The quarter-finals of the Africa Cup of Nations kick off on Friday the 2nd of February. We look ahead with our preview of all four games of the round.
By Tuka Letura
GUINEA VS THE DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO
The Democratic Republic of Congo hasn’t lost any of their last four games against Guinea; they won three in regular time, needing penalties to get past the West Africans and progress to the final in the 2016 African Nations Championship (CHAN).
DR Congo will appear in the quarter-finals for the third time in the last five AFCON editions, marking their first appearance since 2017 when Ghana eliminated them. They also played in the quarter-finals in 2015, going on to finish in third place by defeating Equatorial Guinea in penalties.
The Sébastien Desabre-managed team is yet to win a game in normal time in this year’s competition. Three group stage draws were enough for them to finish in second place and progress into the knockouts, where they also drew with Egypt and needed penalties to go through.
For Guinea, a draw on the opening day against Cameroon and a 1-0 win against The Gambia were all they needed to qualify for the knockouts. Despite being level on points and goal difference with Cameroon – who finished second because of goals scored – Guinea finished third in their group, with four points and a goal difference of minus one. That record also placed them top of the best losers’ table and set up a mouth-watering round of 16 fixture against Equatorial Guinea.
That game lived up to expectations after Equatorial Guinea’s Federico Bikoro received his marching orders for a stamp-cum-stab into Mohamed Bayo’s ribs in the 55th minute. Bayo went on to score in the eight minutes of injury time to secure Guinea’s place in the last eight.
This is the first time since 2004 that both sides will face the other in the AFCON, where Guinea won 2-1 in that group-stage fixture. DR Congo remains unbeaten since then, in a run of four games with three wins coming in normal time and a win via penalties in the 2016 CHAN in Rwanda.
Guinea will be without the services of midfielder Ilaix Moriba and striker Facinet Conte. Both players have been allowed to return to their clubs for injury treatment, as announced by the Guinea national team.
Players to Watch | DR Congo
Gaël Kakuta: With seven chances created so far in the tournament, Kakuta has been a standout performer for the DR Congo national team. However, his availability for the next game remains uncertain after missing out on the round of 16 fixture due to injury. Desabre’s decision to include Kakuta will be eagerly anticipated by fans and pundits alike. He had declined to comment on the situation with the media.
Arthur Masuaku: Masuaku has also been a key player for DR Congo in the AFCON, with seven chances created, just like Kakuta. As one of the top chance creators in the tournament, Masuaku will be eager to maintain his creative influence and contribute towards The Leopards’ goal-scoring efforts.
Meshack Elia: Elia has scored or assisted two-thirds of DR Congo’s goals at this AFCON, providing the assist for the equaliser against Morocco and scoring the opener in the draw with Egypt. His performance will be pivotal as they try to get past Guinea.
Players to Watch | Guinea
Mohamed Bayo: With five of his seven attempts so far on target, and two goals for Guinea – his most recent being the late winner against Equatorial Guinea – Bayo is a player with promise. He will score goals if and when he gets those chances.
Aguibou Camara: Turning up game after game with his performances being an exact image of how Guinea play, Camara is another to watch out for as Guinea try to get into the semi-finals for the first time in 48 years. He provides options in attack, whilst creating chances for his teammates. The midfielder also has goals in his canon and will score when presented with the opportunity.
NIGERIA VS ANGOLA
With games set for Friday, 2nd February, 2024, Nigeria and Angola have secured their places in the last eight after winning their respective round of 16 matches. Nigeria defeated Cameroon 2-0, with Ademola Lookman scoring both goals, while Angola thrashed Namibia 3-0, with Gelso Dala netting a brace and Mabululu adding another.
This will be the eleventh meeting between the two sides in all competitions, with Nigeria having the upper hand with three wins and three draws. The last time they met was in 2018 when Nigeria edged Angola 2-1 in the CHAN semi-finals. The only time they faced each other in the AFCON was in 2006 when they played out a goalless draw in the group stage.
Nigeria has beaten two previous winners of the competition so far, whilst keeping clean sheets in each fixture; a 1-0 win to host Côte d’Ivoire, and a 2-nil win over Cameroon to make it into this quarter-finals. Despite the likelihood of Stanley Nwabali (their preferred goalkeeper option) picking up an injury in the round of 16 fixture against Cameroon, Nigeria remains unbeaten, holding the best defensive record in the competition. This makes them favourites going into this game. It is yet to be confirmed if that injury will keep Nwabali out on Friday.
Angola is on the back of nine games unbeaten, with a tournament form that replicates Nigeria’s – an opening day draw and three consecutive wins after that to get into the quarter-finals. The referee showed first-choice goalkeeper, Neblú, a straight red card for handling the ball outside the penalty area against Namibia, which means he will miss the game against Nigeria. Unlike Nigeria, there is no chance of a goalkeeper’s return for Angola.
Friday’s meeting will be the third time Angola has made it to the quarter-finals of the AFCON. The Super Eagles will look to keep Angola’s record of never making it past the quarter-finals in this competition.
Angola notably thwarted Nigeria’s bid to reach the 2006 World Cup finals by defeating the three-time African champions 1-0 in Luanda. A 1-1 draw followed this victory at the Sani Abacha Stadium in Kano in 2005.
The Angolans come into the fixture motivated to do their nation proud, but they have also received promises of gifts in the event of a win. Banco Keve, a bank based in Angola, has pledged to reward each player with $9,600 should they emerge victorious against Nigeria. Additionally, the Angolan diamond company, Social EP, has committed to providing the team with $250,000 in the event of a win against Nigeria.
After their victory over Namibia in the AFCON Round of 16, the Angolan Football Association generously rewarded the players. UNITEL, the telecom company, presented each player with an iPhone 15, while the Angolan bank offered an additional $6,000 to each player for their outstanding performance of securing a 3-0 win.
This promises to be one of the most exciting games of the last eight as a lot is at stake.
Players to Watch | Nigeria
Victor Osimhen: It comes as no surprise to anyone that Osimhen is one to watch. As much as his goal-scoring returns haven’t matched his reputation as one of Africa’s current best goalscorers or that of the Best Player on the continent, his presence is a major influence on how Nigeria plays. He’s been directly involved in two goals so far; the equaliser on opening day to Equatorial Guinea and the provided assist for Ademola Lookman’s opener in the round of 16 against Cameroon. He also won the penalty that Williams Troost-Ekong scored to give Nigeria their win against host Côte d’Ivoire. He will be looking to add to his tally.
Ademola Lookman: A brace against Cameroon was only the crown of Ademola Lookman’s effort in this competition. With three direct goal involvement, the most of any Nigerian player at AFCON 2023, Lookman, brings quality wing play as well as the ability to find the back of the net. Nigeria will once again look to the Atalanta man to deliver more goodies as they aim for a fourth African Cup of Nations.
Calvin Bassey: Bassey has won the most tackles at AFCON so far, whilst being the only player with a 100% dribble completion rate in the competition after at least three attempts. He’s gone about defending very well, imposing his presence in every game and completing the pieces of Nigeria’s rock-solid defence.
Players to Watch | Angola
Gelson Dala: With four goals and one assist, no player has been involved in more goals at this year’s edition than the Angolan talisman; however, only Emilio Nsue has scored more goals. The winger offers clinical efficiency, boasting of the best shot accuracy in the competition at 75%, and only second, once again, to Nsue, with a conversion rate of 50%.
Tó Carniero: Hailed and compared to Roberto Carlos, Carniero is another player with a game-changing potential for Angola. He can comfortably go forward into attacking areas, beat his man and find passes in the final third. He can also equally administer his defensive duties to perfection. The Petrol Atletico Luanda’s left-back is one to watch keenly.
Mabululu: Agostinho Cristóvão Paciência, better known as Mabululu, has found the back of the net thrice in this competition. Easily recognisable by his goal celebration reminiscent of Bafétimbi Gomis’, he carries just as much of a threat as Dala to get things done for the Angolans.
CAPE VERDE VS SOUTH AFRICA
After ten years of anticipation, this match will be an AFCON meeting for the first time since 2013 for Cape Verde and South Africa. Both teams have proven themselves worthy and will have the chance to eliminate each other at Charles Konan Banny Stadium on Saturday night. Two wins and a draw for each side going into this game, it’s all to play for.
South Africa stunned Morocco, one of the tournament favourites, in the round of 16, winning 2-0, thanks to goals from Evidence Makgopa and Teboho Mokoena, whose sublime free-kick beat Yassine Bounou. Bafana Bafana also kept a third consecutive clean sheet, showing their defensive solidity and resilience. Coach Hugo Broos has instilled a new spirit and confidence in his young and inexperienced squad, which includes only four players who have more than 20 caps in a team comprising mainly home-based players. Hugo Broos’ long-term commitment to players who play in the PSL has paid off, at least for now.
In the pre-match press conference of matchday 2 AFCON 2023 qualifiers, Broos said, “Let’s face the problem, the level of our PSL is not high enough, we don’t make players of high quality”. Broos has however chosen to work with what’s available and things look great.
Cape Verde, on the other hand, has been the surprise package of the competition, topping their group ahead of Egypt and Ghana, and edging out Mauritania in the last 16 with a late penalty from captain, Ryan Mendes. The Blue Sharks have displayed an attractive and attacking style of play, scoring seven goals in four games, the second-highest tally in the tournament. Coach Bubista has blended a mix of local and foreign-based players, who have shown great unity and determination. They remain unbeaten in the competition so far.
Players to Watch | South Africa
Evidence Makgopa: The 23-year-old Baroka FC striker was on target against Morrocco after receiving a through pass and slotting it underneath Yassine Bounou on Tuesday to open scoring for South Africa as they secured a quarter-final place.
Teboho Mokoena: The 25-year-old midfielder has been the engine and the leader of the South African team, dictating the tempo and creating chances with his passing and vision. He scored a stunning free-kick against Morocco, and also plays for SuperSport United in the South African league.
Ronwen Williams: The 30-year-old goalkeeper has been the rock of the South African defence, keeping three clean sheets and making some crucial saves. He is the most capped player in the squad with 32 appearances, and is also the captain of SuperSport United. His experience comes good when he’s defending his box. He marshals his defensive setup to defend situations.
Players to Watch | Cape Verde
Ryan Mendes: The 34-year-old winger is the captain and the star of the Cape Verdean team, with four goals and two assists in four games. He is also the most capped player in the squad with 74 appearances, and the all-time top scorer with 17 goals. After registering a goal involvement in each of the last three games in the competition, he will be looking to continue his streak and inspire his side to even better fortune.
Logan Costa and Roberto Lopez: Grouped because, in the three games they’ve started together, Cape Verde has conceded one goal, a header from a corner against Ghana. With both players available for Saturday, Cape Verde will be poised to improve their shutout record.
MALI VS CÔTE D’IVOIRE
Arguably, the biggest game of the quarter-final stage of the 2023 AFCON is the West African derby between Mali and Côte d’Ivoire, two teams that have shown contrasting styles and fortunes in the tournament.
Côte d’Ivoire has had a turbulent and dramatic campaign, finishing third in their group behind Equatorial Guinea and Nigeria, and only qualifying for the last 16 as one of the best third-placed teams. The Elephants also had to endure a coaching change, as Jean-Louis Gasset was sacked and replaced by his assistant, Emerse Faé.
In the round of 16, Côte d’Ivoire faced a tough challenge against the defending champions, Senegal, but managed to pull off a stunning upset, winning on penalties after Franck Kessie scored a late equaliser from the penalty spot. This was Faé’s biggest challenge yet and he delivered. Expectations are that he will take the hosts even further and get a win against Mali to progress to the final four.
It is yet to be seen if Faé will continue with a midfield that leaves one of Sekou Fofana or Frank Kessie, not both, on the pitch. Attacking options have increased for Faé with Sebastian Haller’s recovery from injury.
Mali has been one of the most impressive teams in the competition, topping their group ahead of Tunisia, South Africa, and Namibia, and remaining unbeaten in the group stages. Mali is aiming to reach the semi-finals for the first time since 2013 when they finished third.
They will be looking to extend their unbeaten streak to ten games. A win on Saturday will be their first against the Elephants since 2016 when Yves Bissouma scored the only goal in a 1-nil win at the CHAN.
Côte d’Ivoire knocked Mali out of the Cup of Nations in 2019, as well as in 2012 and 2002. There’s a chance for revenge for Les Aigles as they take on the host.
Players to Watch | Côte d’Ivoire
Jean Michael Seri: At the heart of things, for the hosts is Seri. Holding things down and controlling games, the former Fulham man, alongside teammate Ibrahim Sangaré, has been felt the most in this round of 16 against Senegal. Seri has been outstanding in every game he’s played so far, including their losses.
Nicolas Pépé: With just one start in four games, Pépé’s influence on The Elephant’s attack cannot be overemphasised. In the last game against Senegal, he kept prying after long spells of possession by Côte d’Ivoire and was eventually brought down by Mendy for the penalty that flipped the game on its head.
Players to Watch | Mali
Lassine Sinayoko: The forward is Mali’s top scorer with two goals in four matches. He scored the decisive second goal against South Africa in the group stage and extended Mali’s lead against Burkina Faso in the last 16. He was a constant threat to the opposition with his pace and finishing. He won the Goal of the Day award for his strike against Burkina Faso. As a player with a few tricks in his bag, it will be no surprise if he is the difference-maker on Saturday.
Kamory Doumbia: In the middle of the park is 21-year-old Brest midfielder Kamory Doumbia. He has played in all four matches and provided an assist for Sinayoko’s second goal against South Africa. He was also named the Man of the Match for his performance against Tunisia, where he helped Mali secure a 1-1 draw and top the group.
Amadou Haidara: As captain and leader of this Malian side, Haidara has brought the best of stability and balance to the midfield. He played in all four matches and was influential in both attack and defence. He nearly scored against South Africa and Burkina Faso with his long-range shots. He also won the Man of the Match award for his display against South Africa.
All the games will be played on Friday and Saturday, with the semi-finals scheduled for Wednesday. Who will make it to the final and lift the trophy on Sunday? Stay tuned for more updates and analysis on the AFCON 2023.
Friday, February 2, 2024
Nigeria vs Angola 17:00 GMT
DR Congo vs Guinea 20:00 GMT
Saturday, February 3, 2024
Mali vs Ivory Coast 17:00 GMT
Cape Verde vs South Africa 20:00 GMT
Tuka Letura is an experienced sports writer with over five years of experience in the craft. He uses data and statistics to provide analysis and commentary. From regional to worldwide competitions, he has covered a wide range of sports-related events and topics. He is devoted to sharing his enthusiasm for sports with his audience and engaging them with interesting anecdotes and viewpoints.