The 2023 Africa Cup of Nations, hosted by Ivory Coast, has been captivating, thrilling and emotional – and not just on the field. This edition has seen several surprises. Minnow Mauritania registered its first-ever AFCON win over powerhouse Algeria. Also, hosts Ivory Coast qualified for the quarterfinals after sacking its head coach.

Competitive play in a good atmosphere

The atmosphere in the Ivorian stadiums has been electrifying. The home crowd, it could be argued, was more intimidating than their national team, at least during the group stage. Games not featuring the hosts did not lack any energy as fans chanted & danced throughout matches with infectious joy. On the field, one of the tournament’s major themes has been evenly contested games with few lopsided scorelines. The 36 group stage matches saw only three 0-0 final scorelines. Some historic results were witnessed, including Mauritania’s famous 1-0 win over Algeria and an impressive run of results by the islanders of Cape Verde.

Before the round of 16, the host nation provided more drama by firing coach Jean-Louis Gasset after an unconvincing group stage and just 2 days before facing defending champions Senegal. His replacement, interim manager Jean-Claude Wamket, inspired a monumental upset, with the Elephants beating the Lions of Teranga on penalties after a hard-fought 1-1 draw.

Besides the penalty shoot-out win by the hosts over Senegal, other surprises included South Africa eliminating Morocco; DR Congo eliminating Egypt which was missing the injured Mohammed Salah; and Cape Verde’s continued success, this time eliminating another surprise side in Mauritania. The results set up some mouthwatering quarterfinal matchups.

Looking to the last eight at 2023 Africa Cup of Nations

The quarterfinal stage will take place this Friday & Saturday (February 2/3) and will open with an all-West African quarterfinal, the Super Eagles of Nigeria take on the surprise package Angola. The irresistible Victor Osimhen spearheads Augustine Eguavoen’s Nigeria. Angola’s veteran coach Pedro Gonçalves has organized his side superbly and scored 9 goals in their 4 matches.

Friday’s second match features Guinea facing Congo DR. Congo has reached this stage after three draws in the group stage and a dramatic penalty shootout over Egypt in the round of 16.

Saturday’s lineup begins with Ivory Coast against Mali. This electric West African derby between two teams brims with talent in players like Franck Kessie, Ibrahim Sangare, Amadou Haidara and Yves Bissouma. The hosts will rely on raucous home support. Meanwhile, Mali comes into the match with good momentum after eliminating Burkina Faso 2-1 in the ‘Round of 16’.

The quarterfinals conclude with Cape Verde Islands against South Africa. That promises an open, end-to-end thriller between two teams. Moreover, few thought either of these sides would reach the quarterfinals. Now, one will advance to the semifinals.

AFCON promises a riveting climax

There are so many uncertainties and questions regarding the last eight teams at the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations.

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Can the hosts, with an interim manager, grab the title? Are the Super Eagles of Nigeria too strong not to lift the trophy when it’s all said and done? Can the surprise package Cape Verde continue their impressive run or will South Africa unexpectedly triumph? If you haven’t been following the tournament, you’re missing some first-class soccer. So, tune in to what should be a riveting climax to the tournament. The matches are available on beIN SPORTS in the U.S.

PHOTOS: IMAGO.