African Nations Cup heads into knockout stage

Ivory Coast
Ivory Coast player Max Alain Gradel, centre, celebrates with teammates after he scored a goal against Cameroon during their African Cup of Nations Group D soccer match at Estadio De Malabo in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, Wednesday, Jan. 28, 2015 (Photo: AP)
Reuters
Friday 30 Jan 2015
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At least one of the leading contenders for the African Nations Cup title will be eliminated at the weekend when Algeria meet the Ivory Coast in the quarter-finals

Sunday's clash in Malabo between two teams who took part in last year’s World Cup is the headline game of the last eight as the three-week tournament enters the knockout stage.

Ghana, another of the African sides who featured in Brazil six months ago, play Guinea in Malabo earlier on Sunday.

On Saturday, hosts Equatorial Guinea seek to continue their fairytale run when they face Tunisia in Bata after a derby between Congo and neighbours the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Matches previously scheduled for the small eastern town of Ebibeyin and Mongomo have been moved because of fears over security and the condition of the pitches.

Algeria, the leading African team in the FIFA rankings, have continued their marked improvement over the last 12 months, including taking Germany to extra time at the World Cup.

Since then five wins out of six in Nations Cup qualifying have been followed by victories in the group stage over South Africa and Senegal.

But Ivory Coast, who got off to a slow start before eliminating Cameroon in a crunch game on Wednesday, are now brimming with confidence.

 “We are three steps from the deciding game and the teams in the quarter-final can’t help but dream of the final. We will not lose this quarter-final,” said coach Herve Renard, who will have forward Gervinho back from suspension.

Ghana will start as favourites against Guinea, whose place in the last eight was secured on Thursday when they won a rare drawing of lots to pip Mali to second place in their group.

Intimidating atmosphere

Equatorial Guinea, catapulted into the finals when they took over as emergency tournament hosts just over two months ago, need to again draw extra energy from what is expected to be a capacity crowd in Bata for their match against Tunisia.

But while the intimidating atmosphere might have spooked their group opponents they will find the Tunisians wily operators with a stubborn defence and a bustling attack.

The clash of the Congos will be “the match of the tournament”, according to DR Congo midfielder Neeskens Kebano.

 “We are the same country separated by a river. We know our brothers, we are the same people, the same lives,” added their coach Florent Ibenge on Thursday.

Two years ago at the last finals in South Africa veteran French coach Claude Le Roy failed to get past the first round with DR Congo. Now he takes charge of their northern neighbours.

 “Our potential, talent, vigour make us a good bet for the semi-finals. We are not finished with this tournament yet,” he told reporters.

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