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Afcon 2023: Can African heavyweights survive semi-finals?

Seko Fofana celebrates Ivory Coast's last-minute equaliser against Mali in the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations quarter-finals
Ivory Coast kept their Nations Cup hopes alive with a last-minute equaliser against Mali in the quarter-finals, a match the tournament hosts won deep in extra time

After drama aplenty in the quarter-finals of the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations, Wednesday's semi-finals in Ivory Coast have much to live up to - and you can watch it all live on BBC.

Three-time champions Nigeria face a South Africa side aiming to win their second title - but a first away from home following their 1996 triumph in Johannesburg.

Hosts Ivory Coast have never won the title on home soil - triumphing in Senegal in 1992 and Equatorial Guinea in 2015 - but must overcome unbeaten DR Congo (20:00 GMT) if they are to reach Sunday's final in Abidjan.

"It's been a top-level Nations Cup - now let's hope the semi-finals and final finish it off in style," Tom Saintfiet, who led The Gambia in the group stage, told BBC Sport Africa.

Both semi-final ties will be broadcast live in the UK, with the first game on BBC Two and the second on BBC Three, while the BBC World Service will provide radio commentary in Africa. You will be able to follow a live text commentary on both.

Elephants keen to march on

Ivory Coast have certainly been on a rollercoaster since kicking off the tournament.

After the deep lows of the group stage, when the Elephants squeezed into the knockout rounds as a best third-placed side, can the hosts maintain the extraordinary highs of their knock-out matches since?

According to midfielder Franck Kessie "a ghost cannot be afraid", and the near-dead Ivorians have shown unbelievable spirit when scoring late equalisers against Senegal and Mali in the last 16 and quarter-finals respectively.

All three Ivorian goals in the knock-outs have come from substitutes.

"We won't be this lucky all the time, but it's important to know that those on the bench can also contribute," said interim coach Emerse Fae, ahead of the Elephants' return to the Alassane Ouattara Stadium for the first time since their 4-0 mauling by Equatorial Guinea in their final group game.

"During the last games, the motivation from the fans has helped - we hope they will stay with us."

Fae will be without suspended pair Odilon Kossounou and Oumar Diakite, who were both sent off against Mali - the former after a torrid defensive display, the latter for taking off his shirt following his dramatic 122nd-minute winner.

DR Congo players celebrate a goal against Guinea in the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations quarter-finals
Brentford forward Yoane Wissa help DR Congo come from behind and beat Guinea 3-1 in the quarter-finals

As two-time champions DR Congo contest their second Nations Cup semi-final this century and a first since losing to the Ivorians in 2015, the Leopards plan to wear black armbands for those recently affected by conflict in the nation.

On the pitch, a clear issue is the concession of penalties in both knockout games so far, against Egypt and Guinea, but the Central Africans can point to their own dead-ball prowess after a hat-trick of set-piece goals against Guinea - netting from a corner, penalty and free-kick.

Remarkably, DR Congo had made it all the way to the quarter-finals after drawing their first four games at the tournament, overcoming Egypt 8-7 on penalties in the last 16.

"Our first victory came at the right time because we're gaining momentum," said coach Sebastien Desabre, who has moulded this latest generation of Congolese into a compact unit.

"We may have only won once but remember we have not lost yet."

Brentford forward Yoane Wissa is the leading scorer for the Leopards in Ivory Coast with two goals, while former Newcastle United defender Chancel Mbemba and ex-West Ham left-back Arthur Masuaku have also found the back of the net.

Can Super Eagles keep soaring?

Nigeria duo Ademola Lookman and Moses Simon

Nigeria face South Africa in Bouake in a repeat of the 2000 Nations Cup semi-final, with the Super Eagles beating Bafana Bafana as the countries met for the first time at the tournament.

The West Africans have the upper hand in meetings at Afcon, winning all three encounters - with the most recent of those a quarter-final tie in 2019.

Playing in a record-extending 15th Afcon semi-final, Nigeria have impressed both in attack and in defence, where they have won their past four games without conceding a goal - their best run at a Nations Cup.

With Frank Onyeka winning over his critics to provide a solid platform in central midfield, the likes of Ademola Lookman and Moses Simon have been liberated - with the latter creating the only goal of the quarter-final against Angola for the former, who has scored half of Nigeria's six goals.

"We've got a lot of faith in our defensive structure and in the final third we're frightening," defender Semi Ajayi told BBC Sport Africa.

Coach Jose Peseiro has repeatedly said a clean sheet will guarantee a win for his side given their prowess up front, where reigning African Footballer of the Year Victor Osimhen has impressed with his non-stop running and pressing despite only scoring once.

Former Nigeria international Sunday Oliseh has praised Osimhen's 'leadership and hunger', with the latter a key word for a team that - unlike previous Super Eagles sides - looks fully focused.

Can Broos mastermind upset for Bafana Bafana?

While many expected Nigeria to go far, few thought the same about South Africa who have benefitted from the guile of Hugo Broos, who led Cameroon to their unexpected 2017 triumph.

The oldest coach at the tournament, the 71-year-old has relied on the core of South African club Mamelodi Sundowns to take Bafana Bafana into the last four for the first time in 24 years.

Eight players from the Pretoria-based club that won last year's inaugural African Football League, while also reaching the African Champions League semi-finals, started their quarter-final against Cape Verde.

Ronwen Williams makes a save for South Africa at Afcon 2023
Ronwen Williams' penalty heroics against Cape Verde came after he had made a superb save during second-half added time of normal time

"He has taken Sundowns players because he understands those players have experience against different opponents from across the continent - and he realised the synergy and teamwork are important," former South Africa captain Aaron Mokoena told the BBC.

Broos said their performance against Cape Verde was their worst at the finals so far and, although Bafana Bafana have also achieved four straight clean sheets, he was indebted to captain Ronwen Williams for a crucial last save before keeping out four penalties in the shootout.

In midfield Teboho Mokoena, another Sundowns man, has provided dynamism while Nigeria will need to be wary of experienced forward Themba Zwane who scored twice in the group-stage win against Namibia.

With Broos having fielded an unchanged since the second game, a major concern will be fatigue, with former South Africa midfielder Dean Furman pointing out the "heavy legs" against Cape Verde on Saturday.

Viewers in the UK can watch Nigeria vs South Africa (Wednesday, 17:00 GMT) on BBC Two iPlayer and the BBC Sport website and Ivory Coast vs DR Congo (Wednesday 20:00 GMT) on BBC Three, iPlayer and the BBC Sport website.