Algeria and Côte d’Ivoire have emerged as the top two sides to beat at the Africa Nations Cup but have been pitted against each other on Sunday in the quarterfinals of the tournament in Equatorial Guinea.
Algeria eliminated Senegal in their last group match to verify their credentials as the continent’s top-ranked side, and Côte d’Ivoire sent Cameroon packing in midweek in an improved performance after six months of mediocrity.
One of the two heavyweights is destined for disappointment, but the way looks much clearer for Ghana to advance to the title match after their rousing comeback against South Africa.
The Black Stars have been to the past four semifinals without going on to win but will be galvanised by the way in which they turned around a dire position with just 20 minutes left against Bafana Bafana to win their group.
It should be Ghana against Tunisia in the one semifinal next week and either Algeria or Côte d’Ivoire against one of the Congos in the other.
Long past their glory days
There is little to pick between Congo Brazzaville and their southern neighbours, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), who meet in the first of the quarterfinals on Saturday. Both countries are long past their glory days and the DRC reached the last eight without winning a game. Three draws proved sufficient for them to progress.
In South Africa, two years ago, they went out after drawing all three games they played in Port Elizabeth.
The second semifinal between hosts Equatorial Guinea and Tunisia has been switched from the tiny town of Ebibeyín and its 5 000-seater stadium to Bata, where the capacity is 35 000. Ostensibly, it is because of the pitch conditions, but in reality it is because organisers face a potential crowd crush as the hosts ride a tide of passionate support.
Equatorial Guinea’s coach, Esteban Becker, described them as a fairy-tale story, and they certainly are – a motley crew of lower-league Spanish-born players punching way above their weight. If they advance any further it will be an indictment of the current state of African football.