2023 Africa Cup of Nations Round of 16 Review: Contenders crash out, Ivory Coast accept a lifeline

Published on: 31 January 2024

Angola 3-0 Namibia

Angola turned on the style as they eased past knockout debutantes Namibia in an action-packed start to the Round of 16.

The drama began in the 17th minute when Angolan goalkeeper Neblú saw red for rushing out of his box and stopping the ball with his hand in a one-on-one situation. One might have thought Namibia had a golden opportunity then, but that was not at all the case.

The Brave Warriors looked quite clueless when it came to creating chances against the 10 men of Angola, which should not have been too much of a surprise given the fact that they just scored once in their three group games. The Palancas Negras, on the other hand, maintained some threat through their lively attackers.

Gelson Dala opened the scoring in the 38th minute after being served on a plate by captain Fredy. He soon added a second from a set piece, prior to which Namibia also had a player sent off for a second yellow card. Angola cruised home then, with Mabululu capping the result off with a cool finish in the second half.

Nigeria 2-0 Cameroon

The West African derby between Nigeria and Cameroon was one of the most hotly anticipated ties of this week, and it did not disappoint.

Viewers were treated to an incredibly open and end-to-end match as neither side managed to establish control in the midfield. In the final third, though, Nigeria looked far more threatening as Cameroon often made life tougher for themselves with some unforced errors. It was one such mistake that allowed Victor Osimhen to go through on goal in the 36th minute, but he elected to square the ball to Ademola Lookman who just about saw his shot squirm past the keeper.

The Indomitable Lions were quite disappointing in the second period, as they showed little cohesive attacking endeavour despite being the side that needed the equaliser. They ended up going down without even registering a shot on target, as Lookman added a second late on to seal the deal for the Super Eagles.

Equatorial Guinea 0-1 Guinea

Shock Group A winners Equatorial Guinea were rewarded for their efforts with a tie against their namesake Guinea, who had done well to progress from a group that included Senegal and Cameroon.

The match was not exactly a classic, but Equatorial Guinea just about seemed to have the upper hand as far as overall momentum was concerned. Juan Micha’s side looked to be playing quite cohesively both with and without the ball, but they could not really do much in the final third.

The complexion of the match totally changed when Federico Bikoro was sent off. In spite of that, Equatorial Guinea won a penalty after the hour, but tournament top-scorer Emilio Nsue could only hit the post.

For their part, Guinea created next to no meaningful chances despite their numerical advantage, so the match looked on course for extra time. Mohamed Bayo had other ideas, though, as he headed home a cross by Ibrahim Diakité in the very last minute of play to break Equatoguinean hearts.

Egypt 1-1 DR Congo (7-8 on pens)

Egypt’s tie against DR Congo was a potentially historic occasion, as it was the first knockout tie in a major international tournament between two sides that had failed to win any of their prior matches – at least as far back as our archives go.

The Pharaohs also ended up setting an unwanted record on the day, registering their eight-consecutive draw at the AFCON proper. The match was a really drab affair between two sides that never seemed to click going forward, so no one deserved to win it in regular play.

Meschack Elia’s header was cancelled out by Mostafa Mohamed’s penalty in the first half itself, after which the game seemed destined for a penalty shoot-out. That took a while to resolve itself too, with the goalkeepers ultimately taking matters into their own hands – or more accurately their feet because neither of them made a single save. Gabaski grazed the crossbar with his attempt, allowing Lionel Mpasi-Nzau to win it for DR Congo.

Cape Verde 1-0 Mauritania

Cape Verde and Mauritania were never expected to be among the best teams at this tournament, but their clash highlighted that they were at least two of the most tactically polished contestants.

Cape Verde had shocked everyone by becoming the first team of the tournament to seal a knockout spot, so they went into this match as favourites. Mauritania were going to be no pushovers, though, as their solid 4-4-2 block caused their opponents some problems high up the pitch and also managed to keep things really tight in their own half.

The Blue Sharks’ structure enabled them to comfortably keep much more possession, but they failed to do much in the final third for the first hour or so. They then started to build up some sustained pressure, which eventually told late on when an errant backpass caused goalkeeper Babacar Niasse to concede a penalty.

Ryan Mendes stepped up, and he converted to help his side match their nation’s best-ever AFCON result from 2007 when they also reached the quarter-finals.

Senegal 1-1 Ivory Coast (4-5 on pens)

For the first time since 2002, the defending champions faced the hosts at the AFCON.

The Ivory Coast were given an absolute lifeline as they progressed to the knockouts despite registering just three points with a negative goal difference in group A. Those performances caused Jean-Louis Gasset to lose his job, so Emerse Faé stepped up to take interim charge here.

They would have expected to be in for a very tough battle against a side that won all three of their group games quite convincingly. Things did not get off to an ideal start as Habib Mouhamadou Diallo thumped home Sadio Mané’s delivery in the fourth minute, putting Senegal in front with the game’s first attempt.

Fans would have feared that their side might collapse as they did in that final group game against Equatorial Guinea, but they showed great character to hang in there and slowly build up the pressure.

Still, they could not create much but were handed a golden opportunity when substitute Nicolas Pépé was brought down in the box by Édouard Mendy. Fresh off the bench, Franck Kessié stepped up to take the penalty and emphatically converted to keep the Elephants in the tournament.

After an entertaining extra time period where both sides did go for the win (to their credit), the match was to be decided by a penalty shoot-out. Senegal misstepped when Moussa Niakhaté hit the wrong side of the post, eventually allowing Kessié to return to the spot and win it for the Ivory Coast.

Mali 2-1 Burkina Faso

Mali caught Burkina Faso off-guard soon after kick-off in either half to establish a two-goal lead, which proved to be enough to see them through to the knockouts.

The Stallions never really got going in the first half so the 1-0 scoreline never looked threatened, but a half-time shake-up seemed to give them a better fighting chance. Bertrand Traoré’s spot-kick brought them back into the game, setting up an interesting finish.

Burkina Faso had some spells of pressure late on, but they did not do nearly enough to bag an equaliser. With that, Mali advanced to the quarter-finals for the first time in over a decade.

Morocco 0-2 South Africa

After their record-breaking World Cup semi-final run, Morocco were considered among the firm favourites for the AFCON crown. They convincingly topped their group while many of their fellow contenders stumbled elsewhere, so their chances only went up going into the knockouts.

In line with how this tournament has gone so far, they were unsurprisingly eliminated by South Africa. The Atlas Lions did not play poorly at all, but they did not exactly impose themselves on the game and didn’t create much. Their opponents, on the other hand, scored with their only shot inside the box.

Walid Regragui’s men were then sparked into life and began to consistently threaten in and around the box, but they failed to find the back of the net. A few minutes into stoppage time, Teboho Mokoena’s pinpoint free-kick sealed the deal for Bafana Bafana.

Looking ahead: Quarter-finals

The knockout bracket has become even more open after this set of results, so all eight remaining contestants must be in it to win it.

Nigeria are among the strongest sides standing, but they should expect a very tough test from Angola. The Palancas Negras have the attacking edge to threaten anyone, so they could spring a surprise here.

DR Congo vs Guinea should be an interesting tie between two sides who have not looked overly convincing so far but have reached this stage without too many hiccups. A loss now would be quite disappointing for either team.

Hosts Ivory Coast will be keen to make the most of the lifelines they have received so far in the tournament, both in the group stage and against Senegal. They will be the favourites against Mali, so it should be interesting to see how they cope with that level of expectation.

Cape Verde are arguably the most tactically well-coached team at this tournament, so they should back themselves to create history by reaching the semi-finals of the AFCON for the first time. South Africa have not gotten that far in a good while too as their last quarter-final victory was back in 2000.