After 31 days of the most exciting drama, chaos, controversy, goals, disallowed goals, and lots more, the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations ends today, February 11, 2024, Soccernet.ng reports.
Before Nigeria take on hosts Cote d’Ivoire in the final at the Alassane Ouattara Stadium in Abidjan tonight, 51 matches have been played, and a staggering 116 goals have been scored.
No other AFCON tournament in history has seen more goals than this one, and at an incredible rate of 2.27 goals per match, it compares favourably with the 2.69 goals per match recorded at the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar.
With the excellent talents of Victor Osimhen, Sadio Mane, Mo Salah, and Sebastien Haller in attendance, AFCON 2023 would have produced more goals but for the brilliance of some fantastic shot-stoppers.
Equatorial Guinea’s Jesus Owono was one of the most outstanding goalkeepers at the tournament, while Mauritania’s Babacar Niasse and Tanzania’s Aishi Manula can be proud of their performances, too.
More was certainly expected from Senegal’s Édouard Mendy, Zambia’s Lawrence Mulenga, and Ghana’s Richard Ofori.
However, three other goalies met and surpassed all expectations, and one of them will likely be recognised by the organisers as the Best Glovesman to grace the biggest and best AFCON in history.
Ronwen Williams – South Africa
At 32, Williams arrived in Cote d’Ivoire as one of the oldest goalkeepers at the AFCON.
Saddled with the added responsibility of captaining a Bafana Bafana side that had underachieved in recent years, not many expected much from the Mamelodi Sundowns star.
Williams conceded twice in South Africa’s 2-0 loss to Mali on matchday one, and it appeared only a matter of time before the 1996 champions headed home.
But Williams and Bafana Bafana turned things around and kept four straight clean sheets against Namibia, Tunisia, Morocco, and Cape Verde to reach the AFCON semifinals for the first time in 24 years.
In the quarterfinal clash with Cape Verde, which went into penalties, Williams saved four of the five spot kicks he faced.
He conceded for the third time – a William Troost-Ekong penalty goal – in the semifinal meeting with Nigeria as the Super Eagles advanced to the final.
Still, Williams delivered another fine display to help South Africa beat DR Congo and secure the bronze medal.
Stanley Nwabali – Nigeria
Nwabali made his Super Eagles debut in an international friendly against Mexico in 2021.
After conceding four goals in that encounter, he was not considered again for another national team assignment until the eve of the AFCON in Cote d’Ivoire.
With Francis Uzoho out of favour, Nwabali was named the Super Eagles’ first choice in the 1-1 draw with Equatorial Guinea on matchday one.
The 27-year-old’s net was not breached again as Nigeria secured victories over Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea-Bissau, Cameroon, and Angola.
Teboho Mokoena beat him from the penalty spot as Nigeria battled South Africa to a 1-1 draw in the semifinals.
Nwabali, however, had the last laugh as he saved two South African penalties in the ensuing shootout to propel Nigeria to the final.
He was named the Man of the Match for the encounter, ahead of South Africa’s Ronwen Williams.
The Chippa United goalie has kept four clean sheets and conceded only two goals, comparing favourably with Williams, who ended the tourney with five clean sheets and three goals conceded.
Nwabali could still win the Best Goalkeeper award should he shut out Cote d’Ivoire in the final tonight.
Vózinha – Cape Verde
Josimar ‘Vózinha’ Dias is no newbie to the AFCON.
The AS Trenčín goalkeeper helped Cape Verde make it to the 2013 AFCON – the country’s first major appearance at a major tournament – at the expense of Cameroon.
He was instrumental as Cape Verde reached the quarterfinals.
The 37-year-old goalie was also at the 2015 and 2021 AFCONs and arrived in Cote d’Ivoire for the 2023 edition with loads of experience between his gloves.
Again, Cape Verde reached the quarterfinals with victories over Ghana, Mozambique, and Mauritania and a draw with Egypt before falling on penalties to South Africa.
Vózinha kept three clean sheets in those five games and pulled off several stunning saves that made the highlight reels.