AFCON 2023: Ekoku backs ‘stable’ Senegal to compete for another title

 | January 12 | 

4 mins read

africa cup of nations afcon trophy

Former Premier League star and Nigeria international Efan Ekoku has told Betfred that his countrymen are little more than “outsiders” for the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations, which gets underway in the Ivory Coast on Saturday, and believes Ghana are one of the bigger nations that little should be expected of.

Ekoku, a 1994 Afcon winner with the Super Eagles, is excited for the 2023 version of the event to get underway on Saturday and says there are a couple of strong favourites for the competition, led by the reigning champions Senegal.

Afcon odds

  • Morocco to win tournament @ 5/1
  • Senegal to win tournament @ 11/2
  • Ivory Coast to win tournament @ 13/2
  • Vincent Aboubakar to be top goal scorer @ 14/1

“It's always easy in a way to look at the nation who won it last time,” Ekoku explains of Aliou Cisse’s side, who are 11/2 second favourites with Betfred. “Senegal were outstanding a couple of years ago, and indeed when they lost to Algeria a couple of years prior to that as well, so over the course of four or five years they’ve been, for me, the best side. They’ve a stable group of players and still have one or two star players so immediately I would say them.”

The tournament’s first game sees hosts Ivory Coast, captained by Nottingham Forest star Serge Aurier, face Guinea-Bissau in Abidjan on Saturday night. And Ekoku, who played in the English top flight with Norwich City and Wimbledon in the 1990s, says that the Elephants (13/2) will be tough to overcome.

“Ivory Coast, being the host, when you’ve got a good group of players and you are on home soil, then you are always difficult to beat, or certainly should be. And they do have enough good players that would suggest that they can be a threat to anybody.”

Senegal to win 2023 Africa Cup of Nations at 11/2

While much of the spotlight will be on 5/1 favourites Morocco following their heroics at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, Ekoku points out that they will have to rewrite history in many regards if they are to record a second-ever Afcon success.

“And then of course there’s Morocco, who have become the first African nation yet to qualify for the World Cup semi-finals, so of course you would have to throw them into the mix despite the fact that they don't normally travel too well south of the Sahara, and despite their rich history they've only got one tournament win and that's back in 1976.

“Something tells me that despite the fact they are in a good frame of mind as a group, as a nation, doing exceptionally well with great facilities at home, I wouldn’t put money on them!”

And although Ekoku counts his Nigerian compatriots among the possible dark horses, he doesn’t believe Cameroon or Ghana to be among those who could stay the course.

“I’d say the Senegalese [are favourites] for me, and Ivory Coast and then the outsiders, the likes of Algeria, Nigeria, but it might be a step too far for Ghana and Cameroon I think.”

Cameroon are hampered by being in Senegal’s Group C, while Ghana are matched with Mo Salah and Egypt in Group B. And it is the dearth of players at the Liverpool talisman’s level which could be the Ghanaians’ big issue according to Ekoku.

“They’re are lacking star quality right now, it’s difficult to see them getting far. If they got to the semi-final I’d be very, very surprised, and the Nations Cup has not been kind to Ghana for over 25 years. It’s always hard when you are expected to do well, and the historic name follows Ghana around, but I think the level of player isn’t there for them right now.

Vincent Aboubakar top scorer at Afcon 2023 at 14/1

“I thought Cameroon had quite a decent World Cup actually. Karl Toko Ekambi, Vincent Aboubakar, and Bryan Mbeumo from Brentford who’s injured, I thought they stepped up really well. They’ve got a decent goalkeeper in Andre Onana, who usually does well for the national side, and if the training camp and the noise is quiet then the players can focus on what they have to do.

“I think they will get through from the group, but then it will be a question of just how much firepower and belief they have got to get them through the tournament.”

The opening game on Saturday is quickly followed by another Group A contest between Nigeria and Equatorial Guinea on Sunday. The 2023 Cup of Nations comes to a climax on February 11 with the final in Abidjan.

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