AFCON: Nigeria renew rivalry with Cameroon in Round of 16
The 32nd African Cup of Nations successfully wrapped up its group-stage proceedings on Wednesday, with each of the pre-tournament favourites sealing their spot in the knockout stages. As we enter the business half of the continental extravaganza, we preview the top-quality matchups of the upcoming Round of 16.
Uganda vs Senegal
Uganda finished as runners-up to Egypt in Group A, following a defeat to the Pharaohs in their final group stage game. Farouk Miya, Emmanuel Okwi and Lumala Abdu tested the patience of Egypt ‘keeper Mohamed El-Shenawy but it was the first-half goals by Mohamed Salah and Ahmed Elmohamady that ensured the hosts made the most of a hardworking Cranes’ inability to convert their chances. Senegal, on the other hand, finished second in Group C with two wins and a loss. Both teams are meeting in the AFCON for the first time and it is to be seen how the Cranes, in the knockout phase for the first time since 1978, can subdue the threat of the Lions of Teranga, who have seven wins from their last eight games.
Player to watch
Kalidou Koulibaly (Senegal): A rock in the Lions of Teranga’s backline, Napoli centre-back has played an instrumental part in his side keeping six clean sheets in their last eight matches. Despite Senegal’s current impressive form, their accursed run in the knockout stages continues to haunt them and 28-year-old Koulibaly is expected to lead the pre-tournament favourites to the later stages of the competition.
Egypt vs South Africa
The hosts qualified into the Last 16 of the AFCON with a perfect record, winning all their group stage matchups without conceding even once. Champions League winner Mohamed Salah, who has two goals in the competition so far, has carried forward his rich vein of form from the recently concluded domestic season and poised to lead the talent-laden Pharoahs past a South Africa team which could only manage a win in the tournament. The Bafana Bafana, who have won only two of their last 18 games in the Africa Cup of Nations, appeared to be frantic in front of the goal and need to put up their best against Egypt if they are to avoid an early exit.
Player to watch
Mohamed Salah (Egypt): The African Player of the Year has ensured Egypt live up to the expectations as the hosts of the AFCON and has comfortably led the hosts into the knockout stages. Having contributed six of the Pharaohs' last ten goals in the competition (four goals, two assists), Salah will look to punish a South Africa unit that has just one clean sheet in the tournament so far.
Nigeria vs Cameroon
The most notable clash of the knockout stages sees the ‘Super Eagles’ renewing hostilities with ‘The Indomitable Lions’. Nigeria, one of the top contenders, finished second in Group B to newcomers Madagascar, who handed them a shock 0-2 defeat. While they boast one of the most talented setups in the competition, veteran manager Gernot Rohr has been urged to get the best out of his troop who will start as favourites against holders Cameroon. Clarence Seedorf’s men haven’t set the tournament alight as defending champions, but they are unbeaten in the competition, nonetheless. Ajax shot-stopper Andre Onana has been impressive between the sticks and will look to orchestrate a defensive display against Nigeria.
Player to watch
Alex Iwobi (Nigeria): The forward enjoyed a decent season with Arsenal, despite contributing just 15 goals in 51 appearances. Alongside Ahmed Musa and Odion Igahlo, Iwobi makes up a potent attacking front for Nigeria but the trio haven’t showcased their lethal tenacity. Given the stakes are high, the 23-year-old will be tasked to put up a bold front against Cameroon, which ultimately will give him a proper footing for the upcoming domestic campaign.
Ghana vs Tunisia
The final fixture of the Round of 16 pits James Kwesi Appiah’s Black Stars against the Carthage Eagles. On one hand, Ghana finished as table-toppers of Group F and warmed up for their first knockout tie with a comfortable 2-0 win over Guinea-Bissau in their final group stage game. While their AFCON campaign has started to gain momentum, Ghana will be wary of the challenge Tunisia can pose. The North Africans may have drawn all their league stage fixtures, but their attacking intent was quite visible. Although the Black Stars lead in the head-to-head charts, one can’t write off a surprise act from Tunisia.
Player to watch
Thomas Partey (Ghana): The 26-year-old defensive midfielder featured on the scoresheet in Ghana’s 2-0 win over Guinea-Bissau and is tipped to make a strong statement against Tunisia. The Atletico Madrid player has eight goals in 23 appearances in national colours and alongside the experienced duo of Asamoah Gyan and the Ayew brothers (Andre and Jordan), Partey hopes to take the four-time AFCON winners to the later stages of the competition.
Words: William Paul