After an electric group stage, the 2016 African Nations Championship progresses to the knockout rounds, with pre-tournament favourites Nigeria the notable absentees from a final eight that includes hosts Rwanda, Cameroon and the Ivory Coast.
Indeed, the latter two will face off in the quarter-finals, while the Wasps take on DR Congo. Mali will be up against it when they try to overcome free-scoring Tunisia, and Group D-winners Zambia take on debutants Guinea in one of the round's most intriguing matchups.
Here is how the bracket will shape up for the rest of the competition:
Read on for a closer look at how the quarter-finals might play out, but first, here is the schedule information complete with picks for each:
|CHAN 2016 Schedule: Quarter-Finals|
|Date||Time (GMT / ET)||Team||vs.||Team||Pick|
|Saturday, Jan. 30||1 p.m. / 8 a.m.||Rwanda||vs.||DR Congo||2-3|
|Saturday, Jan. 30||4 p.m. / 11 a.m.||Cameroon||vs.||Ivory Coast||1-2|
|Sunday, Jan. 31||1 p.m. / 8 a.m.||Tunisia||vs.||Mali||3-0|
|Sunday, Jan. 31||4 p.m. / 11 a.m.||Zambia||vs.||Guinea||1-0|
As noted by football journalist Collins Okinyo, the tournament so far has more than lived up to its billing:
Per the Confederation of African Football, his claim is certainly backed up given the number of goals that have been flying in:
DR Congo, scorer of seven goals in the group stages—the second-highest in the tournament after Tunisia's eight—kick off the next round alongside Rwanda, whose back-to-back wins in their first two games allowed them to rest most of their players for the final group game with Morocco.
The Wasps sank to a 4-1 defeat in that game, but with their stronger players set to return to action, they should put in a better performance against Congo.
Mohamed Fakhir, the manager of Morocco, believes the winner of this particular quarter-final can go on to claim the competition out right.
Per Peter Kamasa for allAfrica.com, he said: "I have been following the teams in this tournament, but Rwanda and DR Congo are better placed to win the title. They have shown their capacity in past matches, and I believe if they continue the way they are both playing, they will cause problems for many teams."
On the hosts, he added: "Individually they are strong and organized" while on Congo he said they are "a favourite team to win the title because they know the competition very well, and they have been doing well so far."
After a similarly strong start, Congo were also defeated handily in their final outing of the group stage, losing 3-1 to Cameroon. It's set to be a thrilling contest in Amahoro, with the hosts' home advantage arguably giving them a slight edge.
As for Cameroon, they've looked solid throughout the competition, and as football writer Usher Komugisha noted, they finished the group stage on a high:
Their opponents Ivory Coast have also proved reasonably strong, and as CAF reveals, the two sides have conceded just three times between them so far:
The two teams are fairly evenly matched, so another close contest could ensue. Unlikely to be as narrow is Mali's match with Tunisia. The Carthage Eagles finished top in Group C with an emphatic victory in their final group game, per Komugisha:
Key to their efforts is Ahmed Akaichi, who is the highest-scoring player left in the competition after Nigeria's shock exit, per Okinyo:
Mali's route to the quarter-finals was somewhat less exciting, with three goals scored and two conceded in their three games. With Akaichi in top form, the Eagles could find themselves overwhelmed by Tunisia's attacking power.
What makes Guinea's clash with Zambia so intriguing is the latter's incredible record in the group stages. Though they scored just two goals, they kept three clean sheets to top Group D.
Meanwhile, two late equalisers gave Guinea two 2-2 draws before they stunned Nigeria with a 1-0 win in their final match.
Their resilience will undoubtedly prove highly useful in taking on Zambia, but the Bullets' organisation and ability to grind out results could just swing the match in their favour.