Former winners Algeria, Ghana and Tunisia will be the big name absentees when round of 16 action at the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations gets underway on Saturday, January 27 in Ivory Coast. All three giants, who have won seven AFCON titles between them, failed to win a single game in tumbling out of the biennial competition. Ghana Black Stars coach Chris Hughton has since been relieved of his duties.
The marquee fixture is instead the clash between five time champions Cameroon and thrice winners Nigeria who meet for the seventh time in the event’s history. Neither side has set the tournament alight. Jose Poseiro’s Super Eagles scrambled to 1-0 victories over Ivory Coast and Guinea Bissau thanks to a spot kick and an own goal while Rigobert Song’s Indomitable Lions needed an injury time winner to prevail 3-2 over Gambia in group C.
African footballer of the year Victor Osimhen is especially under pressure to justify his pre-tournament high billing as he’s yet to break his event duck. Poseiro will need the Napoli striker firing on all cylinders if Africa’s most populous country is to make amends for the three AFCON finals they’ve lost to their neighbours.
For although Super Eagles are unbeaten in their last three meetings with the 1990 World Cup quarter finalists, defeats in the 1984, 1988 and 2002 finals when Song captained the Indomitable Lions still rankle the Nigerian populace.
Round of 16 action commences with a Southern Africa derby between Angola and Namibia. The two sides are among the three lowest ranked teams along with Tanzania but they upset the form book to earn berths in the knock out rounds. Nambia’s 1-0 victory over a Tunisia side ranked 67 places above them in world football governing body Fifa rankings in a group E rubber is as big an upset as Equatorial Guinea’s 4-0 whitewash of hosts Ivory Coast that left home fans in tears.
Tournament leading scorer Emilio Nsue Lopez will be a marked man when Equatorial Guinea face Guinea on Sunday. The 34-year-old played for Spain at limited age level and his fabulous technique has shown as the Island nation of 1.6m people upstaged group A rivals with a combined population of 250m. Guinea are sweating over the fitness of leading stars Serhou Guirassy and Naby Keita as they try to avoid an ambush at the hands of a team that’s risen ten places in the latest Fifa rankings courtesy of their AFCON heroics.
Angola v Namibia,
Nigeria v Cameroon
Equatorial Guinea v Guinea,
Egypt v DR Congo
Cape Verde v Mauritania,
Senegal v Ivory Coast
Mali v Burkina Faso,
Morocco v South Africa