As we delve into the exciting second round of the 2023 AFCON, anticipation and speculation run high. Each match brings its own unique narrative, weaving tales of resilience, surprise, and powerhouse clashes. In this dynamic lineup, we witness the unexpected rise of teams like Angola and Namibia, the consistent prowess of Cape Verde, and the strategic battles between Equatorial Guinea and Guinea. The stage is set for intense confrontations, from the historical rivalry between Nigeria and Cameroon to the defending champions, Senegal, facing off against the formidable Ivory Coast.
8. Jan 27: Angola vs Namibia
The Palancas Negras have been surprisingly impressive, as they followed up their opening tie against Algeria with victories over Mauritania and Burkina Faso. They go up against a Namibian team that was thumped 4-0 by South Africa even though making the second round courtesy of an opening match victory against Tunisia and a final group stage fixture tie with Mali. Neither of these teams is a contender for the champion position, and there’ll surely be more exciting second-round games than this one.
7. Jan 29: Cape Verde vs Mauritania
Stories will be told in future about just how impressive Ryan Mendes and Cape Verde have been over the last decade. They qualified for their first AFCON in 2013 and have performed at a relatively high level since then. So far in this current edition, they have bossed a group that included Egypt and Ghana. Cape Verde will go into this match as the clear favourites against Mauritania, who shocked Algeria to qualify for the second round and proved competitive in close losses to Burkina Faso and Angola.
6. Jan 28: Equatorial Guinea vs Guinea
Equatorial Guinea have succeeded by staying compact and hitting on the counter. Will the same strategy work, or will they fold under the pressure of the knockout stages? This is a critical question, especially if they go behind in a matchup against a talented Guinean team that is better and has better players, at least on paper.
5. Jan 28: Egypt vs DR Congo
Typing this in the tone of Mike Singletary’s rant. Egypt and DRC in this AFCON, ‘Can’t beat anyone, won’t lose to anyone’. We just hope this will be decided before penalty shootouts.
4. Jan 30: Mali vs Burkina Faso
Mali beat South Africa and then drew its other group stage games against Namibia and Tunisia. Burkina Faso got the job done against Mauritania but lost in an important final game against Angola. This will be a most competitive tie between neighbours, but there is reason to think that either of these teams is a serious contender for the title.
3. Jan 30: Morocco vs South Africa
Morocco’s impressive run to the semi-finals of the World Cup has them listed by many as favourites to win the AFCON, despite their relatively poor record in previous editions. On the other hand, Bafana Bafana lost their opening game to Mali but got the job done against Namibia and held Tunisia to qualify for the second round. These two teams are no strangers to each other. In fact, South Africa beat Morocco after the World Cup when they faced off in the AFCON qualifiers.
2. Jan 27: Nigeria vs Cameroon
The first three of Cameroon’s five African titles were won against Nigeria, but as far as Nigerians are concerned, two of those victories were clear robberies, while the third only happened because of the injury to a young Peter Rufai in the semi-finals of the 1984 AFCON. This is bound to be an explosive tie between the neighbours and African football powerhouses. Nigeria under-performed by failing to qualify for the 2022 World Cup, while Cameroon put up a decent showing to pick up 4 points in the toughest group of the World Cup. Both teams believe they can win this tie and go on to win the title, even if neither is listed among the favourites. This should be a lot of fun for neutral fans of the game.
1. Jan 29: Senegal vs Ivory Coast
The Elephants of Cote d’Ivoire got an unexpected lifeline to qualify for the second round and now the hosts have to face the Teranga Lions of Senegal, who are the defending Champions and one of the favourites for the title. This is bound to be a cracking contest and is the most anticipated matchup of the second round.