AFCON: Senegal, Madagascar, Tunisia aiming to keep semis dream alive
The African Cup of Nations 2019 has an unexpected canvas painted after the Round of 16, as the likes of hosts Egypt, defending champions Cameroon and pre-tournament favourites Morocco suffered premature exits from the competition. With five ex-winners and three non-winners in the latest round, here is our preview of AFCON’s mouth-watering quarterfinal schedule.
Quarterfinal 1: Senegal vs Benin
Sadio Mane’s Lions of Teranga are now the favourites to win the 2019 AFCON, following the shock exit of Egypt. Senegal, who were made to play on their toes by a spirited Uganda, needed a 15th-minute strike from captain Mane to seal their ticket to the last eight. While they will enter the quarterfinals with an upper hand, Africa’s top-ranked team will keep up their guard against a Benin side who knocked out Morocco. The Squirrels boast of one of the most adamant backlines, as they managed to stitch out a 1-1 draw against Hakim Yizech’s Atlas Lions before edging them out 4-1 on penalties. If Benin can hold down Liverpool’s superstar forward Mane, one can probably fancy yet another upset.
Quarterfinal 2: Nigeria vs South Africa
The two former champions will go head-to-head on Thursday, following unimaginable victories over defending champions Cameroon and Egypt. The Super Eagles, on one hand, came from 2-1 down to beat Clarence Seedorf’s men 3-2, thanks to a brace by Odion Ighalo and a 66th-minute winner from Arsenal’s Alex Iwobi. Nigeria, who last collected their winners’ medal in 2013, haven’t defeated South Africa in their last five meetings, losing once and sharing the spoils on four occasions. Bafana Bafana, on the other hand, blew away all the odds against them and romped off to a 1-0 win over Egypt, thanks to Thembinkosi Lorch’s goal, five minutes from the final whistle. Ambitious enough, South Africa will hope to replicate their heroics against Nigeria but with a squad brimming with quality winners, the Super Eagles are favourites to ease into the semifinals.
Quarterfinal 3: Ivory Coast vs Algeria
Les Elephants and the Desert Foxes cross swords in what is the most mouth-watering clash of the lot. One of the pre-tournament favourites, Ivory Coast hasn’t really made a strong impact at AFCON 2019 and that was evident in their scrape-through victory over Mali in the Round of 16. Crystal Palace star Wilfred Zaha, subject of a speculated transfer to Arsenal, netted the winner on Monday and finally came out of the wraps around him. Both teams will clash for the first time since their AFCON quarterfinal clash in 2015, which Ivory Coast won with a scoreline of 3-1. This time around, however, Algeria looks to be the more polished unit and are tipped to walk away with a win. Riyad Mahrez’s Desert Foxes are enjoying a perfect record at AFCON this year and are expected to make the best of an inconsistent Les Elephants defence.
Quarterfinal 4: Madagascar vs Tunisia
And finally, two of the most unpredictable sides lock horns in the final quarterfinal match-up. Madagascar, one of the worst-ranked teams during AFCON qualifications, are on a fairytale run this year and come into the meeting on the back of a nerve-wracking victory over Congo, via penalty shootout. Having miraculously topped Group B, the Barea are now being considered as serious title contenders but they could have their dream cut short by a hit-or-miss Tunisia. The Carthage Eagles booked their place in the quarterfinals with four straight draws but they will look up to former Sunderland attacker Wahbi Khazri to take Tunisia, ranked 25th in the FIFA rankings, to their first semifinal since the title-winning campaign in 2004.
Words: William Paul