Although the continent is still mourning the sad incident in Egypt last Wednesday where over 74 football fans lost their lives, the excitement at the ongoing Africa Cup of Nations will continue this weekend as countries step up their chase for the coveted African Crown.
In the forefront of teams jostling for the title are the national teams of Ghana, the Black Stars, and Côte d’Ivoire, the Elephants.
The other teams still in contention and also hoping to steer an upset are Zambia, Tunisia, Sudan, Mali, alongside co-hosts Gabon and Equatorial Guinea. With the tournament now in its crucial stages where there are no second chances to correct mistakes, the eight teams still in contention all know that it is now or never. High ratingsJustifiably, before the commencement of the biennial African championship, both Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire were regarded as top contenders by most analysts.
Even on the monthly FIFA rankings, the two teams rank highest on the continent and equally have some of the best legs from Africa in their fold. While many still argue that their performances have not been too inspiring, they have so far been able to grind out the desired results.
Expectedly, both teams finished top of their groups and are in high spirits ahead of this weekend’s quarter final matches.
Ghana faces a tough customer in Northern Africa giants, Tunisa, while the Ivorians will be out to break the hearts of millions of passionate Equatorials as they play one of the tournament’s hosts.Other matchesIn other matches, the other host, Gabon, spearheaded by French-based striker, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, and his distinctive Mohican hairstyle, face Seydou Keita’s Mali and with home backing would appear to be favourites to go through.Vibrant and attack-minded Zambia meet Sudan, another surprise package, The tournament, which could have turned into a damp squib after Nigeria, Cameroon, South Africa and Egypt failed to qualify, has become one of the best in recent years, serving up plentiful helpings of drama and last-minute goals.With most teams prepared to take risks and play attacking football, expectations are high for this weekend’s matches.
There have been outstanding goals, including several from long-range free kicks, and lots of dramatic finishes including Gabon scoring in the 95th minute to beat Morocco 3-2 to qualify for the last eight.
One downside is that stadia have been almost deserted when the host teams are not in action although the 15,000-capacity Estadio Nuevo de Malabo is likely to prove too small when Equatorial Guinea host 1992 winners Côte d’Ivoire.