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AFCON quarter final pairings complete. Who faces who?

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The round of 16 of the delayed 2021 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) has just concluded with a few huge scalps claimed. Tournament favourites Nigeria were eliminated after losing to Tunisia, while Mali were, for the second consecutive AFCON, eliminated in the round of 16.

The quarter finals start off on Saturday, with a new champion set to be crowned by February 6 after the elimination of holders Algeria in the group stages.

QF1: Gambia v Cameroon

Gambia, playing their debut AFCON, face a huge task against host nation Cameroon The match has been moved from the Olembe Stadium in Yaounde to the Japoma Stadium in Douala, following the unfortunate incident where eight people were confirmed dead after a stampede to gain entry into the stadium.

The debutants have achieved the same feat that Madagascar achieved in 2019 when they went all the way to the quarter finals in their debut at the tournament.

But, can the boys from The Smiling Coast make history, stun the hosts and progress to a historic place in the semis?

They are out to emulate their Junior Under-20 team which made it to the semis of the U20 AFCON in Mauritania in February, in their first attempt.

But against host nation Cameroon, this will be a tall order. The Indomitable Lions are enjoying home advantage and the backing of the crowd. Psychologically, they come to a stadium they enjoy playing in, having just last year booked a World Cup qualification play-off berth after beating Ivory Coast.

In their round of 16 match against Comoros, they however showed they can be vulnerable. They played against 10 men and furthermore, the islanders had an outfield player as a goalkeeper. They won that match 2-1, but gave belief to all their opponents that they can be matched.

QF2: Burkina Faso v Tunisia

The Carthage Eagles are seeking their first Cup of Nations title since they won it on home soil in 2004. Having beaten a talent-laden Nigeria by a solitary goal, they look ideal to continue with their performances.

Against Burkina Faso, Tunisia face a tough side who are equally talented. They beat Gabon 7-6 on post-match penalties to progress to the last eight and will fancy their chances against a Tunisian side that only proceeded to the round of 16 by the skin of their teeth, having been one of the best four third placed teams.

QF3: Egypt vs Morocco

The North African derby will provide one of the biggest spectacles of the quarter finals with Egypt and Morocco renewing their old age rivalry.

Egypt started the tournament slow but have grown in stature. Their performance against Ivory Coast in the round of 16 offered encouragement and they showed they can be a contender for the title.

Mo Salah’s hunger to win a trophy with Egypt will further fire them up and with only three games standing between them and a record extending eighth AFCON title, they will be going all in or nothing.

Morocco on the other hand had to cling on to a hard fighting mentality to down a resilient Malawi side 2-1 in the round of 16.

Coach Vahid Halilhodžić, one of the highest paid tacticians at the tournament is under pressure to deliver the title for the demanding Moroccans and a tie against Egypt will be crucial in his quest.

The Atlas Lions have not won the tournament in four decades. Their last victory was in 1976.

QF4: Senegal vs Equatorial Guinea

Equatorial Guinea players celebrate

Senegal, the 2019 losing finalists have been far from convincing despite limping their way to the last eight. A single 1-0 win and back to back 0-0 draws in the group stages earned them a place in the round of 16 where they beat Cape Verde 2-0, the latter having to play with nine men after two red cards.

They have been boosted with midfielder Ismaila Sarr back to full training and they hope his return will inspire a better scoring return. Sarr will most definitely lift the weight off Sadio Mane. The LIverpool forward who left the Cape Verde match just after scoring following a concussion is expected to be passed fit for the game.

Meanwhile, Equatorial Guinea have made the quarters for only the second time in their history. The last time they did so was in 2015 when they co-hosted the tourney.

They have been the tournament’s surprise package and will definitely not be an easy opponent for the Lions of Teranga.

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