Senegal's AFCON 2023 journey ended in heartbreak, continuing the trend of reigning champions failing to advance past the quarterfinals.
Senegal's journey in the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations ended in a dramatic and all-too-familiar fashion for the reigning champions as they were ousted by the Ivory Coast in a nail-biting penalty shootout in Yamoussoukro.
The contest, which concluded 1-1 after extra-time before shifting to the decisive spot-kicks where Ivory Coast prevailed 5-4, added another chapter to the curious and relentless curse that seems to haunt the defending champions of Africa's most prestigious football tournament.
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Despite their formidable display in the group stages, where Senegal won all three matches, netting eight goals and conceding just once, their prowess and dominance were ultimately not enough to break the jinx that has plagued successive title defenders since Egypt in 2010.
This trend, marked by a series of underwhelming performances by reigning champions, has become a notable narrative in the tournament's recent history.
The curse first cast its shadow in 2012 when Egypt, the record champions, faced an astonishing ousting by failing to qualify for the tournament co-hosted by Equatorial Guinea and Gabon.
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Despite their rich history and previous successes, the Pharaohs finished at the bottom of their qualification group, a humbling moment that set the precedent for future champions.
The jinx continued in 2013 with Zambia, the victors of the 2012 edition, who entered the tournament with high hopes of replicating their past triumphs.
However, the Chipolopolo were met with an early exit, becoming the first defending champion to be knocked out in the first round of the Africa Cup of Nations in over two decades.
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Their campaign concluded in a goalless draw against Burkina Faso, a result insufficient to see them through the group stage, leaving them and their fans in dismay.
Nigeria's tale in 2015 followed a similar script. The Super Eagles, despite a valiant comeback in their crucial match against South Africa, failed to qualify for the tournament, a scenario that highlighted the unpredictability and competitive nature of the qualification process.
The team's inability to better Congo's result in the group stage underscored the fine margins that often dictate the fate of the teams in the AFCON.
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Ivory Coast 2017
The curse did not spare Ivory Coast in 2017, as the defending champions were shown the exit after a disappointing campaign that saw them fail to secure a single win.
Ivory Coast's lackluster performance culminated in a defeat against Morocco, marking an end to their hopes of retaining the title on Gabonese soil.
Cameroon 2019 and Algeria 2021
Cameroon and Algeria, the champions of 2019 and 2021 respectively, found themselves caught in the curse's grip as well.
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Cameroon's journey was halted in the last 16 by Nigeria in a thrilling encounter, while Algeria's title defense in 2021 ended prematurely, with the team finishing at the bottom of their group, a result that was as shocking as it was unexpected.
This historical backdrop set the stage for Senegal's campaign in the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations.
Despite their commendable performance in the group stage and their status as one of the tournament favorites, the Lions of Teranga could not escape the fate that befell their predecessors.