Having started rather slowly, the excitement around the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations has grown in recent days, with more observers getting invested in the competition that is beginning to produce even more goals.
AFCON 2021: 3 pertinent questions before Round of 16 fixtures
The first knockout round begins on Sunday after a two-day hiatus
Aside from the increase in goals, there have been shocking results at the finals, too, with Algeria’s elimination particularly noteworthy. The Fennec Foxes came into the competition on a 34-game unbeaten run and appeared primed to surpass Italy’s 37-game run without suffering a defeat.
With the North Africans eliminated, a new champion will be crowned at this year’s finals.
The remaining 16 sides are set to battle it out to reign supreme on the continent, and the narratives are palpable.
Will Senegal finally sparkle?
It goes without saying, but the Teranga Lions have hitherto failed to hit the heights in Cameroon.
Admittedly, a coronavirus outbreak before their opening game against Zimbabwe meant Aliou Cisse had to adapt to the situation, perhaps affecting their level of performance in the group stage.
Be that as it may, the Lions of Teranga have netted only one goal in three games — none from open play — and they need to turn the screw in the knockout rounds to avoid early elimination.
The former Senegal captain has hinted his attackers need to do more, but there has to be concern over what is happening behind them, with quality chances at a premium.
The West Africans face Cape Verde on Tuesday.
Debutants seek to upset host nation
While a COVID outbreak in the Comoros camp threatens to derail the tiny nation’s AFCON dream, the Coelacanths head into their Round of 16 meeting with Cameroon looking to stun the Indomitable Lions.
This is undoubtedly easier said than done, though, with the Central African nation huge favourites to get the better of unfancied Comoros.
The possible absences make it doubly difficult, but stranger things have happened and the surprising results at this year’s competition mean another should not be dismissed altogether.
Will results keep concealing Cote d'Ivoire's flaws?
In a sense, the Elephants have been beneficiaries of the underperformance of some of the pre-AFCON favourites.
While they ended with seven points from nine in the group phase, they were far from convincing with several structural issues especially evident.
Indeed, arguably no side epitomises this more than Egypt, the team the West African nation face in the pick of this year’s Round of 16 draw.
The Pharaohs have failed to convince and appear excessively reliant on Mohamed Salah to deliver the goods.
Will the Elephants meet their waterloo in the battle of these flawed sides or will another win paper over the cracks?