Sunday January 28 round of 16 action in the Africa Cup of Nations will kick off with Equatorial Guinea taking on Guinea at Stade Olympique Alassane Ouattara in Abidjan.
The winner of this match will progress to the last eight, where they will face either the seven-time champions Egypt or two-time winners DR Congo on February 2 at this venue.
This year’s Africa Cup of Nations has already provided a few shocks, and perhaps the biggest of those surprises came from Group A, where Equatorial Guinea defied the pre-tournament odds to win the group.
However, they were deserved winners as they held off African heavyweights Cote D’Ivoire and Nigeria while managing an excellent total of nine goals in their three matches, which was the most of any side in the group stages.
During the group-stage games, the Nzalang National drew one all against The Super Eagles in their tournament opener but quickly found top gear to clinch a 4#2 win over Guinea-Bissau in match two before completely outplaying host Cote D’Ivoire, beating The Elephants 4#0 in the final match of the group.
With those nine goals in the group stages, Juan Micha’s side posted only two goals less than they managed in their first three tournaments combined that is 11 goals in 15 games in 2012, 2015, and 2021.
Equatorial Guinea have now reached the knockout stage in each of the last four AFCON competitions they have featured in; 2012, 2015, 2021 and 2023 and are the only nation to have played and reached the knockouts in each of their AFCON appearances since the group stage was introduced back in 1963.
Meanwhile, Guinea faced a 2#0 defeat against reigning champions Senegal in their last match, but securing a 1#0 win against Gambia and a 1#1 draw with Cameroon earned them a spot in the round of 16 as one of the top four best-ranked third-placed teams in the competition.
They have now scored just four goals in their last eight Africa Cup of Nations matches and never scored more than a single goal in any of the matches during that period.
This will mark the first time that Guinea faces this opponent, and it could turn out to be a titanic first meeting between two sides that are separated by just eight places in the FIFA world rankings, with Guinea currently ranked 80th and Equatorial Guinea placed 88th.
While the rankings may be in Kaba Diawara’s side’s favour, history is not, as they have suffered defeat in their last six AFCON knockout games and failed to score in the last four, including their round of 16 clashes in 2019.
Based on form in the competition, Guinea are the clear underdogs heading into this one, and while they do have more AFCON experience than their opponents, it will not count for much here.
Micha has opted for the same starting line-up in Equatorial Guinea’s last two matches, and considering the results in those games, it would come as no surprise if the head coach opted for an unchanged 11 again in this one.
Emilio Nsue, at the age of 34, scored five goals in the group stages and became the oldest player to score five or more goals in an AFCON, with Zambia’s Kalusha Bwalya, who scored five in 1996, being the previous oldest aged 32.
Jose Machin also claimed a piece of history in the group stages as he became one of only three players to provide an assist in three consecutive AFCON matches, joining Yaya Toure and Martin Hongla, who achieved the same feat in 2012 and 2022, respectively.
For Guinea, Stuttgart attacker Serhou Guirassy returned from injury and managed to play an hour before he was withdrawn in the side’s 2#0 defeat to Senegal last week.
Guirassy is expected to receive the nod again on Sunday and will likely receive support in attack from Liverpool’s Naby Keita, who also sat out Guinea’s first two matches due to injury.
Equatorial Guinea possible starting line-up
Owono; Akapo, Obiang, Coco, Ndong; Salvador, Ganet, Bikoro, Miranda, Pepin; Nsue
Guinea possible starting line-up
Kone; Diakite, Sow, M Camara, Sylla; Moriba, Diawara; A Camara, Keita, Conte; Guirassy
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