The AFCON Quarterfinals are set! Major upsets make it anyone’s tournament

Note: if you purchase something through one of our affiliate links, Schneps Media may earn a commission.

The AFCON Round of 16 followed suit with the tournament’s group stage, producing some shocking results. While some of the top teams to win the tournament didn’t even make it out of the group stage, more favorites fell in the last 16. The reigning champs, runners-up, and third-place winners all crashed out in the first round of knockouts at the 2023 AFCON. Let’s take a look back at the matches from the round of 16 and get set for the quarterfinals of this bonkers tournament!

Ivory Coast’s Franck Kessie, bottom, celebrates after defeating Senegal in a penalty shootout during their African Cup of Nations round of 16 soccer match between Senegal and Ivory Coast, at the Charles Konan Banny stadium in Yamoussoukro, Ivory Coast, Saturday, Jan. 20, 2024. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)

A look back at the AFCON Round of 16

Angola 3 – 0 Namibia

Angola came into this AFCON with something to prove! They drew group D favorites Alegria in their first match and then beat Mauritania and Burkina Faso to top the group. They came into the round of 16 taking on Namibia. Namibia beat Tunisia in their first game in the group stage, then fell to South Africa. A draw against Mali saw them finish third in their group on four points, which was good enough to get them to the knockout rounds.

The two met in the Round of 16, and from the jump, the match was a wild one. A rash tackle from Angola’s, Neblu in the 17th minute resulted in a red card. While Namibia went up a man they struggled to create any real chances. Angola however, rallied and scored first in the 38th minute. Two minutes later Namibia’s Lubeni Haukongo got a second yellow and the game would continue on 10v10. Angola scored a second just before halftime and added a third midway through the second half.

The game would end 3-0 for Angola, and the true story in this one was that Angola capitalized on their chances and Namibia did not. Both teams had an xG of over one, and both created 11 shots, the difference was on the scoreboard. Angola moves on to take on the winner of Nigeria and Cameroon.

Nigeria 2 – 0 Cameroon

Nigeria came into this AFCON as a giant that had fallen off a bit. They looked to correct that in their group stage. A draw against Equatorial Guinea and wins over Ivory Coast and Guinea Bissau saw them get 7 points and easily qualify for the knockout rounds. Their opponent Cameroon had a more rough go in the group stage. They drew Guinea, lost to Senegal, and beat The Gambia. Those four points were enough for them to finish second in their group and move on to the knockout rounds.

Both of these nations had a game plan coming into their AFCON Round of 16 matchup. Nigeria was okay with not having the ball for the majority of the game and looked to pick their moment to strike; Cameroon wanted to dominate the ball and the game through possession. One of these styles won out on the day, and it was that of Nigeria. Cameroon did dominate the ball but created only six shots, none of which were on target, resulting in an xG of 0.28. Nigeria took advantage of their opportunities to hit on the counter and found two goals, one in each half, as they cruised to a win.

A 2-0 win for Nigeria meant that they would move on to face Angola in the AFCON quarterfinals, and little did they know, they would become the favorites to win the whole tournament after this Round of 16.

Equatorial Guinea 0 – 1 Guinea

Equatorial Guinea came into their Round of 16 matchup against rivals Guinea after a great group stage. They drew Nigeria and beat Guinea Bissau and Ivory Coast to make it to the AFCON knockout rounds. Guinea faced more adversity in the group stage, drawing Cameroon, beating The Gambia, and losing to Senegal. Their third-place finish set up their rivalry match in the Round of 16.

In all of the Round of 16 matches, this one might have had the craziest turn of events. After a first half that had little action, the second 45 minutes produced plenty of fireworks. 10 minutes into the half Equatorial Guinea was down to 10 men. While they went down a man, they still had the best chance to take the lead. They won a penalty in the 67th minute, but Emilio Nsue missed the shot as he hit the post. It looked like this match was destined to go to 30 minutes of extra time, but then the unthinkable happened.

In the 8th minute of added time after the 90, Guinea’s Mohamed Bayo headed home a beautiful ball from Ibrahim Diakité. Pandemonium ensued. Guinea won the match 1-0, defeating their rivals. They moved on to the AFCON quarterfinals to take on the winner of Egypt and DR Congo.

Egypt (7) 1 – 1 (8) DR Congo

Egypt were runners-up at the last AFCON, and this time around they looked to have fallen off a bit. They drew all three of their group-stage matches and lost their star player Mohamed Salah to injury. Even so, they looked good enough to stay in matches and push them to the brink. DR Congo had a very similar run at this AFCON, drawing all three matches. Would they be able to find the touch needed to get their first win?

Early on in the game, it looked as if DR Congo was ready to get their first win at this tournament. They had the better of the chances and scored first in the 37th minute. The problem was they couldn’t hold the lead into halftime. Egypt tied it up on a PK just before the half. In the second half, these nations failed to create the deadly finishing touch needed to get a victory. This resulted in 30 minutes of extra time, where the only action was Egypt getting a red card. This one needed PKs to decide who moved on. This shootout was one for the ages.

After first-round makes and second-round misses from both nations, they went back and forth for six more rounds. It was tied 7-7 in the shootout and Egypt’s goalkeeper stepped up to take the pen. He hit the crossbar giving DR Congo the chance to advance, their goalkeeper stepped up and smashed his PK home. DR Congo moves on after an 8-7 PK win. They’ll face Guinea in the AFCON quarterfinals.

Cape Verde 1 – 0 Mauritania

Cape Verde is one of the stories of this AFCON after getting two wins and a draw to win their group. They came into the knockout rounds and faced a third-place qualifier Mauritania that picked up their first-ever win at this AFCON. These two underdogs played in a match that seemed much closer than it actually was based on the final score.

Cape Verde came into this match and knew that they wanted to dominate everything. They kept 69% of possession throughout the game and took 18 shots, four of which were on target resulting in a 1.64 xG. Mauritania barely had the ball, but was able to create 11 shots, unfortunately for them, none of them were on goal, and their xG was 0.82. Despite this disparity, the match was 0-0 heading into the final minutes. That’s when Ryan Mendes stepped up and converted a PK that Cape Verde won.

Cape Verde came out on top in this one by the score of 1-0. They moved on to the AFCON quarterfinals awaiting one of Morocco or South Africa.

Senegal (4) 1 – 1 (5) Ivory Coast

Senegal won the previous AFCON, and they picked up where they left off in the group stage of the 2023 tournament winning all three matches. They took on hosts Ivory Coast in this Round of 16 matchup. Ivory Coast did not do well in the group stage. They won their opening game but lost their last two. Somehow the three points were enough to get them to the knockout rounds to face strong Senegal.

Senegal opened this match with an early goal in the fourth minute. It looked like it was going to be one-way traffic after that, Ivory Coast rarely had the ball, but their xG was good sitting at 1.30. It took them the entire rest of the game, but that xG came good when they won a PK in the last five minutes. Ivory Coast drew level and then played the 30 minutes of extra time as if they were hanging on to the draw for dear life. The match had to be decided in penalties, and both nations converted in rounds one and two. Senegal missed one kick in the third round, which proved decisive.

That miss and Ivory Coast’s perfection from the spot meant that the hosts were moving on to the AFCON Quarterfinals! The 5-4 PK win shocked the world as tournament favorites Senegal were ousted. Now Ivory Coats gets to take on the winner of Mali vs Burkina Faso in the quarterfinals!

Mali 2 – 1 Burkina Faso

Mali had a good showing so far in this AFCON winning one match and drawing two helped them get to the knockout rounds. Burkina Faso felt all the emotions of getting a win, draw, and loss in the group stage. Nonetheless, both nations made it to the Round of 16 and played for the chance to make the quarterfinals of this AFCON.

It looked like luck was going to be on the side of Mali in this game as they were on top just three minutes in thanks to a Burkina Faso own goal. Both nations played a pretty even game after that early blemish. Burkina Faso actually had the better of the chances creating a 1.25 xg, but it was Mali who would add to their lead early in the second half. Burkina Faso did score just 10 minutes later to put the pressure back on, but they failed the gumption to get a second goal needed to push the game to 30 minutes of extra time.

Mali came out on top in this one 2-1, and they moved on to play the winner of the Morroco and South Africa match. Could their Cinderella run continue in the AFCON Quarterfinals?

Morocco 0 – 2 South Africa

Morocco made it to the last four of the 2022 World Cup, and at this AFCON they looked extremely dangerous. Two wins and a draw saw them top their group on their way to the Round of 16. They took on a South African side that was up and down. South Africa lost their opening match 2-0, won their second game 4-0, and tied their last group stage match 0-0. Could They did enough to make the knockout rounds but which version would show up against the mighty Morocco?

This game was very even from the jump both nations eyed each other wearily, producing a very open match. Both tried to use the ball when they had it to create goals. The underlying numbers favored Morocco’s chances. They had an xG of 1.94 to South Africa’s 0.34. However, it would be South Africa who would score first. They notched the opening goal early in the second half, shocking Morocco. Morocco tried to get back into the game but failed to put the ball in the back of the net. A 90+4 minute red card, and conceding a goal in the 90+5 minute doomed Morocco.

South Africa picked up the unthinkable win 2-0 and is headed to the AFCON quarterfinals to take on Cape Verde! Now all of the favorites to win the AFCON at the start of the tournament are eliminated!

South Africa’s Evidence Makgopa, center, scores his side’s first goal past Morocco’s goalkeeper Yassine Bounou, right, and Morocco’s Romain Saiss during the African Cup of Nations round of 16 soccer match between Morocco and South Africa, at the Laurent Pokou stadium in San Pédro, Ivory Coast, Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2024. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)

On to the AFCON Quarterfinals!

The quarterfinals of this AFCON will be played today and tomorrow. With all of the heavy favorites now out of this tournament, will we see fallen giants of the continent get back on top, or will the underdogs that have beaten the odds continue their Cinderella runs? Here’s a look at the matchups.

  • Nigeria vs Angola | Friday, Feb. 2 | Noon EST
  • DR Congo vs Guinea | Friday, Feb. 2 | 3:00 pm EST
  • Mali vs Ivory Coast | Saturday, Feb. 3 | Noon EST
  • Cape Verde vs South Africa | Saturday, Feb. 3 | 3:00 pm EST

Nigeria now has the best odds to win AFCON 2023 sitting at +185. They’re the “best” team left in this field, but that has not fared well with other nations in this tournament. Hosts Ivory Coast have the second-best odds at +260; the rest of the field sits at +550 or higher. It is truly anyone’s tournament at this point, and there is still further drama to occur at AFCON 2023!

DR Congo players celebrate after goalkeeper Lionel Mpasi scored the winning goal in a penalty shootout winning 8-7 during the African Cup of Nations Round of 16 soccer match between Egypt and DR Congo, at the Laurent Pokou stadium in San Pedro, Ivory Coast, Sunday, Jan. 28, 2024. 2024. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)

Best AFCON Bets

Be sure to return to Philly Sports Network for more Philadelphia Union and other soccer content!

Follow our Union team on Twitter:

Tim Lovenguth | Jimmy King | Paul Frenzel
Eric Frysinger | Liam Jenkins | Steve Beavon
Justin Friedberg | Zach LoBasso | Griffin Foll

Doop on Union fans!

Mandatory Credit: AP Photo/Themba Hadebe & AP Photo/Sunday Alamba