SAN PEDRO, Côte d’Ivoire — The CAF Africa Cup of Nations, (AFCON), has reached fever pitch, with the semi-finals line-up officially confirmed after Nigeria, DR Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, and South Africa secured their respective places.
Victor Osimhen’s Nigeria will aim to continue their formidable record at this Africa Cup of Nations when they take on South Africa in the semi-finals on Wednesday, while hosts Côte d’Ivoire will meet DR Congo after a miraculous run to the last four.
Nigeria appear the strongest side left at the competition with the reigning African footballer of the year up front and the way coach Jose Peseiro has made them so strong defensively.
Since drawing 1-1 with Equatorial Guinea in their opening match, Nigeria has recorded four straight wins without conceding a goal.
“If you don’t concede goals you can win every time,” said Peseiro after the quarter-final victory over Angola in Abidjan, when Ademola Lookman scored to seal a 1-0 victory.
The Nigerians have won through to a record 15th Cup of Nations semi-final as they aim to lift the trophy for the fourth time and first since 2013 in South Africa.
It is the South Africans they face at the Stade de la Paix in Bouake in a repeat of the 2019 quarter-final in Egypt which the Super Eagles won 2-1 thanks to current skipper William Troost-Ekong’s late goal.
Bafana Bafana followed that by failing to qualify for the last AFCON in 2022, but is back on the big stage under veteran Belgian coach Hugo Broos.
The man who led Cameroon to the 2017 title against the odds has taken South Africa to their first semi-final in 24 years, although they needed heroics from goalkeeper Ronwen Williams to beat Cape Verde on penalties in the last eight.
Before that they got the better of Morocco, the continent’s top-ranked team, and South Africa have matched Nigeria’s achievement in keeping four straight clean sheets.
“I think Nigeria is a team who are getting better and better with every game,” said Broos according to AFP.
“It is a little bit special for both teams because we also have to play each other in a few months in the qualifiers for the World Cup, so it can be a test for both of us.”
‘Not afraid of anything’
Côte d’Ivoire will face DR Congo in the second semi-final later on Wednesday at the Ebimpe Olympic Stadium in Abidjan, where the Elephants have not played since a humiliating 4-0 loss to Equatorial Guinea in their last group game.
It was the Elephants’ heaviest ever home defeat and their second reverse of the group stage. At that point it looked as if the hosts would be going out in the first round.
Coach Jean-Louis Gasset was sacked, but what has followed has been astonishing.
Favourable results elsewhere allowed them to scrape through as the last of the four best third-placed teams, and they then knocked out holders Senegal on penalties in the last 16 after equalising late in normal time.
Under interim coach Fae, the Ivorians’ latest incredible escape came in Saturday’s quarter-final, when they beat neighbours Mali 2-1 thanks to Oumar Diakite’s goal in added time at the end of extra time.
Côte d’Ivoire had been reduced to 10 men late in the first half when Odilon Kossounou was sent off, and were heading out, trailing 1-0, when substitute Simon Adringa levelled in the 90th minute to force extra time.
“After Equatorial Guinea we were at the bottom of a hole. We had to wait and hope that we would qualify, which happened, and now we are not afraid of anything,” said midfielder Seko Fofana.
Ivory Coast will be without Kossounou and Diakite, who are suspended, but Sebastien Haller must be a contender to start for the first time this tournament.
The Borussia Dortmund striker missed the group stage injured but has since had a big impact off the bench.
DR Congo beat Egypt on penalties in the last 16 and then came from behind to beat Guinea 3-1 in the quarters.
They are dreaming of reaching the final for the first time since they were champions as Zaire in 1974.
Wednesday’s semi-finals fixtures
Nigeria vs South Africa
Côte d’Ivoire vs DR Congo