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2023 African Cup of Nations: Round of 16 Preview

2023 African Cup of Nations

(Photo by Franck Fife/AFP via Getty Images)

2023 African Cup of Nations
(Photo by Franck Fife/AFP via Getty Images)

2023 African Cup of Nations: Round of 16 Preview

What Happened in the Group Stage?

The talk of the 2023 African Cup of Nations (AFCON) group stage was how the minnows flew above the big teams. The two smallest countries in the tournament Equatorial Guinea (1.7m population) and Cape Verde (600k) both won their groups. Equatorial Guinea drew with Nigeria before thrashing the hosts, Ivory Coast, 4-0 to win Group A. The Nigerians finished second and Ivory Coast needed help to sneak through to the Round of 16 as one of the four best third-place teams. Emilio Nsue scored five goals for Equatorial Guinea in the Group Stage and leads the race for the golden boot. 

Cape Verde had an arguably harder group than Ghana and Egypt. However, “The Blue Sharks” survived a hectic final day in Group B to take the top spot. Ghana and Egypt were both through at points. Ghana had a 2-0 lead against Mozambique but allowed two stoppage-time goals to fall to third place. Egypt, meanwhile, scored late to take the lead 2-1 against Cape Verde but conceded even later to only manage a point. That was enough for them to get through the group stage without a win. Ghana ended up missing out on advancing to the knockout stage for the second consecutive AFCON. The Ghanaian press were not overly pleased and were seen blocking the path of the team bus following their elimination. Changes have already been made as “The Black Stars” fired their manager Chris Hughton within hours of their demise. 

Another big dog that was bounced out in the 2023 AFCON Group Stage was Tunisia. The North African side had high hopes in the Ivory Coast but finished last in Group E. They managed two draws, but a 1-0 loss to Namibia in their first match ultimately sealed their fate. 

Group D saw a similar thing happen to Algeria. A once-dominant African side that won the 2019 AFCON, has now gone out in the group stage for the second straight African Cup of Nations. After drawing with Angola and Burkina Faso, they needed a win against Mauritania to guarantee a spot in the knockout stage. However, it was the “Lions of Chinguetti,” who won 1-0 for their first-ever AFCON win.

The two teams that did live up to their billing were Morocco and Senegal. The 2022 World Cup semi-finalists, Morocco, controlled Group F as the only team that won a match finishing with seven points. Senegal on the other hand was the only team to win all three of their group stage matches. Senegal had smooth sailing but the rest of Group C came down to the final moments as Cameroon needed an 87th-minute equalizer and a 91st-minute winner to get past Gambia for second place. 

Look Ahead to the 2023 African Cup of Nations Round of 16:

The Round of 16 at the 2023 African Cup of Nations gets started on Saturday, Jan. 27, with two matches each day until the 30th. Two matches stand out between African powerhouses. The first is Nigeria vs Cameroon which is a rematch of the 2019 AFCON Round of 16. The other big match sees hosts Ivory Coast take on Senegal. All the pressure will be on the hosts, who will be looking to redeem themselves after historic losses. Another intriguing matchup will be between Mali and Burkina Faso as both teams are dark horses to make a deep run at the 2023 AFCON.

Angola vs Namibia:

Angola won their group with some impressive performances by their attacking duo of Mabululu and Gelson Dala. Both Mabululu and Dala scored twice in the group stage to propel them past Mauritania and Burkina Faso. Namibia finally got their first AFCON win in their fourth attempt. A 1-0 win over Tunisia was historic but the “Brave Warriors” are now looking to continue this historic tournament. The concern for Namibia is that they only scored one goal in the group stage while allowing four in one match against South Africa. This will be the first time Angola and Namibia have faced off since a 0-0 draw in 2011. 

Prediction

As good of a story as Namibia is, it is hard to pick against Angola in this match. The “Black Sable Antelopes” have a better attack and defense than their southern neighbors. My pick is Angola 2-0.

Nigeria vs Cameroon:

Anything less than African glory would be a disappointment for both Nigeria and Cameroon. A pair of group runners up have star power all over the field and it could very well be the best match in the Round of 16. If their 2019 AFCON Round of 16 match has anything to say, this should be a banger. In that year, Nigeria won 3-2 while being down 2-1 at one point. No players have really stepped up so far but expect Vincent Aboubakar and Victor Osimhen to make their presence felt.

Prediction

This is a coin toss of who is going to show up on the day. My dad was born in Nigeria, and I feel they have a slightly deeper team, so I’m going to take them. My pick is Nigeria 2-1. 

Equatorial Guinea vs Guinea:

In the group stage, there were not too many teams that looked as good as Equatorial Guinea did. “The Elephants” surprised many by running through Group A without much of a lapse. Now they come into the Round of 16 off a huge win over Ivory Coast. Emilio Nsue is looking like the best striker so far and looks to guide Equatorial Guinea back to the quarterfinals. Guinea looked set for second in their group but a 2-0 loss to Senegal paired with a 3-2 Cameroon win saw the “National Elephants” slip to third place. They now look to avoid a third straight Round of 16 exit at the African Cup of Nations. 

Prediction

In the battle of two Guineas, the advantage leans towards the side that has scored the most goals in the 2023 AFCON thus far. Equatorial Guinea’s nine-goal group stage was impressive and I expect them to ride the momentum against Guinea. My pick is Equatorial Guinea 2-0.

Egypt vs DR Congo:

The big news for Egypt is that they will be without Mohamed Salah for the remainder of the 2023 AFCON. In Salah’s absence, Mostafa Mohamed has stepped up for “The Pharaohs.” He has scored three goals so far including the equalizer against Ghana and an essential stoppage-time goal against Cape Verde.

Egyptian Football officials have a plan to bring the team good luck ahead of their Round of 16 match. Their plan involved sacrificing a cow to try and get Egypt their first win in the Ivory Coast this year. The DR Congo did not impress that much in the group stage either, drawing all three of their matches. The impressive result was a 1-1 draw with 2023 AFCON favorites Morocco despite conceding just six minutes in.

Prediction

Egypt does not have Salah and that is a massive blow. Without him, this team was rather lucky to get out of the group stage. However, DR Congo has not shown me much to believe in them. My pick is Egypt to win on penalties after a 1-1 draw.

Cape Verde vs Mauritania:

Cape Verde has been one of the surprise teams so far at the 2023 AFCON. The tiny island nation has surely punched well above its weight by beating Ghana and drawing with Egypt. “The Blue Sharks” have been one of the most well-rounded teams with seven different goal scorers through three matches.

Having depth scoring makes any team far more dangerous and that is what Mauritania should expect when the two face off. The “Lions of Chinguetti” have finally gotten over the hump to win their first AFCON match and now are faced with another tough challenge. Defensively, they have been rather strong allowing only Angola to score multiple goals while holding Algeria to a clean sheet. Babacar Niasse will need to be on his top form if they have a chance at beating Cape Verde.

Prediction

To me, Cape Verde has just too much depth in the attack. With so many players being able to find the back of the net they look too dangerous for this Mauritania side. The last time these two played it ended 2-1 in Mauritania’s favor, I have a feeling this one will be different. My pick is Cape Verde 2-0.

Senegal vs Ivory Coast:

In this Round of 16 matchup, there are two African giants that finished on near opposite sides of their groups. On one side, we have the hosts who ended the group stage being run out of their own stadium. On the other, we have the only perfect team that is looking to repeat as AFCON champions.

Ivory Coast will need to get something cooking if they are going to have any hope of beating Senegal. The “Lions of Teranga” have looked like the best team thus far and with goals coming in abundance could very well go back to the final. Lamine Camara leads the score sheet with two goals, but one can never count out Sadio Mané to step up on the brightest stage.

The concern for the Ivory Coast is that they cannot find the goal. They scored just twice in the group stage and both came in the opening match, a 2-0 win over Guinea-Bissau.

Prediction

Ivory Coast has looked dreadful despite playing at home. I have a feeling this trend will continue and the hosts will be bounced out in the Round of 16. My pick is Senegal 3-1.

Mali vs Burkina Faso:

Mali and Burkina Faso had very similar results in the group stage with one win each. Mali beat South Africa 2-0 while Burkina Faso’s only win came against Mauritania 1-0. That win for Burkina Faso came from a 96th-minute penalty by Bertrand Traoré. Traoré scored twice in his first two matches.

He will need to have a hot foot against a Mali side that allowed just one goal in the group stage. However, neither team scored in their final group match as Mali drew 0-0 with Namibia and Burkina Faso lost 2-0 to Angola. Mali will have to continue relying on Lassine Sinayoko who leads the team with two goals. 

Prediction

Both teams could spark a run at any moment and a win here gives them a step in the right direction. Mali was one of my dark horse picks ahead of the 2023 AFCON so I am going to ride with them. My pick is Mali 1-0 AET.

Morocco vs South Africa:

Morocco was one of the favorites coming into the tournament and played like it in the group stage. “The Atlas Lions” beat Tanzania and Zambia while drawing with the DR Congo. They allowed just one goal in the group stage. South Africa on the other hand finished second in their group thanks to a better goal difference than Namibia.

Despite being shut out twice they did show their scoring ability by putting up four against Namibia. Themba Zwane scored twice in that match and is a threat to score again. Morocco still has far more talent than South Africa. Between Achraf Hakimi, Hakim Ziyech, and Youssef En-Nesyri there are an abundance of goal-scoring threats. 

Prediction

Morocco is by far the better team. There’s a clear talent gap between the two, but that did not stop South Africa from splitting two AFCON qualifying matches with Morocco last year. My pick is Morocco 3-0.

***

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