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AFCON: All set for dramatic knockout stage

The Africa Cup of Nations group stage reached a conclusion on Thursday, and with the knockout rounds not commencing until next week, we have taken a look at how the tournament is shaping up.

We are now reaching the business end of the competition, but which country will be crowned champions when the final is held in Yaounde on 6th February?

Nigeria and Cameroon catching the eye

With only eight of the 24 teams being eliminated at the group stage, it should have been relatively straightforward for the continent's big hitters to make it through, but try telling that to reigning champions Algeria, who were dumped out after finishing bottom of Group E, collecting just a solitary point and goal along the way.

The North Africans were not the only heavyweights to be heading on the first available plane home, as Ghana also crashed out, while Tunisia rather limped into the last 16 as one of the best third-placed sides.

In truth, not many teams were at their best during the group stage, with a notable exception being Nigeria, who were the only side to win all three of their matches, including seeing off Mohamed Salah's Egypt.

Nigeria certainly look an attractive proposition at 9/2 to be crowned champions of Africa for the first time since 2013, but they are not the only side in form, with hosts Cameroon easing through at the top of Group A and preserving their remarkable record of having not lost a competitive home fixture since 1973.

That statistic alone makes Cameroon a tempting option to lift the trophy at 4/1, the same price as pre-tournament favourites Senegal, who rather limped through the group stage, drawing two of their three matches.

Underdog quartet causing a stir

Four teams that were in the bottom pot when the draw was made have advanced through to the quarter finals, with Malawi (129), Comoros (132), Equatorial Guinea (114) and Gambia (150) all doing so despite sitting well outside the top 100 of the world rankings.

Gambia's run has been particularly impressive in what is there first appearance at the finals of AFCON, as they not only finished second in Group F, but they were unbeaten in their three matches and ended up four points clear of Tunisia.

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Perhaps further progress can be enjoyed by the Scorpions, as they have secured a favourable draw against Guinea in the last 16 and can be backed at 5/4 to qualify.

Malawi and Comoros are unlikely to advance any further, bar a major shock, as they will face Morocco and Cameroon respectively in the knockout stages, but Equatorial Guinea, who have stunned at AFCON before, finishing fourth in 2015, may fancy their chances of getting past Mali, which can be backed at 11/4.

Draw favouring Cameroon

Cameroon were surprise winners of AFCON in 2017, but there will be a level of expectation that Toni Conceicao's side should reach at least the final this year, with the draw seemingly opening up for the hosts.

The Indomitable Lions should have too much for tournament debutants Comoros in the last 16 - they are 3/10 to win the match in 90 minutes - while they will then face the winner of Gambia's clash with Guinea, again a fixture they will expect to progress from.

They are then likely to come up against either Ivory Coast, Egypt or Morocco in the semi-finals, all potential tough opponents, but like a boxer that has been taken the distance one too many times, they may all be feeling the effects of their knockout stage exploits.

Ivory Coast vs Egypt is arguably the tie of the round in the last 16. The former topped Group E and are priced at 6/5 to win the match, but a Salah-inspired Egypt cannot be underestimated at 13/5, although the Liverpool star has scored only once at the tournament to date.

The other side of the draw should see Nigeria and Senegal make it through to the semi-finals, with the Super Eagles facing an under-par Tunisia ahead of a potential clash with either Burkina Faso or Gabon, while the Lions of Teranga should get past first Cape Verde and then either Equatorial Guinea or Mali.

Aboubakar will take some stopping in Golden Boot race

In a tournament that was slow to get going in terms of goals, Cameroon forward Vincent Aboubakar will take some stopping at the top of the scoring charts, with the former Porto star having netted five times in the group stage.

Given Cameroon will expect to go far during the knockout rounds, it is difficult to look beyond Aboubakar's odds of 1/8 to win the Golden Boot, with his nearest rival in the race, Mali's Ibrahima Kone, priced at 14/1.

Kone has struck three goals at the finals, with eight players one behind on two, including Aboubakar's Cameroon team-mate Karl Toko Ekambi 20/1 and Morocco's Sofiane Boufal 50/1.

The big names such as Salah and Senegal's Sadio Mane are yet to get going at the finals, with both having netted just once apiece, but with a potential four matches remaining for both in the competition, they could still feature at the top of the scoring charts.

Salah is available at 20/1 to finish the tournament as top scorer, while his Liverpool colleague Mane is at 33/1.

Don't forget all the matches from this year's Africa Cup of Nations are available on our Sports Live Streaming.

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