The AFCON Semifinals are set! The Improbable Final 4

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Artists performing during the opening ceremony ahead of the African Cup of Nations Group A soccer match between Ivory Coast and Guinea-Bissau in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, Saturday, Jan. 13, 2024. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)

The 2023 AFCON has been anything but predictable. It has been a tournament filled with chaos, Cinderella stories, and favorites falling left and right. Now the final four is set. The nations in the semifinals have all won the AFCON before, but none of them were thought to be at this stage of the tournament. One more win will see two of Nigeria, South Africa, Ivory Coast, or DR Congo on to the Final! Before looking ahead to the semis, let’s look back at the quarterfinal matchups.

Artists performing during the opening ceremony ahead of the African Cup of Nations Group A soccer match between Ivory Coast and Guinea-Bissau in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, Saturday, Jan. 13, 2024. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)

A Look Back at the AFCON Quarterfinals

Nigeria 1 – 0 Angola

Nigeria was the team that took up the status of betting favorite coming into the AFCON quarterfinals. After their opening game draw, Nigeria won their next three games, all without conceding. Their opponent in the quarterfinals was an Angola team that already defied the odds. Angola also drew their first game, but it was against one of the tournament favorites, Algeria. Angola would go on to win their next three games to make this quarterfinal!

Both Nigeria and Angola were flying high, and it was clear that both nations had a game plan they wanted to execute. Angola wanted to hold the majority of possession and create shots and hopefully goals; Nigeria wanted to stay compact and hit their opposition on the counterattack. In a game that had few actual chances on goal, it was Nigeria who’s game plan came out on top. Just before halftime, Ademola Lookman finished off a Nigeria counterattack. Little did he know that this goal would be the game-defining one.

Angola failed to create any real chances with their possession, and their Cinderella run would end at the quarterfinal stage. The 117th-ranked team in the world shouldn’t hold their head, as they beat the odds more than once at this AFCON. Nigeria’s win meant they moved on to face the winner of Cape Verde and South Africa!

Referee Bouchra Karboubi signs for the VAR during the African Cup of Nations Group A soccer match between Guinea Bissau and Nigeria, at the Felix Houphouet Boigny stadium in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, Monday, Jan. 22, 2024. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)

DR Congo 3 – 1 Guinea

DR Congo had made it to the quarterfinals without winning a single game. They drew all three of their group-stage matches and then needed PKs to get past Egypt. Will their ability to stay alive help them go even further? Guinea’s form was a different story. They had a win, a draw, and a loss in the group stage of this AFCON, but won their first knockout game 1-0!

In the quarterfinal matchup, both nations looked to pack a punch. It started early from Guinea who won a PK in the 20th minute; Mohamed Bayo slotted home the effort to give his nation the lead. DR Congo stormed back, equalizing not even 10 minutes later. The match went to halftime all tied up. DR Congo came out in the second half and hit Guinea with deadly counterattacks. The first came with 25 minutes left, as they won and converted a penalty to take the lead. Then with minutes left, Arthur Masuaku hit a free kick that flew into the net.

At 3-1, DR Congo knew their magical run at AFCON 2023 would continue. The 67th-ranked team in the world wasn’t expected to make it past the first knockout round game, but now they’ll play in a semifinal! Guinea was not considered a powerhouse when this tournament started, but they made the last eight anyway, showing how bonkers this tournament can be!

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)

Mali 1 – 2 Ivory Coast

Mali made their unsuspecting run to the quarterfinals of this AFCON with a win and two draws in the group stage. They won their Round of 16 match to get to the quarterfinals and take on Ivory Coast. Host nation Ivory Coast had a disastrous group stage. After getting a win, they lost twice. They fired their coach and barely made the knockout rounds. This is when they took on reigning champions Senegal; they would go on to beat them in a thrilling match and PK shootout!

This quarterfinal matchup could have had a much different result if Mali had converted a 16th-minute PK. Adama Traoré missed the spot kick, and the match stayed tied early on. The foul resulting in that PK was committed by Ivory Coast’s Odilon Kossounou resulted in a yellow card; Kossounou picked up his second yellow just before halftime, and the hosts were down to 10 men. In the second half, Mali would take advantage of being up a man as Nene Dorgeles scored the opening goal. With time running out, Ivory Coast mustered up a chance that Simon Adingra was able to steer home.

The match would need an extra 30 minutes to decide a winner. The extra time was lackluster, but as things often go at the AFCON, drama ensued late on. Oumar Diakité was able to score in the 120+2 minute for Ivory Coast. The hosts had the lead but the goal scorer was sent off for picking up a second yellow, this one for excessive celebration. Mali was all but out of the game, and they picked up their own red card for a violent challenge. The match ended 2-1, and the hosts moved on to the semifinals keeping their improbable AFCON hopes alive.

Ivory Coast’s Evan Ndicka, left, slides as he defends against Guinea-Bissau’s Mauro Rodrigues Teixira during the African Cup of Nations Group A soccer match between Ivory Coast and Guinea-Bissau in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, Saturday, Jan. 13, 2024. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)

Cape Verde (1) 0 – 0 (2) South Africa

Cape Verde came to this AFCON with something to prove. They are often overlooked and want to show they belong with the big dogs. They did just that Winning three of four matches at this tournament so far. South Africa is labeled as a fallen giant. However, at this AFCON they showed they can still play at a high level. They made it to the knockouts and then took down the favorites to win the tournament, World Cup semifinalists Morocco.

The final quarterfinal of the 2023 AFCON was another where the two nations tried to beat one another using different styles. Cape Verde wanted to keep the ball and use it to create dynamic attacking movements; South Africa wanted to play defense first and then exploit open spaces on counterattacks. The different styles made for an open game, but neither nation was able to find the finishing touch. Both had xG’s over 1 (Cape Verde: 1.75; South Africa: 1.26) but neither could score. An extra 30 minutes was needed to further find out who would win. In extra time things looked the same as they did in the first 90 minutes, with no finishing touch.

This meant that this match would need a PK shootout to determine who would move on and who would go home. Cape Verde shot first, usually an advantage, but this time not so much. Bebé had his chance saved; South Africa’s Tebohó Mokoena converted to give the early lead. The next two rounds for both nations saw the goalkeepers come up big saving the efforts. Entering the fourth round South Africa still had the slim advantage. Cape Verde and South Africa both scored making the PK score 2-1. In the fifth round, Cape Verde needed a make to keep their slim chances alive, but they could not convert. South Africa moves on to the final, while Cape Verde heads home.

South Africa’s Evidence Makgopa, center, scores his sides 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)

The Final Four of AFCON 2023

The semifinals of the 2023 AFCON are set. Nigeria, South Africa, Ivory Coast, and DR Congo all play for the chance to make the final. No matter who wins or loses in the final four, each nation is guaranteed another match as there is a third-place match as well as a final at this AFCON. Here’s a look at the semifinal matchups!

  • Nigeria vs South Africa | Wednesday, Feb. 7 | Noon EST
  • Ivory Coast vs DR Congo | Wednesday, Feb. 7 | 3 pm EST

Will Nigeria continue their run as the odds-favorite in the final four, or will South Africa come up big continuing their underdog run? Ivory Coast is the host at this AFCON and were all but out after the group stage, now they’re on the verge of a final. Can they continue to defy the odds, or will DR Congo knockout the hosts and further their own Cinderella run? Tune in tomorrow to find out!

Ivory Coast’s fans celebrate a goal scored by Seko Fofana during the African Cup of Nations Group A soccer match between Ivory Coast and Guinea-Bissau in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, Saturday, Jan. 13, 2024. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)

Best AFCON Bets

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