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Who Will come out of the AFCON Semi-finals?

Who Will come out of the AFCON Semi-finals?

After drama aplenty in the quarter-finals of the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations, including a 122nd-minute winner and a goalkeeper saving four penalties in a shoot-out, Wednesday’s semi-finals in Ivory Coast have much to live up to.

Three-time champions Nigeria face a South Africa side aiming to win their second title – but a first away from home following their 1996 triumph in Johannesburg – in the first last-four tie (17:00 GMT).

Hosts Ivory Coast have never won the title on home soil – triumphing in Senegal in 1992 and Equatorial Guinea in 2015 – but must overcome unbeaten DR Congo (20:00 GMT) if they are to reach Sunday’s final in Abidjan.

“It’s been a top-level Nations Cup – now let’s hope the semi-finals and final finish it off in style,” Tom Saintfiet, who led The Gambia in the group stage, told BBC Sport Africa.

Ivory Coast have certainly been on a rollercoaster since kicking off the tournament.

After the deep lows of the group stage, when the Elephants squeezed into the knockout rounds as a best third-placed side, can the hosts maintain the extraordinary highs of their knock-out matches since?

According to midfielder Franck Kessie “a ghost cannot be afraid”, and the near-dead Ivorians have shown unbelievable spirit when scoring late equalisers against Senegal and Mali in the last 16 and quarter-finals respectively.

All three Ivorian goals in the knock-outs have come from substitutes.

“We won’t be this lucky all the time, but it’s important to know that those on the bench can also contribute,” said interim coach Emerse Fae, ahead of the Elephants’ return to the Alassane Ouattara Stadium for the first time since their 4-0 mauling by Equatorial Guinea in their final group game.

“During the last games, the motivation from the fans has helped – we hope they will stay with us.”

Fae will be without suspended quartet Odilon Kossounou and Oumar Diakite, both sent off against Mali – the former after a torrid display, the latter for removing his shirt after his dramatic 122nd-minute winner, and captain Serge Aurier and Christian Kouame, who picked up second yellows last time out.

As two-time champions DR Congo contest their second Nations Cup semi-final this century and a first since losing to the Ivorians in 2015, the Leopards hope to wear black armbands for those recently affected by conflict in the nation.

On the pitch, a clear issue is the concession of penalties in both knockout games so far, against Egypt and Guinea, but the Central Africans can point to their own dead-ball prowess after a hat-trick of set-piece goals against Guinea – netting from a corner, penalty and free-kick.

Remarkably, DR Congo had made it all the way to the quarter-finals after drawing their first four games at the tournament, overcoming Egypt 8-7 on penalties in the last 16.

“Our first victory came at the right time because we’re gaining momentum,” said coach Sebastien Desabre, who has moulded this latest generation of Congolese into a compact unit.

“We may have only won once but remember we have not lost yet.”

Brentford forward Yoane Wissa is the leading scorer for the Leopards in Ivory Coast with two goals, while former Newcastle United defender Chancel Mbemba and ex-West Ham left-back Arthur Masuaku have also found the back

Nigeria face South Africa in Bouake in a repeat of the 2000 Nations Cup semi-final, with the Super Eagles beating Bafana Bafana as the countries met for the first time at the tournament.

The West Africans have the upper hand in meetings at Afcon, winning all three encounters – with the most recent of those a quarter-final tie in 2019.

Playing in a record-extending 15th Afcon semi-final, Nigeria have impressed both in attack and in defence, where they have won their past four games without conceding a goal – their best run at a Nations Cup.

With Frank Onyeka winning over his critics to provide a solid platform in central midfield, the likes of Ademola Lookman and Moses Simon have been liberated – with the latter creating the only goal of the quarter-final against Angola for the former, who has scored half of Nigeria’s six goals.

“We’ve got a lot of faith in our defensive structure and in the final third we’re frightening,” defender Semi Ajayi told BBC Sport Africa.

Coach Jose Peseiro has repeatedly said a clean sheet will guarantee a win for his side given their prowess up front, where reigning African Footballer of the Year Victor Osimhen has impressed with his non-stop running and pressing despite only scoring once.

Former Nigeria international Sunday Oliseh has praised Osimhen’s ‘leadership and hunger’,, external with the latter a key word for a team that – unlike some previous Super Eagles sides – looks fully focused.

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