Bengaluru, January 28: The Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) 2021 tournament has reached its business end with the quarterfinal matches starting on Saturday (January 29).
Sparks are bound to fly as the round-of-eight matches promise the chance of history with host nation Cameroon meeting Gambia in the competition for the first time.
Tunisia meet Burkina Faso in the later match looking to end a fairly rotten recent record at this stage of the AFCON, although history favours their opponents.
Two of Egypt, Morocco, Senegal and Equatorial Guinea will lie in wait for winners.
Cameroon have enjoyed facing AFCON debutants of late: including their 2-1 win over Comoros in the last round, they have won three consecutive matches against such opposition, which is more than they managed in their first six such games.
Gambia, who surprised Guinea in the last 16, are bidding to become the first team to reach the semi-finals in their first Africa Cup of Nations since eventual winners South Africa did so back in 1996.
Unbeaten in their past eight matches in all competitions, Cameroon have progressed from two of their most recent three AFCON quarterfinals, having gone through on penalties against Senegal most recently in 2017. Defeat to Gambia, the smallest nation on the African mainland and one who had never before reached a major tournament, would go down as one of the competition's greatest upsets.
Yet for Musa Barrow, whose goal sent them into the last eight, there is little pressure.
Gambia will need little incentive to keep an eye on Cameroon's captain Vincent Aboubakar and most dangerous striker, but the latter is chasing not just a place in the semifinals.
Not only has he scored in each of his past six games in the competition, but he could also become the first player in AFCON history to net in a team's first five matches at a single edition of the tournament.
Tunisia might be favourites - they are ranked 30 places higher in the world than Burkina Faso - but, in the previous two meetings at the AFCON in 1998 and 2017, it was the Stallions who progressed at the quarter-final stage.
In fact, Burkina Faso have gone through from each of their three last-eight matches in this competition, a record only Mali can better (they have won each of their five previous quarter-finals).
No team has made it to this stage more often since its introduction in 1992 than Tunisia, who are 11-time quarter-finalists now, but this has not been a happy round for Mondher Kebaier's side: they have been eliminated from five of their past six such matches.
Still, after knocking out Nigeria in the last 16 despite COVID-19 cases badly depleting their squad, perhaps this will be their year.
Youssef Msakni's winner against Nigeria saw him become the first Tunisia player to score in five different editions of the AFCON. There are only four players to score in six: Cameroon great Samuel Eto'o, Zambia's Kalusha Bwalya, and Ghana forwards Asamoah Gyan and Andre Ayew.
After a year's delay due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 33rd AFCON began in Cameroon on January 9.
Final is scheduled to be held on February 6 at the 60,000 seater Olembe Stadium.
There is no live telecast or live streaming of AFCON 2021 in India. You can follow the results and reports on myKhel.com.
(With inputs from Agencies)