BY STEVE AYOO
Benin produced the biggest upset in the round of 16 at the ongoing Africa Cup of Nations by eliminating a Morocco side whose group campaign left many tipping them as one of the outright title favorites.
The Atlas Lions topped the ‘Group of Death’, beating Ivory Coast, South Africa and Namibia without conceding a goal.
Led by the likeable Herve Renard, a two-time African champion, they were odds on favorites to beat a Benin side who secured last 16 progress via the best third-placed finishers route.
The Squirrels, who drew all their three group matches notably against Cameroon and Ghana, were expected to be a no match for Morocco. However, strange things happen in football and Morocco were left stunned after they were knocked out 4-1 on post-match penalties after a 1-1 stalemate in normal time.
Benin, who had never gone past the group stages in Afcon history, now find themselves in the quarters, facing another title favorite in the shape of Senegal.
The Teranga Lions must be the most hated team in East Africa after they essentially eliminated the three main countries that make up the block: Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania.
The latter two were dealt with in the group stages while a Sadio Mane solitary strike proved enough to dismiss Uganda in the round of 16.
The Liverpool star is increasingly stamping his influence in the Senegal team and made the difference against Uganda despite missing a penalty.
He, alongside boss Aliou Cisse, are aiming to help end Senegal’s wait for their first title and Cisse believes their chances have been boosted.
“It’s true that Cameroon are not here, the big favourites are no longer here today,” he told reporters. “Of course, that gives us ideas and it gives us even more confidence to say yes, maybe this year will be the one.
“But like I said, that’s just hope, and it won’t be enough. We’ll have to work very hard, we’ll have to be serious, and that is what we’re doing.”
They will come up against Michel Dussuyer’s Benin who must have drawn enough confidence from the Morocco result.
The French coach says they have earned their spot in the quarters.
“Our presence at this stage is not out of luck. We have worked hard and I believe in my players,” Dussuyer said.
This will be the first meeting between the two at the Africa Cup of Nations. They however last met in 2017 in the WAFU Cup of Nations where Senegal triumphed 4-0. Benin have done well to get this far but against a Senegal side who are hungry for success, the Squirrels’ run is set to be ended by the Lions.