Two teams roll out into the knock-out stage of the 31st edition of Afcon slightly ahead of the rest pack. They have both arrived as the favourites using different routes.
No more Cinderella
Senegal has been dominant and full of swag from day one. Cisse’s men have been so impressive and have played with some much cohesion up front that they could rest ten men and still hold Africa’s fourth ranked team, Algeria, to a 2-2 draw.
With a supporting cast of West Ham’s Cheikhou Kouyate and a gaggle young whippersnappers eager to prove their worthiness, the mercurial Sadio Mane has been both impressive for the Teranga Lions, and virtually unstoppable for each and every back four he has faced so far.
Ready to cast off the Cinderella tag….Senegal wants to have the last dance and not just disappear at midnight.
Just ask Liverpool how good he is and Klopp will point to his team’s record since the diminutive marksman packed his bag for Gabon. It has not been good.
Their clash against the other Lions, also unbeaten, namely the ‘Indomitable’ ones from neighbouring central Africa, will be a mouth-watering spectacle to behold as Hugo Broos will throw a still relatively new defence at them.
It will be a clash of wills with each team trying impose theirs on the other. Cameroon slow and methodical and trying to punish Senegal on the rebound, while the latter will pound and run and then pound and run some more and let Mane score .
After the dust has settled, and the fur has stopped flying it is expected that the Senegalese Lions will remain on top of the list of favourites, as they have been right from day one.
Pharaohs get their groove back
Egypt after the spectacular win against Nigeria to qualify for Afcon, started the tournament flat footed and heavy against Mali. Yet coach Cuper remain steadfast to his new style which is lull you to sleep, and then beat with you with a fast counter.
Back for an eight title? The North African bully is peaking at the right time, which should worry the rest of Africa.
We saw this work perfectly when the Pharaohs clipped the Cranes wings right at the end of their game, and when Salah took advantage of a set play and breached the Black Stars wall to beat them and win their group. So just as Ghana has picked a bad time to loose steam the Egyptians have found their missing mojo.
In the North African derby against Morocco one expects a very technical game, as it normally is the case when Arabs play Arabs. However with the athleticism of Salah up front and the never aging 44 year old El-Hadary still as spry and focused as a teenager, one see’s the advantage tilt in favour of the Pharaohs and elevating them to co-favourite status.
Based on this, it is more than likely that come February the 5th, when in Libreville, these two teams, the bully and the newcomer, line up and face each other for the 12th time in their history, it will be their most important encounter ever , as it will be for all the marbles.