By Devesh Jaganath
The blockbuster showdown on Monday in the Africa Cup of Nations round of 16 will see Senegal resume their title defence when they take on Ivory Coast at Charles Konan Banny Stadium.
The winner of this clash between Africa’s football heavyweights will move on to the quarter-final, where they will face either Mali or Burkina Faso, who square off on Tuesday evening in Korhogo.
It is just over a year since Senegal beat the Ivory Coast 1-0 at the CAF African Nations Championship, and they will be looking for a similar performance this time to take them just three wins away from defending their AFCON title.
While surprise packages Equatorial Guinea and Cape Verde claimed most of the headlines in the group stages, The Lions of Teranga were superb over their first three matches and emerged as the only team in the competition to win all three group stage matches.
They kicked off their AFCON campaign with a solid 3-0 win in match one against Gambia before outclassing Cameroon 3-1 in the second game and capped off an excellent round-robin performance with a 2-0 victory over Guinea.
With just one goal conceded in the group stages, The Lions of Teranga have the joint-best defensive record in the competition, and that was also the only goal they conceded in their last seven matches in all competitions.
Aliou Cisse’s side will now be looking to make it four wins in a row in this competition, which is a record that was last achieved by Algeria in the 2019 edition when they went on to lift the trophy.
Meanwhile, Ivory Coast’s AFCON has got progressively worse and are only still alive in the competition due to Ghana’s terrible form, which allowed them to clinch the final third-placed team qualification spot.
The Elephants made a bright start to the tournament, as they claimed a 2-0 opening round win over Guinea-Bissau, but they were unable to build on that performance and were beaten in match two by Nigeria.
However, a shocking 4-0 loss in their final group stage match followed and led to the Ivory Coast Football Federation opting to sack Jean-Louis Gasset as manager before the final qualification places were even confirmed.
Nevertheless, they managed to qualify for the round of 16 as the fourth-best third-placed team, and interim coach Emerse Fae has been handed the task of keeping The Elephants AFCON title hopes alive.
While all indicators suggest that the hosts may struggle to beat the Teranga Lions, history is in the Ivory Coast’s favour as they have played Senegal twice in this competition and won on both occasions (1965 and 1986).
Marseille’s Pape Gueye had to leave the field of play due to injury in Senegal’s 2-0 win over Guinea, and the midfielder was also not seen in training in the week, which casts doubts over his involvement in this match.
Attacker Abdallah Sima has been ruled out for the remainder of the tournament due to a thigh injury, which likely means that Strasbourg striker Habib Diallo will lead the line, flanked by Sadio Mane and Ismaila Sarr.
With a new coach at the helm, changes are expected for the hosts in this match, but they are likely to remain without Sebastian Haller, who has yet to feature in this competition due to an ankle injury.
Serge Aurier will be one of the players hoping to be restored to the starting 11 after being left as an unused substitute against Equatorial Guinea, while Nicolas Pepe could drop to the bench after a poor showing in the last match, which raised question marks about his fitness level having just returned from injury.
Senegal possible starting lineup:
Mendy; Diatta, Koulibaly, A Diallo, Jakobs; P.M Sarr, Gueye, Camara; I Sarr, H Diallo, Mane
Ivory Coast possible starting lineup:
Y Fofana; Aurier, Diomande, Ndicka, Konan; S Fofana, Sangare, Kessie; Kouame, Krasso, Bo
CAPE VERDE VS MAURITANIA
By Anthony Brown
Cape Verde seek to match their best Africa Cup of Nations showing when they face Mauritania in a round of 16 clash at the Felix Houphouet Boigny Stadium on Monday.
The Blue Sharks surprisingly topped Group B despite the presence of multiple-time winners Egypt and Ghana, while the Lions of Chinguetti stunned 2019 champions Algeria to secure passage to this stage for the first time in the nation’s history.
One of the fascinating observations about Cape Verde at the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations has been the Blue Sharks’ tendency to pick results in different ways.
Bubista’s men left it late to defeat Ghana 2-1 in a game they edged on chances and overall performance, outdid Mozambique due to superior finishing and were reactive and responded impressively to nick a point off Egypt in their final group fixture.
Scoring late against the Black Stars and the Pharaohs suggests the Blue Sharks never stop playing until the final whistle, standing them in good stead in knockout football.
Having never made it past the quarter-final stage, Bubista’s side could match their 2013 performance with victory over the Mauritanian side as they seek their first victory in the competition’s knockout rounds on Monday.
The Blue Sharks netted three goals in the 2013 finals in South Africa, a tally they have outdone by four at AFCON 2023, and the strikes coming from different goalscorers indicates that Bubista’s side do not rely on one player to deliver the goods, adding to their unpredictability.
As for Mauritania, Monday’s game is a historic event for the Lions of Chinguetti, who had never played a knockout game at the continental showpiece but booked their spot with a stunning 1-0 triumph over Algeria in their final group game.
Amir Abdou is proving his worth on the continent as the go-to guy to have minnows punching above their weight, having taken lowly Comoros to the last 16 at the previous finals with an unforeseen victory over Ghana.
The tactician’s adeptness at coaching a compact side gives them a fighting chance against any opponent, and they seek to keep surmounting challenges on their path to a quarter-final spot.
The Lions of Chinguetti have not only scored more than once in a game at AFCON 2023 — losing 3-2 to Angola — but became the third side to make the knockout rounds despite losing their opening two matches of the competition, joining DR Congo (2019) and Comoros (2021), the latter managed by Abdou.
It remains to be seen if Mauritania show the compactness from their tournament opener against Burkina Faso or a more attacking approach in the loss to Angola, but this side cannot be disregarded in tournament football.
Garry Rodrigues (against Ghana) and Bryan Teixeira (against Egypt) have scored second-half stoppage-time goals for Cape Verde, and Bubista’s in-game changes could swing the tie in the Blue Sharks’ favour.
Bebe has not featured for the Group B winners since going off injured in the victory over Mozambique, and the former Manchester United man is touch-and-go for Monday.
Abdou’s men can look to Aboubakary Koita, whose ball-striking provoked the cracker against Angola, and the wide attacker’s dribbling saw him complete the most take-ons in the group stage.
The Lions of Chinguetti pair Ibrahima Keita (12) and Omare Gassama (11) made the most tackles, underscoring Mauritania’s controlled aggression out of possession.
Mohamed Dellahi Yali, match-winner against Algeria, is touch-and-go for Monday after suffering an injury in the 1-0 success over the Fennecs.
Cape Verde possible starting lineup:
Vozinha; Moreira, Costa, Lopes, Paulo; Duarte, Pina, Monteiro; Mendes, Tavares, Cabral
Mauritania possible starting lineup:
Niasse; Keita, El Abd, Ba, Abeid; Gassama; Bouna, Thiam, Mouhsine, Koita; Anne