CAIRO: Two derbies will add spice to the Africa Cup of Nations round of 16 as Nigeria and Cameroon renew their often bitter rivalry while Ivory Coast face a Mali side who have done a lot of catching up on their neighbours recently.
Hosts Egypt need to get over their first-round jitters as they meet South Africa while rank outsiders Madagascar and Uganda will look to cause further upsets against Democratic Republic of Congo and Senegal respectively.
Nigeria and Cameroon do not meet that often — Saturday’s match in Alexandria will be their 23rd clash — but the sparks tend to fly when they do especially as three of those matches have been in AFCON finals with Cameroon winning all of them.
The Super Eagles were furious in the 1988 final when Henry Nwosu had a goal disallowed in a match Cameroon won 1-0.
Twelve years later, the two played an epic final in Lagos when Nigeria hit back from two goals behind to draw 2-2, only to lose 4-3 on penalties.
However, replays showed that Victor Ikpeba’s missed spot kick for Nigeria should have been allowed because the ball crossed the line after hitting the bar.
Overall, Cameroon have won 11 of the 22 matches to Nigeria’s four although the Super Eagles qualified for last year’s World Cup at their rivals’ expense after a 4-0 win at home and 1-1 draw away.
Both teams are under pressure after finishing second in their groups, Nigeria after losing 2-0 to Madagascar and Cameroon after playing out two 0-0 draws
Mali have not beaten Ivory Coast since 1983, and have won only three out of 18 meetings, but the two sides, who meet in Suez on Monday, seem to be heading in opposite directions.
Ivory Coast’s golden generation, including striker Didier Drogba, have retired while Mali have one of the most exciting squads at the tournament, with nearly all their players based in Europe’s top five leagues, particularly France.
They won their group in style with seven points out of nine and their shooting from distance has been outstanding, producing four of their six goals.
Egypt, who meet South Africa on Saturday, won all their group games without conceding a goal but it did not satisfy the home audience.
“The pressure is a lot….people want us to win, win, win. win,” said their Mexican coach Javier Aguirre. “We lack confidence in our game and on the ball. Maybe it’s the pressure of 70,000 people.”
Uganda go into Friday’s match against Senegal after the federation (FUFA) said it had settled a pay dispute with the players by offering an additional $6,000 each.