The 2019 Africa Cup of Nations approaches its business end, with intriguing quarterfinal fixtures set to be contested over the next two days. Daily Mail GH previews all four games:
1. SENEGAL v BENIN
Believe it or not, Benin are still without a win at the Africa Cup of Nations but, somehow, they have wormed their way into the current edition’s last eight. They are still minnows, yes, but the manner in which the Squirrels successfully nibbled away at favorites Morocco’s nerves and hopes in the previous round suggests superior pedigree alone will not bully them into submission.
Before Morocco, Benin had held off other heavyweights in Ghana and Cameroon, and certainly wouldn’t mind punching above their weight once more. Senegal, another widely tipped for glory, is next in line, and Aliou Cisse’s men know all about the Beninese bite.
“We have been observing them since the group stage,” Napoli defender Kalidou Koulibaly told Goal.com.
Sadio Mane, crown jewel of this Senegal side, has led the charge well thus far, scoring three times already in helping his team out of the group stage through to the last eight, albeit missing a couple of penalties that could have amplified his impact.
There have already been some engaging David-versus-Goliath bouts at the 2019 Afcon, and this should be one more to savor.
2. NIGERIA v SOUTH AFRICA
The deepest layers of the rivalry between Nigeria and South Africa were once political, but the feud is pretty much all about football these days. The former has bossed their two previous Afcon meetings — in 2000 and 2004 — but a third awaits in Cairo on July 10.
The Super Eagles wriggled free of one rival in last Saturday’s clash with Cameroon, only to run into another, and South Africa — which shockingly ousted hosts Egypt — could prove a sterner test. What head coach Gernot Rohr should do to pass it?
Suggests Tolu Olasoji, a Nigerian freelance journalist and African football contributor to UK-based magazine FourFourTwo: “Nigeria’s defence is inconsistent, the midfield doesn’t hit gear early enough and the strikeforce is performing below its potential. Facing an improved archrival, there’s a need to show up for the party from the blast of the whistle, while oozing a great amount of pride.”
Rohr’s opposite number, Stuart Baxter, would feel confident of besting Nigeria — just as he did in qualifying to this very Afcon when South Africa, in Uyo, boldly secured a first-ever competitive victory over the old enemy. Still, the Englishman isn’t getting ahead of himself, despite Nigeria not winning against South Africa in the last five attempts.
“One of the important things for us is to remain very, very humble,” Baxter told journalists ahead of Wednesday’s clash.
3. IVORY COAST v ALGERIA
After years of underwhelming, Algeria finally appear well-rounded, winning all their games with some comfort and not conceding thus far at the tournament. With Morocco and Egypt out, the Desert Foxes join Senegal as the outstanding favorites. To retain those credentials, though, Algeria would have to overcome an Ivorian side that has flown at lower heights than usual.
The Elephants’ best performance has come against lowly Namibia, with Ibrahim Kamara’s team narrowly evading the clutches of a dominant yet profligate Mali in the Round of 16. But as has been evident at this Afcon, the best teams don’t always get the spoils, and the Ivory Coast may well secure another barely deserved result.
Even so, Kamara needs to tune his team right. Star men like Nicolas Pepe must step up, while the supporting cast should also rise a notch or two. For Algeria, there’s not much to do, aside Djamel Belmadi keeping a smooth-sailing — and nicely rotating — cruise steady.
“I don’t want to look at the opponents too much, I want to look at what we can do, keep improving,” he says.
4. MADAGASCAR v TUNISIA
Africa’s No.2-ranked team takes on No.25 and — wait for it — the smart money is actually on the latter.
Facts only, people.
Madagascar has surprised everyone — even itself, surely — on the nation’s Afcon bow. It has been more about pluck than luck, though. Nigeria and DR Congo, smarting, will tell you all about how good the islanders can be at delivering a knockdown/knockout if a bigger side lets its guard down. It is a lesson Tunisia, who beat Ghana on Monday the same way Madagascar trumped the Congolese a day prior, won’t want to learn the hard way.
The Carthage Eagles haven’t been at their best yet at the Afcon, grinding their way through the competition a draw at a time, and would hope to find some groove by July 11. Madagascar may still be far from being considered genuine title contenders, but until that happens (or fails to), they would take all comers. No scalp has proven too big and no stage too daunting, and Tunisia — unconvincing as they have been — could have a real fight on their hands.
French trainers Alain Giresse (Tunisia) and Nicolas Dupuis (Madagascar) go at each other in a game that could be more thrilling than is obvious on paper. Giresse, the more celebrated of the two, has already spoken of how his team seeks to exploit a field weakened by the elimination of Tunisia’s north African rivals.
“Egypt and Morocco’s exits are a huge surprise and we will give everything to continue in the tournament,” he told reporters.
Sammie Frimpong – Daily Mail GH