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AFCON 2023 round of 16: When do the knockout stages begin? Who plays who?

It’s business time in the Africa Cup of Nations.

The group stage is done and dusted, and from Saturday, January 27 until Tuesday, January 30, the 16 remaining teams will duke it out to reach the quarter-finals as they tussle to be crowned kings of the continent.

Reigning champions Senegal led the way by winning three games from three in the group stage but some of their fancied rivals have struggled to replicate the same level of success, with the likes of Egypt, Cameroon (and hosts Ivory Coast) qualifying for the knockout rounds by the skin of their teeth.

Meanwhile, for as much as Equatorial Guinea and Cape Verde have impressed by sauntering to qualification, Ghana and Algeria are among the heavy-hitters that have already returned home with their tails between their legs.

Here, The Athletic runs through the last-16 showdowns on the horizon. Who faces who, where are the games and when will the first knockout matches of AFCON 2023 take place.


Saturday, January 27

Angola v Namibia
Venue: Stade de la Paix, Bouake
Kick-off: 17:00 GMT

Angola have been one of the more entertaining sides in the AFCON this time around, scoring six and conceding three. They have also managed two wins and a draw in their three matches. This allowed them to finish top of Group D, three points ahead of second-place Burkina Faso.

Namibia came third in Group E, with their 1-0 victory over Tunisia on January 16 proving invaluable. Collin Benjamin’s team have only scored one goal so far in the tournament, however — the fewest of any team to progress. 

Opta Analyst’s prediction model favours Angola to advance, giving Pedro Goncalves’ team a 57.1 per cent chance of winning.

Nigeria v Cameroon
Venue: Felix Houphouet Boigny Stadium, Abidjan
Kick-off: 20:00 GMT

Two west African giants collide in Abidjan on Saturday evening as three-time winners Nigeria meet five-time champions Cameroon.

Neither Nigeria nor Cameroon topped their respective groups and their campaigns so far have been viewed largely through the prisms of their biggest names — the former will once again look to Napoli superstar Victor Osimhen for inspiration while head coach Rigobert Song’s potential recall (or second successive benching) of Manchester United goalie Andre Onana is sure to dominate the Cameroonian narrative.


Cameroon celebrate (Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP via Getty Images)

Saturday’s last-16 clash will be the first competitive meeting between Nigeria and Cameroon since they met at the same stage of this tournament in 2019. Opta Analyst’s prediction model favours Nigeria, giving them a 57.9 per cent probability of reaching the quarter-finals.

Sunday, January 28

Equatorial Guinea v Guinea
Venue: Alassane Ouattara Stadium, Abidjan
Kick-off: 17:00 GMT

In their fourth AFCON campaign, Equatorial Guinea have qualified for the knockout stage for the fourth time and they’ll bid to win over more hearts and minds when they face Guinea.

Captain Emilio Nsue, the utility man who counts Middlesbrough and Birmingham City as his former clubs, has been Equatorial Guinea’s undisputed talisman, his five goals so far making him the tournament’s top goalscorer.

Kaba Diawara’s Guinea, meanwhile, only found the net twice as they finished third in Group C and Opta Analyst’s prediction model gives them a 44.9 per cent chance of reaching the quarter-finals, with Equatorial Guinea handed a 55.1 per cent probability of progressing.

Egypt v DR Congo
Venue: Laurent Pokou Stadium, San Pedro
Kick-off: 20:00 GMT

It has been a difficult AFCON so far for Egypt, who lost Mohamed Salah to injury in the second game of the group stage. He has returned to Liverpool for treatment, and it seems unlikely he will feature again at the competition. Egypt drew all three of their games, qualifying in second.

DR Congo came second in Group F, like Egypt drawing all three of their games. They have only made the quarter-finals at AFCON once since 2006, when they came third in the 2015 edition.

Opta Analyst’s prediction model favours Egypt to go through, giving the record seven-time winners a 59.4 per cent chance of reaching the last eight.

Monday, January 29

Cape Verde v Mauritania
Venue: Felix Houphouet Boigny Stadium, Abidjan
Kick-off: 17:00 GMT

Bebe’s audacious 40-yard free kick against Mozambique may have provided one of the most viral moments of AFCON 2023 so far but there’ll be more tangible plaudits for Cape Verde and the infamous former Manchester United man if they get the better of Mauritania on Monday.

Cape Verde, the small island nation off the coast of west Africa, breezed through the group stages unbeaten, scoring seven times as they topped Group B ahead of Egypt and Ghana.

Opta Analyst’s prediction model has them as the most likely team in the tournament to progress to the quarter-finals from the last-16 stage at 67.5 per cent while Mauritania’s low 32.5 per cent chance is indicative of their third-placed finish in Group D and their FIFA world ranking of 105.

Senegal v Ivory Coast
Venue: Charles Konan Banny Stadium, Yamoussoukro
Kick-off: 20:00 GMT

Based on their form so far in the tournament, you’d have to assume Senegal will be one of the favourites for the competition. They topped Group C, posting a perfect record in the process and conceding just one goal.

Host nation Ivory Coast snuck into the last 16 as one of the best third-placed teams and will need to massively improve if they are to go any further in the competition. They lost their final two group games by an aggregate scoreline of 5-0 and will have their work cut out against the defending champions.

Opta Analyst’s prediction model etc gives Senegal a 65 per cent chance of progressing at the expense of the hosts.


Senegal celebrate (Issouf Sanogo/AFP via Getty Images)

Tuesday, January 30

Mali v Burkina Faso
Venue: Amadou Gon Coulibaly Stadium, Korhogo
Kick-off: 17:00 GMT

Mali topped Group E, despite not exactly setting the tournament alight with their performances over the three group games. They drew two of their matches, including a 0-0 draw on Wednesday against Namibia, getting a solitary win against South Africa.

Burkina Faso came second in Group D, losing their final match of the group stage to Angola on Tuesday. But they managed two important results, getting a win over Mauritania and managing to draw against Algeria, confirming their progression to the knockout round.

Mali are touted as the slight favourites to go through by Opta Analyst’s prediction model. They are 59.5 per cent likely to reach the quarter-final stage, while Burkina Faso are on 40.5 per cent. Mali have a 6.2 per cent chance of winning the entire tournament.

Morocco v South Africa
Venue: Laurent Pokou Stadium, San Pedro
Kick-off 20:00

Morocco, who in 2022 became the first African nation to reach the semi-finals of the World Cup, topped Group F with seven points — scoring five times and conceding just once.

South Africa finished as the runners-up in Group E, coming a point behind Mali and on level points with Namibia. However, they qualified for the knockout rounds primarily courtesy of their 4-0 win over Namibia in the second game, which gave them a vastly superior head-to-head record.

Opta Analyst’s prediction model gives the Moroccans a 67.5 per cent chance of winning this match.


Who could play who in the quarter-finals?


Which high-profile players could be returning to their clubs sooner than expected?

With knockout football, the chances of big-name players returning to their clubs earlier than expected increases exponentially.

That said, with Nigeria taking on Cameroon in the first last-16 match of the round, Napoli could be set to welcome back last season’s Serie A player of the year Osimhen, as well as his team-mate Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa, ahead of schedule. But if Cameroon crash out, then Manchester United No 1 Onana could be heading home after a turbulent tournament on a personal level.

Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah has returned to England as he recovers from a hamstring injury and there’ll be no need for him to return to Ivory Coast should Egypt be eliminated.

Elsewhere, if Senegal are knocked out, then one of the most Premier League-heavy squads in the tournament will be disbanded, with Chelsea’s Nicolas Jackson, Tottenham’s Pape Matar Sarr and Everton’s Idrissa Gueye among their ranks.

(Top photo: Franck Fife/AFP via Getty Images)



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