How third-place finishers can still qualify for the knockout stage
The 2023 Africa Cup of Nations is heating up, and while some teams such as Cape Verde and Senegal are firmly on their way to the knockout stage, others such as the Black Stars of Ghana, Egypt and Cameroun are clinging to hope by a thread.
For those who finish third in their groups after the final round of group stage action, there’s still a chance to grab a coveted spot in the last 16. But how exactly does it work?
Third-Place teams: The fight for four tickets
Out of the 24 teams competing in AFCON, only 16 make it to the knockout stage. While the top two teams from each group automatically qualify, four more slots are open for the best third-place finishers in the group stage.
So, how do they decide who gets these precious spots?
It all boils down to points, goals, and sometimes, a bit of luck. Here’s the breakdown:
Points Matter Most: The team with the most points from their three group matches gets the first shot at the last 16. If two or more teams have the same number of points, things get a bit trickier.
Head-to-Head Battle: If it’s just two teams tied on points, their head-to-head match result comes into play. Whoever won that game gets bragging rights and a potential ticket to the next round.
Goal Difference Decides: But what if they drew their head-to-head clash? Then, it’s all about the overall goal difference in all their group matches. The team that conceded fewer goals while scoring more breathes a sigh of relief and moves closer to qualification.
Most Goals Scored Takes the Cake: Still tied? No worries, there’s another tiebreaker! Teams are then ranked based on the total number of goals they scored throughout the group stage. The more goals, the merrier, especially in this situation.
Lady Luck Steps In: If all the above criteria fail to break the tie, then it’s time for a good old-fashioned lottery. Yes, a drawing of lots by the organizing committee will determine the lucky team that grabs the last spot.
For third-place teams, every point, every goal, and every clean sheet matters. Their performance across all three group matches will determine their fate, and a bit of luck wouldn’t hurt either.
At the 2022 AFCON (table below), three points were enough to qualify with Tunisia and Comoros (who advanced at the expense of Ghana) among the teams that qualified with that number of points. Cape Verde and Malawi joined them with four points apiece in the round of 16.
So, keep your eyes peeled on the remaining third-place finishers, because some thrilling battles are brewing for those last four precious slots in the AFCON knockout stage!