Mouth-watering Afcon KO clashes
Battle to conquer the continent goes into top gear as teams eye semis spots
MAIN MAN: Sadio Mane of Senegal will be the player to watch when the Teranga Lions take on Cameroon tomorrow.
THERE WILL be new Africa Cup of Nations champions crowned at Stade de l’Amitie in Libreville on February 5 after Ivory Coast were bundled out of the group stage. The man who guided the Elephants to that success in 2015, Herve Renard, denied the Ivorians passage to the last eight with his new team Morocco.
The French coach is looking to win his third Afcon with different nations having lifted this trophy for the first time with Zambia five years ago. But Renard and the Atlas Lions have to first go past seven-time African champions Egypt in a north African derby that’s the pick of the quarterfinals.
Tomorrow: Burkina Faso v Tunisia @ Stade de l’Amitie, 6pm
The Stallions topped Group A, ahead of hosts Gabon and four-time African champions Cameroon, without their talisman Jonathan Pitroipa and Jonathan Zongo. Both have been ruled out of the tournament. But that hasn’t stopped the Burkinabe reaching the last eight to set-up a meeting with Tunisia. Prejuce Nakoulma, who replaced Pitroipa, has been sublime. Nakoulma scored after coming on for Pitroipa against Gabon and set up Bertrand Traore in the 2-0 win over Guinea-Bissau.
The Tunisians can count on Youssef Msakni for inspiration. The Qatar-based midfielder destroyed Zimbabwe with his slick touches and skills. Msakni is the heartbeat of the powerful attack the Carthage Eagles boast.
Tomorrow: Senegal v Cameroon @ Stade de Franceville, 9pm
It feels like 2002 all over again for the Lions of Teranga. Aliou Cisse (then captain) is once again leading a talented group. Tony Sylva (goalkeeper) and Omar Daf (defender) are there to tighten things up at the back while a blond genius leads the attack.
But this time around, Cisse (as the coach), Sylva (goalkeeper coach) and Daf (assistant coach) make up the technical staff instead of playing while that talented genius, Sadio Mane, has a touch of blond in his hair unlike ElHadji Diouf who had it all over his head. Senegal’s party in 2002 was crashed by Cameroon in the final of the Afcon. They have a chance to make up for that, starting tonight against the Indomitable Lions.
Sunday: Democratic Republic of Congo v Ghana @ Stade d’Oyem, 6pm
The Black Stars coach Avram Grant might have his lucky beard but Florent Ibenge is DRC’s source of inspiration and manufacturer of their luck. Ibenge is looking to improve on the third-place finish he guided the Leopards to in the last edition. That run came just after he had taken DRC side AS Vita to second place in the CAF Champions League. Last year he took the homebased Elephants to first-place in the African Nations Championship. Having powered their way to the last eight, the DRC could surprise the continent and win the main prize.
Grant has ditched his lucky blue T-shirt. Ghana didn’t lose a match in regulation time when he wore it at the last Afcon. As for his lucky beard, his daughter said it will help him win the Afcon if he doesn’t shave it. Apart from the beard, Ghana have an experienced squad that has shown flexibility and ability to grind results.
Sunday: Egypt v Morocco @ Stade de Port-Gentil, 9pm
The first north Africa derby of this tournament, between Tunisia and Algeria, produced fireworks in the group stage. The second will take it up a notch with a spot in the last four. The Pharaohs’ passage to the last eight was an emotional triumph. It came exactly six years to the day Egypt was hit by the Arab Spring that led to the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak. That turmoil also hit the national team who missed the last three editions. A solid defence, that is yet to be breached, has been the Pharaohs’ foundation with 44-year-old Essam El-Hadary an impregnable fortress between the sticks.