2023 African Cup of Nations: Quarterfinals Preview
What Happened in the Round of 16.
After a hectic group stage at the 2023 African Cup of Nations, the mayhem continued in the Round of 16. For starters, three of the best teams in the group stage were shockingly knocked out.
First, it was Equatorial Guinea, who had scored the most goals in the group stage that fell to Guinea 1-0. The second half of that match was crazy in its own way. A red card was shown to Equatorial Guinea’s Federico Bikoro in the 55th minute before captain and current Golden Boot leader Emilio Nsue missed a penalty to take the lead 13 minutes later. Eventually, the 10-men of Equatorial Guinea made a mistake and it was Mohamed Bayo who finished a cross to give Guinea the lead and win in the 8th minute of stoppage time.
A day later it was the reigning AFCON champions that were sent packing. Senegal rose to African glory two years ago and looked to move a step closer to repeating after it took just four minutes for Habib Diallo to take the lead against 2023 AFCON hosts, Ivory Coast. There were some chances to extend the lead yet the “Lions of Teranga” could not get a second. Ultimately, it was Ivory Coast substitute, Franck Kessie, who leveled the match at 1-1 to send it to extra time. Following 30 scoreless minutes, the match went to penalties where the Ivory Coast held on to shock Senegal 5-4 with Moussa Niakhaté missing the lone penalty for Senegal.
Then in the final match of the 2023 AFCON Round of 16, it was the 2022 World Cup semi-finalist, Morocco, that was shocked. The top-ranked African team in FIFA’s rankings fell to South Africa 2-0. South Africa took the lead 12 minutes after halftime on a goal by Evidence Makgopa. However, Morocco had a chance to tie up the match in the 85th minute, but Achraf Hakimi sent a penalty off the crossbar and over the goal. Things then went from bad to worse for the 2023 AFCON favorites with Sofyan Amrabat being shown a red card in stoppage time just for Teboho Mokoena to curl the following freekick right into the top corner of the net to seal the win.
Elsewhere, Mali, Nigeria, and Angola all took care of business fairly easily. Mali beat Burkina Faso 2-1, while Nigeria and Angola both kept clean sheets winning 2-0 and 3-0 respectively. Cape Verde ended the historic run of Mauritania with an 88th-minute penalty from Ryan Mendes.
There was another big side that went out on penalties and that was Egypt. “The Pharaohs” scored a first-half stoppage time penalty to tie DR Congo 1-1. In extra time, Mohamed Hamdi was shown a red card to reduce Egypt to 10 men. The penalty shootout went to the ninth round with each team having only missed their second penalties. It then came down to a battle of goalkeepers. Egypt’s Mohamed Gabaski went first and sent his penalty over the bar. The DR Congo goalkeeper, Lionel Mpasi, did not make the same mistake as he calmly slotted the ball away to put “The Leopards” into the quarterfinals for the first time since the 2017 AFCON.
Look Ahead to the 2023 African Cup of Nations Quarterfinals
With the top five ranked African teams all out the field is wide open for all eight remaining teams. Half of the group winners are remaining with Angola, Mali, and Cape Verde looking to keep momentum going. The match that stands out is between Mali and Ivory Coast. The hosts finally had something go right for them following an abysmal group stage performance that they were lucky to advance from. Ivory Coast is looking to become the first host nation to win an African Cup of Nations since Egypt did at the 2006 AFCON.
Nigeria vs Angola
This should be a very exciting game between two teams that soared in the Round of 16. Nigeria has a wide range of talent but it was Ademola Lookman who scored a brace against Cameroon to send “The Super Eagles” to the 2023 African Cup of Nations Quarterfinals. The attacking prowess of Nigeria may be the best remaining in the Ivory Coast. Between Lookman and Victor Osimhen up top and a strong midfield of Alex Iwobi and Frank Onyeka, goals can come at any time. A worry for Nigeria will be that they may miss starting goalkeeper Stanley Nwabili who came off injured against Cameroon and is awaiting test results. If Nwabali is unable to play, it will likely be Francis Uzoho who will start in goal against Angola.
While there is a chance Nwabali will play on Friday, Angola will be without their goalkeeper, Adilson Neblu, who was shown a straight red card against Namibia. Antonio Signori replaced Neblu and should be the starter against Nigeria. The “Black Sable Antelopes” have found their scoring boots in the last few matches having scored at least two goals in their last three 2023 AFCON matches. Gelson Dala and Mabululu continued their success combining for all three goals against Namibia. Dala scored twice and now has four goals at the 2023 AFCON, second in the Golden Boot race behind Equatorial Guinea’s Emilio Nsue.
Angola may have the attacking options to thwart the Nigerian defense. However, losing Neblu will be a big blow in the back. There is no question that Nigeria is far better than Namibia, and the fact that they could have their starting keeper game ready is a big boost. With all the favorites having been eliminated this looks like a chance for Nigeria to return to African glory for the first time since the 2013 AFCON. My pick is Nigeria 3-1.
DR Congo vs Guinea
The DR Congo and Guinea both had thrilling matches to punch their ticket into the Quarterfinals. “The Leopards” snuck by Egypt after a very close penalty shootout. They managed to get to penalties despite blowing a 1-0 lead on the stroke of halftime. With the 1-1 draw before penalties, DR Congo has still yet to win a match at the 2023 African Cup of Nations in normal time. All four of their matches have been draws which has shown a strong defensive line to hold both Morocco and Egypt to just a goal each. Lionel Mpasi has played every second for DR Congo in goal and had a massive boost of confidence by scoring the winning penalty against Egypt. Look for him to continue his strong play against Guinea.
Guinea has played a similar way, however. Outside of a 2-0 loss to Senegal, the “National Elephants” have allowed just a single goal. The center-back pairing of Julian Jeanvier and Mouctar Diakhaby has been superb. Despite having little international experience the duo has played every minute of Guinea’s 2023 AFCON journey, the only exception was that neither saw the field against Senegal. 34-year-old Ibrahim Koné has had a rather easy time so far thanks to his backline. Guinea held Equatorial Guinea to no shots on target and only allowed one against Gambia. Offensively, Mohamed Bayo was the hero in the Round of 16 by scoring the 90+8’ winner. That was his second goal of the tournament.
Compared to the Nigeria vs Angola match, this one looks to be a defensive slugfest in which a single goal could be the difference. Neither team has scored much and will have a hard time breaking down the backlines. A player like Bayo who can find the back of the net is a benefit. My pick is Guinea to win 1-0 in extra time.
Mali vs Ivory Coast
Mali narrowly won their group but controlled Burkina Faso in the Round of 16. “The Eagles” held a 2-0 lead before Bertrand Traoré grabbed one back. Lassine Sinayoko has been leading the way for Mali with three goals. The 24-year-old scored the winner against Burkina Faso. Defensively they have been very stout having allowed just two goals at the 2023 African Cup of Nations. While Djigui Diarra has held things down in net there has been an attacking presence from right-back Hamari Traoré who has a goal and an assist so far. They will need him to continue performing at both ends to take down the hosts.
Compared to Mali, Ivory Coast ended the group stage in embarrassing fashion losing 4-0 to Equatorial Guinea. However, they then shocked Senegal in penalties to advance to the Quarterfinals. Their Round of 16 win may be the confidence boost that they need to string together a run towards the 2023 AFCON final. Having been shutout in two straight it looked like “The Elephants” would be once again, but Franck Kessie scored a late penalty to equalize it. There has not been much to be impressed about the Ivory Coast so far and maybe it is the pressure of being the host nation. Nicolas Pépé and Sébastien Haller are probably the two best players for Ivory Coast yet neither has had any impact in the tournament. If they are to advance those two will need to step up.
The whole stadium will be behind their beloved “Elephants” and that could very well be the boost that they need. Neither Mali nor Ivory Coast have had much attacking prowess so this could very well be a low-scoring defensive battle. My pick is Mali 1-0.
Cape Verde vs South Africa
The Cinderella story of the 2023 African Cup of Nations has to be Cape Verde. The nation of just 587,925 have now matched their best AFCON performance by making it to the 2023 African Cup of Nations Quarterfinals. They previously did that at the 2013 AFCON before being knocked out by Ghana. “The Blue Sharks” were guided to the Quarterfinals by Ryan Mendes. The nation’s all-time leader in goals and caps has played very well and leads the way with two goals including the winner against Mauritania. Cape Verde’s biggest weapon though has been the ability to get goals from all over. Alongside Mendes, six other players have scored at the 2023 AFCON.
South Africa has also made a surprising run to the quarterfinals after upsetting the favorites Morocco 2-0 in the Round of 16. Despite scoring in just one group stage match the “Bafana Bafana” have not lacked the ability to create goal-scoring opportunities. The only match that South Africa has had fewer shots on target was their first match against Mali in which they had one less shot on target than the Malians. Malie was also the only team to have scored on the second-best defense at the 2023 AFCON. Ronwen Williams has been stellar in goal and is a huge part of why South Africa has made it this far. For South Africa to advance to their first semi-final since the 2000 AFCON he will have to be at his best against a Cape Verde side that is dangerous going forward.
An unstoppable force comes up against an impenetrable wall and that should make for a very entertaining match. Both teams have proven that they can play against the best sides Africa has to offer. My pick is Cape Verde 2-1.
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