THE "CRAZY AFCON" CONTINUES: ROUND OF 16 PREVIEW
New champion guaranteed with Algeria out.
AFCON 2022 (Technically 2021, but COVID exists), has served us plenty of excitement as it progressed, despite the initial gloomy perspective and the concerns mostly off-pitch.
The previous champions Algeria have been knocked out of the group stages to guarantee us a new AFCON winner, with the first step towards that being the round of 16 kicking of on Sunday.
The excitement is definitely in the air as Africans will watch and hope for more, and possibly, for a shock result in two of the knockout matches.
Most games are pretty predictable with TWO notable heavyweight clashes between Nigeria vs Tunisia and Ivory Coast vs Egypt.
That is where I come in and try to dissect this round and Preview what will happen in the 8 matches.
The Bracket is set
Guinea vs The Gambia
First of all, why they are called "The Gambia" and not Gambia?. All jokes aside, the "Scorpions" have been a pleasant surprise. They overachieved in a big way on their AFCON debut, as they were runners-up behind Mali. Only one goal separted the sides on the table, and they maintained a solid level throughout the group stages.
Guinea on the other side, have a solid base but don't seem to have enough flair going on for them. Aside from their obvious stars like Liverpool's Naby Keita, or Leipzig's Ilaix Moriba, they don't seem to have loads of creativityb going on for them. And against a side as solid as Gambia it's hard to see them brealking through their defenses with the notable absence of Naby Keita through suspension. That's why I lean towards Gambia to continue their impressive fairy tale and be in the Quarter-finals.
My Prediction - Gambia to win in E.T
Cameroon vs Comoros
Poor Comoros. They rode their luck into the second round only to hit the brickwall that is the hosts, Cameroon. Of course, it can happen that they beat them but it probably requires the whole first team of Cameroon to get COVID. I have been proven wrong before in this tournament, but I think it's very farfetched when you look at both sides performing that Comoros will cause yet another upset after kicking Ghana out of the competition. Hopefully at least they'll go down swinging. If SOMEHOW they manage to eliminate Cameroon, please feel free to come back here and bash me for underestimating them.
My Prediction: Cameroon to win 3-0
Ivory Coast vs Egypt
The first of two big clashes, as the Elephants face the Pharaohs in a match that can be considered a revenge in some form. Back in 2006, Egypt beat Ivory Coast's best generation ever on penalties in Cairo to win their 5th AFCON trophy. Fast forward 16 years, and the situation is a bit different. While Egypt have Salah, they don't have much going for them and the gap between and the rest of the squad sometimes works against them. It feels that they don't share the same wavelength, and they weren't that convincing in this tournament either.
On the other hand there's a very hungry Ivorian side, a generation that only has two players from the 2015 AFCON winning squad in Max Gradel and Serge Aurier. 7 years later, and they have one of the most cohesive and potential heavy squads in the continent. Their performances only improved as the tournament went further, and their one-sided beating of title holders Algeria told everyone that they are here to play a major role. I see this game being tough, but overall i give the edge to Ivory Coast because they have shown far superior levels than Egypt did.
My Prediction: Ivory Coast to win 2-0
Morroco vs Malawi
Similar to Cameroon vs Comoros, I don't see a lot of reasons why Malawi should have a bigger percentage than 20% of beating Morocco. The "Atlas Lions" were top of their group, but the last group stage game against Gabon left a lot to be desired as they trailed twice in that game before saving the draw in the end. However, that doesn't favor Malawi because Morocco still has enough quality to beat Malawi and breeze through to the Quarter-finals. But they have to beware of Malawi's counters and SHOULD NOT make the same errors they did against Gabon to make it as comfortable as it should.
My Prediction: Morocco to beat Malawi 3-1
Burkina Faso vs Gabon
A tight game between two runners-up that can be described as a proper 50/50 game. Burkina Faso relies on pure strength and direct play from crosses and long balls, with Bertrand Traore being their focal point. On the other hand, Gabon seems to play much smoother football, and can transition really quickly forward. All that despite the absence of Aubameyang and Lemina for Gabon, as well as Dennis Bouanga. However, Jimmy Allevinah and Aaron Boupendza are steering them in the right direction. I see Gabon winning and going through solely because they have more technical prowess than Burkina Faso, but it will be a tight game surely.
My Prediction: Gabon to win 1-0
Nigeria vs Tunisia
Being 3rd in Group F, was the difference between facing Guinea and the much scarier proposition in Nigeria. That's where Tunisia find themselves now (and as a Tunisian i'm very worried of course). Through various circumstances, Tunisia's squad is very thin at the moment, with loads of COVID related absentees. This might not be the excuse that it sounds like, but when you lose 12 players because of that, it kind of does.
Nigeria on the other hand are well-oiled, and very cohesive. They sailed through their group in a flawless fashion, and performed brilliantly and energetically throughout. This can't be said about Tunisia unfortunately, as they lacked any sort of energy against Mali and Gambia, and it is expected that we'll face te same problem against a very proactive side like the Super Eagles. Our realistic chances do not pass 30%, so my rational prediction is Nigeria. However, my heart always wants my country to win.
My prediction: Nigeria to win 2-1 (I hope it's the opposite though)
Senegal vs Cape Verde
Senegal made it to Cameroon as one of the overriding favorites to win, but reality was anything but that. They labored through Group B, and ended with only 5 points and one goal scored from a penalty. This, of course, does not mean that they are bad, but still below par for Alliou Cisse' side. However, I still see them qualifying to teh next round, as they have too much quality not to go through Cape Verde and beat them quite convincingly too.
My Prediction: Senegal to win 2-0
Mali vs Equatorial Guinea:
Another game that can be labelled 50/50 is between Group F winners and Group E runners-up. Mali were solid throughout their group, although without much flair themselves similar to Guinea and Senegal. Equatorial Guinea on the other hand, while impressive in their group results, their ceiling is very limited. It's true that they are solid and keep their shape really well, but if you are tight and compact enough (like Mali are), they can't affect you massively. For that reason i hedge my bets towards Mali in this one to round up the last 8 in this AFCON.
My Prediction: Mali to win 2-1
My Predicted QF:
Gambia vs Cameroon
Ivory Coast vs Morocco
Nigeria vs Gabon
Mali vs Senegal
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