The Round of 16 stage of the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations continues today. Yesterday’s matches showed once again that teams will give everything they have to keep their hopes of lifting the trophy in the end alive.
Senegal and Morocco scooped quarter-final tickets against Cape Verde and Malawi respectively. Aliou Cissé’s team, despite their opponent’s efforts in the first half, handled the entire game with certainty and judgement, breaking the deadlock in the second half thanks to Liverpool FC striker Sadio Manè, who already hit the bar in the first minutes of the match. Rui Águas’s Cape Verde had received two red cards in the match against Senegal, which concluded with the goal from Marseille striker Bamba Dieng on 92 minutes.
Morocco, on the other hand, had to suffer the enthusiasm from Malawi in the first minutes of their match, which led Gabadinho Mhango to his third goal of this year’s campaign after 7 minutes of play. Vahid Halilhodžić’s team raised the bar of the game immediately after the Orlando Pirates 29-year-old striker’s shocking goal. Yassine Bounou’s efforts to stop the goal was in vain. At the very end of the first half, Youssef En-Nesyri equalized, leading his team’s comeback in the second half of the match. Achraf Hakimi completed the job in the 70th minute: the PSG defender’s efforts paid off thanks to an outstanding free-kick that condemned Malawi to exit from the competition. Otherwise, Malawi, at their first participation in the Africa Cup of Nations final stage, showed great spirit and attitude, providing Ronny Van Geneugden with interesting concepts and technical ideas for the future.
The tournament continues today with the last two matches of the Round of 16: Ivory Coast against Egypt and Mali against Equatorial Guinea.
THE ROUND OF 16 FORMULA Exactly as it was at the Euro 2020 or the Women’s World Cup, the 24 teams competing from the beginning of the competition have been reduced to 16: the first two national teams from each group and the four best third-placed teams gained access to the direct elimination stage. In other words, all third-placed teams, except Sierra Leone and Sudan, qualified from the group.
In all matches that will be played from today until Wednesday, the national teams still in competition will be halved and then off with the funnel increasingly narrow, until the final. From now on, all matches will follow the traditional knock-out tournament formula: after 90 minutes of regular time, if necessary, the match proceeds with overtime – divided into two halves of 15 minutes each, with possible added time In case the referee finds it to be necessary. After that, if the game was still tied, the dispute would continue with the penalty shots, which declare in the end the winner of the match.
IVORY COAST – EGYPT Both teams are among the favourites to win the tournament, with great quality and experience between their ranks. With seven points acquired in the three matches of the group stage, Ivory Coast dominated Group E on the offensive side: only Sierra Leone stopped Patrice Beaumelle’s team, with a tough 2-2 as the final score of their clash on Day 3. Only Cameroon scored more goals in the first stage of the tournament, with seven, while Nigeria and Ivory Coast followed with six. Algeria’s striker Youcef Belaïli, with his 24 attempts, was the only player involved in direct shots more than Nicolas Pépé during the group stage at this year’s Africa Cup of Nations: the 26 years old striker from Arsenal took part in 19 shots. Ivory Coast, despite the quality of their opponents, look to the upcoming match with great spirit: according to statistics the last time they avoided defeat in their opening four games in a single edition of the tournament was in 2015 when they went on to win it (beating Ghana on penalties in the final).
Egypt struggled in the group stage more than expected: after losing on Day 1 against Nigeria, which dominated in Group D, victories against Guinea-Bissau on Day 2 (1-0 as final score) and with Sudan on Day 3 (1-0) were not so clear and obvious, as expected. Carlos Queiroz’s team found the way to the goal only on two occasions, with Liverpool FC striker Mohamed Salah and Future defender Mohamed Abdelmonem as the two scorers so far for Egypt, in their campaign. On the other hand, Egypt defensive approach has been almost perfect so far, by conceding only one goal out of the three matches played so far: Leicester City striker Kelechi Iheanacho was the only one able to break through Mohamed Salah and his mates’ defence. The seven-time champions had progressed from 11 consecutive games in the knockout stages of the tournament, between 2006 and 2017, when they lost in the final against Cameroon (2-1 the final score).
Ivory Coast and Egypt have met on 10 previous occasions at the Africa Cup of Nations; this meeting will become today the most played fixture in the history of the competition, with 11 clashes between the two teams. Egypt has progressed on each of the previous four occasions when facing Ivory Coast in the knockout stages of the Africa Cup of Nations. The match between Ivory Coast and Egypt is scheduled today, January 26, at 5 p.m. local time, at Douala Stadium in Douala, Cameroon.
MALI – EQUATORIAL GUINEA Mali reached the qualification for Round of 16 of the Africa Cup of Nations as the first qualified of Group F. With a better goals difference than Gambia (3-2 for Mali) the team coached by Mohamed Magassouba scooped first place in the standings, even after the draw (1-1 the final score) against the Gambia on Day 2. Four goals were scored by Mali, while they conceded only one mark to their opponents, showing a strong and accurate defensive structure. With no loss so far in this year’s campaign, Mali is showing good qualities for the upcoming Round of 16 clashes against Equatorial Guinea: Mohamed Magassouba’s goal is to do better than the 1972 edition in Cameroon, where they finished at second place behind Congo.
Nzalang Nacional team came into their group as underdogs: Ivory Coast and Algeria were the top teams to qualify in the eve. Still, Equatorial Guinea managed to qualify from a tough pool, stopping the unbeaten record of current champions of Algeria, with an outstanding 1-0 on Day 2 propitiated by Antequera CF defender Esteban Obiang’s goal. Two were the goals marked in three matches, with only one goal conceded. Having finished fourth at home in 2015, Equatorial Guinea might be looking for a similar feat tonight against Mali. Juan Micha, Equatorial Guinea coach, in a press conference, stated “We are motivated to play, and will just apply our system with our way of doing things. We respect the teams but we go for the win without fear because we have worked hard, we have shown that we can go further.” putting pressure on their opponents and motivating his team.
This will be the first meeting ever between Mali and Equatorial Guinea at the Africa Cup of Nations. Mali has progressed from all three of their knockout stage games at the Africa Cup of Nations that have gone to extra time. Equatorial Guinea, on the other hand, scooped the knockout stage game at the Africa Cup of Nations for the fifth time in its history, having progressed from two of their previous four.
The match between Mali and Equatorial Guinea is scheduled for today, January 26, at 8 p.m. local time, at Limbe Stadium in Limbe, Cameroon.
Enoch loves to write about intriguing issues in entertainment, sports, and general news