At last the three preliminary match days of Afcon2023 have come to pass, albeit with a mixed grill of expectations and surprises. Consequently, upon the announcement of the pairings for the Round of 16, soccer fans within Africa and around the world have rejigged their crystal balls in renewed expectation.
Observably, most have come up with entirely new permutations regarding the teams that will make it to the next round of the biennial competition. Like expected, after a first round that featured enough upsets and to fill a book of verse, they have mostly come with more measured calculations. The more so by the many sports betting companies dotting the nation.
What with the 4-0 humiliation the hosts suffered in the hands of a previously unsung Equatorial Guinea for whom a club defender has turned top scorer for his national team. Not mentioning the sterling performance deposited by the burgeoning Blue Sharks of Cape Verde. Let alone the inglorious exit of hitherto invincible national teams like Ghana and Algeria – to mention but two.
Anyway, the round of 16 encounters will kick-off with Angola taking on Namibia 6pm, Saturday, January 27 at Stade de la Paix in Bouake. However, one of the most mouthwatering clashes of the round will come up later the same day when the Super Eagles of Nigeria lock claws with the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon by 9pm at Stade Felix Houphouet, Abidjan.
Then the Equatorial Guinea vs Guinea tie will come up at 6pm the next day, Sunday, January 28 at Stade Ouattara, Abidjan. With the former’s achievement over the hosts, and an impressive draw with Nigeria, all eyes are now turned to see whether their campaign will end in an anticipated bang or a sacrilegious whimper.
The Pharaohs of Egypt who qualified sans a win will draw up the curtain on the day’s action when they battle for honours with the Leopards of DR Congo as the hour hand strikes 9pm at the Stade Laurent Pokou, San Pedro. Of course, they’ll be well aware, as ought, that there are no more pushover teams in the continent.
Resumption of hostilities on Monday, January 29 will see Cape Verde, easily the rising team of the tournament, taking on Mauritania, another riser, at Stade Felix Houphouet, Abidjan by 6pm. It’s however hoped that their new statuses will not heap an overdose of tension on either of them.
Capping the day at 9pm will be the duel between so-far perfect defending champions Senegal and the smitten Elephants of Cote D’Ivoire. The savoury matchup will take place at Stade Charles Banny, Yamoussoukro. Seen as a potential final before the final, many pundits are of the opinion that whoever emerges victorious from this encounter between lion and elephant will be hard to stop from lifting the coveted trophy.
According to the released schedule, Mali and Burkina Faso will continue their struggle for regional supremacy at 6pm on Tuesday, January 30 at Stade Amadou Coulibaly in Korhogo. The tie will, no doubt, be electrified by the influx of travelling spectators from both countries.
Expectedly, the round and day will end with Africa’s subsisting Numero Uno at FIFA rankings Morocco fighting it out with South Africa at Stade Laurent Pokou, San Pedro. It’s expected that Morocco will like to use the tie to stress that the incomparable benchmark they set at the last Word Cup was no fluke.
–Uzoatu wrote in from Onitsha Anambra State