Now that the Copa America, Women’s World Cup, and CONCACAF Gold Cup all have concluded, the African Cup of Nations is the only major soccer competition remaining. With the round of 16 wrapped up, here are the teams remaining and who they play.
Senegal vs. Benin
On paper, this is a mismatch. You have a World Cup team, who have star Napoli defender Kalidou Koulibaly as well as Liverpool’s very own Sadio Mane. The other team is Benin. Benin’s team, known as the Squirrels, has made just four AFCON tournaments. Benin’s name was chosen to be the Squirrels because they were “a small nation aiming to climb high.” Though they are in the process of changing the name, Benin has overcome all odds, advancing in a group stage with Ghana and Cameroon before beating Morocco in the round of 16 in penalty kicks. Senegal, however, came second in the group stage, and just barely beat Uganda 1-0 in the round of 16. So Senegal has to watch out because the Squirrels are coming for them.
Nigeria vs. South Africa
Easily the most exciting matchup, this one features one of Africa’s most consistent performers in Nigeria and the hosts of the 2010 World Cup, South Africa. Speaking of hosts, did I mention that South Africa knocked out the hosts and favorites of AFCON, Egypt? South Africa is very good, and it starts and ends with Percy Tau. South Africa wouldn’t of even qualified for AFCON without Tau. In the last game of qualifiers, South Africa faced Libya in a winner-takes-all situation. South Africa could also advance with a tie, but Libya needed the win. Tau scored in the 50th minute to make it 1-0 South Africa, and it stayed that way for 16 minutes until a PK was converted by Ahmad Benali of Libya, making it 1-1. In the 69th minute, Tau scored again, booking South Africa’s trip to Egypt. South Africa then advanced out of the group stage and beat Egypt on an 85th minute Theminkosi Lorch goal. Nigeria, who were a goal away from advancing to the Round of 16 in the World Cup, has had a disappointing tournament given the high expectations. They finished in second place behind Madagascar and needed a comeback win against Cameroon to advance to the quarter-finals. This is a game you need to watch.
Ivory Coast vs. Algeria
With Morocco, Egypt, and Ghana gone, Algeria is easily the favorite to win AFCON. Algeria hasn’t allowed a goal this tournament, breezing by a fairly difficult group consisting of Senegal, Kenya, and Tanzania. Then, Algeria dismantled Guinea 3-0 with goals from Youcef Belaïli, Riyad Mahrez, and sub Adam Ounas. Ivory Coast, a country that has produced the likes of Didier Drogba and Yaya Toure, finished second Group D, with only a loss to Morocco, who were a possible frontrunner until Benin got to them. In the round of 16, they struggled in a 1-0 victory over Mali, but Ivory Coast is not to be taken lightly. They have some of the best strikers in AFCON with Wilfried Bony, Nicolas Pepe and Wilfried Zaha.
Madagascar vs. Tunisia
What do you think of when Madagascar comes to mind? Certainly not soccer. Maybe wildlife, or The Penguins of Madagascar. The island with a population of over 25 million never really gets anywhere internationally, and the team is more known for having long names, such as Anicet Andianantenaina and Pascal Razakanantenaina. However, eyebrows were raised when the team beat Nigeria 2-0 to take Group B. They struggled against DR Congo before winning in PKs, but Madagascar is more of a contender than people realize. Tunisia also doesn’t have a considerable soccer history until as of late, with a 2018 World Cup appearance and now the AFCON quarter-finals, and don’t really have any noteworthy names. They did beat Ghana in PKs, but they have tied every game they’ve played. This is the least attractive matchup.
Thank you for reading! Here is my earlier post about AFCON, and, as always, keep watching soccer.