• Hosts Cote d’Ivoire looked on their way out before squeezing through as the last of four best third-placed sides, and retain hope of adding to their continental titles in 1992 and 2015.
• In the final tie on Saturday, Cape Verde are bidding to reach a first-ever semi-final against a South Africa side who upset Morocco and are chasing a first title since 1996.
Upsets and unpredictability have been the story of the Africa Cup of Nations, with none of the quarter-finalists from the 2021 edition of the tournament reaching the last eight in Cote d’Ivoire.
Defending champions Senegal, the continent’s top-ranked side Morocco and record seven-time winners Egypt all fell by the wayside in the last 16 against the odds.
Hosts Cote d’Ivoire sneaked into the knock-out stages by the smallest of margins yet have renewed belief after beating the holders on penalties under the interim management of Emerse Fae.
“I’m not surprised by anything I’m witnessing,” former Cameroon defender Sebastien Bassong told the BBC’s World Football at Afcon podcast.
“Football is not about who you are. So many teams have been underdogs but played for their lives and outperformed other teams.”
Elephants face another West African derby
Hosts Cote d’Ivoire looked on their way out before squeezing through as the last of four best third-placed sides, and retain hope of adding to their continental titles in 1992 and 2015.
Yet their under-par results in the group stage have handed them a trickier path to the final.
The Elephants showed determination to knock out Senegal in the last 16, with former AC Milan and Barcelona midfielder Franck Kessie epitomising their hunger as a second-half substitute, but now face a Mali side that overcame Burkina Faso and are seen as dark horses.
Mali’s best previous Afcon result came when they were runners-up back in 1972, and the Eagles finished third in 2012 and 2013.
Both sides have struggled to convert their chances. Cote d’Ivoire have had 54 efforts in total — two more than their West African neighbours — but the Elephants have only converted 5.6 per cent of their attempts compared to Mali’s 9.6 per cent.
Lassine Sinayoko is top scorer for the Eagles with three goals — as many as the hosts have managed in four outings. However, Mali have never beaten Cote d’Ivoire in five previous meetings at the finals which include a semi-final in 2012 and a last-16 tie in 2019.
Blue Sharks circle Bafana Bafana
In the final tie on Saturday, Cape Verde are bidding to reach a first-ever semi-final against a South Africa side who upset Morocco and are chasing a first title since 1996.
The well-drilled islanders have played some stunning passing football at times and their eight goals have come from seven different players — with a late penalty from captain Ryan Mendes sealing progress against Mauritania.
The Blue Sharks skipper possesses technical qualities, Jovane Cabral has plenty of trickery on the ball and former Manchester United forward Bebe has long-range free-kicks in his locker.
“We have progressed a lot over the years,” Mendes said. “A semi-final would be something exceptionally historic for our country.”
South Africa lost their opener against Mali but have kept three successive clean sheets since, with the latest of those in their surprise 2-0 triumph over the Atlas Lions.
Midfielder Teboho Mokoena has impressed among their core drawn from Pretoria-based club side Mamelodi Sundowns, while Bafana Bafana coach Hugo Broos can call on the experience of guiding Cameroon to glory in 2017.
“Broos has taken more Sundowns players because he understands those players have experience playing against different opponents from across the continent,” former South Africa midfielder Aaron Mokoena told BBC Sport Africa. “He realised that the synergy is important.”