The Africa Cup of Nations has been unpredictable so far with thrills, spills and upsets. Former champions Ghana, Algeria and Tunisia were among the eight teams eliminated in the group stage.
Another eight will have to go from the round of 16, which starts Saturday. Host nation Ivory Coast faces defending champion Senegal while Nigeria and Cameroon clash in a match between two of the tournament’s most successful teams.
Here’s a closer look at the eight matchups as the knockout stage begins:
Angola VS. Namibia
Angola plays Namibia in Bouaké in the early match Saturday. Angola, which has twice reached the quarterfinals, topped a group ahead of Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Algeria. Meanwhile, the Brave Warriors are treading new ground after reaching the knockout stage for the first time.
Nigeria VS. Cameroon
Nigeria, the three-time champion, will play five-time champion Cameroon in Abidjan on Saturday, when both teams will be hoping for improvement after lackluster starts. Nigeria managed to tighten its defense in its final group game but goals are still a problem for the Super Eagles. Nigeria hasn’t won the Africa Cup since 2013. Cameroon only squeezed into the knockout stage thanks to a dramatic fightback against Gambia. It was the Indomitable Lions’ only win so far.
Equaltorial Guinea VS. Guinea
Equatorial Guinea managed to top a group unbeaten ahead Nigeria, Ivory Coast and Guinea-Bissau. The National Thunder has the tournament’s top-scorer in Emilio Nsue (5 goals) and faces Guinea in Abidjan on Sunday. But it won’t be easy against a team that welcomed free-scoring forward Serhou Guirassy back from injury in Guinea’s final group game, a 2-0 loss to Senegal. Guirassy has 17 goals for 14 Bundesliga games for Stuttgart this season.
Egypt VS. Congo
Egypt was beset by injuries as it struggled through the group stage. The Pharaohs lost star Mohamed Salah to a hamstring injury in their second game, then goalkeeper Mohamed El Shenawy with dislocated shoulder from the draw with Cape Verde. Imam Ashour was hospitalized overnight Wednesday for concussion treatment after getting a head injury in training. Egypt, the record seven-time champion, is yet to win a game at this tournament. But neither has Congo. The Leopards finished second in Group F behind Morocco with just three points. One of the teams will get its first win Sunday in San Pedro.
Cape Verde VS. Mauritius
Cape Verde is another of the surprise teams so far after topping a group including Egypt, Ghana and Mozambique. The Blue Sharks reached the quarterfinals in 2013 and will hope to do so again against a team that’s inexperienced at this level. Mauritania only reached the last 16 by winning for the first time in three appearances at the Africa Cup. But Amir Abdou’s team eliminated two-time champion Algeria with its 1-0 win on Tuesday. Mauritania is making its third tournament appearance, Cape Verde its fourth. They meet in Abidjan on Monday.
Senegal VS. Ivory Coast
Defending champion Senegal was the only team to win all its group games, and coach Aliou Cissé’s side has arguably looked the strongest so far. Cissé had a health scare but returned to take charge of the team for its final group game.
Host nation Ivory Coast only scraped into the knockout stage thanks to Morocco’s win over Zambia. It left the Elephants as the fourth-best third-place team from the six groups, the last one to qualify. Ivory Coast had already fired its coach earlier Wednesday.
The host nation on Thursday tried to land France women’s team coach Hervé Renard “on loan” for the rest of the tournament, but negotiations with the French federation failed to reach agreement. “I’d have loved it but fate chose otherwise,” Renard told Canal Plus.
Renard led Ivory Coast to its last Africa Cup title in 2015. Interim coach Emerse Faé will likely stay in charge for the game against Senegal in Yamoussoukro on Monday.
Mali VS. Burkina Faso
Burkina Faso has repeatedly gone close to winning its first Africa Cup title in recent years, but the Stallions had a setback in their final group game after losing to Angola. It means they have to play a strong Mali team that topped a group with South Africa, Namibia and Tunisia. The teams play Tuesday in Korhogo.
Morocco VS. South Africa
Morocco has had an eventful tournament so far with a melee at the end of its draw with Congo followed by a nervy win over Zambia to win its group. Coach Walid Regragui is suspended for his role in the heated scenes against Congo.
South Africa’s players sang and danced their way into the stadium before their final group game against Tunisia and the Bafana Bafana can count on some of the tournament’s most colorful support including Mama Joy.
South Africa is coached by Belgian Hugo Broos, who led Cameroon to the title in 2017. Morocco has only won the Africa Cup once but is expected to go far after reaching the World Cup semifinals. The teams play Tuesday in San Pedro.