Abidjan — Former champions Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Ivory Coast and South Africa have earned the right to be favourites in the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) quarter-finals on Friday and Saturday.
But, given a tournament in which seven of the top 10-ranked teams, led by 2022 World Cup semi-finalists Morocco, have been eliminated, that tag could prove a curse.
Here, AFP Sport previews the ties with Guinea and Mali hoping to go one step further after previously being runners-up, while Angola and Cape Verde pursue first semi-finals appearances.
Nigeria v Angola
Napoli star Victor Osimhen came to the tournament as an acclaimed goal-scorer, but it is his incredible workrate in searing heat which epitomises the Nigerian title challenge.
Concerns about the William Troost-Ekong-marshalled defence have proven unfounded with only one goal conceded in four matches and, particularly against Cameroon, the Super Eagles impressed.
Angola are one of the nations that have mocked the form book in the Ivory Coast, winning three straight matches after never managing more than one win at a time in eight other appearances.
Gelson Dala is the joint second highest scorer with four goals and Mabululu has notched three ahead of a clash between the highest and lowest ranked survivors.
DRC v Guinea
DR Congo coach Sebastien Desabre said before the tournament that his target was a quarter-finals spot for a country that won the tournament twice decades ago when known as Zaire.
Having achieved his primary goal, he can realistically believe that a first semi-final place since 2015 is possible, and once again their opponents could be the Ivory Coast.
While the Congolese upset record seven-time champions Egypt after a penalty shootout, Mohamed Bayo snatched an added-time winner for Guinea over group-phase surprise side Equatorial Guinea.
“It is not a gift to face us,” warned Guinea coach Kaba Diawara, who kept consistent Bundesliga scorer Serhou Guirassy on the bench for most of the last-16 encounter.
Mali v Ivory Coast
After scraping into the knockout stage as the third-placed qualifiers with the worst record, Ivory Coast stunned title-holders Senegal and are now been talked about as potential champions.
“We are not going to get carried away,” stressed Emerse Fae, given the task of coaching a senior team for the first time after the post-group phase sacking of Jean-Louis Gasset.
The return to fitness of Borussia Dortmund forward Sebastien Haller and Brighton winger Simon Adingra increase the attacking options, while Mali rely largely on Lassine Sinayoko for goals.
A Mali team coached by Abidjan-born Eric Chelle are seeking a first victory over Ivory Coast in the tournament having drawn one and lost four of previous Cup of Nations meetings.
Cape Verde v South Africa
Cape Verde may be ranked 73rd in the world, but coach Pedro ‘Bubista’ Brito told his players before the Cup of Nations that he expected them to at least reach the semi-finals.
It seemed a tall order for a collection of footballers who play for mainly modest clubs across Europe, and were born there to a Cape Verdean parent, or had a grandparent from the island state.
But after they beat Ghana, then held record seven-time champions Egypt despite resting a number of first-choice players, South Africa have been warned not to underestimate the Blue Sharks.
“Our win over Morocco is history. Cape Verde are as determined as us to reach the semi-finals and we dare not underrate them,” said coach Hugo Broos, a 2017 AFCON winner with Cameroon.
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