The 2019 Africa Cup of Nations round of 16 will start on Friday, June 05 with two games.
After the tournament was increased to 24 teams, it means the last 16 will be a knockout round as opposed from the usual group stage.
The 2019 edition in Egypt has already treated us to a few shocks and one or two pre-tournament favourites have so far lived up to the billing.
Who will shock the world of football and which favourite will continue into the last 8?
-Morocco vs Benin
The Atlas Lions breezed through Group D with a perfect three victories in as many games.
Despite putting up dominant performances, Morocco failed to score as many goals as the chances they created suggest. Out of the 8 shots on target, Herve Renard’s side scored only three goals and the Frenchman will be concerned as they head into Friday’s encounter with Benin.
With the likes of Hakim Ziyech, Sofiane Boufal, Youssef En Nesyri and Mbark Boussoufa, Renard’s concerns will however be limited as his side has a crop of very potent attackers, all of whom who are yet to click into top gear.
The concerns upfront, aside, Morocco were impressive at the other end as they conceded just three shots on target (0 goals) throughout the group stages, the least by any other side at AFCON 2019.
The defensive pairing of captain Medhi Benatia and Romain Saiss currently looks more solid than any other in the competition and can be tipped to produce another top-notch performance against a Benin side that dragged themselves into the round of 16.
The Squirrels were in Group F alongside two African football giants in Cameroon and Ghana plus Guinea-Bissau.
Whereas they can be forgiven for drawing their two games against the Indomitable Lions (0-0) and Black Stars (2-2), Michael Dussuyer’s side still failed to take care of Guinea-Bissau, drawing 0-0, something that leaves a lot of questions on whether they can produce a shock against Morocco.
Captain Stephane Sessegnon and Steve Mounie will need to be at more than 100% if Benin are to pull off one of the greatest shocks in AFCON history.
Last meeting: Morocco 6-1 Benin (13-11-2014)
Prediction: Morocco 2-0 Benin
-Senegal vs Uganda
This fixture has already headlined the post-round of 16, with Ugandan players going on strike over bonuses. The Cranes sat-out training on Tuesday, only returning the following day after their Federation had accepted to pay $6000.
All this comes after the Cranes negotiated their way into second place in Group A, losing only one of their three games.
Sebastein Desabre’s side have been one of the most impressive sides at the tournament so far, defeating DR Congo 2-0, drawing 1-1 with Zimbabwe before going down to host Egypt 0-2 last Sunday.
Their expansive style of play and fearless approach has seen them win over neutrals at the tournament and in Denis Onyango, they have the best goalkeeper at the competition. They also have a certain Emmanuel Okwi who is among the top scorers at the competition having already scored two goals.
They come into the game having lost only three competitive games since February 2017 and it is a record that Senegal will have at the back of their minds.
However, the Lions of Teranga are one of the favourites to win the tournament.
Aliou Cisse’s side who finished second in Group C behind Algeria, are yet to hit full gear as evident in their loss to the Desert Foxes on Match-day two.
Captain and Star-player Sadio Mane got off the mark with a brace against Kenya on Monday and him along with Balde Keita will be tasked with carrying Senegal into the last 8, something they are so capable of.
Last meeting: Senegal 0-0 (06-06-2017)
Prediction: Senegal 1-0 Uganda
-Nigeria vs Cameroon
One of African football greatest rivalries of all time will open a new chapter on Saturday afternoon as Cameroon and Nigeria clash once again.
The two sides may not possess the brightest of rosters currently but their clashes always tend to light-up the Africa Cup of Nations.
They last met at the finals in 2004 with Nigeria defeating Cameroon 2-1 at the quarter-final stage.
At the 2019 edition, both are yet to impress as they struggled to progress through their respective groups. Despite winning both of their first two games in Group B, by a 1-0 score-line, Nigeria went on to loss 0-2 in their last game against Madagascar, finishing second.
For Cameroon, The drew twice and won one of their Group F games, qualifying for the round of 16 in second place behind Ghana.
Clarence Seedorf’s side only defeated minors Guinea-Bissau, requiring two second-half goals, something that leaves a lot to be desired.
Both sides will bank on stars to get into the last 8. Nigeria have Alex Iwobi, John Mikel Obi, Ahmed Musa and the young Samuel-Chukwueze while Cameroon boosts of Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting, Clinton N’jie, Toko Ekambi and Christian Bassogog.
Last meeting: Cameroon 1-1 Nigeria (04-09-2017)
Prediction: Nigeria 1-1 Cameroon (Cameroon win on penalties)
-Egypt vs South Africa
The hosts were one of only three nations to collect maximum points at the group stages and are highly fancied to win this tournament.
Javier Aguirre’s side defeated Zimbabwe 1-0 on opening day, took care of DR Congo 2-0 before powering past Uganda by the same scoreline last Sunday.
The three victories have been achieved minus hitting the highest of tones, something which should worry their round of 16 opponents, South Africa and whoever stands in Egypt’s way.
Bafana Bafana on the other side will be feeling lucky to be in the last 16 after barely impressing in the groups.
Stuart Baxter’s side lost two of their three games, defeating lowly Namibia 1-0 in the other. Among the last 16, surely, they are the one side who never produced a worthy performance at the group stage and will be forgiven if they try to approach Saturday’s game against Egypt cautiously.
Egypt will once again look to Mohammad Salah for inspiration but in Muhammed Trazeguet, they have another player capable of taking care of South Africa.
Bafana Bafana will be praying Lebo Mothiba finally arrives at the tournament after three horrible performance. They also have Percy Tau who is capable of winning any game on a given day.
Last meeting: South Africa 1-0 Egypt (06-09-2016)
Prediction: Egypt 2-1 South Africa