Will there be surprises for the big hitters!?
Through COVID issues, logistical problems, and everything in-between, we still have to enjoy the African Cup Of Nations. Or at least, try and take our minds off the tragic events that happened, with at least 8 deaths at the Olembe Stadium (all condolences to their families and speedy recovery for the wounded).
On the pitch though, the tournament is reaching its zenith of excitement as the quarter-finals are around. A couple of big hitters, Nigeria and Ivory Coast, left the fray. Cameroon struggled to qualify against a Comores side that earned the respect of the whole world. Senegal yet again was unconvincing in win, and The Gambia can't be contained at the moment ahead of a big game for them against hosts Cameroon.
With the Round of 16 out of the way, with its numerous red cards and crazy scenarios, let's take a look at how things will shape for the last 8 in Africa's biggest tournament.
THE Gambia vs Cameroon
Gambia continued their strong showings, eliminating a lackluster Guinea side with no Naby Keita. But they looked very stylish and efficient doing so, continuing to have a very solid shape and knowing exactly what to do, led by a brilliant young striker in Musa Barrow who carries the dreams of his nation.
Although their coach has been complaining about the hotel situation and (justified to be honest) worries about Cameroon's favoritism with clear evidence in the events ahead of the Comores game.
However this didn't affect his, or the players mentality and they stayed focused on their matches. Their style might not be flashy or attractive enough, but they play some clean football and they get the job done.
In the other camp, Cameroon are simply villains now in the eyes of non-Cameroonian fans at the moment. Footballing wise, they are very good but not very convincing. Also, when you know the inside of this tournament, and the list of events you just can't support them.
If everything goes normal, and nothing weird happens to Gambia, Cameroon will find this a very tough game. Aside from having a beast of a striker in Vincent Aboubakar, they don't have much of a creativity going for them. And against a side like Gambia who tighten up brilliantly, it will be double trouble for them. Gambia on the other hand (if all players fit and well), will fight and stick to their guns and be tenacious, waiting for their chances.
My Prediction: Gambia to shock Cameroon on Penalties
Egypt vs Morocco
An Arab, and North African derby of big proportions. Morocco might be the slickest side left in this tournament, consistently playing the smoothest football seen in this AFCON.
Egypt on the other hand, started bad in the group stages, but put on the performance of their lives against Ivory Coast, which gives them loads of momentum heading into this tie.
While Egypt will probably rely on Salah as a potent focal point forwards, Morocco looks more collective than their opponents. That is crazy considering how the "Atlas Lions" looked in the last 5 or 6 editions, always having the biggest of names but not having any chemistry.
Carlos Quieroz' men on the other side, know that their tenacious spirit against Ivory Coast must be replicated against a Moroccan side that is even more creative, with Soufian Boufal being their MVP alongside a flying RB in Achraf Hakimi.
This North African battle like its precedents, will be settled on the smallest of the details and its margins will be very tiny.
My Prediction: Morocco to edge it 2-1
Burkina Faso vs Tunisia
To quote Stone Cold Steve Austin against The Rock on their buildup for WrestleMania X7: "On a professional level, [Tunisia] have to beat [Burkina Faso], On a personal level, [Tunisia] needs to beat [Burkina Faso] more than anything you can imagine".
That modified quote above translates what this game is about. Tunisia want to get revenge on the Burkinabe horses after their last meeting in 2017 in the same stage ended up for Burkina Faso 2-0. However, this game should be taken very calmly and professionally. The point is not avenging anything but winning and qualifying.
Tunisia had the worst group stage campaign out of the last 8 remaining, at least performance wise. However, against all odds, they knocked out Nigeria and shown why they shouldn't be written off.
Burkina Faso are not a side full of stars, but collectively they are stern and compact and their transition from defense to attack could be terrifyingly quick with Bertrand Traore leading the line.
Tunisia, on the other hand, had one of the biggest COVID outbreaks in the tournament, creating an inconsistency in the starting XI from game to game and an uncertainty which translates to the playing style. But, the win against Nigeria should boost their momentum, and they might continue their resilient ways, with more attacking intent needed.
My Prediction: Tunisia to win 2-0
Senegal vs Equatorial Guinea
No hot takes here, Senegal just haven't been good enough. In the group stages, they struggled big time against all of their opponents scoring 1 goal in three matches and not impressing whatsoever.
In the round of 16, they needed two red cards shown to Cape Verde to start scoring, and who knows what could have happened if Cape Verde remained with a full starting XI.
Equatorial Guinea, meanwhile, have certainly looked super solid, and impressive beating former champions Algeria. They have nothing to lose, and they'll play their chances to the fullest against Sadio Mane and co.
This game might look easy on paper for Senegal, but they need to kick into another gear in order to erase any doubt in their credentials to win the trophy. It looks like aside from Mane, there is not a load of creativity coming from elsewhere. But they still have strong players that should be enough to get over the obstacle of Equatorial Guinea.
On the other hand, E.Guinea would look to keep their intensity and defensive solidity and take the game as deep as possible to stand a real chance of winning.
My Prediction: E.Guinea to win on Penalties.
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You can check my full thoughts on my podcast in this episode:
Until next time!.