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Nigeria, Ivory Coast showdown excites fans

Super Eagles squad

Super eagles: hectic schedule ahead

One of three all-west African quarter-final clashes, between Ivory Coast and Nigeria, will headline the first knockout round of the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations this weekend.

The Ivorians are again fancied to win this competition after they lost last year’s final to an inspired Zambia, while Nigeria’s Super Eagles boast an impressive record in this tournament even if they struggled to reach the knockout stage in South Africa.

The other all-west African quarter-finals will see Togo battle Burkina Faso, while Ghana take on surprise package Cape Verde.

On Saturday, hosts South Africa will seek revenge against Mali in Durban for a place in the semi-finals.

Nigeria skipper Joseph Yobo said Sunday’s showdown in Rustenburg against the Elephants will always be one of the biggest ties in Africa.

Super eagles: destined for q/finals?

“It does not come any bigger than this in Africa and, of course, we will be the underdogs against the highest ranked team in Africa. But the game will only be decided on the pitch,” said Yobo, who is at his sixth tournament.

“Everyone expects us to lose this match, but as players we just put our heads down and come Sunday we will cause a little upset against the Ivory Coast,” added Chelsea winger Victor Moses, who scored twice against Ethiopia to set up the tie.

Ivorian team

“They have got quality players like Didier Drogba, one of the best strikers in Africa. But as a team we will concentrate on our own strengths.”

The sides have met five times at the Nations Cup finals with two wins for Ivory Coast, one for Nigeria, and two draws.

The Ivorians have won the most recent match-ups — 1-0 in the semi-finals of the 2006 Cup of Nations in Egypt and a 1-0 win in Sekondi-Takoradi in a group game at the following tournament in Ghana.

Nigeria edged it on penalties after a 2-2 draw in a famous 1994 semi-final in Tunis and also pipped their regional rivals 1-0 in a group tie in Algiers in 1990.

The other draw was in a group match in Lagos in 1980 with the Eagles going on to win their first continental trophy.

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The fairy tale run of the Blue Sharks from Cape Verde will face a stern test against one of the tournament favourites, Ghana, on Saturday in the Indian Ocean city of Port Elizabeth.

The west African islanders sent Cameroon packing in the qualifying tournament and have surpassed most expectations by reaching the knockout rounds on their debut appearance.

“We will keep working hard and try to win the next game,” said coach Lucio Antunes, an air traffic controller on a long sabbatical who has fired this team to the unexpected success.

However, they are up against four-time champions Black Stars of Ghana, who beat them 1-0 in a warm-up game in Portugal recently and have hit top form at the right time.

The other all-west Africa clash will be between Togo and Burkina Faso in Nelspruit on Sunday.

Burkina Faso, who will be without injured star striker Alain Traore, are only appearing in their second quarter-final after they first did so in 1998, when they staged the competition.

A Togo team led by Tottenham Hotspur striker Emmanuel Adebayor have also made history by reaching the knockout stage for the first time.

The Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban will again be packed on Saturday as fans troop to cheer the home team to the last four after a stuttering start.

Bafana Bafana coach Gordon Igesund is now just a victory away from meeting the semi-final target set for him at this tournament.

“Mali are a very talented team with some very good players. They’re all big boys. I looked at them and all 11 are tall,” said Igesund, who was appointed coach in mid-2012.

“When we have the ball, we have to use it well. We’ll have to keep it on the ground, get behind them and put pressure on their defence.”

Skipper Seydou Keita and Adama Coulibaly are the only survivors of the Malian team that defeated South Africa 2-0 in the quarterfinals when the west African country hosted the 2002 Cup of Nations.

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