awards & Team of the Tournament

The 2023 Africa Cup of Nations concluded on Sunday with a riveting victory for hosts Ivory Coast in the final over Nigeria and there were plenty of good performances and individual accolades to consider for us at Pan-Africa Football. Below is our awards of the tournament including accolades for Best Player, Best Goalkeeper, Best Defender, Best Midfielder, Best Forward and finally a full Team of the Tournament. We tried to consider the entire competition in our judgment and not to be too influenced by the final stages so that contributors on teams who were eliminated in the quarterfinals or semifinals were not left out. Read on below to see who received our awards as well as an honorable mention for those who deserved recognition even if they did not win an award:

Player of the Tournament

Even when the hosts struggled during the group stage it was clear that Fofana was giving his all and doing everything he could to spur the Elephants to victory. Due to the lack of an adequate central playmaker in the Ivorian squad, Fofana was forced into the role and overcame early struggles to adjust excellently. Alongside teammate Franck Kessié whose performances were more inconsistent, Fofana displayed his excellent ability to contribute on both sides of the ball and his high work rate combined with his adaptation to a more attacking role make Fofana our Player of the Tournament.

Best Goalkeeper

Williams was in a close race with one of the breakout players of the tournament, Nigeria’s Stanley Nwabali, but the quality of the Mamelodi Sundowns shot stopper is indisputable. Williams led South Africa to two shootout victories and his performance against Cape Verde was particularly impressive with a crucial double save at the end of regulation time to prevent Bafana Bafana’s elimination before becoming the first goalkeeper in AFCON history to save four penalty kicks in the shootout. Nwabali performed far above expectations but had an impressive defense that limited the work he had to do while Williams at times single-handedly led Bafana Bafana to the semifinals.

Best Defender

William Troost-Ekong got much of the credit for Nigeria’s impressive defense because of his three goals and his status as the captain of the Super Eagles. However, Bassey was immense on the defensive end and made remarkable contributions of his own to the Nigerian attack with his passing ability and skill on the ball. Troost-Ekong and Semi Ajayi were impressive “no nonsense” defenders who excelled in the air but Bassey was a force whose excellent range combined with technical ability give him the award for Best Defender from us.

Best Midfielder

There isn’t too much more that needs to be said about Fofana receiving our Best Midfielder award that hasn’t been said above. Fofana completed over 90% of his passes throughout the competition including well over 50% of his passes into the final third as well as the penalty area. The Saudi-based player also was not afraid to take players on the dribble, attempt shots from distance and dominate players with his physicality. Fofana’s performance against Mali in the quarterfinals was particularly impressive and he was the most consistent member of the Ivorian team that emerged as champions.

Best Forward

A player who enjoyed fifteen years playing at a high level during his club career in Europe in a journey that took him most notably to Spain’s La Liga and England’s EFL Championship, Nsue was known more as a versatile defender or midfielder on the right flank but showed his ability as a striker in Ivory Coast. With five goals in four matches including two well taken goals in Equatorial Guinea’s shock 4-0 victory over the hosts in Group A play, the 34-year-old showed his class. The competition ended on a bad note for Nsue who missed a crucial penalty kick in the Round of 16 defeat against Guinea, but the fact that no other striker stepped up leaves the leading scorer as our Best Forward.

Team of the Tournament

Several of the players here are already spoken for but our Team of the Tournament allows us to discuss some of the other major contributors at AFCON 2023.

In the defense, Troost-Ekong joins Bassey to complete the defensive partnership because of his excellent leadership and dominance on aerial duels. On the left flank is Ivory Coast defender Ghislain Konan who was one of the few consistently reliable players on the Elephants squad and earned the nod at left back in large part because of his excellent performance in the final against Nigeria. At right back, Hamari Traoré was excellent both offensively and defensively for a Mali squad that won Group E and was unlucky to be eliminated by Ivory Coast in the quarterfinals.

Player of the Tournament and Best Midfielder Fofana is joined by teammate Franck Kessié in our midfield. The performances of Kessié in the group stage were uneven and average but the Al Ahli player improved as the competition progressed and showed his full quality in the knockout stages with high levels of energy that helped the Ivorian midfield dominate when it mattered most. Teboho Mokoena joined South Africa goalkeeper Ronwen Williams as crucial pieces to a Bafana Bafana team that surprised many with Mokoena serving as the chief playmaker and technical specialist who was crucial to the South African attack as an initiator.

Up top, Best Forward Nsue is joined by Nigeria’s Ademola Lookman and Angola star Gelson Dala on the wings. Lookman was important for Nigeria’s progression in the knockout stages, scoring both goals in the Round of 16 victory over Cameroon before tallying the only goal in Nigeria’s quarterfinal win against Angola as he took advantage of the space created by the hard work of Super Eagles star striker Victor Osimhen. Dala was immense for an Angola team that surprised everybody as the Palancas Negras progressed to the quarterfinals. The UAE-based attacker scored four goals, provided one assist and was unquestionably the most important piece of an Angolan attack that was quite prolific in Ivory Coast.

Honorable Mention

There will be plenty of debate regarding other players who were very deserving of a mention and spot in the Team of the Tournament. We mentioned Nigeria goalkeeper Stanley Nwabali and in the defense plenty of credit should be given to players like South Africa right back Khuliso Mudau as well as central defender Mothobi Mvala, both of whom were part of the Mamelodi Sundowns contingent that was so crucial to Bafana Bafana’s success. Nigeria wing back Ola Aina was also very impressive with the versatility to contribute on both flanks as well as a large amount of chances created moving forward.

Nigeria midfielder Frank Onyeka just missed out on a spot in the Best XI due to the Nigerian midfield fading as the competition went on, which allowed Kessié to take the final spot in our midfield. Mali’s Kamory Doumbia was one of the best attacking midfielders of the competition who was excellent in the group stage for the Eagles and the soon to be 21-year-old proved himself as a talent to watch. The midfield partnership of DR Congo, Charles Pickel and Samuel Moutoussamy, were also very impressive but missed out after they were outmuscled by the Ivorian midfield in the semifinals.

Victor Osimhen was a strong performance away in the final from being our striker of choice despite only scoring one goal. Egypt’s Mostafa Mohamed was impressive and joins Angola’s Mabululu and Malian forward Lassine Sinayoko as strikers of note in the competition. Lastly on the wings, Simon Adingra was outstanding in the final for Ivory Coast but missed nearly all of the group stage due to injury. Yoane Wissa and Meschack Elia of DR Congo were also impressive along with Cape Verde captain Ryan Mendes, South Africa’s Themba Zwane and Senegal star Sadio Mané who performed well in the group stage.

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