Nigeria, Cameroon, Ivory Coast: Top prospects to win the tournament

When the Africa Cup of Nations enters the knockout rounds, Jowharlooks at the teams that have named themselves favorites with impressive performances in the group stage – from runaway winners in Nigeria, to hosts Cameroon, to Ivory Coast’s team that sent title holders Algeria crashes out.

NigeriaNigeria established themselves as the hottest opportunities to take the trophy when they became the only team to win all three group matches.

In their first match, they beat Egypt – the team of the greatest African player of their generation, Mo Salah. A clinical, ruthlessly opportunistic goal by Leicester striker Kelechi Iheanacho put Nigeria ahead in the first half and they never looked back. The Super Eagles dominated the match when their midfield pass interrupted the Pharaohs’ attempts to build up attacks. If anything, the 1-0 result flattered Egypt.

An exciting 3-1 demolition of Sudan followed, which showed the Super Eagles’ combination of creative skill and sharp finishing skills. A decisive 2-0 victory over more impressive opponents – persistent, well-disciplined Guinea-Bissau – only strengthened the aura around Nigeria.

Outfielder Moses Simon is their star in the tournament so far – a joy to watch, with his daring, evasive runs that make defenders a mockery. Simon’s goal against Sudan exemplified this, when he saw him blow down to the left, lob the ball into the box for a one-two, take it back from his chest and then practically dribble it into the net.

Cameroon While Simon is undoubtedly the technical champion of the tournament so far, its ultimate star has been Vincent Aboubakar, the goal-setting powerhouse for hosts Cameroon. No other player has come close to matching their group game figure of five goals; the closest competition comes from a handful of players with two.

When Cameroon injected dynamics into a previously goal-shy Africa Cup of Nations with its 4-1 attack on Ethiopia last week, Aboubakar led the way with two goals in three minutes – showing the cutting speed and ruthless finishing ability that has taken the tournament with Storm. Enthusiastic Cameroon fans compared him to Lionel Messi.

>> Vincent Aboubakar: Cameroon’s goal-scoring powerhouse takes football by storm

Aboubakar is Cameroon’s biggest asset in the knockout, but Indomitable Lions boasts great talent elsewhere on the pitch – especially Aboubakar’s attacking partner, Lyons striker Karl Toko Ekambi, who scored two good goals in the group stage. Cameroon also take advantage of the home advantage, as their fans’ pride and enthusiasm take to the stands to strengthen their teams and intimidate their opponents.

Still, Minnow’s Cape Verde revealed Cameroon’s defensive weaknesses as they drew in the third group stage, threw themselves at the slightest carelessness to attack and eventually broke through with a Garry Rodrigues goal.

Ivory Coast Sometimes the funniest match in a tournament is the one where the underachieving favorites are ruthlessly revealed – a genre symbolized by Germany’s 7-0 play-offs by Brazil in the 2014 World Cup. Ivory Coast’s 3-1 demolition of Algeria was not on that scale. But they provided an exciting champions in attacking football with goals from three of their biggest assets: AC Milan’s box-to-box midfielder Franck Kessié, PSV Eindhoven’s midfielder Ibrahim Sangaré and Arsenal winger Nicolas Pépé.

The elephants showed their pertinence and determination in their win against Equatorial Guinea; a team whose discipline and tactics compensate for their lack of star talent. Ivory Coast’s draw against Sierra Leone showed off their two fantastic attacking assets: Ajax Sébastien Haller – Champions League’s top scorer so far this season – and Crystal Palace’s Wilfried Zaha – Premier League’s best player outside the big six clubs.

But goalkeeper Badra Sangaré will need to keep his form, after a bizarre injury time fumble allowed Sierra Leone to equalize, which broke Ivory Coast’s otherwise impeccable record.

Outstanding bets. Few pundits would have bet money on them before the match started, but Gabon has been one of the most interesting teams in the Africa Cup of Nations. Talisman striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang left the squad and returned to his club Arsenal after a coronavirus attack. Attacking duo Jim Allevinah and Aaron Boupendza stepped into the leap in magnificent style – with the highlight of Allevinah beating Morocco’s goalkeeper and Boupendza scoring from a tricky angle against the Comoros.

Although none of their players caught the attention of fans like the Gabonese duo, Morocco topped the group with victories over Ghana and the Comoros, with strong discipline and an impressive attacking presence in the form of Sofiane Boufal, who scored two goals in three appearances in the tournament.

Senegal also topped their group, as expected. But they barely jumped to victory. The team with Liverpool’s Said Mané and Chelsea’s Édouard Mendy scraped to victory thanks to a dubious penalty that gave them a 1-0 victory in the dying minutes of overtime in a dull stalemate against elritsa Zimbabwe. Two dormant goalless draws followed against Guinea and Malawi. Will the Teranga Lions finally roar in the knockout rounds? The talent that made them first favorites still remains; the question is whether they can play together as effectively as they do for their clubs.

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