AFCON LAST-16 PREVIEW: Ivory Coast-Egypt promises to be a thriller, as Comoros without their keepers

The 33rd edition of the Africa Cup of Nations kicked-off on January 9, and has provided some shocks along the way.

Both Ghana and Algeria surprisingly failed to make it to the last-16 of the tournament having fallen short at the group stages, failing to even register a win.

Two of the tournaments minnows, Gambia and Comoros, who are participating in their first ever AFCON have made it through to the last-16.

Here is the lowdown of all you need to know surrounding the knock-out round clashes.   

Burkina Faso vs Gabon 

Burkina Faso and Gabon both qualified as runners-up in their respective groups, but the Gabonese are the ones who have impressed the most.

The minnows drew against Ghana and Morocco, before defeating Comoros. Gabon progress even without their star players captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and midfielder Mario Lemina.

Burkina Faso take on Gabon in the first of the last-16 clashes hoping to reach the last eight

The absence of Aubameyang and Lemina, officially due to Covid-19, has prompted lesser-known players such as Clermont’s Jim Allevinah and Al Arabi’s Aaron Boupendza to bring out their qualities. 

Burkina Faso’s captain Bertrand Traore is expected to step up under former police officer and now manager Kamou Malo. Gabon are slight favourites, but pay attention to this statistic regarding the Stallions – the three times they have passed the group stage, they have always finished in the top four.

Nigeria vs Tunisia 

Nigeria won their second AFCON in Tunisia in 1994, while the Eagles of Carthage lifted their only continental trophy 10 years later.

This time around, the balance is tipped in Nigeria’s favour, who are the only side to have won all three matches.

Augustine Eguavoen, who led Nigeria to the third place in 2006, is unexpectedly doing a great job and has rejuvenated Moses Simon. The Nantes forward has been one of the best players in the AFCON so far.

To try and ensure the Tunisia national team have a fully fit squad ahead of the clash, the federation has decided to divide the side into three hotels to reduce the infections.

 Senegal vs Cape Verde  

Senegal boast the squad with the most talent it seems. Whilst the Lions of Teranga are good going forward, they are also solid defensively, conceding just four times.

Cape Verde are no pushovers, however. In their third match, the Blue Sharks drew against Cameroon, earning progression to the round of 16 as one of the best third-placed teams.

Liverpool forward Sadio Mane will be hoping to impress and put on a show against Cape Verde

Liverpool forward Sadio Mane will be hoping to impress and put on a show against Cape Verde

Overall, should Senegal progress, they will be counting on Liverpool’s Sadio Mane who has failed to shine so far in the competition. 

He did, however, net his side’s crucial goal against Zimbabwe in a 1-0 victory from the penalty spot in the seventh minute of stoppage time, but fans will hoping to see more from him if Senegal are to clinch this year’s crown. 

Mali vs Equatorial Guinea   

Mali progressed thanks to Ibrahime Kone, nicknamed the Malian Lukaku, who has netted three penalties in the group. The Sarpsborg striker will be looking to fire his side to the quarter-finals, a stage they have not be able to reach since 2013.

Equatorial Guinea, meanwhile, are taking part in their third AFCON, the first as a non-host country, and on all three occasions they reached the knockout stage. 

This year, they did it in style by beating Algeria and finishing second behind Ivory Coast. 

Seventeen out of twenty-eight Equatoguinean footballers were born or play their trade in Spain. Iban Edu Salvador, the man of the match against Algeria, has been the most remarkable so far, and is one to watch.

Guinea vs Gambia 

Guinea qualified as runners-up behind Senegal, but they too didn’t leave good impressions despite the positive contribution of Liverpool midfielder Naby Keita. 

Gambia, the lowest-ranked team in the tournament, went far beyond expectations instead. They beat Tunisia, secured seven points, but didn’t qualify as group winners, losing out by just one goal. 

Metz’s Ablie Jallow, who is on loan at Seraing in Belgium has been the standout player for Tom Saintfiet’s men. His two stunning goals against Mauritania and Tunisia helped Gambia to six points.

Cameroon vs Comoros

Can the Comoros produce arguably the biggest upset in AFCON history?   

The Cameroonian players need to be at their best if they are to avoid a banana skin and make it to the quarter-finals. Everything becomes easier if Vincent Aboubakar, the team’s captain, is in good shape. He has already scored five goals, a threshold that no other striker has crossed since 2000.

Minnows Comoros will be looking to produce a shock against Cameroon after progressing

Minnows Comoros will be looking to produce a shock against Cameroon after progressing

The 30-year-old is the fifth highest scorer in the Indomitable Lions’ history. He needs to score one goal to equal Patrick Mboma’s record of 33 goal and five to overtake legendary Roger Milla’s record of 36.

It’s already a success for the Comoros to having advanced from the group stages. Their FA has announced that 12 members of their delegation have tested positive for Covid-19.

Among them is coach Amir Abdou and both of their fit goalkeepers, leaving them without a shot-stopper for what will likely be the biggest ever clash in Comorian history.

Ivory Coast vs Egypt

Ivory Coast and Egypt is the most attractive match of the round of 16.

Both battled it out in the 2006 AFCON final with Egypt winning 4-2 on penalties, and this encounter is likely to be another exciting one. 

After two unsuccessful editions and the elimination from the 2022 World Cup qualifiers, the Ivory Coast are competitive again and have more chances to get through to the quarter-finals. Having eliminated Algeria, Nicolas Pepe is showing why Arsenal splashed the cash on him. 

Mohamed Salah will be hoping to fire his Egypt through to the semi-finals of this years AFCON

Mohamed Salah will be hoping to fire his Egypt through to the semi-finals of this years AFCON

Egypt, on the other hand, were dominated by Nigeria in the first game and wasn’t convincing at all against Guinea-Bissau or Sudan. Mohamed Salah, like his Liverpool teammate Mane, has been disappointing so far, but that could change with a quarter-final place at stake.

Morocco vs Malawi   

Morocco were among the favourites prior to the tournament and started by defeating Ghana 1-0 without having any striker at their disposal due to injuries and Covid-19. 

The Lions of Atlas don’t boast great champions, but they can count on an excellent collective, which was made even more solid by the exclusion of Hakim Ziyech according to the coach Vahid Halilhodzic. 

In the absence of the Chelsea player, this AFCON may be an opportunity for Sofiane Boufal to take the stage. The former Southampton winger has scored two goals so far and improved the attacking quality of Morocco. 

The north Africans aim to win their second crown, having not been able to do so since 1976.

Malawi, however, will have other ideas, and following a successful Group B campaign, they will be eyeing to go further in this year’s tournament and shock one of the favourites.