They might as well have called it the West Africa Cup of Nations and included South Africa, the hosts, just for fun.
Never before in the tournament’s history has one region so dominated the makeup of the quarterfinals. But for South Africa, who finished atop Group A, the entire round hails from West Africa, which means the eventual champion likely will as well.
It has been 19 years, in which nine Cups of Nations have been played, since Nigeria last claimed the title for the region. Five of the quarterfinalists in 1994 were West African—a number that was never again equalled until Nigeria and Burkina Faso booked their places on Tuesday. They were joined a day later by Togo, who along with Cape Verde, Ghana, Mali and Ivory Coast completed the last eight.
So we have two West African derbies (Ivory Coast v Nigeria and Burkina Faso v Togo), an intriguing contest between Ghana and tournament debutants Cape Verde and a toss-up involving South Africa and Mali coming up this weekend.
Like much of the tournament has to date, each of the four ties promises to deliver something unexpected. There are no clear favourites in any of them, and if the semifinals ended up involving the precisely opposite roster selected on the next four slides no one would be all that surprised.
But that’s what makes this competition—and this instalment of it, in particular—especially compelling. You don’t know what you’re going to get; you can’t say with confidence that this side or that will lift the trophy in Johannesburg on February 10.