03 July 2019, by: Leonard Solms
AFCON 2019: LAST 16 PREVIEW
Bafana Bafana are one of 16 teams still remaining at the Africa Cup of Nations, but the tournament is not about to get any easier for them. There are plenty of huge clashes ahead in the first knockout round and supporters across Africa and beyond can be forgiven if they are glued to their screens this weekend.
The Atlas Lions look like strong contenders for the Afcon throne under double champion Hervé Renard. 1-0 wins over Namibia, Ivory Coast and South Africa gave us a glimpse of a team that knows what it takes to grind out results.
That said, with quality attacking players such as Hakim Ziyech and Nordin Amrabat at their disposal, don’t be surprised if Morocco turn up the heat in a favourable tie against the third-placed team from Group F.
Benin showed against Ghana and Cameroon that they are no pushovers, but this will be a tougher test. Even with a few established players — most notably Stéphane Sessègnon — in their team, this should be a bridge too far for the Squirrels.
Senegal have won eight of their last nine matches with a 1-0 group stage defeat to Algeria the only blip. The Lions of Teranga made the last 16 comfortably and should only get stronger from here.
Arguably Africa’s most impressive side on paper, Senegal’s most notable star names are Sadio Mané and Kalidou Koulibaly. They are, however, set to face a Uganda side containing the rock-solid Denis Onyango and in-form Godfrey Walusimbi.
The Cranes were left to rue missed chances against Egypt, but with a few tweaks, they have the quality to give Senegal a run for their money if Aliou Cissé’s side has an off day.
Two teams that need no introduction go head to head far earlier than expected after both finishing second in their respective groups. The Super Eagles were stunned by Madagascar, while the defending champions were pipped on goals scored by Ghana.
The Super Eagles and the Indomitable Lions have eight Afcon titles between them and their fans expect success. This will create a high-pressure environment for two teams fairly short on confidence at the moment. It will also be a fantastic opportunity for each to regain their winning touch.
South Africa scraped through to the last 16 by the skin of their teeth. They finished fourth on the third-placed teams’ table, but their uninspired group stage performances have not gone unpunished. Stuart Baxter’s men are up against the tournament hosts and favourites.
The Pharaohs are Africa’s most successful team with seven Afcon titles to their name. They have been consistent even if not spectacular in the 2019 edition. Egypt have yet to concede a goal since kicking off the competition against Zimbabwe, so South Africa’s misfiring attack must get its act together.
Bafana Bafana have faced giants already in Ivory Coast and Morocco, and although they stayed solid throughout those games, doing so against an attack featuring Mahmoud ‘Trézéguet’ Hassan and Mohamed Salah is an even more unenviable task.
This tie pits two unpredictable teams up against each other. Just about nobody fancied Madagascar before their first-ever Afcon, but they have really grown into it and looked the real deal.
Charles Carolus Andriamahitsinoro has been the key man on attack for Barea, but he will face a formidable counterpart at the other end in Cédric Bakambu. The prolific French-born frontman netted twice in the 4-0 demolition of Zimbabwe.
DR Congo were comprehensively outplayed in their other two Group A matches against Uganda and Egypt. It is difficult to predict whether they will repeat old mistakes or stand up effectively to a team that beat Nigeria 2-0.
Algeria have been the most convincing and consistent outfit so far at Afcon. They should have little trouble against a Guinea side that will in all likelihood be missing star player Naby Keïta.
The Liverpool midfielder was sent to Merseyside after seemingly aggravating his old adductor muscle injury. A return to the squad for this crunch clash is reportedly unlikely.
Luckily for observers, but worryingly for Guinea fans, there will be no shortage of stars on display here thanks to an Algeria side brimming with talent. Riyad Mahrez is the star name for the Desert Foxes, but they are also rock solid in defence.
This should be a humdinger of a match between a young, spirited Mali side punching above its weight and an Ivory Coast team looking to fill the gigantic shoes of generations past.
Despite off-field controversy and not having a single player in their 30s at the tournament, Mali comfortably wrapped up top spot in Group E. Ivory Coast were pipped by Morocco in Group D, but nevertheless, remain a formidable force.
Both teams are packed with attacking quality and fans can expect fireworks in this one. Although certain starters are hard to find, look out for Moussa Marega in the Mali shirt and Nicolas Pépé and Wilfried Zaha for the Elephants.
The final last 16 match is another clash of titans as Ghana and Tunisia go head to head. The Black Stars and the Carthage Eagles will both feel there is room for improvement in their performances, particularly the latter.
Astonishingly, the pair have only won one out of six games at Afcon 2019 between them. However, Jordan Ayew is hitting top form for Ghana and Tunisia have the likes of Wahbi Khazri and Naïm Sliti in their ranks.