On Wednesday, the semifinals of the Africa Cup of Nations will commence. If this round is anything like the group stages or quarterfinals, we should have some excellent soccer on tap.
In the first game, Mali—last year's third-place finisher—will take on Nigeria, which upset tournament favorites Ivory Coast. In the second game, the defensively stout Burkina Faso will attempt to beat Ghana, the most consistent team in the tournament to this point.
Both games promise to be evenly matched, highly contested matches. Let's predict how each will play out.
Mali vs. Nigeria
Is this the year Nigeria's performance and final result finally equals the team's talent and potential?
Nigeria is unquestionably a talented side. Chelsea players John Obi Mikel and Victor Moses—who was excellent against the Ivory Coast—are very talented. Forward Emmanuel Emenike has been fantastic over the entire tournament. If there is a team that has the talent to win this tourney, Nigeria is it.
But Mali has a lot of tournament experience and is led by the ageless Seydou Keita who has been truly clutch for his country at this tournament.
Still, I'm feeling brave. I was impressed by Nigeria against Ivory Coast, and I'm going to make the risky pick and take the talented but enigmatic Nigerians in this one.
Prediction: Nigeria wins, 2-1
Burkina Faso vs. Ghana
If you think you're going to get a high-scoring, end-to-end affair when Burkina Faso faces Ghana, consider the following from John Bennett of the BBC:
Ghana haven't conceded for 292 minutes. Burkina Faso haven't conceded for 367 minutes... Nine goal thriller tomorrow then! #bbcafcon— John Bennett (@JohnBennettBBC) February 5, 2013
You can go ahead and predict a cagey, cautious affair if you like. Both defenses are stout, there's not doubt about that.
But I do think Ghana will look to control possession and press Burkina Faso back against its own box. Ghana is the more talented side, and it would be a mistake to play overly cautious and set a pace Burkina Faso is more comfortable with.
Plus, Burkina Faso is without leading scorer and top attacker Alain Traoré. It all looks as though it adds up to a Ghana win. But that's why they play the games, right?
Prediction: Ghana wins, 1-0