What to watch for in the Africa Cup of Nations quarterfinals
PORT-GENTIL, Gabon (AP) — Ghana has serious injury concerns over captain Asamoah Gyan ahead of the African Cup of Nations quarterfinals, while Senegal has no problems at all with the goal-scoring form of Sadio Mane.
Egypt, after seven years of struggle, is back in the big time and faces North African rival Morocco for a place in the last four. Congo, Tunisia and Burkina Faso are the teams looking to surprise.
Some things to know and players to watch as the knockout stages begin this weekend:
Ghana's Gyan fears
Ghana's smooth start hit a couple of bumps in Port-Gentil with a loss to Egypt and, more crucially, an injury to leading striker Gyan. He is in doubt to play the quarterfinal against Congo and his leg injury might be serious enough to keep him out of the rest of the tournament. That'll be a big blow to Ghana, which is once again trying to end a long wait for an African Cup title: 35 years and counting.
Waiting for Ghana in the quarterfinals in Oyem on Sunday is Congo, the free-scoring revelation of the tournament. Congo has been a breath of fresh air in hot and humid Gabon with its exciting, attacking approach.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: If Gyan is out for Ghana, fellow forward Andre Ayew's role takes on even greater importance up front. Congo's Junior Kabananga is the leading scorer at the tournament with three goals in three games. If he's in-form again, Ghana might be in trouble.
Senegal soaring with Mane
The pre-tournament hype over Sadio Mane was justified. He scored in each of Senegal's first two games, helping to secure a place in the quarterfinals and earning him a rest for the 2-2 draw with Algeria. Expect him fresh and raring to go for the quarterfinal with Cameroon in Franceville on Saturday. Senegal has never won the African Cup—it lost in the final with its golden generation in 2002—but established itself as a favorite in Gabon with compelling performances against Tunisia and Zimbabwe. Senegal appeared to be cruising at stages in those games and may not have even hit top gear yet.
Cameroon has won its first games at a major tournament in seven years and came through the challenge of facing host Gabon and Burkina Faso in the group stage.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: For Senegal, it's Mane. For Cameroon, winger Christian Bassogog has been at the heart of the attacks, but he has a foot injury and the Cameroonians will be praying for his recovery.
Egypt's return to the big time
Egypt may not be the best attacking team to watch but its reputation as a well-drilled unit under Argentine coach Hector Cuper was underlined by the fact that it's the only team not to concede a goal. A solid defense is a big plus in knockout games.
Morocco will travel to Port-Gentil to play Egypt, a North African derby that'll be intensified by Egypt's desire to go far at its first African Cup appearance in seven years, and Morocco coach Herve Renard's desire to claim a third title with three different teams.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Forward Mohamed Salah is the focus for Egypt up front, its go-to man for the team's counterattacking style. For Morocco, 19-year-old Youssef En Nesyri has looked dangerous.
Surprise: Tunisia or Burkina Faso to make semis
Tunisia or Burkina Faso will make the semifinals, both teams that were given little attention in the buildup. Burkina Faso squeezed through by holding out for draws against Cameroon and host Gabon in the group stage. Tunisia rebounded from a loss to Senegal to beat Algeria in an impressive performance and then hit four goals past Zimbabwe.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Naim Sliti has scored the goals for Tunisia, but attacking midfielder Youssef Msakni has been the player making things happen. Alain Traore is the midfield boss for Burkina Faso but Bertrand Traore, who started the tournament on the bench, may have played himself into the team.