By Victor Kanayo
So much will be at stake when hostilities resume in the ongoing 2023 Africa Cup of Nations with eight Nations battling to secure semi-final places as from Friday February 2, 2024 at various designated stadia within Cote d’ivoire.
No doubt, the road to the current stage of the tournament being the quarter-final has been tough, tearful, joyful and intriguing, depending on the side of the divide, with Heritage Times HT providing insights since the actions started from January 13.
One very pertinent but interesting aspect this particular competition which kicked off with 24 qualified nations, has thrown up is the baggage of surprises which led to exit of top teams who were favourites. In all, 16 teams are gone.
The countries that had been tipped to lift the diadem at this term and are no more were ofcourse defending champions Senegal, number one rated side Morocco (first African nation to reach the semi-final of the FIFA World Cup), seven times AFCON winners Egypt, including Tunisia and Ghana.
Group/Round of 16 Refresher
At the first round, the defending champions dusted all in the group stage and were seen as the team to beat. Just like the Super Eagles who had a perfect finish at the group stage of the 2021 edition, Senegal’s adventures terminated at the Round of 16.
It means that the ‘order’ of defending champions not having back-to-back victories is affirmed. Since Egypt won in 2010, no champion has successfully defended the title.
Cote d’Ivoire rose from the brink of elimination back into reckoning. Top favourites, Morocco who handed the hosts the lifeline have surprisingly been eliminated.
Tunisia who shockingly ousted initial favourites Nigeria, at the 2021 edition could not even navigate their ways out of the group stage.
Another 2021 quarter-finalists, The Gambia, finished bottom in Group C this time around. Cameroon got eliminated by their perennial nemesis, the Super Eagles at the Round of 16.
Burkina Faso got eliminated by their neighbours, Mali, while Egypt and Morocco who were quarter-finalists at Cameroon 2021 have also been been eliminated.
A Possible West African Title
Now, with Nigeria’s Super Eagles and Mali’s Eagles in quarter-final, bookmakers are already beginning to foresee a possible all West African final, anchored by both Eagles.
For the records, the last eight teams still in the tournament are Nigeria, Angola, DR Congo, Guinea, Mali, Cote d’ivoire, Cape Verde and South Africa.
In just two years, none of the final eight teams of 2021 made final eight in this current 2023 edition.
The eight-team field to the title match is narrowed to five from West Africa, two from Southern Africa, while only DR Congo holds the flag for Central Africa. This term, no north Africa nation made the cut.
Distinct By Home-based Make up Squad
Of the remaining sides, South Africa appears to be the only team with mostly players who ply their trade within their country of origin and have made big statement.
The team is made up of 97 percent home-based players from the PSL and they are the highest league represented at the AFCON with 31 players, level with the English Premier League.
PSL players also represented a total of 6 other countries including Nigeria, Ghana, Zambia, Mozambique and Tanzania.
Bafana Bafana started with 10 PSL players and despite an opening day loss to Mali, they’ve taken out two huge Maghreb teams and hammered the minnows from Namibia.
They will certainly fancy their chances against a so far superb Cape Verde in the last eight.
Nigeria versus Angola
The Super Eagles will face Angola in the opening quarter-finals on Friday, at the famous Stade Félix Houphouët-Boigny.
D.R Congo versus Guinea
D.R Congo who are yet to win a game in the competition will have Guinea to deal with in the second quarter-final on same day.
The match will happen at the Stade Olympique Alassane Ouattara in Abidjan.
Mali versus Cotê d’Ivoire
The host put up a solid performance to eliminate defending champions Senegal on penalties in the round of 16. They will now face Mali on Saturday February 3, inside the Stade de la Paix in Bouake.
Cape Verde versus South Africa
Cape Verde, unbeaten will play South Africa who eliminated 2022 World Cup semi-finalist Morocco in the round of 16 on Saturday in the last quarter-final berth at the Charles Konan Banny Stadium inl Yamoussoukro, Cote d’ivoire capital.
At last, four of out the above eight will hit the semi-final stage, before the final day on February 11, 2024.