Players to watch in African Cup knockout stages
Jan. 30, 2015
BATA, Equatorial Guinea (AP) — Young Equatorial Guinea goalkeeper Felipe Ovono is a major reason why the host is still in the African Cup of Nations. Ivory Coast forward Gervinho has made headlines for his absence after getting sent off in the first round and serving out a two-game suspension.
Here are some players to watch out for as the African Cup reaches the knockout stages this weekend:
Felipe Ovono, goalkeeper, Equatorial Guinea: Ovono is becoming a cult hero for the home fans, who roar with delight every time he swoops out of his goal to collect a cross, or dives full-stretch to punch a shot away. The 21-year-old Ovono plays semi-professional football for Equatorial Guinea's Deportivo Mongomo and has never played for a team outside the country, but he must be destined now for a bigger club. He has been outstanding in all three of Equatorial Guinea's games and ensured his country beat Gabon in its decisive final group match with a series of fine saves.
Gervinho, forward, Ivory Coast: One of the stars of the star-studded Ivory Coast team, Roma forward Gervinho has seen less than an hour of action at this African Cup. He was sent off in the first game for hitting an opposition player and given a two-match ban. He's expected to be back for Ivory Coast for its quarterfinal against Algeria on Sunday, a welcome return for coach Herve Renard who hasn't got the Ivorians playing to their potential just yet. Gervinho — impressive for 58 minutes before his red card — could be the catalyst in the final stages.
Ibrahima Traore, winger, Guinea: The driving force behind Guinea's slightly fortunate run to the quarters. Skipper Traore has been highly-rated as a player for some years, but he's added the responsibility of the captaincy now and is leading by example, scoring once in Equatorial Guinea and setting up chances for his teammates with his whipped left-foot crosses. Went off in Guinea's last game with a right ankle injury and it will be a big blow for the Guineans if he can't play against Ghana in the quarterfinals.
Thievy Bifouma, forward, Republic of Congo: Born in France, 22-year-old Bifouma only made his debut for Republic of Congo in last year's African Cup qualifiers. He's already scored twice in three games at his first major tournament as the Congolese enjoy their best showing at the continental championship in over 40 years.
Asamoah Gyan, forward, Ghana: Gyan was hampered by a bout of mild malaria in the first week of the African Cup and sidelined as Ghana let slip a lead to lose to Senegal. He returned to the lineup to pounce for a stoppage-time winner against No. 1 African team Algeria and, with him back, Ghana has won two out of two. One of Africa's wiliest strikers, Gyan can punish teams with just half a chance.