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2023 African Cup of Nations: Semifinals Preview

2023 African Cup of Nations

(Photo Courtesy of cafonline.com)

2023 African Cup of Nations
(Photo Courtesy of cafonline.com)

2023 African Cup of Nations: Semifinals Preview

What Happened in the Quarterfinals?

There were 24 teams three and a half weeks ago, but now the 2023 African Cup of Nations is down to its final four following some exciting quarterfinals. Three of the quarterfinal matches ended with a deficit of one or less. 

The only team that had seemingly smooth sailing was the DR Congo. They ended up beating Guinea 3-1. However, Guinea led after a penalty from Mohamed Bayo just 20 minutes into the match. It did not take too long for “The Leopards” to get level. Chancel Mbemba scored his first goal of the 2023 AFCON off a corner in the 27th minute. It was all the DR Congo from then on. Guinea failed to register another shot on target while Yoane Wissa converted a penalty to make it 2-1 before Arthur Masuaku caught the Guinean goalkeeper napping on a free kick to seal the deal.

Another match that ended with little drama was between Nigeria and Angola. Angola was looking to make their first-ever AFCON semi-final. Unfortunately for them, it was Ademola Lookman who scored the lone goal for a 1-0 Nigeria win. Nigeria’s leading scorer at the 2023 AFCON continued his hot streak by scoring his third goal in the last two matches. Angola had a chance to level the score early in the second half but substitute Zini hit the post on a breakaway. Despite the loss this was Angola’s best performance having won three matches.

The best performance of the 2023 African Cup of Nations Quarter Finals was by South African goalkeeper Ronwen Williams. The 32-year-old made two crucial saves in the second half including one in the 90th minute to keep the match 0-0. In the end, neither South Africa nor Cape Verde could find the back of the net and the match went to penalties. This is where Williams stepped up once again. He was sensational saving four penalties to help send the “Bafana Bafana” to the Semifinals. The penalty shootout finished 2-1 in favor of South Africa with Mothobi Mvala scoring the winning penalty.

While the penalty shootout between Cape Verde and South Africa was exciting it was hard to beat the chaos between Mali and Ivory Coast. It took just 16 minutes for Mali to earn a penalty which Adama Traoré had saved. For the hosts, Ivory Coast, Odilon Kossonou picked up a yellow card while conceding the penalty. Things got worse for him as he was shown a second yellow and sent off right before the end of the half. With the one-man advantage, Nene Dorgeles gave Mali the lead with a beautifully curled strike. It seemed like that was going to be the goal to send “The Eagles” to the 2023 AFCON Semifinals. Ivory Coast had other ideas as Simon Adingra poked home a loose ball in the 90th minute to send the match to extra time. Once again “The Elephants” left it late for the dramatics with Oumar Diakite redirecting a shot into the goal in the 120+2 minute to give Ivory Coast a 2-1 lead. Diakite was shown a second yellow shortly after and sent packing while Hamari Traoré was shown a straight red in the final seconds.

Look Ahead to the 2023 African Cup of Nations Semifinals

The Semifinals of the 2023 AFCON will take place on Wednesday, Feb. 7th with a spot in the final awaiting. Both matches have an African powerhouse taking on a surprise team looking to win their first AFCON title this century. “The Super Eagles” of Nigeria take on the “Bafana Bafana” at noon EST while the Ivory Coast battles “The Leopards” of the DR Congo at 3 pm EST. Will it be a Group A rematch or will South Africa and DR Congo spoil the party?

Nigeria vs South Africa

Two very defensive teams face off in the first Semifinal of the 2023 African Cup of Nations. Both Nigeria and South Africa have gone four straight matches without allowing a goal. “The Super Eagles” have only allowed one goal which came in their first match a 1-1 draw with Equatorial Guinea. “Bafana Bafana” gave up two goals in their opening match which they lost 2-0 to Mali. Despite coming off in their Round of 16 match against Cameroon due to injury, Nigerian goalkeeper Stanley Nwabili returned in the Quarterfinals and did not miss a beat. The 2013 AFCON champions have been playing a back three in every match since the opener in which they played a back four. 

The question will be whose defense is going to break first? Ronwen Williams has the fourth most saves by a goalkeeper at the 2023 AFCON with 12 saves. Fortunately for Nigeria, they will have the services of Victor Osimhen who was seen practicing on Tuesday after battling a sickness. The star forward is arguably the sole of Nigeria’s attack despite having just scored once so far. The Napoli star has a knack for finding the back of the net and if it was not for some super saves he would have more goals to his AFCON tally. While he may not be scoring Ademola Lookman has had no issue scoring in the last two matches. 

South Africa has scored in just two matches. However, two of those came against the 2023 AFCON favorites Morocco. Denying teams from scoring has been the game plan for South Africa and it has worked thus far. To get past a sturdy Nigeria team they will need to find the back of the net and that means Themba Zwane will need to return to the form he had earlier on in the tournament. Zwane scored twice in a 4-0 win over Namibia in the group stage. The “Bafana Bafana” have not made an African Cup of Nations Final since the 1998 edition and they have not had African glory since their first appearance at the 1996 AFCON.

The last time that Nigeria and South Africa faced off at an AFCON was at the 2019 edition. They battled it out in the Quarterfinals which Nigeria won 2-1 thanks to an 89th minute goal from William Troost-Ekong. 

Prediction

This could very well come down to who scores first. With two of the best defenses in Africa, one goal could be the difference and in the goal-scoring race, I give an advantage to Nigeria. My pick is Nigeria 1-0 with a goal from Victor Osimhen. 

Ivory Coast vs DR Congo

As the hosts, Ivory Coast, has had pressure on them from the get-go. It looked like the pressure got to them in the Group Stage and after a 4-0 drubbing at the hands of Equatorial Guinea it looked like their 2023 African Cup of Nations would be done early. Things were looking so bad for “The Elephants” that they sacked their manager ​​Jean-Louis Gasset halfway through the tournament. Emerse Fae took over as the interim manager and has worked wonders. First, it was an 86th-minute equalizer that ended up sending Ivory Coast to penalties with Senegal. Then late dramatics twice against Mali saw the hosts move one win away from appearing in their first final since winning the 2015 AFCON. Sometimes it is better to be lucky than good and this has surely been the case for Ivory Coast. No player has scored more than one goal, yet five different players have achieved that. A concern for “The Elephants” is that they will be without both defender Odilon Kossonou and forward Oumar Diakite as the pair were shown red cards in the Quarterfinals. 

Heading into the 2023 AFCON Quarterfinals the DR Congo had yet to win a match. All four of their matches had ended in a draw with “The Leopards” knocking off Egypt on penalties after a 1-1 draw in the Round of 16. Something looks like it clicked for DR Congo against Guinea as they put three past a team that had allowed just four goals in their first four matches. For DR Congo it has been Brentford’s Yoane Wissa that leads the way with two goals including the winner against Guinea. Of the four semi-finalists the DR Congo has been waiting the longest to return to the final. The last time they made the AFCON final was at the 1974 edition which they won as Zaire. This came more than 20 years before the DR Congo became the country’s name. 

This has been a rather even series so far with Ivory Coast having six wins, DR Congo having four, and there being five draws. The last time the two played in the African Cup of Nations was at the 2017 edition in which Ivory Coast came from two goals down to draw 2-2.

Prediction

Something special has been cooking for the hosts and expect a raucous crowd at Alassane Ouattara Stadium. However, the DR Congo has been getting better and better each match. While Nigeria vs South Africa should be a low-scoring affair, this could be much higher-scoring. My pick is DR Congo 3-2 after extra time. 

***

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