The group stages of the Africa Cup of Nations were concluded on Wednesday, with the 16th team confirmed at the final whistle at midnight. Some “big” names have been eliminated from the tournament already, with Algeria, Ghana, and Tunisia all leaving early. Meanwhile, a few surprise teams have progressed – teams like Cape Verde & Angola even managed to win their groups. It has been a tournament where no team is guaranteed a win and sets up an intriguing set of Last 16 ties. We preview the upcoming round of fixtures, making our predictions on the teams that are likely to progress.
Angola v Namibia
Not many predicted Angola to progress to this stage, let alone win their group. Pre-tournament, Angola had a 0.5% chance of winning the tournament, the joint-lowest probability of all teams. Oddly, Namibia were the other team anchoring the probabilities, also with a 0.5% chance. That’s how level these teams are considered, so much so that even calling this game is very tight. Angola, perhaps due to their stronger showing in the group, are considered the favorites in this Southern African derby. But it will be close.
Nigeria v Cameroon
24 years ago, these two nations battled it out in the 2000 AFCON final, in what is still considered one of the greatest matches in African football history. Current Cameroon coach Rigobert Song led a field of superstars then with the likes of Samuel Eto’o, Nwanko Kanu & Jay-Jay Okocha on the field. A lot has changed in two decades, and the teams do not strike as much fear in opponents as they did back then. Having said that, Victor Osimhen is possibly the standout star of the current crop of African players, leading the line for a team that has created the most chances at AFCON up to this point.
Equatorial Guinea v Guinea
The two sides will be happy with their tournaments, having progressed in 1st and 3rd from their respective groups. The four-goal salvo against Ivory Coast helped ensure the Equato-Guineans are the top scorers in the tournament, but their defence has been a bit leaky. Based on Expected Goals against (the quality of chances a team has allowed their opposition), they have the worst defence in the tournament. That will encourage Guinea, who have just two goals so far, averaging just 3 shots on target per game.
Egypt v DR Congo
Two teams that are yet to win a game at AFCON somehow find themselves in the Last 16. Egypt are second on the table for shots on target at the tournament (17 in 3 games), which shows some good signs. Yet, the fact that they have taken 59 shots overall, paints that in a different light. A conversion rate of 10% is way below Senegal’s 25% for example, and some work must be done to get better efficiency in front of goal. Having seen other teams score twice against the Egyptians, DRC will know they stand a chance against a shaky defence. The question is whether they will make the most of the chances they will inevitably get.
Cape Verde v Mauritania
Cape Verde seems to be the neutrals’ favourites at AFCON2023, with their brand of attacking football and giant-slaying tag. The Blue Sharks’ progress as a nation is notable – this is the third time that they have progressed from the group stages (2013, 2021 & 2023). However, it is the first time they do so by winning their group. Mauritania’s first-ever victory means they go through as one of the better-placed teams in third, but this may be a step too far. They are assigned a 33% chance to progress at the moment, the second lowest of all remaining teams.
Senegal v Ivory Coast
The reward for Senegal’s perfect group stage is a Last 16 tie against the host nation, who just sneaked through as the “worst” of the Last 16 teams. The Ivorians have already parted ways with their coach and will likely make an interim plan ahead of this clash. The Opta simulator gives them a 30% chance of progress, the lowest of all teams remaining. That has more to do with the quality of their opposition (Senegal are now tournament favourites) than their shortcomings. That said, the odds are more forgiving for the Elephants (3/1 odds for victory, compared to 2.4/1 for Senegal).
Mali v Burkina Faso
Mali topped their group thanks largely to a Matchday 1 victory over Bafana Bafana, despite being outplayed in the first half of that game. Two subsequent draws were enough to keep their other opponents at bay, helping book a ticket against Burkina Faso. The two neighbouring countries meet exactly 20 years to the date since Mali beat the Burkinabe 3-1 in the AFCON 2004 group stages. Once again, Mali (58% chance) are favoured to progress, but it will take a lot of work.
Morocco v South Africa
The final game of the Last 16 sees World Cup semi-finalists Morocco take on South Africa at the Stade Laurent Pokou. The star-studded Atlast Lions are overwhelming favourites in this one (1.6/1 for the win), although Bafana beat Morocco when the sides met six months ago in the AFCON qualifiers. That may be enough encouragement for Bafana to upset the odds. On the other hand, it may also be enough incentive for Hakimi, Ziyech & co. to get their revenge. However, at 6/1, Bafana have been set the longest odds to win among all 16 remaining teams.