Johannesburg - An Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) tournament that has dished up surprises aplenty moves into the business end this weekend with some of the teams favoured for glory facing potential banana skins in the quarter-final round.
Two-time finalists Senegal are the bookies’ choice for a place in the last four as they face surprise package Equatorial Guinea in Yaounde tomorrow with star striker Sadio Mane of Liverpool having expressed a keen desire to add the continental title to his collection of accolades.
On paper, hosts Cameroon should have no problem getting the better of debutants Gambia tonight in Douala although some of the earlier results suggest nothing can be taken for granted. After all, who would have bet on the Comoros beating Ghana or Tunisia getting the better of Nigeria?
The Lions of Teranga, runners up in 2002 and 2019, believe this could be their best chance of glory in the biennial continental showpiece.
The reality though is that Senegal have not been convincing en-route to the last eight as they failed to score in two of their four matches so far. They only got to beat ‘lowly’ Cape Verde in the round of 16 after the islanders were reduced to nine men.
Their success has been largely thanks to a solid rearguard – which includes Chelsea number one Edouard Mendy and Napoli centre-back Kalidou Koulibaly – that has seen them reach this stage without conceding a goal.
Equatorial Guinea are in the last eight thanks to some shock results that include them ending Algeria’s 35-match unbeaten streak and stunning Mali in the round of 16.
Mane should be fit to play following a suspected concussion when he collided with Cape Verde goalkeeper Vozinha. The Liverpool striker described himself as ‘very well’, speaking of his desire for African glory.
To get close to his dream he will have to overcome the solid defensive pair of Saul Coco and Esteban Obiang who have been key to Equatorial’s Guinea’s run.
Mane’s Liverpool teammate Mohamed Salah will again be expected to lead Egypt to success when they meet Morocco in Yaounde tomorrow. Scorer of the winning penalty in the round of 16 against the Ivory Coast, Salah has spoken of the ‘desperation of the Egyptian people for another title’, as the Pharaohs last won in 2010.
While Morocco have a better record in head-to-head Afcon meetings between the two countries, they were hardly convincing in knocking Malawi out in the previous round and based on that, Egypt should be favourites.
The other North African side still in the tournament is Tunisia who were given little chance against Nigeria, only to bring the Super Eagles down to earth. They tackle Burkina Faso tonight in Douala and will be boosted by the return of coach Mondher Kebaier as well as captain and forward Wahbi Khazri who were out due to Covid-19.
The Stallions will be out to complete a hat-trick of success against the Carthage Eagles, Burkina Faso having won both their previous meetings at the tournament.
Hosts Cameroon must already be planning for the semi-finals given that they are up against newcomers, the Gambia. Champions of Africa on five occasions, the Indomitable Lions have rattled in nine goals in their four matches. But they have also conceded in all their matches.
Contrastingly, the Gambia have been breached just once, from the penalty spot. PREVIOUS AFCON HEAD-TO-HEAD MEETINGS
BURKINA FASO v TUNISIA
1988 Quarter-final: Burkina Faso 1 Tunisia 1 (Burkina Faso won 8-7 on shoot-out from the penalty spot)
2017 Quarter-final: Burkina Faso 2 Tunisia 0 CAMEROON v GAMBIA
This is their first meeting
EQUATORIAL GUINEA v SENEGAL
2012 Group A: Equatorial Guinea 2 Senegal 1 EGYPT v MOROCCO
1976 Final round: Morocco 2 Egypt 1
1980 Third place play-off: Morocco 2 Egypt 0 1986 Semi-final: Egypt 1 Morocco 0
1998 Group D: Morocco 1 Egypt 0
2006 Group A: Egypt 0 Morocco 0
2017 Quarter-final: Egypt 1 Morocco 0