The Ivory Coast, which entered the Africa Cup of Nations as the prohibitive favorite, was eliminated in the quarterfinals, opening the draw for the remaining four nations. Ghana assumes top billing heading into Wednesday's semifinals.
Ghana will take on Burkina Faso, the tournament's most surprising semifinal squad in the second match. It will be preceded by Mali against Nigeria, the side that sent the Ivory Coast packing. All four countries stand two wins away from Cup of Nations glory.
After an exciting batch of quarterfinal matches that featured two trips to extra time and a major upset, fans will be hoping the semifinals can replicate the intrigue. Here's a look at the viewing information, followed by a preview and prediction for each clash.
When: Wednesday, Feb. 6 at 10 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. ET
Where: Moses Mabhida Stadium and Mbombela Stadium in South Africa
Watch: EuroSport (Live stream only in U.S.)
Live Stream: ESPN3.com
Mali vs. Nigeria
Nigeria deserves a lot of credit for its win over the Ivory Coast. The Super Eagles didn't advance by fluke. They stood toe-to-toe with the Elephants throughout the match, and that should provide them with plenty of confidence heading into the semifinals.
The biggest key for Nigeria is remaining strong in the midfield. People underestimated the country's depth in that area coming into the tournament, but John Obi Mikel, Sunday Mba and Ogenyi Onazi have been extremely strong up the middle.
When they can control the match, it takes a boatload of pressure off the back line. It was the main reason the Super Eagles were able to keep the Ivory Coast's talented group of attackers at bay. The focus should remain the same against Mali.
The Eagles eliminated host country South Africa to earn their spot in the semis. To nobody's surprise, it was veteran midfielder Seydou Keita leading the way with a second-half goal that propelled the match into extra time and eventually in the win column.
Since Nigeria should be able to play the match at its pace, the experienced Mali defenders will be forced to step up. Molla Wague is the only back line starter that doesn't have at least 40 international appearances.
All told, it's hard not to be impressed with what Nigeria has accomplished to this point. While Mali should have enough veteran depth to keep it close throughout, look for the Super Eagles to continue their run with a trip to the final.
Prediction: 2-1 Nigeria
Burkina Faso vs. Ghana
Ghana can learn from the Ivory Coast. It's not easy to survive in this type of event as the favorite, especially when the opponent has absolutely nothing to lose after already exceeding most expectations like Burkina Faso.
The good news for the Black Stars is that their defense has been terrific. After allowing two goals in the opener against Congo, they have earned three straight clean sheets. Teams built on strong play at the back have fared best in this tournament.
Then there's Asamoah Gyan and Wakaso Mubarak, who scored both goals in the country's quarterfinal triumph, up front to provide balance. It's that depth which has made Ghana's trip to this point look relatively easy.
For Burkina Faso to pull off the upset, it will take a huge effort from the hero of the last match, Jonathan Pitroipa, and his fellow midfielders. They cannot let Ghana play on its terms like it has over the past three matches.
That means the Stallions will have to be more aggressive on the attack. Sitting back and hoping for a few chances on the counterattack won't be enough. The Black Stars simply have too much firepower for that plan to work over the course of 90 minutes.
Burkina Faso should be able to provide resistance to the Ghana attack for awhile, but ultimately the Black Stars should be able to break down that wall and pull away in the second half. They won't let the favored status impact them.
Prediction: 2-0 Ghana
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