Here are the most likely paths to victory as the Quarter-finals draw to a close.
A North African derby with the potential to be unforgettable
Egypt has grown steadily throughout the competition, and was at their best in their Round of 16 penalty shootout victory. Although there is still a certain degree of dependence on Mohamed Salah, the Egyptians have grown steadily through the competition and were at their best in the Round of 16 penalty shootout victory.
By comparison, Morocco arrived to the tournament fully prepared. They were so well-prepared that they managed to absorb the loss of key personnel with relative ease. From a tactical standpoint, they were the most cohesive and complete team in the competition. They would be the clear favourite under normal circumstances.
The circumstances are not normal. Atlas Lions have been known for their mental choking on this stage.
Of course, Egypt can pose tactical questions. They can. This will be the main tactical intrigue, as Salah can exploit space behind full-backs.
One thing is certain about Morocco’s system: depth. As Halilhodzic is keen to make opponents stretch vertically, he has both full-backs pushing very high up. This allows him to create space between midfield’s defence lines to allow for cut-backs. To combine with the full backs, they also use high 8s – often Imran Louza or Selim Amallah. They also arrive late to the box.
It can overwhelm teams at its best and will likely prove too overwhelming for Egypt. There are some concerns, particularly when the ball gets turned over by an opponent in the middle. This was a problem that Malawi used on several occasions during their defeat to Morocco in the first-half. Carlos Queiroz has an opportunity here.
Although Adam Masina, left-back, is not as tall as Achraf Haikimi on the opposing flank, he will still be able to block Salah from getting into space. Halilhodzic may choose to use one of his eights (more likely Louza) on the right, and to use a 3-2 or 2-3 defensive system without the ball to protect the half-spaces.
This is the last match to be exciting. It’s because the stronger side doesn’t know how to take down the opposing defense.
Senegal has yet to concede at AFCON, which is a remarkable statistic. The situation is turning the other direction, which indicates that there are serious issues. The Blue Sharks had to be beaten to nine by Cape Verde in Round 16 to score two goals from open play.
They seem to have given up on the 4-4-2 and are now committed to the 4-3-3. Although they are more competitive in the middle it has also made them more efficient, their ball circulation is slower through the middle. Their progression comes only from the wide areas.
Their opponents are obdurate in defense and happy to defend cross-backs and cut-backs. Their only loss in the tournament has been a slur by Max Gradel, who made it 385 minutes ago from outside the box. Their solidity comes down to a well-structured backline and two banks with four players, with Iban Salvador being able to attack from the right.
Their goal-scoring hopes rest entirely on the counterattack, and they do it well. They are however up against an opponent that has taken steps to stop them from doing so, and whose defense structure is strong enough to keep them out of their way.
Aliou Cisse would have the opportunity to unleash Pape Matar Sar, a player who can carry the ball through Equatorial Guinea’s midfield and cause some chaos. But this isn’t the time for wishful thinking.
Expect a slow and turgid match, with the Teranga Lions not able to find the answers in Open Play, and possibly needing to be penalized (or penalties) to move on.