The semi-finals of the African Cup of Nations, which is being held in Ivory Coast until next Sunday, pitted 4 former winners of the continental championship title in a fierce confrontation, but this time with different characteristics and diverse ambitions.
In the golden class of the 34th edition of the continent's most expensive football tournament, veteran Nigeria faces South Africa and Ivory Coast, who returned from away, this edition's “miracle”, and the host and the crowd face advanced. Democratic Republic of Congo.
Tomorrow, Wednesday, Ivory Coast take on Democratic Republic of Congo at the Alassane Ouattara Stadium, while Nigeria take on South Africa at the Al Salam Stadium.
Attacking intensity and defensive toughness
In their 15th appearance in the semi-finals of the continental tournament, Nigeria still have only one goal: to secure a place in the final. Despite entering the tournament as favourites, the Green Eagles faced challenges, including a 1–1 draw against Equatorial Guinea and one-goal wins over Ivory Coast and Guinea Bissau.
Continuing the approach of their Portuguese coach, José Peseiro, who repeatedly declared that his goal was “not to concede the first goal”, Nigeria combined offensive intensity (6 goals) and defensive solidity, which led to him maintaining a clean sheet. Has been kept. 4 consecutive matches, a record that has not been achieved since September or October 2018.
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This balance in performances resulted in an easy win over Cameroon giants in the eighth final with two clean goals, and a clean away win over Angola in the quarter-finals, making Victor Osimhen's men natural candidates to qualify. Got it. Final, but before that they will have to pass the semi-final station for the ninth time.
Nigeria are relying on an elite group of players in front three who have the necessary experience and ability to overcome South Africa and reach the final match.
According to Opta, the Green Eagles have become 43% favorites to win the title after defending champions Senegal were eliminated in the final stage.
return of the deprived
Under the leadership of coach Belgian Hugo Brothers, who won the African title with Cameroon in 2017, and goalkeeper Ronwen Williams, adept at penalty kicks, the South African national team has returned to the forefront this edition.
African champion in 1996, runner-up in 1998, and third in 2000, he returned to compete against the seniors in hopes of reaching the finals, but the “Bafana Bafana” team needed to be solid and have the upper hand against the Nigerian opponent. What should happen is its historical precedent in direct confrontation. In the last 12 meetings in various tournaments, South Africa has won once, while Nigeria has had 7 wins and 4 draws. The last meeting between the two teams was at the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations, and Nigeria won 2–1.
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With 8 key players playing for the same club, which is Mamelodi Sundowns, one of the best teams in Africa, “Bafana Bafana” adopts a team style that relies on quick ball exchanges, Especially in the final third of the field, where there is intense pressure on the opponent, which can result in… mistakes in positioning, which Mothobi Mwala's teammates always try to take advantage of to score the net.
Quick and sudden attack will be one of the keys for the Belgian coach who will try to understand the strong Nigerian defense and surprise it with an early goal that could spoil his chances of securing South Africa's dream finals entry. Can increase.
Data from the Opta website showed that South Africa have moved from a 2.1% chance of lifting the cup at the start of the tournament to now being third favorites of the remaining four teams with an 18.6% rate.
united for the dream
“A year ago, everyone was laughing at us. Today, we are in the semi-finals,” Chancel Mbemba commented on DR Congo's qualification to the semi-finals after beating Guinea 3–1. In this edition, Morocco, Egypt and Guinea paid the price for the high concentration and physical strength of French coach Sébastien Desbrey's battalion.
After 4 draws against Zambia, Morocco and Tanzania with a score of 0–0 and 1–1 with Egypt and then a win on penalties, the “Cheetahs” finally managed to win in regular time in the quarter-finals. As for the Guineans, they dream of restoring the image of their country, which has not lifted the Cup for 50 years, most notably in 1968 (under the name Congo-Kinshasa).
The Congolese have the technical, physical and tactical abilities to continue the dream of restoring past glory against Ivory Coast, which is returning from the dead in this tournament. Opta figures show that the Panthers have a chance to reach the final by beating Ivory Coast.
According to Opta, the Cheetahs have a 32.3% chance of winning over Ivory Coast and reaching the final, while the chances of winning the title are 16.4%.
Democratic Republic of Congo national team in semi-finals ✅🇨🇩
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Continuation of “Miracle”
The Ivory Coast national team made headlines around the world after their shock 4-0 defeat against Equatorial Guinea on January 22, 2024, which brought them to the brink of a first-round exit, but Morocco won of. 1-0 over Zambia and a draw with Mozambique. In a 2–2 draw with Ghana, he revived the Ivorians, who were one of the best third-place finishers in the six groups.
Since then, the “Elephants” have risen and crushed all who came in their path, including defeating defending champions Senegal on penalties and then Mali 2–1 in extra time.
Upon returning from hell, as described by the local and international press, the Ivory Coast national team received moral inspiration and great mental strength, which, along with public support, allowed Franck Cassiet's teammates to turn the situation around in the tournament and help Italy. Can help in repeating the scenario. Portugal at the 1982 World Cup and Euro 2016, both came close to losing in the first round and ultimately won the title.
Cote d'Ivoire snatched the semi-final ticket at a crucial time
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Although the Ivorian national team will be without the services of Odilon Koussounou, Omar Diakite, Serge Aurier and Christian Kouame against the Democratic Republic of the Congo due to suspension, the rest are determined to achieve that stunning finish that the entire nation has been dreaming of. Will give. Third star on the shirt after the 1992 and 2015 editions.
Opta's forecasts indicate that Ivory Coast, who were the second candidate to win the title after Nigeria before the start of the tournament, now have a 41.3% chance of qualifying for the final.