The 2023 Africa Cup of Nations has been a tournament of upsets with favourites Morocco, defending champions Senegal and record-winners Egypt all out of the competition before the quarterfinals.
Here’s our run down of the tournament’s last-eight stage, which is set to take place across Friday and Saturday:
1. Nigeria vs Angola: Friday, February 2 at 17:00 GMT
After the scything down of African footballing giants in the group stage and round of 16, Nigeria stand as clear favourites to claim a fourth AFCON title.
It’s been far from plain sailing for the Super Eagles after a draw in their opening match with Equatorial Guinea set up a tense second match with host Ivory Coast. Nigeria’s 1-0 win set them on the way to second spot in the group, which was later confirmed by a 1-0 win against Guinea-Bissau in the third game.
The last-16 encounter with Cameroon was a repeat of the 1984 final and was billed as the best striker Victor Osimhen vs the best goalkeeper Andre Onana. As it was, Onana was benched again by coach Rigobert Song while Ademola Lookman bagged both goals to send Nigeria through. Osimhen was praised for his “fantastic” performance, however, and it was his tireless running that set up the first goal. However, it’s just one goal in four matches as the tournament for the African Footballer of the Year, and whether he finds his goalscoring touch in tighter games could be the balance between success or failure for the Super Eagles.
Meanwhile, Angola are only the minnows quickly becoming a force. The 2019 champions Algeria were the Southern African nation’s biggest test in the group stage. A 1-1 draw with them served the Angolans better as they topped the group with victories against Burkina Faso and Mauritania, while the Algerians finished bottom. As fine a run as Angola have had, anything other than a victory for Nigeria would be the biggest shock of a tournament that has already sprung plenty of surprises.
— 🇳🇬 Super Eagles (@NGSuperEagles) January 29, 2024
2. DRC vs Guinea: Friday, February 2 at 20:00 GMT
Although former winners in 1968 and 1974, DRC were, and to some extent still are, far from expected challengers. Indeed, the Central African nation have yet to win a game in normal time at this year’s edition. Their second spot in the group, behind tournament favourites Morocco, was secured via three draws. However, the 2012 winners Zambia were pushed into the third spot. Finishing between these sides is not an achievement to be sniffed at, no matter the manner it was achieved.
The mighty Egypt, record AFCON winners and defeated finalists in the last edition, awaited in the round of 16. The Pharaohs similarly were searching for their first win and were without the injured Mohamed Salah. The Congolese mustered only one shot on target in a 1-1 draw after 120 minutes, while the Pharaohs had Hamdy Mahmoud Shefedin sent off in the first half of extra time. The match nonetheless was headed to penalties and the rest, much like the Egyptians, was history.
Guinea overcame The Gambia, one of only two teams to fail to register a point in the group stages, to secure a best third-place finish in Group C, having also taken a point off Cameroon while also succumbing as both other teams did to Senegal. It set up a West African derby in the last 16 with Equatorial Guinea, who had topped their group from Nigeria and Ivory Coast. The game appeared to be heading to penalties until Mohamed Bayo scored the latest goal in normal time in AFCON history as he headed home in the 98th minute to send Guinea on their way.
𝟴 𝘁𝗲𝗮𝗺𝘀. 𝗗𝗶𝗳𝗳𝗲𝗿𝗲𝗻𝘁 𝗿𝗼𝘂𝘁𝗲𝘀. 𝟭 𝗖𝘂𝗽. 🏆
— CAF (@CAF_Online) January 30, 2024
3. Mali vs Ivory Coast: Saturday, February 3 at 17:00 GMT
In what has been a tournament of underdogs, Mali can quite rightly dismiss the notion that they are one of the surprise packages given their pole position in the group of death. South Africa finished second and Nambia third, as Tunisia, the group favourites, were sent packing. Mali, whose best finish was as runners-up in 1972, opened with a 2-0 win against the Bafana Bafana before drawing with Namibia and Tunisia to send the North Africans home and secure the top spot despite resting half their team for the final game.
The stars returned for their 2-1 win against Burkina Faso in the last 16 although they did endure a nervy finale which included a late disallowed equaliser. Ivory Coast meantime, survived the closest of culls at the group stage – one that saw their manager Jean-Louis Gasset’s contract terminated even with qualification still a possibility. The Elephants opened the tournament with a 2-0 win against Guinea-Bissau but the defeat by Nigeria was followed by a humiliating 4-0 thrashing by Equatorial Guinea. That was enough to see off Gasset despite the potential reprieve of progression as one of the best third-place finishers. The stay of execution looked as though it may be short-lived with hot favourites and defending champions Senegal waiting in the round of 16.
The Elephants, aware of the task at hand, tried to “loan” former manager Herve Renard from his role as France Women’s manager but the French federation rejected the move. Over to former international Emerse Fae to step up from the backroom staff and lead his side to a victory on penalties, made all the more remarkable by the Elephants’ resurgence in the match itself let alone all that had gone before. The greatest of sporting redemptions is now on.
— CAF (@CAF_Online) January 31, 2024
4. Cape Verde vs South Africa: Saturday, February 3 at 20:00 GMT
Cape Verde have been the talk of the tournament since topping a group that included both Egypt and Ghana, who boast 11 AFCON trophies between them. Their 2-1 win against Ghana in the second match of the competition was the spark that lit the hope for all the shocks that followed. They did have a terrible defensive mix-up by the Black Stars to thank for the injury-time winner by Mendes Rodrigues. A 3-0 win against Mozambique secured their qualification before a 2-2 draw with Ghana rounded things up.
Their second AFCON quarterfinal appearance, having reached this stage in 2013, was not so easily secured though, as they had to wait for an 88th-minute penalty from Ryan Mendes to secure their passage. Conversely, South Africa’s round-of-16 tie was another the tournament’s now long list of remarkable tales as Bafana Bafana downed World Cup semifinalists and clear AFCON favourites, Morocco, to reach the last eight.
Having already thumped neighbours Nambia 4-0 in the group stage to finish second to Mali, South Africa produced a scintillating second half to overturn the odds against their opponents from the opposite end of the continent. Evidence Magkopa and Teboho Mokoena scored the goals to send the Atlas Lions on their way home and blow the competition wide open.
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