What to expect in quarterfinals as the competition intensifies
As the Africa Cup of Nations goes into the last eight – starting with hotly tipped hosts, Cameroon, taking on giant-killers, Gambia, tomorrow – FRANCE 24 gives a preview of the football action to come.
Cameroon v Gambia
Hosts, Cameroon, installed themselves as competition favourites with a string of impressive victories, most notably, the 4-1 thumping of Ethiopia in the group stage that lit up a previously goal-shy tournament.
Their greatest asset is the red-hot striker, Vincent Aboubakar – by far the Africa Cup of Nations’ top goalscorer so far, with six goals to his name from four appearances. Aboubakar’s skilful positioning and clinical finishing will make him a menace to Gambia’s defenders.
Aboubakar’s strike partner, Karl Toko-Ekambi, is tied for second on the list of top goal scorers at the competition, having found the back of the net three times in four appearances. His creativity and strong teamwork with Aboubakar make him dangerous even when he isn’t firing in shots.
They also benefit from playing on home territory – with Camerounian fans creating an electric atmosphere at their team’s matches, intimidating their opponents.
Yet Cameroon has shown the odd moment of sloppy defending, especially in their final group stage match against Cape Verde, who exploited some missteps to equalise. Gambia is skilled at that – as they showed in their giant-killing victories over Tunisia then Guinea, with striker Musa Barrow demonstrating a particular talent for capitalising on opponents’ errors.
So, while Cameroon goes into the match as overwhelming favourites, an upset is on the cards.
‘Tunisia v Burkina Faso
Tunisia went into the Africa Cup of Nations as outside bets to take the trophy, after enjoying an unbeaten run through the qualifying rounds, spurred on by manager Mondher Kebaier’s determination to take them to the next level. But their first performance was lacklustre, as Mali beat them in a match overshadowed by the referee’s bizarre decision to end play at 89 minutes.
The Eagles of Carthage compensated by thrashing minnows Mauritania 4-0. Then Gambia defeated Tunisia, pushing them down to the third place. In this context, few expected them to triumph against Nigeria, who were the only team to win all their group stage matches. Tunisia stunned the Super Eagles with a 1-0 second-round victory, however, exploiting a Nigeria red card.
Consequently, Tunisia goes into the Burkina Faso clash as favourites. But in the group stage, Cameroon found them tougher opponents than expected, lacking in big stars but often compensating through a well-disciplined tactical style.
Morocco v Egypt
Morocco has not yet given the kind of sparkling performance Cameroun and Nigeria pulled off at points in the group stage – but they are looking like outside bets to win the Africa Cup of Nations.
Achraf Hakimi’s formidable free-kick to gift them the edge in the second round face-off against Malawi was the biggest sign that Morocco is capable of playing very impressive football. This comes after they topped a difficult group C, with wins against a surprisingly strong Comoros and much-fancied Ghana, alongside a draw against Gabon.
Morocco’s opponents, Egypt, enjoy an extraordinary asset, Liverpool’s Mo Salah, one of the greatest players of his generation. But they lack star talent elsewhere on the pitch. A surprise penalty shoot-out victory over Cote d’Ivoire gave them a ticket to the quarterfinals.
It augurs badly for Egypt that they have scored just two goals in four appearances at the tournament. But the Pharoahs’ victory over much-fancied Cote d’Ivoire, who had played some of the most interesting football in Cameroun, shows that anything can happen.
Senegal v Equatorial Guinea
The Teranga Lions were, perhaps, the number one favourites to seize the trophy before the start of the tournament. With one of the most gifted wingers playing today in the shape of Liverpool’s Sadio Mané and the best African goalkeeper right now in Chelsea’s Édouard Mendy, it was hard to see how they could be stopped.
Senegal won their group – but garnered just five points in desultory style. They only won their lacklustre opening match against Zimbabwe, thanks to a dubious penalty in deepest injury time. The 0-0 draw against an unimpressive Malawi exemplified their tournament so far, as glittering talents like Mané failed to shine. But their decisive, if bloodless, win over Cape Verde in the second round reminded football fans that the Teranga Lions are a force to be reckoned with.
Their opponents, Equatorial Guinea, have no players remotely on the level of Mané or Mendy. But they are unfalteringly disciplined and well-drilled at teamwork – and they have gotten results, notably a group stage victory over title-holders Algeria, starring Manchester City’s Riyad Mahrez. While Senegal go into the match the overwhelming favourites, Equatorial Guinea continuing their giant-killing streak is definitely on the cards.