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2021 African Cup of Nations

(Alain Guy Suffo/EPA)

2021 African Cup of Nations: Round of 16 Preview

2021 African Cup of Nations
(Alain Guy Suffo/EPA)

2021 African Cup of Nations: Round of 16 Preview

What happened in the Group Stage

An action-packed round of group games in the 2021 African Cup of Nations concluded Thursday and there were some big surprises in the group stage. The biggest shock has to be the defending champions Algeria being knocked out after finishing in last place in Group E. The Algerian side came into the tournament on a 34 match unbeaten streak that was extended to 35 after a 0-0 draw with Sierra Leone. However, two straight losses followed first a 1-0 shock defeat to Equatorial Guinea and then a 3-1 loss versus the Ivory Coast sealed Algeria’s fate. The Ivory Coast ultimately won the group with Equatorial Guinea finishing in second both advanced to the Round of 16.

Group C brought another big upset as former champions Ghana were eliminated in the group stage. The Black Stars finished last in their group, only managing to get one point from a 1-1 draw with Gabon. This group came down to the last day and that final day did not disappoint as there were seven goals scored in the final 30 minutes across the Ghana vs Comoros and Gabon vs Morocco matches. Ghana, playing with 10 men from the 25th minute onwards came back from a 2-0 deficit only to concede an 85th minute goal to Ahmed Mogni. With the win, Comoros did enough to finish third in the group but had enough points to advance as one of four third-place teams to do so. In the other match on the final day, Gabon vs Morocco, three goals were scored in a 10 minute stretch with the score at 1-0 in Gabon’s favor. A penalty, an own goal, and then a beautiful free-kick goal deadlocked the game at 2-2. The result was enough for both teams to move on with Morocco winning the group and Gabon even without captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang finishing second.

The results in the other four groups were relatively expected. The only other surprises were that Tunisia finished third in Group F behind Mali and Gambia, but still advanced as a top-four third-place team, and Senegal only scored one goal in Group B. Senegal still advanced as Group B winners with Guinea finishing second, Malawi third, and Zimbabwe in fourth as the only team not to move on from this group. Senegal while only scoring once also allowed no goals at the other end. Only one team did not manage to get a single point in the group stage of the 2021 African Cup of Nations was Mauritania in Group F.

The two teams that looked the best in the group stage were the hosts Cameroon and African powerhouse Nigeria. Cameroon won two matches and drew one in Group A while scoring the most goals in group play with seven. Cameroon also has the tournament’s leading scorer in forward Vincent Aboubakar who has scored five goals so far. Cameroon won Group A and advanced to the Round of 16 along with Burkina Faso who finished second and Cape Verde who finished third. Nigeria was the only team to win all three matches and that started with a powerhouse matchup with Egypt that ended 1-0 in favor of the Super Eagles of Nigeria. The loss was the only one for Egypt who beat both Sudan and Guinea-Bissau to finish second in Group D.

Look ahead to the Round of 16

The Round of 16 in the 2021 African Cup of Nations gets underway on Sunday, January 23rd, and has a few very interesting matchups, but two really stand out. First, in the top half of the bracket, Nigeria faces off with Tunisia. Even though Tunisia was less than inspirational in the group stage they still have a talented enough team to give Nigeria some issues. Arguably the best match of the Round of 16 is in the bottom half of the bracket between the Ivory Coast and Egypt. Egypt is the best second-place team so look for them to give the Ivory Coast a very difficult matchup. It’ll be interesting to see how the Elephants respond to ending Algeria’s reign as African Cup of Nations Champions. Here is a quick rundown of all eight Round of 16 matches in the 2021 African Cup of Nations.

Burkina Faso vs Gabon

The battle of second-place teams with Burkina Faso finishing second in Group A and Gabon second in Group C. Gabon seems to not have lost a step without Aubameyang as they advanced to the Round of 16 for the third time. Burkina Faso look to advance to the quarterfinals for the third time in their last four African Cup of Nations appearances. In a pre-tournament friendly on January 2nd Burkina Faso beat Gabon 3-0.

Prediction

I think Burkina Faso gets it done again thanks to a goal from Bertrand Traoré. This is a game where Gabon could use the attacking threat that Aubameyang poses. My pick Burkina Faso 2-0.

Nigeria vs Tunisia

It was mentioned earlier, but Nigeria has looked like the team to beat in the 2021 African Cup of Nations so far and this will be no easy task for Tunisia. Nigeria has been a total team effort with six goals being scored by six different players. Since winning the 2004 African Cup of Nations Tunisia has only been able to win a knockout round game once when they finished 4th in 2019. 

Prediction

As close as this could be I do not see Tunisia posing much of a threat to Nigeria. The Super Eagles attack led by Kelechi Iheanacho will be overpowering. My pick Nigeria 3-1.

Senegal vs Cape Verde

Senegal had a quiet group stage, but could very easily explode at any time. In the group stage, they did not concede a goal while playing without Chelsea goalkeeper Édouard Mendy and Napoli center back Kalidou Koulibaly for the first two matches. Cape Verde on the other hand only scored two goals in group play and had their lone win come against a lowly Ethiopia team. 

Prediction

Senegal was my pick to win the whole tournament before it started and I believe they will begin picking up the pace starting with this match against Cape Verde. My pick Senegal 2-0.

Mali vs Equatorial Guinea

A big upset of the competition thus far was Equatorial Guinea beating Algeria 1-0 and after that win kept the momentum going with a 1-0 win over Sierra Leone. They look to advance in the knockout stage in their first tournament since finishing fourth while hosting in 2015. Mali made the Round of 16 in 2019 but were promptly eliminated by the Ivory Coast. They look to get back to the quarterfinals for the first time since finishing third in 2013.

Prediction

Equatorial Guinea will make the quarterfinals for the third time in three African Cup of Nations appearances in this battle of the underdogs. My pick Equatorial Guinea 1-0.

Guinea vs The Gambia

The Gambia has been the masters of grabbing a result at the death with a 90th minute equalizer against Mali and a 90+3 minute winner to beat Tunisia. Two of Gambia’s three goals in the 2021 African Cup of Nations have been scored by Ablie Jallow who is currently on loan at Belgian side RFC Seraing. The Gambia is making waves in their first African Cup of Nations appearance and have yet to lose a match. Guinea were shocked by Zimbabwe in the last match of group play, but that was highlighted by Naby Keita’s first goal for Guinea in the tournament. Guinea is looking to get back to the quarterfinals for the first time since 2015.

Prediction

Guinea is probably the better team on paper, but that has been the case for the Gambia the last two matches. The Cinderella story continues for the Scorpions. My pick Gambia 2-1 AET (After Extra Time).

Cameroon vs Comoros

The hosts have looked very good through the group stage and now look to advance to the quarterfinals for the first time since 2017 when Cameroon lifted the trophy as champions. Look for Vincent Aboubakar to add to his goal tally of five which is four off of the record for most goals in a single African Cup of Nations which is nine and set by Ndaye Mulamba for Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo) in 1974. It took late madness for Comoros to get the win that put them into the Round of 16 after losing the first two matches in their first major tournament.

Prediction

This Cinderella story is over as the hosts Cameroon continue their dominance and cruise right past Comoros. Aboubakar gets at least one goal for The Indomitable Lions. My pick Cameroon 3-1.

Ivory Coast vs Egypt

If you are only going to watch one match in the Round of 16 make sure it’s this one. Two of Africa’s giants have combined for nine African Cup of Nations Championships, Egypt with seven and the Ivory Coast with two. For Egypt, this is a chance for redemption because three years ago they were knocked out in the Round of 16 as the hosts. The Ivory Coast only made it one round further in 2019. A big story for Egypt is that Liverpool superstar Mohamed Salah has only scored once in the tournament. On the other side, the Elephants have scored six goals with Arsenal’s Nicolas Pépé being the only player to score twice.

Prediction

It is not very often this season that Mohamed Salah has a game that he does not score in, and so far in Africa, he has had two such games. I think he is due for a big game and will lead the Pharaohs into the next round. My pick Egypt 2-1.

Morocco vs Malawi

Malawi in their third African Cup of Nations have already progressed further than they had previously. That was in part to a 2-1 win over Zimbabwe. Those were Malawi’s only two goals of the group stage and both goals were scored by Gabadinho Mhango who plays his club soccer for the Orlando Pirates in South Africa. Morocco is looking to extend its 27 match unbeaten streak and get back to the quarterfinals for only the second time since finishing as runners-up in 2004.

Prediction

We have seen one long unbeaten streak come to an end so far in the 2021 African Cup of Nations, but we will not see a second end just yet. Morocco may take some time to break down Malawi, but when they do it will be all over for Malawi. My pick Morocco 3-1.

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