AFCON 2019: Last 16 recap, quarter-final overview


The 2019 edition of the African Cup of Nations is reaching the business end, as eight teams head into the quarter finals following the conclusion of a ’round of 16′ full of commitment, entertainment and no shortage of surprises.

I thought I’d carry on my look at the tournament and how it’s progressing by recapping the events of the last 16 ties before looking at the quarter finals that lie ahead.

The round of 16 got underway (on Friday 5th July) at Cairo’s Al Salam Stadium, with an unbeaten and highly fancied Morocco going up against a resilient but understated ­Benin side who scraped through on the back of three group stage draws.

Following a goalless first half, Benin took the lead against the run of play through a Moise Adilehou goal from a set piece. However, when a dominant Morocco equalised through striker Youssef En-Nesyri it looked like there would only be one winner.

Benin are a tough outfit though, and took the game to extra time where their task was made all the more difficult as Khaled Adenon was shown a second yellow card (dissent) on 97 minutes.

The Moroccans pushed on, but they couldn’t find a breakthrough as the game went to penalties. Morocco would pay for their profligacy in front of goal throughout as Sofiane Boufal and Youssef En-Nesyri missed from the spot, resulting in Beninese delight as they dispatched four successful penalties to cause an upset and reach the last eight.

Later in the evening, a solid Uganda team provided a potentially tricky test for one of the tournaments favourites Senegal at the Cairo International Stadium.

However Sadio Mané’s early goal put the Senegalese ahead in a game they always seemed in control of. Although Mané missed a second half penalty, his team eased through, showing their extra class and experience against a Uganda side whose main threat again came through Emmanuel Okwi.

With the quality in the squad and the ability to go ‘through the gears’, Senegal will be expecting to go further still, while the Ugandans can be pleased with their showing, proving a useful unit both in and out of possession.

Credit Photo – @NGSuperEagles. Alex Iwobi celebrates his winner against Cameroon.

The following day (Saturday 6th July) heavyweights Nigeria and Cameroon met at the Alexandria Stadium in a game that went to and fro, with some great attacking displays on show from players on both sides.

In an even game, Nigeria took the lead inside 20 minutes after Orion Ighalo finished following a corner. The Nigerians then looked to of taken a measure of control before being stunned by two goals just before the break from Stephane Bahoken and Clinton N’Jie.

Leading at the break, Cameroon started the second half on the front foot, looking to extend their lead. But it was Nigeria’s turn to hit back, with two goals in three minutes through Ighalo once more and Arsenal’s Alex Iwobi.

In the 25 minutes that followed the game became very open, with chances at both ends. However reigning champions Cameroon couldn’t find a leveller and Nigeria will head through to the last eight in bouyant mood.

A major suprise took place later that evening in Cairo’s International Stadium as hosts Egypt took on a so far somewhat disappointing South Africa side. Although Egypt hadn’t quite hit top gear, they would have been very confident of progressing against the South Africans who limped through the group stage.

The hosts again though, never really got going and were made to pay for missed chances as an improved South Africa, bouyed by the return of key man Dean Furman, snatched victory late on through a great finish from Thembinkosi Porch.

The Egyptians will be bitterly disappointed to go out at this stage, especially on home soil, while South Africa will hope to push on from a much improved performance.

Credit Image – @CAF_Online. Action from Madagascar’s win against DR Congo.

Sunday’s (7th July) games kicked off at the Alexandria Stadium, with suprise package thus far Madagascar facing a very talented but unpredictable DR Congo side.

The Madagascan’s fairy tale lives on after a very entertaining game where they twice led through goals from Ibrahim Amada and Andriatsima. DR Congo hit back on both occasions with strikes from Cedric Bakambu and, in the final minute, Porto’s Chancel Mbemba which took the game into extra time.

DR Congo looked much the stronger and fitter side throughout the extra period but couldn’t force a winner as Madagascar resolutely held on to take the contest to penalty kicks.

Though physically tired, Madagascar showed their mental strength as they dispatched four successful spot kicks to progress, while DR Congo blazed over twice through Wolfsburg’s Marcel Tisserand and Yannick Bolasie and depart the tournament frustratingly early once again.

Sunday evenings encounter saw a very impressive Algeria side face a tricky test against a very capable Guinea team.

As it was, the Algerians again made light work of it, breezing through 3-0 and are still to concede a goal in the tournament, while scoring nine at the other end.

Some great finishing from Youcef Belaili, Riyad Mahrez and Adam Ounas saw them progress comfortably, and their form along with the strength in depth at their disposal is looking ominous for their competitors in the race for the trophy.

Guinea head home after a solid summers work and in the knowledge that there isn’t many (if any at all) better sides across Africa than the Algeria one that beat them.

Credit Image – @CAF_Online. Wilfried Zaha celebrates his decisive goal against Mali.

The round of 16 was concluded on Monday (8th July), where the early match saw Mali face off against a highly rated Ivory Coast side at the Suez Stadium.

The first half was dominated by the Malians as new Southampton man Moussa Djenepo and Sporting’s Abdoulay Diaby caused problems in wide areas, while the Ivory Coast were poor and struggled to get the likes of Wilfried Zaha, Jonathan Kodjia and Nicolas Pepe into the game. Only Mali’s wasteful finishing saw the teams go in level at the break.

The second half was a more even affair, lacking in quality as both sides struggled to gain an impetus. It seemed like one goal would decide the game and it duly arrived in the 76th minute as Zaha finished from a cross to send the Ivorians through.

It was harsh on the Malians, who looked the more cohesive unit, while Ivory Coast will certainly have to improve to progress further.

The last tie of the round, at the Ismailia Stadium, saw a decent Ghana side face Tunisia team that stuttered their way through the group stage to a degree.

Although the Ghanaians edged the first half, where they had a goal ruled out for handball, the teams went in goalless at half time. The game continued in a similar vein after the break until the Tunisians came to life in the 73rd minute as Taha Khenissi’s wonderful finish gave them the lead, somewhat against the run of play.

Just as it looked like Ghana’s hopes of a leveller would be forlorn, unfortunate Tunisian defender Rami Bedoui headed into his own net in stoppage time to send the tie to extra time.

As both sides wasted opportunities to win the game in the extra 30 minutes, the game would eventually be decided by penalties, and it would be heartbreak for Ghana as Caleb Ekuban’s spot kick was saved, sealing their exit and Tunisia’s progression.

Many of the last 16 matches proved to be very close, and that is likely to be a continued theme as the quarter-finals get under way in earnest on Wednesday (10th July).

First up is Senegal v Benin on 30 June  (17:00 UK time). The Senegalese will go into the game as huge favourites and look to be building up some momentum after comfortably seeing off Uganda in the last round.

Benin have already caused an upset in seeing off Morocco and will be hoping their battling qualities will see them claim another scalp here. The head to head record is certainly against the Beninese though, with Senegal winning the last three encounters, most latterly 4-0 in 2017.

Later on that evening Nigeria face Egypt’s conquerers South Africa at the Cairo International Stadium (20:00).

The South Africans, who look to be steadily improving as the tournament progresses, will look to frustrate an attacking Nigeria side who will enter the match as favourites. The head to head record between the two is very tight with four out of five meetings between 2014 and 2018 ending all square, with South Africa winning the other.

Arguably, the tie of the round takes place at the Suez Stadium on Thursday (11th July, 17:00) as Algeria take on Ivory Coast. 

The Algerians have been in imperious form so far, winning all four of their games, scoring nine goals and are yet to concede. The Ivory Coast have been a little less impressive but still possess the quality to trouble any side on their day.

The three most recent head to heads has seen each side come out on top once, while the other match ended in a draw. Though Algeria will be slight favourites here, it’s once again likely to be a close contest.

Later that evening the last quarter-final sees Madagascar take on Tunisia at the Al Salam Stadium in Cairo (20:00).

Madagascar will be hoping to spring a further shock, and will fancy their chances against a Tunisian outfit that haven’t hit their stride yet. That being said, Tunisia will go in as favourites and may just have too much if the Madagascans run out of steam.

The two nations haven’t met in 18 years and this will be an intriguing contest that could go either way.

As we head into the latter end of the tournament, there is sure to be some more surprises, while the fancied contenders will aim to build some momentum in search of African football’s biggest prize.




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