AFCON 2023: High expectations as Nigeria battles Angola for semifinal ticket

The boys have been separated from the men. The initial field of 24 teams in this year’s Africa Cup of Nations has been narrowed to eight, and today, the battle for who picks a semifinal ticket begins with the Super Eagles pitted against the Palancas Negras of Angola.

Incidentally, all the eight teams at the 2021 edition of the AFCON held in Cameroon have been eliminated, leaving the race for teams, who were not too highly rated before the competition kicked off on January 13.

As predicted by The Guardian at the beginning of the championship, the Super Eagles are now top among the eight teams favoured to lift the title. Five West African teams (Nigeria, Cote d’Ivoire, Mali, Cape Verde, Guinea) are still in the race alongside two Southern African teams (Angola and South Africa), with the DR Congo holding the flag for Central Africa.

At this stage at Cameroon 2021 AFCON, flags-and-banner-waving supporters of the ‘giants’ Senegal, Egypt, Morocco, Cameroon, Burkina Faso, Tunisia, Equatorial Guinea and The Gambia were in full command. But in just two years, African football has shown quite how dynamic it is. Apart from all the top eight at the last AFCON already sent home, all of Africa’s top five ranked teams have also fallen by the wayside. Morocco (1), Senegal (2), Tunisia (3), Algeria (4) and Egypt (5).

The real title race resumes today as Nigeria take on Angola, while DR Congo faces Guinea. Tomorrow, Mali will take on hosts, Cote d’Ivoire, while Cape Verde will battle with South Africa.

A semifinal slot today puts the Super Eagles on familiar terrain, and on the brink of another podium finish as they have done 15 times in their previous 19 outings.

Looking ahead to another successful day after the Super Eagles’ heroics against Cameroon, Moses Simon said the team must keep their feet on the ground, adding that there is no room for complacency.

Angola, who have been involved in classic clashes with Nigeria in recent years, believes that motivation will play a key role in today’s game.

The team has been promised iPhone 15 by their telecoms company, UNITEL, just as Angolan bank, Banco Keve, has also promised to give each player $9,600 if they beat Nigeria. Angolan diamond company, Social EP, also promised to give the team $250,000 if they win, just as another bank, BAI, earlier gave each of the players $6,000 for beating Namibia 3-0 in the round of 16.

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