After twelve days of soccer in South Africa, eight nations are set to battle it out as the journey towards the final of the 29th Africa Cup of Nations continues.
South Africa, Cape Verde, Ghana, Mali, Burkina Faso,Nigeria, Ivory Coast and Togo have all booked their places in the last eight of the Africa Cup of Nations tourney.
The Black Stars of Ghana will lock horns with the Blue Sharks of Cape Verde in the first of a series of four quarter final games starting on Saturday, January 29.
Coming into the game as the clear under dogs, Cape Verde will undoubtedly hope their fairy tale story in South Africa continues especially after defying the odds to qualify for the next round ahead of the more fancied Morocco and Angola in Group A.
Though they had eliminated Cameroon during the qualifiers for the tourney, little was expected from the debutants, who have so far defied expectations. The Blue Sharks boisterous march in the tourney, led by coach Lucio Antunes, has caught the attention of many soccer pundits.
In November 2012, even before the two teams had named their final squads for the AFCON tourney, Ghana met Cape Verde in a friendly at Portugal and won 1-0.
Coach Antunes of Cape Verde is fancying meeting the Black Stars for the second time within a period of two months saying, “We are happy to play against them because they are one of the best in Africa and at this stage of the competition we have to come up against such teams. We will now simply keep on working hard and try to win the next game.” Cape Verde will certainly hope that they can continue in Zambia’s footsteps from last year and defy the odds to reach the semi-finals.
Home fans favourites, the Bafana Bafana of South Africa will hope they travel farther in the tourney they are hosting for the second time when they meet Group B second placed team, Mali.
The Malians with their own story to tell will stand between South Africa and the dream of a second title when they clash at Durban on Saturday. Only getting through after a hard earned drawn game against Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali will hope to go a step further after placing third in the previous edition in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea.
Captain of the Malian side, Seydou Keita, who is reported to have promised to pay the winning bonuses of his team mates should they reach the semi finals, is obviously aware of the satisfaction that the Eagles progress in the tourney brings to the people of Mali.
“Our country is in one of the most difficult moments of its history. And our qualification will bring joy to the people. I am very proud,” Ketia has told reporters.
South Africa will therefore have to step up their game if they are determined to eliminate their West African opponents who are naturally boosted by the conflict back home between French forces and rebels.
The Super Eagles of Nigeria will lock horns with pre tournament favourites, Elephants of La Cote D’Ivoire in a game which undoubtedly stands out as the clash of the quarter final round.
Nigeria has been hopping on one leg throughout the tourney after their below par show in the group games. Indeed the two time champions had to rely on a late Victor Moses inspiration in their last group game against Ethiopia on Tuesday to secure qualification into the next round. That being said, the group stages are very much a means to an end and thus we might see a revival from the Super Eagles now they are in the business phase of the tournament.
The Super Eagles ahead of the clash have been talking tough with Chelsea midfielder, Mikel Obi declaring that what coach Stephen Keshi has demanded of them is exactly what will be on exhibition come Sunday afternoon in Rustenburg.
“We hope to go past Cote d’Ivoire and make it to the final of the Africa Cup of Nations.
“The coach demands 110% from us at all times and on Sunday against Cote d’Ivoire, we will give 110%.”
Ivory Coast as expected have been consistent in their display throughout the tourney winning 2-1 against Togo, 3-0 against Tunisia and coming from two goals down to pull a 2-2 draw against Algeria in their final group game.
The 7-8 penalties loss to Zambia in the final game of AFCON 2012 still lingers on the minds of the Ivorians and nothing will stand in their path in the quest for their second AFCON title, not even the steel their West African rivals bring to the fore.
The last of the quarter final games will be the clash between surprise Group C winners, Burkina Faso and the Adebayor led, Hawks of Togo, who are making their first ever appearance in the knock out stage of the competition.
Though without inspirational marksman, Alain Traore through injury, Coach Paul Put of Burkina Faso can rely on the experience and energy that players such as Pitroipa and Kone bring to the fore for qualification into the semis.
After the first 24 games of the competition, Africa has been served with some 49 goals already in the competition. Fans will now sit back and hope the entertainment continues when the quarter final games kick off on Saturday, February 2 in Port Elizabeth.
Benjamin Agyei-Boateng (@AngeloBenjy)