Cape Town - Three-time Afcon champions Nigeria, with three wins in a row, have a championship look about them after the completion of the group phase at the 2022 edition in Cameroon.
Nigeria have been drawn against the 2004 Afcon champs Tunisia when the Round of 16 knockout stages kick off on Sunday.
The notable absentees from the knock-out stage are African powerhouses Ghana and Algeria, the defending champions. Ghana and Algeria's failure to reach the Round of 16 have been the biggest shocks of the 2022 tournament to date.
Algeria arrived in Cameroon at the start of Afcon with an unbeaten run of 35 matches. This terrific run stretched back to 2018. They were two games shy of Italy’s world record of a 37-match unbeaten streak. Algeria managed one win in three Group E outings and ended rock bottom of the standings.
One of the biggest surprises in the Round of 16 are debutants The Gambia. who defeated Tunisia to a 1-0 in a fascinating clash on Thursday. The Gambia, a West African country, reached the Afcon finals for the first time in 69 years. They completed their Group F assignments undefeated and finished runners-up.
Interestingly, unlike most African countries, the national and most popular sport in the Gambia is wrestling.
The Comoros Islands is the other surprise team to reach the knock-out stage. They shocked Ghana on Tuesday and then were allocated one of the four places reserved for the best third-place finishers.
The plum Round of 16 fixture will be Ivory Coast versus Mo Salah's Egypt, who were outclassed by Nigeria in the opening Group D match. This tie will be played on the final day of Round of 16 matches, next Wednesday.
The Pharaohs of Egypt, record 8-time cup winners, have a fine record against the Ivory Coast. Since 1970, Egypt has won 11 times against Ivory Coast, drawn 3, and lost 7 in 21 meetings.
Ivory Coast was one of eight teams that were undefeated after the completion of the group phase.
Apart from Ghana and Algeria, the other six teams on their way home are Etiopia, Zimbabwe, Sudan, Guinea Bissau, Sierra Leone and Mauretania. Originally 24 teams in six groups started out in the finals in Cameroon, two weeks ago
All the first place and second-place finishers of the group stage, qualified for the knockout round, as well as the four best third-placed teams, made it through to complete the field of 16 teams.
Hosts Cameroon have scored the most goals of the group stage with seven. Cameroon skipper Vincent Aboubakar is also the leading goalscorer in Cameroon with five goals, He scored in each of the three grou[p phase matches. Ibrahima Kone of Mali is next on the leading goalscorers' chart with thee goals.
Senegal, the Group B log-leaders was the only team to reach the knock-out stages without conceding a goal while Nigeria was the only team with a 100% record in the group phase.
Afcon is the flagship football tournament in Africa under the auspices of the Confederation of Africa Football (CAF).
It was first held in 1957 in Sudan with three teams (Sudan, Egypt and Ethiopia) participating.
Round of 16 schedule
Sunday, 23 January:
Burkina Faso v Gabon (Limbe Stadium, Limbe)
Nigeria v Tunisia (Roumde Adjia Stadium, Garoua)
Monday, 24 January:
Guinea v Gambia (Kouekong Stadium, Bafoussam)
Cameroon v Comoros (Olembe Stadium, Yaounde)
Tuesday, 25 January:
Senegal v Cape Verde (Kouekong Stadium, Bafoussam)
Morocco v Malawi (Ahmadou Ahidjo Stadium, Yaounde)
Wednesday, 26 January:
Cote d’Ivoire v Egypt (Japoma Stadium, Douala)
Mali v Equatorial Guinea (Limbe Stadium, Limbe)