African Cup of Nations quarterfinal preview

February, 3, 2012

The Africa Cup of Nations quarterfinals begin Saturday, with Ivory Coast and Ghana the marquee countries remaining in the bracket. Those two sides are the favorites, but other teams are poised to surprise, and not just because of their stellar nicknames. Here's a look at the quarterfinal matchups and the title chances of each team through the lens of the Soccer Power Index.

• Either Zambia or Sudan will end a lengthy semifinal drought. Zambia's Copper Bullets last reached the semis in 1996 and have never won the title. With only a 16 percent chance of advancing to this stage, Sudan is the biggest surprise of the quarterfinals. The Nile Crocodiles haven't made the semifinals since winning their sole championship, as host nation in 1970. SPI rates Zambia a 64.6 percent favorite to advance.

• Traditional power Ghana reached the final in 2010 and has won four titles, most recently in 1982. Tunisia is in the quarters for the fourth time in five tournaments, seeking to win its first championship on foreign soil, as the Carthage Eagles' only title was as host nation in 2004. That feat seems unlikely because Ghana, ranked 18th in the world by SPI, is a 73.1 percent favorite to advance.

• In its fourth appearance, co-host Gabon is in the quarterfinals for the second time (also 1996), but has never reached the semis. Mali reached the semifinals in 2004 and was runner-up to Congo in 1970, but the Eagles have never won the title. Playing at home gives Gabon a significant edge, as the Panthers have 76.5 percent odds to advance, making them the second-biggest favorites in the quarterfinals.

• The biggest favorite in the quarters is Ivory Coast, which is making its 19th Cup of Nations appearance, second-most all-time behind Egypt's 22. The Elephants are ranked 10th in the world by SPI, as they face debutant and co-host Equatorial Guinea, the worst remaining team at 125th. The National Lightning get a bump for playing at home, but Ivory Coast remains a massive 91.4 percent favorite to reach the semis.

• With 42.8 percent odds, Ivory Coast is also the favorite to win the entire tournament, which would be its second title, along with the 1992 crown. Ghana is next at 27.0 percent, followed by Gabon at 20.0 percent, a number that is inflated because the final will be in Gabon's capital of Libreville. None of the other five teams have greater than 3.9 percent hopes, with combined title chances of 10.1 percent.

Paul Carr


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