2013 AFCON Quarter Finals Preview

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VENTURES AFRICA – The quarter finals of the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations takes place this weekend. Even though some tickets for the semi finals and finals of the tournament are still left unsold, expect some fireworks as well as the best of African football when the Black Stars of Ghana file against Cape Verde; hosts Bafana Bafana take on Mali; Cote d’Ivoire play Nigeria and Bourkina Faso play Togo. Here’s a preview of all four games.

GHANA VS CAPE VERDE
Ghana’s Black Stars are one of the tournament favourites. Despite a slow start after their 2:2 draw with DR Congo, the Ghanaians have gone to secure two confident boosting victories – 1:0 against Mali and 3:0 against Niger – to show their class. Ghana topped group A with 7 points and are strong favourites to beat their opponents. Aside this, Each Ghana player received $35 000 after qualifying for the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations quarterfinals, officials said on Tuesday. According to team manager Emmanuel Kyeremeh, “The bonuses have been paid. Had they failed to qualify for the quarterfinals, they would not have received anything,” he added. With this cash bonus, expect the Kwesi Appiah led team to go all out against the Blue Sharks of Cape Verde.

On the other hand, Cape Verde have nothing to lose. Reaching the last 8 after their pulsating 2:1 win over Angola is enough achievement for the tiny West African island of just over 500, 000 people. Captain Nando captures the mood in their camp when he says, “There will not be pressure on my team. Why would there be? People don’t tell us we have to win the cup. Nobody expects anything from us. If we beat Ghana, we would be 50 percent of the way to winning this competition. Ghana have to win this match. All the pressure is on [them].”

Well, not only will pressure be on the Black Stars but also an opportunity for the team to get another 22, 000 dollars each if they reach medal position.

VERDICT: Ghana 2:1 Cape Verde

SOUTH AFRICA vs MALI
SouthAfrica’s Bafana Bafana are in the knock out stages of the AFCON for the first time since their last quarter final appearance in 2002. This is a massive achievement for the 1996 champions. Co-incidentally, their opponents Mali were also the team to defeat them 13 years ago in the last 8. South Africa manager Gordon Igesund admits his opponents are strong and have the height to trouble his team.

“Mali are a talented team with very good players. They play differently from the other sides we have met so far. They like to slow things down; they like to knock the ball around.” Igesund said. He goes on to add that “the Malians are all big boys. I watched them draw against the Democratic Republic of Congo and all 11 are tall. We have to use the ball well, keep it on the ground, (and) get behind them.”

The Eagles of Mali on the other hand are expected to be without first choice goalie Mamadou Samassa, who is suspended. His place in goal is likely to be taken by penalty specialist Soumbeyla Diakite. Diakite famously (or notoriously if you support Gabon) saved from Gabon’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in a quarter-final shoot-out of last year’s edition in Libreville. More so, captain Seydou Keita has assured that a possible disagreement over player bonuses will not affect what he says is Mali’s ”priceless” campaign at the African Cup of Nations even if it means paying some of the money himself.

Despite saying there could still be a problem over extra payments for players if they reached the semifinals by beating host South Africa, the former Barcelona midfield general said he would help if it was needed. According to him, “you cannot imagine how moved and happy I am to be here today and be able to play a match that will bring joy to my country. This is priceless. Money doesn’t matter in such moments.”

VERDICT: South Africa 0: 1 Mali

COTE d’IVOIRE VS NIGERIA
This fixture promises to be the star attraction of all the games. Games involving both sides are usually fiercely contested. En route the 1994 USA 94 World Cup, both sides were in the same qualifying group and ended up sharing the spoils with home victories. But both teams did play what arguably is the best match ever at the AFCON is the 1994 semi finals which ended in a 2:2 draw but Nigeria’s Super Eagles triumphed 4:2 on penalties. But since then, Nigeria have lost twice to their Sunday opponents – in the group stages in 2006 and the semi finals of the 2008 edition.

Presently, Nigeria’s Super Eagles are the underdogs as Stephen Keshi’s team are in transition. In fact, most Nigerians already feel the team will be thrashed by their opponents who have better and more experienced players. To this end, the Nigeria Footbal Federation has offered each national team player $15,000 to beat the Ivorians. NFF spokeperson Ademola Olajire says each player will recieve a $90,000 bonus if they win the AFCON, $20,000 for reaching the semifinals and $25,000 for the final. Also, Federation secretary general Musa Adamu says the reward is meant “to motivate the players to make Nigeria proud.”

Well, the team needs enough motivation as midfield maestro Fego Ogude will be suspended while Chelsea man John Mikel Obi is expected to start. Despite contrary rumours that he will be suspended, Obi only has one yellow card.

VERDICT: Cote d’Ivoire 3: 1 Nigeria

TOGO VS BOURKINA FASO
The last quarter final games involves two teams who were not give much of a chance in the competition. The Stallions of Bourkina Faso topped Group C against all odds beating Ethiopia 4:0 and securing a late equalizer against Nigeria to secure a point as well ousting defending champions Zambia after a goalless draw. However, the Stallions will miss the services of striker Alain Traore who has a thigh problem.

On the other hand, the Hawks of Togo have put aside money related issues which almost marred their AFCON preparations. Captain Emmanuel Adebayor almost missed the competition after threatening to withdraw from the competition because of perceived ill-treatment coming from the Togolese football authorities. But those off-field issues now seem a thing of the past as Ade has lead his team to their first quarter final appearance in the competition.

VERDICT: Togo 1:1 Bourkina Faso (4:3 after AET and Penalties)