Simon Adingra and Stanley Nwabali Lead the List of AFCON 2023's Breakout Stars

Simon Adingra and Stanley Nwabali Lead the List of AFCON 2023's Breakout Stars

Martin Moses
updated at February 14, 2024 at 6:40 AM
  • The 2023 Africa Cup of Nations in Ivory Coast saw the emergence of many new stars
  • Star like Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah, and Riyad Mahrez failed to inspire their teams
  • Sports Brief looks at some of the players who made a name for themselves at AFCON

It will take a while before Ivorians - and the rest of Africa - move on from what was arguably the best Africa Cup of Nations tournament in recent times.

The host nation's national football team came back from the dead to win their third continental trophy, beating Nigeria 2-1 in the final on February 11.

Ivory Coast vs Nigeria, Simon Adingra, Ronwen Williams, Mohamed Bayo, Stanley Nwabali, Gelson Dala
Ivory Coast players during their AFCON 2023 victory parade in Abidjan on February 12. Photo by Issouf Sanogo.
Source: Getty Images

The tournament was dominated by Ivory Coast's redemption story and the big teams like Senegal and Morocco exiting at very early stages.

But amid all the back and forth, a couple of players maximised on Africa's biggest football fiesta to announce themselves to the world.

Breakout stars of AFCON 2023

Sports Brief samples the five breakout stars of AFCON 2023.

5. Mohamed Bayo - Guinea

Guinea national fans looked forward to AFCON 2023 with hope, expecting their star man, Serhou Guirassy, to excel. The striker has been one of the standout names in the Bundesliga so far, scoring 17 goals. Only Harry Kane has more.

However, injury concerns before the tournament meant the Syli National needed another striker and up stepped Mohamed Bayo. The Le Havre forward scored three goals in Ivory Coast, but none was greater than the last-minute header against Equatorial Guinea to fire his side to the quarter-finals.

4. Gelson Dala - Angola

The Palancas Negras were one of the minnows who excelled in the sweltering heat of Ivory Coast. Head coach, Pedro Goncalves' front three of Mabululu, Gilberto, and Gelson Dala ran rings around heavyweights like Algeria and Burkina Faso, picking up historical wins.

Mabululu scored a breathtaking goal against Namibia, but it was Dala's four goals and an assist that kept Angola going before a quarter-final exit.

The 27-year-old won the silver boot after finishing behind Emilio Nsue in the top scorer charts.

3. Ronwen Williams - South Africa

It actually feels absurd to include a 32-year-old in the list of breakout stars, but Williams showed the world what Premier Soccer League followers already knew.

The Masandawana goalkeeper was Bafana Bafana's leading light to their third-place finish. His penalty saves against Cape Verde and DR Congo largely played a part. No goalkeeper kept more clean sheets than him.

2. Stanley Nwabali - Nigeria

Williams might have beaten Nwabali to the Golden Glove, but the Nigerian ranks ahead on our list simply because, to put it loosely, 'no one knew him before the tournament.'

Much had been said about Nigeria coach, Jose Peseiro, choosing to trust someone who had 'not been tested' before for a major tournament.

But game after game, the Chippa United goalkeeper silenced his naysayers with brilliance between the sticks. Now he is tested, approved, and trusted.

1. Simon Adingra - Ivory Coast

The fact that CAF awarded him as the best young player of the tournament is explanation enough for why he tops this list.

Adingra, alongside Sebastien Haller, was the difference between the lacklustre Ivory Coast squad of the group stage and the knockout side that trampled everybody. After fitness issues at the start of the tournament, he made his AFCON bow in the 4-0 humbling to Equatorial Guinea.

The Brighton and Hove Albion man bagged a goal in the quarter-finals before setting up the two goals in the final.

Why Nigeria overachieved at AFCON 2023

Sports Brief also analysed why Nigeria overachieved at AFCON 2023. Reaching the final and losing it is bound to hurt, but Peseiro and his squad can look back at the tournament with satisfaction.

Not many people expected the three-time champions to thrive in Ivory Coast, given their poor run of form before the tournament, but they instead fostered hope and ended with the silver medal.

Martin Moses photo
Martin Moses
Martin Moses is a sports journalist with over five years of experience in media. He graduated from Multimedia University of Kenya (Bachelor of Journalism, 2017-2021)