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AFCON2023: How group qualifiers emerge and how third-place finishers qualify

Out of the 24 teams participating in AFCON, divided into six groups of four teams each, only 16 teams advance to the knockout stage. While the top two teams from each group automatically secure their spots, a total of 12 automatic qualifications, there are four additional slots available for the best third-place finishers in the group stage. For those who finish in third place in their respective groups after the conclusion of the group stage, there remains a chance to secure a coveted position in the last 16. However, the process of determining who qualifies can be quite complex.

So, how exactly are these precious spots allocated? The decision-making process revolves around points, goals, and sometimes, a touch of luck. Here’s a breakdown of the criteria:

  1. Points Matter Most: The team that accumulates the highest number of points from their three group matches is given the first opportunity to progress to the last 16. In the event that two or more teams have the same number of points, the situation becomes more intricate.
  2. Head-to-Head Battle: If only two teams are tied on points, their head-to-head match result becomes crucial. The team that emerged victorious in their encounter gains the advantage and a potential ticket to the next round.
  3. Goal Difference Decides: What if the head-to-head clash ended in a draw? In such cases, the overall goal difference in all group matches becomes the determining factor. The team that conceded fewer goals while scoring more takes a sigh of relief and moves closer to qualification.
  4. Most Goals Scored Takes the Cake: Still deadlocked? No need to worry, 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 better, especially in this scenario.
  5. Lady Luck Steps In: If all the aforementioned criteria fail to break the tie, then it’s time for a good old-fashioned lottery. Yes, the organizing committee conducts a drawing of lots to determine the fortunate team that secures the last spot.

In conclusion, for third-place teams, every point, goal, and clean sheet holds immense significance. Their performance across all three group matches will ultimately determine their fate, and a bit of luck wouldn’t hurt either. Ivory Coast is one of the teams hoping for a chance to qualify as third place finishers. They ended up third in their group A after losing to Nigeria and to Equatorial Guinea.

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