So far, so good. The 2021 Africa Cup of Nations nears its climax as the quarterfinal stages kick off this weekend.
Amid the tragedy that has blighted the competition in (stampede and Covid), it has experienced progress. At least, the “minnows” are beginning to compete rather favourably.
Indeed, there have also been pleasant stories from the Afcon. Comoros’ Chaker Alhadhur, a left-back was in goal after members of the team contracted Covid. Yet, at the end, he won the man of the match awards, pulling off some brilliant saves. They had also fought till the end against Cameroon.
Nigeria, the best team of the group stage with three wins out of three was ousted in the round of 16 by Tunisia who had qualified as one of the best losers.
Algeria and Ghana are out of the competition- both teams managing just a point each.
Cameroon continue to ride on home advantage and they are in the quarterfinals. Vincent Abubakar tops the scorers’ list with six goals.
Gambia vs Cameroon
The Gambia have been on a fairy-tale run since the start of the tournament, one they will hope to continue.
Sandwiched in between Tunisia and Mali in Group F, they finished in second place with seven points and without a loss.
They have been one of the more organised teams in possession. Offensively, too, they have impressed. This is partly due to the experience of journeyman coach, Tom Saintfiet.
The Scorpions have conceded just one goal so far. And, they will be counting on their solid defensive organisation, manned by Omar Colley and 20-year old James Gomez.
The aim for Saintfiet will be to limit Cameroon’s Abubakar and Toko Ekambi who have been dangerous.
Toni Conceicao’s men have not been overly dominant. The defence, especially through goalkeeper, Andre Onana has conceded cheap goals. A situation Gambia will hope to exploit.
However, the presence of a vociferous fan base could help lift the hosts. Left-back, Nouhou Tolo will also look to join the attack intermittently and create chances.
Cameroon seems the overall favourite, yet the Gambia will push them as far as possible.
Prediction: Gambia 1-2 Cameroon
Burkina Faso vs Tunisia
Right from the go, Burkina Faso has shown exactly what it is about. Taking on the hosts in the first match of the tournament, they opened the scoring through Gustavo Sanghare.
The Burkinabès have been very aggressive out of possession, throwing themselves into tackles. Yet, their most potent attacking outlet is through Aston Villa’s Bertrand Traoré on the right of attack.
Kamou Malo’s men finished the group stage in second place with four points behind Cameroon. However, they needed penalties to overcome Gabon in the second round.
Tunisia, on the other hand has had to improve along the way. With as many as 12 players hit by Covid at the start of the competition, the Cartage Eagles prosecuted the group stage matches with fringe players, finishing with just three points. Their only win came against the whipping boys of the group, Mauritania.
And yet, with the first team players having recovered and with limited training, they overcame Nigeria 1-0 in the round of 16.
The North African side is very organised in defence. Managed by Jalal Qaderi, they are tactically disciplined, too.
Qaderi will, once again look up to the likes of Seifeddine Jaziri and Youssef Msakni in attack. And if Bilel Ifa was resolute against Nigeria’s Taiwo Awoniyi, he will have to do a job once again.
Prediction: Burkina Faso 0-1 Tunisia
Egypt vs Morocco
This is agreeably the most exciting fixture of this round, at least on paper. It is a North African derby played on West African soil.
Like Tunisia, well, not exactly, the Egyptians have improved, game after game. They were utterly horrible against Nigeria in their first group game. And deservedly, they lost.
They needed a second-half goal from Mohamed Salah to defeat Guinea-Bissau. Things were a lot easier in the final match against Sudan.
The Pharoahs were decent against Ivory Coast in the round of 16, pushing them to penalties before the Liverpool forward scored the decisive penalty.
There isn’t so much to this team on account of previous matches. Yet, they have shown to be pragmatic. The need to always find Salah in attack has made them a tad predictable.
And yet, Morocco has been largely the most consistent side in terms of performances. For some reason, we have only just witnessed the set-piece prowess of Achraf Hakimi. The full-back guided his team to the quarterfinals with the winner against Malawi a sublime free-kick goal.
While Youssef En-Nesyri will prove a handful in attack, Fiorentina’s Sofyan Amrabat will hope to direct affairs in midfield.
This fixture looks set to go down to the wire with penalties possibly deciding the winner.
Prediction: Egypt 1-1 Morocco (Morocco to win on penalties).
Senegal vs Equatorial Guinea
Tagged as one of the favourites to win the Afcon pre-tournament, Senegal has struggled to convince.
The Teranga Lions finished top of group B with only one win and one goal, a last-minute penalty against Zimbabwe.
They defeated Cape Verde 2-0 in the second round. However, it was far from convincing, either. The opponent played with nine men for the last half hour.
Aliou Cissé has struggled to get his midfielders ticking, limiting Sadio Mane to a handful of chances. As things stand, the Liverpool forward might miss out in this fixture following a head clash in the previous game.
Equatorial Guinea has ridden on its underdog tag until now. Indeed, that will be the case once again against Senegal.
The Central African team showed intent after defeating the defending champions in the group stage. Although they needed penalties to defeat Mali.
Ivan Salvador has been one of revelations for this exciting side, who tend to pass the ball quickly in possession. The offensive players are particularly fleet-footed, allowing for dynamism in attack.
Equatorial Guinea will certainly give it a go. An upset is on the cards for this one and their Cinderella run may likely continue.
Prediction: Senegal 0-0 Equatorial Guinea (Equatorial Guinea to win on penalties).