True to form, the Africa Cup of Nations remains the most difficult international tournament to predict.
The group stages of the tournament were exceptionally bonkers, with pre-tournament favourites like Egypt and hosts Ivory Coast only collecting three points apiece during the group stages but still managing to qualify.
Meanwhile, traditional powerhouses including Ghana and Algeria have exited the tournament after failing to win a game in the group stages. On the other hand, dark horses such as Cape Verde, Equatorial Guinea, and Mauritania march on to the knockout stages after a string of excellent performances.
Equatorial Guinea’s 4-0 trouncing of hosts Ivory Coast was among the most eye-catching results in the group stages, while Cape Verde’s last-minute winner against Ghana was one of the most memorable moments of the tournament so far.
It has been a tournament of late goals, with nine equalisers or winners scored in second-half stoppage time during the group stages.
Ghana, in particular, were badly affected by late goals, conceding a last-minute winner against Cape Verde, which was followed by a spectacular collapse against Mozambique that saw them blow a two-goal lead in added-on time.
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The Last 16 has thrown up some extremely interesting ties, with Cape Verde and Mauritania facing off for an unexpected place in the last eight.
Nigeria, who were solid if unspectacular while taking seven points in Group A, take on a Cameroon side that has failed to impress at the tournament so far, only qualifying courtesy of an incredible late comeback against Gambia that saw them turn a 2-1 defeat into a 3-2 victory with just three minutes of normal time remaining.
Senegal, who are arguably the strongest team in the competition after winning all three games in a tricky-looking Group C, take on a badly underperforming Ivory Coast side in what should be a mouthwatering clash.
Meanwhile, Egypt and DR Congo, who have both qualified in second place despite failing to win a single game in the group stages, will both be confident of securing a place in the last eight when they go head-to-head on Sunday.
World Cup semi-finalists Morocco will face South Africa in their last-16 tie and will be eyeing a potential semi-final date with Nigeria.
However, Morocco have not been exceptional at the AFCON so far and, as previous games have shown, success at a World Cup is no guarantee of success at this most perplexing tournament.
Therefore, the winners of Cape Verde and Mauritania, who will play the winners of Morocco and South Africa in the last eight, will be quietly confident of causing a seismic shock and making a historic run to the semi-finals.
Of the two, Cape Verde have been far more impressive to date and look more capable of causing such an upset. Assuming they can overcome a hapless-looking Cameroon outfit, Nigeria will be confident of beating the winners of Angola and Namibia to reach the semi-finals.
Senegal should have too much for the Ivory Coast and should also have too much for the winners of Burkina Faso and Mali. Meanwhile, Equatorial Guinea were excellent in the group stages and should have too much for Guinea on Sunday and have every chance of knocking out the winners of Egypt and DR Congo, especially considering Egypt will still be without the services of Mohammed Salah should they make it that far.
A semi-final line-up of Nigeria against Cape Verde and Equatorial Guinea against Senegal would make for an extremely enjoyable last-four.
Senegal, who are second-favourites to win the tournament @ 3/1, and Nigeria, who are third-favourites @ 13/2, could very well face off in what would be a compelling final, but it is Senegal who look by far the strongest team in the competition at this stage and are well-placed to win their second AFCON on the bounce.
- Senegal to Win the Africa Cup of Nations is currently priced at 3/1
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