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 Everything you need to know about Africa Cup of Nations Cote d’Ivoire 2023

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With Cote d’Ivoire hosting the tournament for the second time, football fans around the continent are gearing up for a month of intense competition.

Here’s a comprehensive guide to everything you need to know about the 34th edition of Africa’s biggest sporting event, starting 30 days before the kickoff.

Hosts and Opening Match: Cote d’Ivoire is set to stage the finals, with the opening match scheduled for Saturday, 13 January, where the hosts will face Guinea-Bissau at the Alassane Ouattara Stadium in Abidjan.

Historic Context: Cote d’Ivoire is hosting the tournament for the first time since 1984.

Venue Overview: The matches will be held in six stadiums across five host cities, reflecting Cote d’Ivoire’s commitment to sports infrastructure development. The cities of Abidjan, Bouake, Korogho, San Pedro and Yamoussoukro.

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Akwaba – The Official Mascot: The official mascot, “Akwaba,” derived from the Baoulé language’s term for “Welcome.” Represented by an elephant, Akwaba’s attire pays homage to the host nation’s identity by mirroring Cote d’Ivoire’s home colours.

“Pokou” – The Official Match Ball: The official match ball is called “Pokou”. It honours the late Ivorian football legend, Laurent Pokou, renowned for his historic achievement of scoring five goals in the 6-1 victory over Ethiopia during the 1970 tournament.

“Akwaba” – The Official Song Celebration: The official song, “Akwaba,” features Nigerian artist Yemi Alade, Egyptian rapper Mohamed Ramadan, and Ivorian music band Magic System. The anthem blends afrobeat, rap, and zouglou, embodying a unique musical fusion deeply rooted in the tradition of the tournament.

Group Structure: The 24 teams are divided into six groups of four teams each, with intriguing match-ups like Egypt vs. Ghana in Group B and Senegal vs. Cameroon in Group C.

Tournament Format: The top two teams in each group and the four best-ranked third-placed teams advance to the last 16, followed by quarter-finals, semi-finals, a match for third place, and the final.

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Kick-off Times: During the group stages, at least two games will be played each day at 14:00, 17:00, and 20:00 (all times GMT). Similar timings will be used in the knockout stages starting on Saturday, 27 January.

Opening Match Details: Côte d’Ivoire vs. Guinea-Bissau at the Alassane Ouattara Stadium, Abidjan (20:00 GMT) on Saturday, 13 January.

Group Stage Kicks Off: Two games each day until 24 January across various stadiums and cities.

Opening Weekend Highlights: Record seven-time champions Egypt will face Mozambique in Group B, while holders Senegal kick off their title defence against The Gambia in Group C on Monday, 15 January.

Second Round Fixtures: Commence on Saturday, 27 January, with intriguing matchups like Group D winner vs. 3rd place Group B/E/F in Bouake (17:00 GMT).

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Quarter-Final Showdown: Friday, 2 February, featuring winners from the second round at the Felix Houphouet-Boigny Stadium, Abidjan (17:00 GMT).

Semi-Final Battles: Set for Wednesday, 7 February, with the winners from the quarter-finals facing off at Bouake (17:00 GMT) and Alassane Ouattara Stadium, Abidjan (20:00 GMT).

Third-Place Play-Off: Saturday, 10 February, determining the best of the rest at the Felix Houphouet-Boigny Stadium, Abidjan (20:00 GMT).

Grand Finale: The moment everyone is waiting for – the final showdown on Sunday, 11 February, at the Alassane Ouattara Stadium, Abidjan (20:00 GMT).

Tournament Favourites: Senegal, the current champions, are considered favorites despite key players Sadio Mane, Kalidou Koulibaly and Edouard Mendy moving to the Saudi Pro League. Other strong contenders include Morocco, Nigeria, Algeria and Cote d’Ivoire. Morocco, fresh from reaching a World Cup semi-final, seeks Afcon glory, while Ivory Coast remains a force to be reckoned with.

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Côte d’Ivoire vs. Nigeria: A high-stakes encounter in Group A on 18 January at the Alassane Ouattara Stadium, Abidjan (17:00 GMT).

Senegal vs. Cameroon: Group C heavyweight clash on 20 January at the Charles Konan Banny Stadium, Yamoussoukro (14:00 GMT).

As the clock ticks down to the kickoff, the Africa Cup of Nations, Côte d’Ivoire 2023 promises to be a spectacle of footballing brilliance, drama, and unforgettable moments.

-CAF

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Kunle Solaja is the author of landmark books on sports and journalism as well as being a multiple award-winning journalist and editor of long standing. He is easily Nigeria’s foremost soccer diarist and Africa's most capped FIFA World Cup journalist, having attended all FIFA World Cup finals from Italia ’90 to Qatar 2022. He was honoured at the Qatar 2022 World Cup by FIFA and AIPS.

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