Preview: Last eight offer tasty mix at African Nations

PORT ELIZABETH, South Africa Fri Feb 1, 2013 8:06am IST

Supporters of Ghana's national soccer team sing during the team's training session in Port Elizabeth January 31, 2013. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

Supporters of Ghana's national soccer team sing during the team's training session in Port Elizabeth January 31, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Siphiwe Sibeko

PORT ELIZABETH, South Africa (Reuters) - The right ingredients seem to be in place to make the knockout rounds of the African Nations Cup, which reaches the quarter-finals stage this weekend, a real football feast for fans a little short-changed by the group games.

Hosts South Africa have survived, so have the tournament favourites Ivory Coast, the fairytale underdogs from the Cape Verde Islands, the unexpected wildcards Togo and Burkina Faso along with traditional powerhouses Ghana, Nigeria and Mali.

All that is needed now after a stop-start group phase is more quality on the field, more goals and more fans.

The remaining teams look easily capable of raising the profile of the tournament with eight matches still to be played including the final in Soccer City on February 10.

This weekend's four games begin in Port Elizabeth on Saturday (1500 GMT) where outsiders Cape Verde Islands take on a strong-looking Ghana team, seeking their fifth continental title, but their first since 1982.

The attention then switches to hosts South Africa who face the west Africans from Mali in front of what will be a capacity 56,000 crowd at the Moses Madhiba Stadium in Durban at 1830 GMT.

Not only will South Africa be looking for a place in the last four but also to gain some revenge for their defeat by Mali at the same stage in 2002.

Sunday's action starts with the clash of the unbeaten heavyweights: Ivory Coast and hard-to-beat Nigeria, who have reached this stage despite their coach Stephen Keshi repeatedly saying his young team is in a period of transition.

Ivory Coast, chasing a second title since their only success 21 years ago, look too strong for Nigeria but their talisman and captain Didier Drogba, who has seen too many campaigns end in failure, is taking nothing for granted.

"We know what to expect, it is going to be very tough," he said after scoring in their 2-2 draw with Algeria on Wednesday.

"It's too early to talk of titles, but we can still dream."

That game is at the magnificently-appointed Royal Bafokeng Sports Palace in Rustenburg at 1500 GMT before the action switches to Nelspruit where the sand-covered pitch at the Mbombela Stadium looks more suited to beach volleyball than international football.

The surprisingly impressive Burkina Faso and unpredictable Togo, who qualified for the later stages for the first time in eight attempts, will have to deal with the pitch in their bid to reach the last four.

REAL ROMANCE

All four games have their obvious attractions, but there is no doubt which one will capture the imagination of football romantics watching on TV around the world -- Ghana's clash with Cape Verde on Saturday.

Cape Verde are the smallest nation ever to compete in the finals, and coach Lucio Antunes is a friend of Real Madrid manager Jose Mourinho.

What might have been overlooked is that despite their obvious limitations in terms of international experience and the strength of their domestic league, Antunes has forged a Mourinho-like work ethic into his team and the sum is greater than the individual parts.

Antunes does not give much away when he speaks other than to say he has met his objectives in getting Cape Verde this far, but there is some talent in the side, most obviously from the self-styled Platini (Luis Soares) in attack, Ryan Mendes in midfield and captain Nando in defence.

Ghana, another side in development according to coach Kwesi Appiah, have talent and experience in almost every position and if skipper Asamoah Gyan is on form as he was in Monday's 3-0 win over Niger, Cape Verde will find it hard to keep him quiet.

Once that match is over, the attention will switch to the hosts, who finished top of Group A after a win against Angola and draws against Cape Verde and Morocco.

While South Africa will fancy their chances of reaching the semi-finals, Mali boast one of the stars of the tournament so far in former Barcelona midfielder Seydou Keita.

(Additional reporting by Mark Gleeson in Durban and Agnieszka Flak in Rustenburg; Editing by Mark Gleeson in Durban and Martyn Herman)

Photo

After wave of QE, onus shifts to leaders to boost economy

DAVOS, Switzerland - Central banks have done their best to rescue the world economy by printing money and politicians must now act fast to enact structural reforms and pro-investment policies to boost growth, central bankers said on Saturday.

Australian Open

Reuters Showcase

Photo

Vodafone Tax Case

India's Vodafone decision eases tax worries for Shell, others  Full Article 

Facebook Earnings

Facebook Earnings

Facebook tops Wall Street revenue target in 4th quarter.  Full Article 

Japanese Hostage

Japanese Hostage

Islamic State said to set new deadline for hostage swap  Full Article 

Cricket World Cup

Cricket World Cup

Batting holds key for team India in World Cup  Full Article 

Photo

Australian Open

Serena fends off Keys to book blockbuster Sharapova final   Full Article | Related Story 

Road To Development

Road To Development

Build better roads in developing world to bolster food supplies - study  Full Article 

Photo

Laser Pioneer Dies

Laser's co-inventor, Nobel laureate Charles Townes, dead at 99  Full Article 

New ODI Record

New ODI Record

Sri Lanka's Sangakkara breaks ODI record for dismissals  Full Article 

Rohingya Muslims

Rohingya Muslims

Rohingya refugees say traffickers in Malaysia abuse and kill.  Full Article 

Reuters India Mobile

Reuters India Mobile

Get the latest news on the go. Visit Reuters India on your mobile device  Full Coverage