More shocks on the cards in Afcon quarters as Nigeria, Ivory Coast eye semis

01 February 2024 - 14:13
By Mark Gleeson
Nigeria's Victor Osimhen is challenges Oumar Gonzalez of Cameroon in the Africa Cup of Nations last 16 match at Stade Felix Houphouet Boigny in Abidjan on Saturday.
Image: Lenoir Records/BackpagePix Nigeria's Victor Osimhen is challenges Oumar Gonzalez of Cameroon in the Africa Cup of Nations last 16 match at Stade Felix Houphouet Boigny in Abidjan on Saturday.

Many fancied contenders have tumbled out of the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) early and there is every chance of further upsets in the weekend’s quarterfinals, where hosts Ivory Coast will hope to continue their unlikely redemption.

Several past winners remain in contention, but the field has been decimated by a steady procession of heavyweight sides exiting the tournament in a series of shocks that have made the event a riveting spectacle.

The Ivorians suffered the heaviest defeat ever inflicted on a host team in finals history when Equatorial Guinea beat them 4-0 in Abidjan in their last group game and they had to wait three days before knowing they would advance as the last of the best third-placed finishers.

But they bounced back to edge past holders Senegal on penalties in a dramatic last-16 tie and now go up against neighbours Mali in a derby clash in Bouake on Saturday, with expectation suddenly back among their supporters.

Ivory Coast are one of four previous winners left in the tournament, along with the Democratic Republic of Congo, who were still known as Zaire when they last won 50 years ago, while South Africa had their sole success in 1996.

Nigeria, with three past triumphs, are now the favourites, having beaten the Ivorians in the group phase and knocked out Cameroon in the second round. However, to progress further the Super Eagles, led by the Napoli striker Victor Osimhen, must get past tricky Angola in Abidjan on Friday.

DR Congo will also be far from confident of success when they meet Guinea in Abidjan later the same day and Bafana Bafana will be wary of the Cape Verde Islands, who have already been giant-killers at the tournament, beating Ghana in the group phase.

Cape Verde are the smallest country in the 24-team field, with a population of about 600,000, but never looked out of place in their fourth tournament appearance. They take on South Africa in Yamoussoukro on Saturday.

“There are a lot of quality players in our country but also the children of the emigrants who live in the Netherlands or Portugal and who have been incorporated into the team today,” explained captain Ryan Mendes.

“I think we have progressed a lot over the years and now we have a chance to play in a Cup of Nations quarterfinal. I hope we can beat South Africa and get into the semifinals because that would be something exceptionally historic for our country.”

None of the eight quarterfinalists from the last edition in Cameroon two years ago have made the last eight this time, nor have any of the five countries who represented Africa at the last World Cup in Qatar.

That, however, reflects the vagaries of tournament competition more than a significant shift in the balance of footballing power on the continent.

“First of all, these are very big surprises. There are none who can say today they predicted what would happen,” said veteran French coach Claude LeRoy, who worked at a record nine different editions of the finals.

“It means that there is talent in teams that we expected a little less of.”

The weekend winners advance to the semifinals next Wednesday with the final in Abidjan on February 11. 

Africa Cup of Nations quarterfinals (all SA times)


Nigeria v Angola (7pm)

DR Congo v Guinea (10pm)


Mali v Ivory Coast (7pm)

Cape Verde v South Africa (10pm)