Tomorrow, the spotlight will be on the Africa Cup of Nations semi-finals, capturing the world’s attention. Nigeria is set to go head-to-head with South Africa, and hosts Ivory Coast will take on the Democratic Republic of Congo. This tournament has been filled with excitement, drama and surprises, and as all semi finalists match up tomorrow, there would be more expectation of excitement on the pitch.
In this article, Timothy Dehinbo takes a look at the chances of the four teams as they seek glory.
Nigeria vs South Africa
Nigeria secured second place in their group, progressing by defeating Cameroon and Angola in the knockout stages. South Africa, finishing second in Group E behind Mali, overcame Morocco and Cape Verde in the knockout rounds.
The Super Eagles of Nigeria will be up against the Bafana Bafana of South Africa at the Stade de la Paix in Bouaké on Wednesday 5 pm, GMT.
The last time South Africa reached the AFCON semis was in 2000 against Nigeria, where they lost 2-0. They would be hoping for a better outcome this time around.
Nigeria aims to keep their undefeated streak against South Africa in AFCON. The Super Eagles have won the last three encounters with a combined score of 8-1.
Jose Peseiro’s Super Eagles have been effective on both ends of the pitch and South Africa will have to grind a lot to see off Nigeria.
Nigeria boasts the highest expected goals (8.59) and the most significant scoring opportunities (18) in AFCON 2023. All six of their goals have originated from within the box. Only Ivory Coast (46) has taken more shots from inside the box than the Super Eagles (44).
Defensively, they have also been super effective, having conceded the fewest goals (1) and maintaining the highest number of clean sheets (4), tied with South Africa.
The Super Eagles fans will hope that the players can convert more of the numerous chances they create against the Bafana Bafana.
Although Hugo Broos’ South Africa may not match Nigeria’s attacking prowess, they exhibit defensive strength. Having conceded only two goals and secured four clean sheets, their defensive capabilities are also noteworthy.
South Africa made it through on penalties after a tense match against Cape Verde, finishing 0-0 in regular time. Hugo Broos’ team won 2-1 in the shootout, with Captain Ronwen Williams making key saves. Although Williams faced just two shots on target in normal and extra time, he impressively saved four penalties.
Williams has had a solid tournament, conceding only two goals from an expected goals on target (xGOT) of 5.1. This means he allowed fewer goals than expected. However, facing Nigeria’s high expected goals (xG) total of 8.59 will likely keep him busy.
Nigeria is considered the favorite to surpass South Africa, who has only defeated them once in a competitive game. However, Hugo Broos’ South Africa is on a mission and aims to spring more surprises. An intense battle is anticipated.
Ivory Coast vs DR Congo
Ivory Coast emerged third in Group A among the best four third-placed teams, winning against Senegal in penalties and Mali in the 120th minute during the knockout stages. Congo, securing second place in Group E after Morocco, triumphed over Egypt in penalties and later defeated Guinea in the quarter-finals. Interestingly, no group-topping team reached the semi-finals in this tournament.
Ivory Coast reached the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations semi-finals with just one win in regular time out of five matches. Their quarter-final against Mali looked uncertain until Simon Adingra’s injury-time equalizer pushed the game into extra time. In a tense moment, Oumar Diakité’s late goal secured their spot in the semi-finals.
DR Congo won their quarter-final against Guinea with a 3-1 score, though they had to bounce back from being behind. Goals from Chancel Mbemba, Yoane Wissa (from a penalty), and Arthur Masuaku secured their spot in the AFCON semi-finals for the first time since 2015 when they were eliminated at this stage by the Ivorians.
Ivory Coast and DR Congo have met five times before in the CAF Africa Cup of Nations (W2 D2 L1), with their last encounter being a 2-2 draw in the 2017 group stage. The only previous knockout stage meeting between Ivory Coast and DR Congo was in the 2015 semi-finals, where the Elephants emerged victorious with a 3-1 score and eventually lifted the trophy that year.
DR Congo has made it to their sixth AFCON semi-final. They won the two times they faced the hosts (vs Ethiopia in 1968 and vs Egypt in 1974) but haven’t won a semi-final match when not playing as the hosts, losing on all three occasions (1972, 1998, and 2015). Will there be a repeat of history for them?
One record hosts Ivory Coast would not like is that In the last three AFCON tournaments the host nation have reached the semi-final, they were eliminated without scoring a goal: Ghana in 2008 (lost 1-0 to Cameroon), Equatorial Guinea in 2015 (lost 3-0 to Ghana), and Cameroon in 2021 (drew 0-0 with Egypt and lost 3-1 on penalties). The last host to reach the final was Egypt in 2006.
Another fierce encounter awaits at the Stade Alassane Ouattara Stadium in Abidjan, 8 pm GMT.
As we anticipate these matches, two inevitable things are on the horizon: there will be heartbreak, and there will be joy. In a few hours, we will witness which of these emotions leans towards any of the teams.