The Afcon quarter-final line-up is now known, and there will be something for everyone.
An explosive North African derby (Morocco-Egypt), a tantalising Tunisia-Burkina Faso match, two teams very close to each other, and two seemingly more unbalanced matches (Cameroon-Gambia and Senegal-Equatorial Guinea).
The matches will take place on 29 and 30 January, and at least one other favourite (Morocco or Egypt) will have to pack up his ambitions.
Côte d’Ivoire and the Egyptian curse
It is always the same sentence for Côte d’Ivoire when it has the misfortune to cross Egypt in the final phase of the AFCON. It was a case of the Elephants watching the Pharaohs fly into the quarter-finals after a penalty shoot-out (0-0, 4-5 on penalties). In the final of the 2006 African Cup of Nations in Cairo, the Ivorians suffered a similar fate (0-0, 2-4 on penalties), two years before exploding (1-4) in the semi-finals of the 2008 edition organized in Ghana.
The elimination on 26 January 2022 is likely to cost the French coach Patrice Beaumelle, whose contract expires next March.
Beaumelle had a big stake in the CAN after his team was knocked out in the second round of World Cup qualifying on 16 November by Cameroon in Douala (0-1). The Ivorian fans demanded his departure immediately. The Normalisation Committee, which runs the Ivorian Football Federation (FIF) until the election of a new president in March, is expected to make a decision on the coach’s case soon.
Cameroon, Morocco and Senegal through the back door
The list of contenders for the title continues to grow.
After Algeria and Ghana in the first round, Côte d’Ivoire (see above) and Nigeria, eliminated by a coldly realistic Tunisia (0-1), left Cameroon much earlier than they had imagined.
We could add Mali to the list of early baths, an outsider presented as a candidate for the supreme crown and ejected by Equatorial Guinea (0-0, 5-6 on penalties).
Cameroon, for their part, escaped the Comorian trap (2-1), but with a mediocre performance against an opponent for whom CAF had reserved a problem, by prohibiting them to line up their only valid goalkeeper, Ali Ahamada, infected by the Covid-19 a few days earlier, but recovered and tested negative.
The body had changed the rules the day before the match by imposing a five-day isolation on the players. Comoros fielded an outfield player (Chaker Alhadur), lost their captain Nadjim Abdou, who was sent off after six minutes and are cursing their fate.
Senegal, still as uninspiring as ever, got rid of Cape Verde without convincing (2-0), and Morocco relied on a brilliant free-kick by Achraf Hakimi to eliminate Malawi (2-1).
Gambia and Equatorial Guinea surprise, Burkina Faso still there
In 2019, Madagascar – who were participating for the first time – and Benin stunned the gallery by reaching the quarter-finals. This year, the biggest surprise of this CAN, besides the elimination of the defending champion Algeria, is the presence of the Gambian Scorpions in the quarterfinals. The English-speaking team did not do things by halves in their debut at this level: they beat Tunisia (1-0) in the first round and did the same to the disappointing Guineans in the round of 16 (1-0).
Managed by Tom Saintfiet, a friendly Belgian who has coached all over the world (Faroe Islands, Malawi, Namibia, Togo, Yemen, Malta, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Finland, Trinidad and Tobago…), Gambia has no stars in its squad, offers a football that is both uncomplicated and rigorous, and will have succeeded in its tournament, regardless of the result of the match against the Indomitable Lions.
Equatorial Guinea, meanwhile, already reached the quarter-finals in 2012 and finished fourth in 2015.
After beating Algeria in the first round (1-0), this team without panache but particularly solid (one goal conceded in four games) ejected Mali from the competition (0-0, 6-5 on penalties).
Senegal, Nzalang Nacional’s next opponents, have been warned. Burkina Faso, rarely disappointing in the finals, suffered to eliminate Gabon (1-1, 7-6 on penalties), at the end of one of the most captivating matches of this CAN.
Quarter-finals to follow
Cameroon will open the ball against Gambia on 29 January in Douala.
If they qualify, the host country will face the winner of Senegal-Equatorial Guinea. Logic would suggest a replay of the 2002 final, won on penalties by the Indomitable Lions.
On the same day, Tunisia and Burkina Faso will meet in Garoua, and history recalls that in the two previous confrontations between the Eagles of Carthage and the Stallions, in 1998 and 2017, the outcome was always in favour of Burkina Faso … The Moroccans also remember that on 29 January 2017 in Port-Gentil (Gabon), a goal by the Egyptian Kahraba in the final match had deprived them of a place in the semi-finals (0-1)…
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