The Namibian (Windhoek)

1 February 2013

Namibia: Big Guns Keep Afcon Hopes Alive

opinion

SO now that the boys are separated from the men, all eyes will be on the continent's giants as the quarterfinal knockout stage of the Africa Cup of Nations kicks off with a fixture between joint favourites Ghana and surprise package Cape Verde Islands tomorrow.

Host nation South Africa is pitted against Mali later the same day.

On Sunday, favourites Ivory Coast will engage the Super Eagles of Nigeria in the first outing of the day before the gallant Burkina Faso lock horns with Togo on a day that will see cream of West Africa in action.

I must admit that I am rather disappointed by the tame display of holders Zambia who seemed unable to get out of first gear in all their fixtures - consequently failing to register a single win in the process.

It was a far cry from the Chipolopolo who caused a sensation last year during a fairytale campaign which saw them edging out giants Ivory Coast on penalties in the final to become only the second southern African nation after South Africa in 1996 to win the annual continental tournament. This time around, Zambia were tame. Gone was the swashbuckling flair which brought them continental glory and it is place came a lacklustre routine that ended in three drab draws.

So now, I expect lots of the Namibian attention to be fixed on the Bafana Bafana, as our southern neighbours seek to continue their much publicised march to the semi-final stage of the tournament.

But in Mali they face a very formidable opponent led by former Barcelona midfield kingpin Seydou Keita, who will hope to repeat last year's exploits which saw them reaching the semis and finishing third overall in the tournament. South Africa know that they have to dig very deep in their reserves if they ever hope to progress beyond the quarterfinal stage against a highly experienced Malian side.

The pick of the quarterfinals undoubtedly is the encounter between Ivory Coast and Nigeria, generally considered as the biggest outing on the continent between two West African neighbours.

Obviously the Elephants are widely regarded as hot favourites to oust the Super Eagles if the current form of the two giant nations is anything to go by. The Ivorian team has experienced and gifted footballers and they were in superb form throughout the tournament that they were the first team to qualify for the quarterfinals with one match in hand.

The gifted trio of Didier Drogba, Yaya Taore and Gervinho will carry last year's beaten finalists' hopes to progress at the expense of Nigeria, who will definitely pin their hopes on sensational winger Victor Moses, who plies his trade at Chelsea FC in the English Premier League.

Moses scored two penalties against Ethopia to seal the mouth-watering tie. This is definitely the standout fixture of the last eight and is befittingly described as the final before the final by football pundits far and wide.

The winners from this weekend will qualify for the semifinals on Wednesday, while the third-place playoff is slotted for Saturday. The final, to determine Africa's next champion football nation, will be contested at the National Stadium, also known as the FNB Stadium, next Sunday.

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