Backfire of the big shots

2017-01-22 05:52
Chancel Mbemba of Congo RD and Franck Yannick Kessie of Ivory Coast during the African Nations Cup match played in Oyem.

Libreville - While Egypt goalkeeper Ahmed el-Shenawy rewrote Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) history books by becoming the oldest player to feature in the tournament at 43, the event has not been without drama. 

Seven matches, before Saturday's Group D matches, ending in stalemates has been the story of the tournament so far. 

As in any major event, teams adopt a cautious approach in the opening matches as they do not know what to expect and don’t want to expose themselves unnecessarily. 

It was not surprising then that there were only three victories in the opening eight matches, with 12 goals scored. 

Two of those goals came from the converted spot with Zimbabwe’s Nyasha Mushekwi’s equaliser against Algeria and Ghana’s André Ayew’s solitary goal against Uganda. In the process, Ayew surpassed his legendary father Abedi Pele’s six goals in the Afcon finals. 

Two of the five drawn matches ended in goalless draws – Ivory Coast vs Togo and Mali vs Egypt. 

Newly crowned African player of the year Riyad Mahrez was the only player to have scored a brace in the opening fixtures – against Zimbabwe. But his Algeria side is facing early elimination from the event. 

Knockout stages

There will be no more time for draws going into the final round as teams are playing to extend their stay in the tournament or else they go home. Groups A, B and C still hang in the balance and are wide open as any of the teams could still qualify to the next round. 

After two draws, the hosts are at risk of failing to qualify to the knockout stages. Gabon, who have lost midfielder Mario Lemina for the rest of the tournament with a back injury, have to win their final group game against top of the group Cameroon this evening for them to have any hopes of progressing. 

The hosts have made life difficult for themselves after failing to beat newcomers Guinea-Bissau in the opening game and again struggled against Burkina Faso. 

A draw will be enough to see the Indomitable Lions proceed to the quarterfinals. 

Burkina Faso, who are also on two points after two draws, need a victory over Guinea-Bissau, who themselves could still qualify if they beat the latter. 

In Group B, pre-tournament favourites Senegal became the first side to go through to the knockout stages after a 100% record in their opening two games. 

They followed their 2-0 victory over Tunisia with another convincing victory over Zimbabwe on Thursday evening. 

Algeria are also staring exit in the face after going down to fellow North Africans Tunisia and need to beat Senegal and hope Tunisia lose their match against the Zim Warriors on Monday. 

Zimbabwe also needs to beat Tunisia to advance to the quarterfinals and hope Algeria drops points against Senegal. 

In Group C, defending champions Ivory Coast have to win their final game against Morocco to qualify for the next round. 

With all still to play for in the last round of matches, fireworks are expected as teams try to sneak in through the back door.

Read more on:    afcon 2017  |  gabon  |  soccer

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