With the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations group stage now over and done with, the eight teams that have emerged from the four groups are aware of the challenge that awaits them in the quarter-finals of the competition.
With half of the original 16 teams having returned home after an unsuccessful first round effort, there have already been a number of surprise departures with defending champions Côte d’Ivoire, host nation Gabon and fan favourite Algeria falling at the first hurdle.
East African representatives Uganda have also been eliminated, along with southern Africa’s only hope, Zimbabwe. The battle for African supremacy now lies between West and North Africa, with Cameroon and DR Congo providing Central African options.
Saturday January 28 will see the first of the quarter-final matches, with Burkina Faso clashing with Tunisia in the earlier game, before tournament favourites Senegal face a stiff test against the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon.
The Teranga Lions have looked in excellent form during the group stages, and they will likely be the team to beat in this competition, as Sadio Mané aims to make his absence from Liverpool worth his while in Gabon.
On Sunday January 29 the Black Stars of Ghana will be looking to knock DR Congo out of the tournament, while later in the day the Pharaohs of Egypt will be involved in an all-North African encounter against Morocco.
The Egyptians have been one of the best African national teams in recent months, and after defeating Ghana on Wednesday night, they have shown the mental toughness and defensive stability to win a crunch match when it really counts.
The star players have really stood out at this tournament thus far, and perhaps the winner of 2017 AFCON will depend on the performances of their star men in the coming knockout games.
If Mané, Asamoah Gyan or Mohamed Salah are able to make the difference in the next three knockout games for their respective countries, they could inspire their countries on to the final and beyond, with the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup awaiting the AFCON champions as Africa’s representative in Russia later this year.