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Wednesday February 21, 2024

Nigeria, SA among AFCON quarter-finals favourites

Concerns about William Troost-Ekong-marshalled defence have proven unfounded with only 1 goal conceded in 4 matches

By AFP
February 02, 2024
Nigerias Terem Moffi (C) jokes with teammates during a training session at the National Police School stadium in Abidjan on February 1, 2024 on the eve of the Africa Cup of Nations (CAN) 2024 football match between Nigeria and Angola. — AFP
Nigeria's Terem Moffi (C) jokes with teammates during a training session at the National Police School stadium in Abidjan on February 1, 2024 on the eve of the Africa Cup of Nations (CAN) 2024 football match between Nigeria and Angola. — AFP

ABIDJAN: Former champions Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ivory Coast and South Africa have earned the right to be favourites in the Africa Cup of Nations quarter-finals on Friday and Saturday.

But, given a tournament in which seven of the top 10-ranked teams, led by 2022 World Cup semi-finalists Morocco, have been eliminated, that tag could prove a curse.

Here, AFP Sport previews the ties with Guinea and Mali hoping to go one step further after previously being runners-up, while Angola and Cape Verde pursue first semi-finals appearances.

Napoli star Victor Osimhen came to the tournament as an acclaimed goal-scorer, but it is his incredible workrate in searing heat which epitomises the Nigerian title challenge.

Concerns about the William Troost-Ekong-marshalled defence have proven unfounded with only one goal conceded in four matches and, particularly against Cameroon, the Super Eagles impressed.

Angola are one of the nations that have mocked the form book in the Ivory Coast, winning three straight matches after never managing more than one win at a time in eight other appearances.

Gelson Dala is the joint second highest scorer with four goals and Mabululu has notched three ahead of a clash between the highest and lowest ranked survivors.

DR Congo coach Sebastien Desabre said before the tournament that his target was a quarter-finals spot for a country that won the tournament twice decades ago when known as Zaire.

Having achieved his primary goal, he can realistically believe that a first semi-final place since 2015 is possible, and once again their opponents could be the Ivory Coast.

While the Congolese upset record seven-time champions Egypt after a penalty shootout, Mohamed Bayo snatched an added-time winner for Guinea over group-phase surprise side Equatorial Guinea.

“It is not a gift to face us,” warned Guinea coach Kaba Diawara, who kept consistent Bundesliga scorer Serhou Guirassy on the bench for most of the last-16 encounter.

After scraping into the knockout stage as the third-placed qualifiers with the worst record, Ivory Coast stunned title-holders Senegal and are now been talked about as potential champions.

“We are not going to get carried away,” stressed Emerse Fae, given the task of coaching a senior team for the first time after the post-group phase sacking of Jean-Louis Gasset. The return to fitness of Borussia Dortmund forward Sebastien Haller and Brighton winger Simon Adingra increase the attacking options, while Mali rely largely on Lassine Sinayoko for goals.