09 July 2019, by: Leonard Solms
AFCON 2019: QUARTERFINAL PREVIEW
With many Afcon giants having been sent packing in the last 16, only eight teams remain. Bafana Bafana, against all odds, is one of them.
However, even if Stuart Baxter’s men soar past the obstacle posed by the Super Eagles, a gigantic test will await them in the semi-finals.
On paper, this clash looks set to be men against boys — or should I say lions against squirrels? However, as Kgoloko Thobejane once famously remarked, “football can kill you”.
The Lions of Teranga are Africa’s top-ranked side, sitting 22nd in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Rankings. They have looked like it lately too, winning nine of their last 10 matches.
That being said, any team coming off the back of a win over a Morocco outfit coached by Hervé Renard deserves to be taken seriously. When you add recent draws against Cameroon and Ghana to that, it becomes increasingly difficult to write Michel Dussuyer’s Benin off completely.
Nevertheless, with Sadio Mané beginning to find top form and fellow stars ranging from Keita Baldé to Kalidou Koulibaly in Aliou Cissé’s squad, it is difficult to look past a Senegal win at the 30 June Stadium.
Bafana Bafana do battle with Nigeria at Cairo International Stadium in a contest which could go either way. South Africa proved during qualifiers, when they took four points off the Super Eagles, that they have what it takes to stand up to them.
Nevertheless, the winner of this match is in for a mighty fight in the semi-finals. Bafana or Nigeria will come up against either Ivory Coast — who have already beaten South Africa at Afcon 2019 — or Algeria, the tournament’s in-form team.
Gernot Rohr and Stuart Baxter both have their detractors, and while the winner of this match will lift a huge amount of pressure off his own shoulders, he will no doubt transfer it to those of his counterpart.
In terms of pure footballing quality, this fixture is the pick of the bunch. Ivory Coast have not always looked comfortable in the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations, but a squad featuring Nicolas Pépé, Wilfried Zaha and Franck Kessié can stand up to anybody when in top form.
By contrast, Djamel Belmadi may not have quite this much star quality to draw from in his Algeria squad, but he has got them working together as a unit. Although Ivory Coast brought one of the best teams on paper to the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations, it is the Desert Foxes who have so far been top of the pile in practice.
Algeria have not conceded a goal all tournament and will likely not afford Ivory Coast many chances. However, if there’s one thing the smash-and-grab 1-0 win over Mali taught us, it is that the Elephants take their opportunites when they come.
To be honest, this writer is not quite sure how either of these teams got so far. In Madagascar’s case, this is a compliment — the quality of their football has been beyond anybody’s wildest dreams. Tunisia, however, are fortunate to have survived after a string of underwhelming displays.
That said, in terms of talent and grit, few can match the Carthage Eagles. Don’t be surprised to see Tunisia finally hit top gear all of a sudden under the tactically astute Alain Giresse, and if they do, then this will be the biggest test to date for Nicolas Dupuis’ Barea.
From Wahbi Khazri to Charles Carolus Andriamahitsinoro, there will be no shortage of attacking quality on display.