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AFCON 2017: Quarter-Finals Preview

Saturday 28th January 2017
Africa's elite has risen from the group stages and assembled in the final bracket to determine the best national side in the continent.

This year's African Cup of Nations in Gabon has been particularly surprising. The group stage has seen some of the biggest and most traditional African sides disappear from the tournament. Add that to the fact that Nigeria, classically one of the best sides from the continent, didn't even qualify for the competition and it's evident there's a changing of the guard within African football.

Burkina Faso vs. Tunisia – Saturday 28th, 4 pm.

The Stallions (Burkina Faso) qualified from Group A as the group winners with just two draws and a solitary win, but a superior goal difference to fellow qualifiers, Cameroon. The small landlocked country set high expectations for their followers when they reached the final back in 2013. Bertrand Traoré is arguably the nation's highest-profile player – currently with Ajax via a loan deal from Chelsea. He was on-target in the last game against Guinea-Bissau.

Tunisia came through Group B as the runners-up, but still accumulated more points than their next opposition. After an opening game defeat to Senegal, the team won against both Algeria and Zimbabwe. In their victorious outings, the North African side have been rather prolific in front of goal – with plenty of different goal scorers.

There's no way of really predicting the result of this game, on paper Burkina Faso won their group but Tunisia actually performed better throughout the group stage; by winning more games. The Stallions ironically have a very good record against Tunisia. The sides have only met five times prior and Tunisia last won back in 1995. This one could go down to the wire.

Senegal vs. Cameroon – Saturday 28th, 7 pm.

This evening's fixture sees two countries with incredibly similar colour schemes play, in what must be a collective nightmare for the kit men. Frivolities aside, both of these former French colonies used to be powerhouses of the African football scene.

The Lions of Teranga are one of the few African sides to actually have a home-grown manager. In Aliou Cissé, they have a passionate experienced manager who's actually had the chance to win the trophy as a player – unlike the European head coaches. As a result, he's come out to the media and stated the emotional consequences of this meeting. He wants to set the record straight with Cameroon, who in 2002 denied him the trophy via a penalty shoot-out in the final.

Under his leadership, Senegal has arguably looked like the best side in the tournament. Sadio Mané hit the ground running when he arrived in Gabon for the tournament – although was rested in the last game against Algeria as Senegal had already qualified. Balde Keita, the Lazio-based twenty-one-year-old has arguably been more instrumental. Playing more games and being very creative in the team's attacking play.
Cameroon has been a staple mark of the World Cup since they shocked the world by defeating Argentina at the San Siro back in 1990. Commentators and pundits alike hailed Cameroon, along with Roger Milla, after their successful campaign (getting to the quarter-finals) that summer they would soon become one of the dominant forces in the world game. Although that development never really materialised; as they've never reached the same heights since that summer in Italy. The contemporary Indomitable Lions have been very poor, finishing dead last in the last World Cup in Brazil.

Their performances so far haven't been great at all. Christian Bassogog being one of few the players to stand up and make a difference. Despite the plethora of controversies amongst the squad and the missing players, they have limped into the knockout stages with two draws and a lone win.

Clashes between the two sides aren't usually filled with goals, with just two coming in the last five matches. The form side here are definitely Senegal; although history suggests that goals won't happen, Mané should find it relatively easy to penetrate a defence which Burkina Faso and Guinea-Bissau managed to score against.

DR Congo vs. Ghana – Sunday 29th, 4 pm

The Democratic Republic of the Congo are one of the emerging teams from the African continent. Despite not having a wealth of all-stars like other teams – the sum is greater than the individual parts. The team can currently boast the tournament's top scorer: Junior Kabananga, who's scored a goal in each of his nation's games. They emerged as surprise winners of Group C ahead of both Morocco and Ivory Coast.
Ghana will be buoyed with the breaking news from the Ghanaian FA that Asamoah Gyan will still be able to play in the tournament. Many pundits thought that injury would rule him out after he was forced off in the game against Egypt. The Black Stars, led by Avram Grant, managed two 1-0 victories against both Uganda and Mali, although without Gyan succumbed to a defeat against Egypt.

There's an “Irresistible Force vs. Immovable Object” theme to this one: DR Congo are joint top scorers in the competition with six team goals – while Ghana have the second best defence in the tournament, only allowing the one goal past them. Something will have to give in this meeting; although it could go all the way to spot kicks.

Egypt vs. Morocco – Sunday 29th, 7 pm

Led by Héctor Cúper, Egypt is looking to restore their former glory within continental football. The Pharaohs are historically the most successful side in the competition having won seven Cup of Nations titles; including three consecutive titles between 2006 and 2010. Although after the three continental wins, they failed to qualify for the next three competitions as Egyptian football suffered a major decline. The Argentine coach has been put at the helm to restore glory to the Pharaohs, seven years after their last participation and championship win.

Mohamed Salah has been at the forefront of Egypt's attacking play – having a major role in both of Egypt's goals in the tournament so far. Assisting the last gasp winner against Uganda and scoring the winner himself against Ghana, to see the side through as group winners.

Morocco instilled Hervé Renard as their head coach, based on his previous success in the tournament. He's previously lifted the trophy with both Zambia and the Ivory Coast. He became the first manager to win the competition with two different teams; although he's since gone on record saying he wants another AFCON win. This Moroccan side has not really found their top gear; and will hope for improved performances from key players like Fajr going into the knock-out rounds.

This North African derby might depend on individual mistakes other than a world class build-up attack. Both teams find it hard in front of goal, scoring relatively few between them during the group stage. Although Egypt has the plaudit of the best defence in the tournament, not conceding a single goal throughout the group stage.
Warren Smith

A British and J.League soccer enthusiast, now local to Yokohama, Japan. A keen Arsenal supporter. Has been known to play the game every once in awhile, once likened to Xherdan Shaqiri. 

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