Ahead of this weekend’s quarter final fixtures of the Africa Cup of Nations, KUNLE ADEWALE takes a look at some of the matches
Nigeria’s hope of a third Africa Cup of Nations victory will face its real test Sunday when the Super Eagles confront competition’s hot favourite, Cote d’Ivoire, at the Royal Bafokeng Stadium, Rotenburg.
The Stephen Keshi-led Eagles came second in Group C behind Burkina Faso after amassing five points from three matches while the Elephants announced their title aspiration by emerging tops of Group D with seven points.
The last time the two teams met was at the group stage of the 2008 edition of the competition hosted in Ghana and the Didier Drogba led team ran away with a lone goal victory.
But Keshi, who, ironically, led Mali to the 2008 edition was in the same group but failed to qualify as his team could only manage the third position.
However, the “Big Boss” has boasted that this time around it will be a different ball game, noting that the Super Eagles will approach Sunday’s game with a different mentality and approach.
Speaking in the post match press conference on Tuesday in Rustenburg after Nigeria’s qualification, Keshi said the Eagles will up their game to the highest level against the Ivorians, given their pedigree and the fact they are the favourites to lift the cup.
“It is going to be a different game against Cote d’Ivoire. It is going to be a different mentality. We will up our game in the quarterfinal. When you play against a big team, you are bound to up your game and I can assure you that we will definitely be at our best against the Elephants,” said the former Togo coach.
“Do not write off Nigeria. We have been improving with every game and will continue to get better as the tournament progresses.”
Corroborating his manager, Chelsea of England midfielder, John Mikel Obi, has warned Drogba and his colleagues not to write off Nigeria ahead of their quarter-final clash on Sunday.
Mikel however believes Nigeria can prove their doubters wrong by beating the Ivorians.
“Playing against Cote d’Ivoire is going to be both tough and exciting and some of our opponents are my friends, especially Didier Drogba,” said the Chelsea star.
“People who write off Nigeria do so at their peril. This is a knock-out match that we can definitely win. The media keep reminding us that Cote d’Ivoire are unbeatable. We shall see. Ethiopia was a do-or-die game for us and we did really well, especially in the second half. Having conceded late equalisers against Burkina Faso and Zambia, we told the defence to improve their concentration and they did,” Mikel said.
However, vice President of the Nigeria Football Federation, Mike Umeh, said: “We’ll teach Cote d’Ivoire a lesson. We will show that football can change and favourites may turn losers. Watch out for Nigeria on Sunday.”
Meanwhile, Cote d’Ivoire defender, Emmanuel Eboue has teased the Super Eagles saying that the Nigerian team should not celebrate their advancement to the quarter-finals as their journey in 2013 African Nations Cup will be short-lived. Eboue went on Twitter to say that the Elephants would vanquish the Nigerian team.
“Congrats to Nigeria. Don’t celebrate too much cuz we are coming for you. We are going to eat you like fufu. Sorry guys, point of correction. We are going to eat Nigeria like SuperFriedChickens,” he wrote.
Cote d’Ivoire hold a slight edge over Nigeria at Cup of Nations tournament clashes, winning two and losing one of five meetings.
The first of the quarter finals in AFCON 2013 takes place at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth Saturday with Ghana taking on Cape Verde. The Black Stars topped Group B with seven points from their three matches. They maintained their place as second favourites and look in good shape to at least equal, and quite possibly improve on their 2012 showing when they were beaten in the semi final.
Their six goals have been scored by six different players which suggest some of the big names absent from the squad are not being missed.
There are similarities with their 2012 campaign where Ghana also topped their group with seven points but they were made to sweat in the last eight, eventually edging out Tunisia 2-1 in extra time.
Ghana has found themselves in front at half time in all three of their matches so far.
While Cape Verde are undoubtedly the surprise package of these finals and their magnificent achievement in reaching the quarter finals is arguably the story of the tournament so far.
After holding Bafana to a 0-0 draw at Soccer City in what was their first appearance in a major finals, they went on to draw with Morocco 1-1 and then came back with two late goals to see off Angola 2-1 to go through as runners up behind the host nation.
The wild celebrations that greeted the final whistle in the Angola game will live in the memory and apart from a 15 minute spell at the end of the Morocco game where they were under serious pressure, the Blue Sharks have coped really well and won a whole host of admirers.
Taking the scalp of Cameroun in qualifying for this tournament with a 3-1 aggregate win is their biggest scalp to date but that would certainly be eclipsed if they turn Ghana over here.
Ghana have the advantage of having played all of their group matches at this stadium, but Cape Verde’s win over Angola was also staged here which will stand them in good stead.
As far as head to heads are concerned, the teams met in Lisbon in a friendly international in November last year which Ghana won 1-0. They were previously paired together in the qualifying campaign for the 2006 World Cup and Ghana won 2-0 at home and 4-0 away.
But the Blue Sharks are clearly a different proposition these days.
In another pairing the Bafana Bafana will play Mali in the quarter-finals. The Eagles drew their final pool match against the Democratic Republic of Congo at the Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban, which meant that the Malians ended second in their section and will now play the hosts who last reached the knockout stages at the 2002 tournament in Mali, and ended as Group A winners at the same venue Saturday.
Backed by a vociferous home crowd, Seidu Keita led Mali will have to be at their best to get past a very determined Bafana Bafana side.