Ivory Coast seek reset but in-form Senegal await
Hosts Ivory Coast get to push a reset button after escaping early elimination at the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) and squeezing into the last 16 of their own tournament as a lucky loser.
There will be no easy route to redemption, however, after a humiliating 4-0 loss to Equatorial Guinea left them third in their group and waiting for Zambia’s defeat by Morocco to confirm the Ivorians' place in the knockout stage as one of the four best third-placed finishers.
They have been drawn in the last 16 in Yamoussoukro on Monday against holders Senegal, the only side to have won all three group matches at the tournament.
While waiting to see whether they would advance, the Ivorians fired coach Jean-Louis Gasset and put one of his assistants, Emerse Fae, in charge.
"Since Monday, we've been holding our breath a little. We were between the disappointment of our own result and the fear of not qualifying further in our own Cup of Nations tournament," Fae said.
"We didn't go through because we were good on the pitch. So, we must remain humble and have measured joy. We must use the relief of this qualification as motivation to do better,” said the 40-year-old, who had a brief stint at Reading in his playing days and competed at three Cup of Nations finals.
Senegal’s comfortable progress emphasised they will be difficult to beat and made them joint favourites with Morocco, who take on South Africa on Tuesday in San Pedro.
However, the tie of the round could be the derby between Cameroon and Nigeria in Abidjan on Saturday, reviving a rivalry stretching back 60 years.
The countries have met at seven previous Cup of Nations tournaments, the last in Egypt in 2019 when Nigeria won 3-2 at the same stage of the tournament.
Cameroon had to scramble to secure their place in the knockout phase with a come from behind victory over Gambia, and Nigeria did not look convincing either, despite African Footballer of the Year Victor Osimhen leading a potentially formidable attack.
The tournament surprise packages will fancy they can make the last eight. Cape Verde and Mauritania meet in the last 16 on Monday and giant-killing Equatorial Guinea face Guinea on Sunday.
The last 16 kicks off with Namibia, past the group stage for the first time, against Angola in Bouake on Saturday.
The tournament has been characterised by a rash of shock results with heavyweight contenders Algeria, Ghana and Tunisia eliminated in a frenetic opening 10 days that featured several thrilling games, a marked contrast to previous editions of Africa's showpiece soccer event.
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