African Cup of Nations: The Quarter Finals as it pans out
The African Cup of Nations will have some new faces in the semi-finals this year, as all of the 2017 tournament’s semi-finalists have already been knocked out.
A few of the favorites are left, but minnows Madagascar, who are in their first AFCON finals, continue to surprise the continent. Here’s a look at the four AFCON quarter-final matches, and how those teams got this far.
Senegal v Benin
Senegal are the top team in Africa according to FIFA’s ranking system, but they are one of just three sides remaining that have never won this tournament. Benin haven’t won AFCON either, but one of these two sides will be just two matches away from their first Africa Cup of Nations trophy by Thursday.
Benin are yet to win a match in normal time at the Cup of Nations, drawing all three group games before beating highly fancied Morocco on penalties in the round of 16 after Ajax star Hakim Ziyech missed a last-minute penalty for Morocco.
Benin’s success comes from being rock-solid at the back. In the group stages, their expected goals conceded was the second lowest out of all 24 teams (only Morocco’s was lower), and if there are two main attributes needed for knockout soccer, then they are probably defending and taking penalties.
Senegal have had the most possession and best passing accuracy of the sides left in the tournament, but despite this, a large number of their best chances, have come from catching their opponents in possession high up the pitch then attacking with speed.
Their reliance on Liverpool star Sadio Mane, who has scored half of Senegal’s goals so far, could be their undoing. If Benin can shut him down, they could provide another upset.
Nigeria v South Africa
These two former giants of African soccer could be about to make a comeback. Nigeria last won the tournament in 2013, but failed to qualify for the two tournaments between then and now. South Africa’s 90’s heyday is long gone, and they also failed to qualify last time out.
South Africa finished third in their group with a solitary win against Namibia, so not many people gave them much of a chance against hosts and favorites Egypt.
But they had several decent chances against the hosts before Orlando Pirates forward Thembinkosi Lorch, making his first start of the tournament, scored the only goal of the game from a stylish counterattack five minutes from time to put them into the quarter-finals.
Nigeria’s side has plenty of depth with stars like Alex Iwobi and Odion Ighalo, who has scored three and assisted one so far this tournament, but one of their top performers has been Leganes defender Kenneth Omerou.
Both of these sides have liked to use their pace to play on the counterattack, although Nigeria switched this up midway through their match against Cameroon and caught the AFCON champions in possession to deliver the knockout blow.
Ivory Coast v Algeria
Algeria are the only side to have won all four of their matches so far. They have scored nine goals and conceded none and beat Senegal in the group stage.
Algeria like to get the ball forward to their key players, Manchester City’s Riyad Mahrez and Napoli’s Adam Ounas, and have scored some sublime goals from slick passes like their opener in their 3-0 win against Guinea.
Algeria’s quality in attack means they don’t need to dominate possession to win, and they like to use their wings more than most teams. Ivory Coast scraped past Mali despite being outplayed throughout much of the game.
They haven’t really set the tournament alight and don’t like passing it around, having made the 3rd fewest short passes per game of any team in the tournament and scoring some real route-one goals including their winner against Mali, but have some quality with players like Wilfred Zaha who can hurt any team.
Madagascar v Tunisia
After beating the Democratic Republic of Congo on penalties in the last round, Madagascar’s fairytale run has somewhat justified the expansion of the Cup of Nations from 16 to 24 teams.
Madagascar have moved up the FIFA rankings from being one of the continent's worst-ranked sides when qualification started, but they are still outside the top 100.
Tunisia, by contrast were the second highest ranked African team at the start of this tournament, although the knockout stages so far have made a mockery of any such rankings.
Tunisia also relied on penalties to get past Ghana in the round of 16. Ghana had 23 shots on goal during the match but couldn’t hit the target. They were given a second chance when Tunisia substitute Rami Bedoui showed Ghana how to score by heading into his own net with his first touch.