Saturday marks the start of the Africa Cup of Nations round of 16 as we reach the business end of what has been a hugely entertaining continental finals to date.
There are eight tough ties that await and if the tournament in the Ivory Coast have shown us anything so far, it is to expect the unexpected. Here is a look at the last-16 match-ups.
ANGOLA VS NAMIBIA
Saturday (19h00 SA time) – Stade de la Paix, Bouaké
An all-Southern African tie between Group D winners Angola and Namibia, who reach the knockout rounds for the first time in their history after stunning Tunisia in the pool phase. Considering these neighbours have competed almost annually in the COSAFA Cup for the last three decades, they have met on surprisingly few occasions. Their last meeting in the regional championship was 20 years ago in 2004, and their last clash of any sort was a friendly in 2011. Namibia’s blow-out 4-0 loss to Bafana Bafana aside, they have looked solid in the competition.
NIGERIA VS CAMEROON
Saturday (22h00 SA time) – Felix Houphouet Boigny Stadium, Abidjan
Nigeria coach Jose Peseiro will hope his side can finally click after three ‘so-so’ performances to date, and there is no doubt they have the talent in their squad to go all the way int eh Ivory Coast. Cameroon have also been iffy; they needed a dramatic 3-2 win over Gambia to advance in their final pool match. They will welcome back talismanic forward Vincent Aboubakar injury and hope he can be the catalyst for what would be a surprise win. Their last competitive meeting was in the round of 16 in 2019 when Nigeria came out 3-2 winners.
EQUATORIAL GUINEA VS GUINEA
Sunday (19h00 SA time) – Alassane Ouattara Stadium, Abidjan
Remarkably, these two sides have never met in international football before. Equatorial Guinea have been the surprise package of this tournament and a revelation with their free-flowing football. They were the leading scorers in the group stages with nine goals, including back-to-back 4-2 and 4-0 wins over Guinea-Bissau and hosts Ivory Coast respectively. Their forward Emilio Nsue plays in the lower leagues in Spain, but currently leads the Golden Boot race with five goals. Guinea rather limped over the line to make the knockouts and will have to improve drastically to beat the confident National Thunder.
EGYPT VS DR CONGO
Sunday (22h00 SA time) – Laurent Pokou Stadium, San Pédro
Injury-hit Egypt will be without Mo Salah and goalkeeper Mohamed El-Shennawy, while impressive midfielder Emam Ashour is also a doubt after he suffered a concussion following their last game. The Pharaohs had three successive 2-2 draws in the pool stages, unusual for a side that has for so long provided itself on a stout defence. DR Congo are a tricky side who can match anyone on their day, and got three successive draws in the pools. So, neither of these sides has a win between them in the Ivory Coast so far. Egypt beat DR Congo 2-0 in the pool stages in 2019 and have not lost to their Central African opponents since they were beaten in the Cup of Nations semifinals 50 years ago in 1974.
CAPE VERDE VS MAURITANIA
Monday (19h00 SA time) – Felix Houphouet Boigny Stadium, Abidjan
Cape Verde navigated their pool with surprising ease to finish top of Group B, scoring a healthy seven goals and claiming seven points in three games. Mauritania’s first ever victory at the finals, a 1-0 success against Algeria, ensured they finished third in Group D. They lost their two games before that. These two sides have met 10 times before in all competitions with Cape Verde leading the head-to-head 4-3 and a further three draws.
SENEGAL VS IVORY COAST
Monday (22h00 SA time) – Charles Konan Banny Stadium, Yamoussoukro
A heavyweight west African clash between the defending champions Senegal and hosts Ivory Coast, who have much work to do to restore public faith. The Elephants sacked coach Jean-Louis Gasset in the wake of their humiliating 4-0 loss to Equatorial Guinea in their final pool match, their biggest ever defeat at home and the largest lost for a Cup of Nations host. They squeezed into the last-16 as the last of the four best third-placed finishers. Senegal were the only team to record a full haul of nine points in the pool stages and are just starting to purr, so all the smart money will be on them. But can you write off a home side, and one with such talent, on paper at least, that the Ivorians possess? There have been 19 previous meetings between the sides in all competitions, with the Ivorians leading the head-to-head 8-7 and four draws.
MALI VS BURKINA FASO
Tuesday (19h00 SA time) – Amadou Gon Coulibaly Stadium, Korhogo
Mali improved in the second half to beat Bafana Bafana 2-0 in their opener, but then recorded two draws to top the pool, but not in convincing fashion. Burkina Faso have also looked ‘so-so’ with four points from their three pool games, making this one a tough game to call. Neither side has been particularly inspiring so far, but you would say Mali have the greater capacity to improve with a squad packed with talent that have yet to shine. They have also never lost a competitive fixture against the Burkinabe in four previous meetings, though they have met 31 times with many friendlies down the years, and Mali lead the head-to-head 16-11.
MOROCCO VS SOUTH AFRICA
Tuesday (22h00 SA time) – Laurent Pokou Stadium, San Pédro
Bafana Bafana have shown a steel that we have not seen in many years during this tournament, and they will need it against World Cup semifinalists Morocco. The north Africans are palpably the better side, but can they match Bafana’s organisation and desire, with coach Hugo Broos knowing this would a be a big scalp and an open run to the final on their side of the draw should they advance. These two sides met in the qualifiers and both teams recorded 2-1 home wins, though Bafana only lost it late in Morocco. The North Africans will also be without coach Walid Regragui as he serves his touchline ban. This is by no means a forgone conclusion.