2023 AFCON: What to look out for in the last 16 with Senegal, Nigeria and Egypt among hopefuls

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(Left to right) Cameroon winger Georges-Kevin N’Koudou, Senegal forward Sadio Mane, Cape Verde midfielder Bebe and Nigeria striker Victor Osimhen are all targeting victory in the 2023 Afcon round of 16

After some unexpected results in the group stage, there will be some heavyweight ties to look forward to when the last-16 stage at the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) starts on Saturday.

Hosts Ivory Coast snuck through as a third-placed side and will now come up against holders Senegal, who were the only team to progress with maximum points.

Meanwhile, five-time continental champions Cameroon will face three-time winners Nigeria in another mouth-watering encounter.

Both of those games will be televised by the BBC (UK only) but the other six knockout matches hold strong potential for more unpredictable drama.

BBC Sport Africa previews what could be about to unfold in eight games from Bouake to Yamoussoukro.

Southern African clash precedes the big names

The first last-16 match feels a fitting opener, pitting the two lowest-ranked teams remaining against each other as Angola meet Namibia (Saturday, 17:00 GMT).

Both confounded expectations, with Angola topping Group D unbeaten and Namibia qualifying as one of the best third-placed teams.

That was largely by virtue of their sensational opening victory over Tunisia, which was the Brave Warriors’ first win in their 10th game at the finals.

“Everything happening on that field is not a surprise. Maybe for everybody else, but I am the orchestra with my team,” Namibia coach Collin Benjamin said.

Namibia boast dangerous forward pairing of Deon Hotto and Peter Shalulile, while Mabululu and Gelson Dala both have two goals for Angola – with the latter also setting up five chances.

Nigeria against Cameroon, later on Saturday (20:00 GMT), is a far more familiar knockout fixture.

The countries have contested three finals, in 1984, 1988 and 2000, with all of those games won by the Central Africans – the most recent of them on penalties after a 2-2 draw.

Image caption: Nigeria striker Victor Osimhen (left) and Cameroon forward Karl Toko Ekambi (right) have one goal apiece at the Afcon finals

Nigeria, who are unbeaten, may need striker Victor Osimhen to be at his best after the African Footballer of the Year’s 13 attempts and four chances created was the most on record by a Nigeria player in the group stage.

Georges-Kevin N’Koudou is equally influential for Cameroon, setting up 10 chances – the most of anyone at the tournament.

Plenty of attention has been on who has been in goal for the Indomitable Lions, with Manchester United keeper Andre Onana missing their opener, playing their second game and then being dropped for their dramatic Group C decider against The Gambia.

“I have no problem with my goalkeepers. There is no controversy,” said Cameroon boss Rigobert Song.

Nsue inspires as Egypt stutter

With the big stars failing to find the net in Ivory Coast, can unexpected top scorer Emilio Nsue continue his prolific form when Equatorial Guinea face Guinea on Sunday (17:00 GMT)?

Nsue became the first player in 16 years to score an Afcon hat-trick in his country’s 4-2 win over Guinea-Bissau and added two more to almost knock Ivory Coast out.

Underestimate the Equatoguineans at your peril – the National Thunder have reached at least the quarter-finals in their previous three appearances at the finals.

Image caption: Emilio Nsue has five goals at Afcon 2023 – two more than any other player at the tournament

Guinea are also impressively consistent, advancing to the last 16 for a fourth consecutive tournament, but of the teams remaining only Namibia have scored fewer than the two goals Syli Nationale have netted.

Talk of injured captain Mohamed Salah could loom large when Egypt play DR Congo (Sunday, 20:00 GMT) but the absence of the Liverpool star may not be the key concern for the squad he has left behind.

Of the teams still involved, the record seven-time winners are top of the charts at Afcon 2023 for turnovers high up the pitch (25) and sequences of more than 10 passes (40), while Mostafa Mohamed has scored in each of their three 2-2 draws, making him the tournament second-top scorer.

Despite those encouraging figures, Egypt seemed vulnerable against Mozambique, Ghana and Cape Verde in the group stage, and are expected to be missing Emam Ashour, who has impressed with his composed displays, after the midfielder suffered a concussion in training this week.

A win for DR Congo, who also progressed with three draws, is the biggest possible last-16 upset according to Fifa’s rankings, which put the teams 34 places apart.

Ivory Coast have second chance while Mauritania make history

Image caption: Sadio Mane (left) is hoping to retain the Afcon trophy with Senegal while Ivory Coast midfielder Seko Fofana is looking to secure a first Afcon title since 2015 for the Elephants

Minnows Mauritania take on Cape Verde (Monday, 17:00 GMT) as their reward for shocking 2019 champions Algeria to register their first-ever win at the finals.

The Lions of Chinguetti are the only team with a less than 1% chance of lifting the title, according to stats experts Opta. Coach Amir Abdou has emulated the success he achieved in taking Comoros to the last 16 in 2021.

“It’s extraordinary what we are experiencing. I told the players that they wrote the history of Mauritania,” said Abodu.

Another upset would be made all the more impressive by Cape Verde’s form, beating Ghana and Mozambique and taking the lead in a draw with Egypt on their way to winning Group B by four clear points.

The Islanders have made the last 16 for the second consecutive tournament, but coach Bubista is looking further ahead.

“In our first team meeting I said to the players the objective was to get to the semi-finals,” he said.

After breezing through the knockout stage, defending champions Senegal play Ivory Coast (Monday, 20:00 GMT) hoping for a repeat of the three successive two-goal wins the Teranga Lions enjoyed between the round of 16 and final in 2021.

Following humiliation by Equatorial Guinea in their final Group A outing, the hosts sacked Jean-Louis Gasset before their progress was confirmed.

The Elephants then failed in an audacious bid to secure the services of Herve Renard, their 2015 title-winning coach, and interim coach Emerse Fae will need to reinvigorate Ivory Coast against daunting opponents.

West African clash and Morocco aim to realise potential

Image caption: Morocco are Africa’s top-ranked side, at 13th in the world, but their sole continental title came in 1976

On Tuesday, two sides tipped as dark horses for the title meet when Mali face Burkina Faso (17:00 GMT).

The Eagles extended their unbeaten group-stage record to 10 games across four tournaments, but Eric Chelle’s side produced only three shots on target across their draws with Tunisia and Namibia.

Burkina Faso signed off the group stage with a 2-0 defeat by Angola, finishing second to secure a shot at repeating their runs to the final in 2013 and the semi-finals in 2017 and 2021.

Their task now is to improve their recent record of eight losses in 10 matches against Mali, including a 3-1 defeat in the group stage at the 2004 Afcon finals.

Morocco coach Walid Regragui is set to be back in the technical area to see the Atlas Lions play South Africa (Tuesday, 20:00 GMT) after having a touchline ban overturned on appeal.

Achraf Hakimi and Hakim Ziyech will attempt to trouble a defence on a run of two successive clean sheets.

South Africa thrashed Namibia 4-0 in their second game – their largest-ever Afcon win – and can draw on their 2-1 victory over Morocco in qualifying as Hugo Broos aims to mastermind an upset against the continent’s top-ranked side.

No southern African (Cosafa) team has reached the Afcon final since Zambia’s surprise win in 2012. While Angola or Namibia are assured of a quarter-final place, Bafana Bafana face a sterner test standing in the way of their dreams of repeating their 1996 glory.

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