The excitement of the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) didn’t stop on day four.
The line-up may not have been littered with goals, but it delivered perhaps the most shocking result of the competition to date.
The tournament’s underdog narrative persisted as Namibia made AFCON history after defeating Tunisia in what could be the most heartwarming story of the competition.
Wins for Mali and Burkina Faso also offer plenty for us to discuss in today’s column.
Group D: Burkina Faso 1-0 Mauritania
A late penalty from Aston Villa’s Bertrand Traore was enough to seal all three points for Burkina Faso in a 1-0 victory over Mauritania, sending the Stallions to the top of Group D.
Few people would have expected Mauritania to cause Burkina Faso many problems in what was only their third-ever participation in the prestigious tournament.
But a solid first-half performance saw Amir Abdou’s side prevent Burkina Faso from opening the scoring before the break for the first time in six AFCON group games.
The favourites upped the ante after the interval as they looked to kick off the campaign with all three points, but Mauritania comfortably withstood the pressure and were on course for a vital point.
Burkina Faso piled on the pressure, and it eventually paid off when Luton Town loanee Issa Kabore won a penalty in stoppage time after being fouled by Nouh El Abd.
Traore had spurned a chance to give his nation the lead earlier, but he made no mistake from the spot, becoming the third Burkina Faso player to score in three different AFCON tournaments.
Mauritania can pat themselves on the back after a brave display, but their hunt for a maiden AFCON victory continues against Angola at the weekend.
Group E: Tunisia 0-1 Namibia
The headline result from Tuesday’s fixture line-up came in Group E, where Namibia secured their first-ever win at AFCON courtesy of a late goal from Deon Hotto, handing them a 1-0 victory over Tunisia.
Never mind the gulf between the two nations in the FIFA rankings, the opening exchanges were closely fought with several chances at both ends of the pitch.
After a frantic opening quarter-hour, it was the Brave Warriors who surprisingly took control of proceedings, but for all their attacking intent, clear-cut opportunities came at a premium.
Tunisia were poor in the first half, but there was a marked improvement from the Eagles of Carthage after the restart.
Namibia fought back against the odds but were lucky to still be in the game heading into the final half-hour with Tunisia guilty of spurning a couple of decent chances.
Those misses ultimately proved costly, as a superb inswinging delivery from Bethuel Muzeu was headed home by an unmarked Deon Hotto to secure a historic win for Namibia.
They say fortune favours the brave, and Namibia’s performance emphasises that sentiment.
While they’ll fancy their chances of securing an unlikely place in the knockout stage, Tunisia are left to play catch-up for the remainder of the group phase.
Group E: Mali 2-0 South Africa
Mali extended their winning streak over South Africa with a hard-fought 2-0 victory at the Amadou Gon Coulibaly Stadium.
Goals from Hamari Traore and Lassine Sinayoko also prolonged Mali’s unbeaten run to 13 games in their AFCON opener.
There was a frantic start to this Group E opener, but the first big chance of the game fell to South Africa, who were handed a penalty inside the opening 20 minutes.
Bafana Bafana had some joy down the left flank through Thapelo Maseko and earned a penalty from his cross when Sikou Niakate appeared to elbow Evidence Makgopa in the box.
However, Percy Tau stepped up and rifled a truly abysmal spot-kick into the stands.
Mali were almost gifted an opener seconds before half-time following a horrible mix-up between Siyanda Xulu and Ronwen Williams, but Sinayoko couldn’t take advantage.
As the game progressed Mali looked like the side most likely to break the deadlock. They squandered a chance to do just that after the restart with Amadou Haidara blazing his close-range attempt over the bar.
The Eagles finally took the lead on the hour mark, when Sekou Koita’s free-kick hit the underside of the bar, and skipper Traore reacted quickest to poke the ball home.
Mali doubled their lead six minutes later as Sinayoko outmuscled Xulu and dispatched a clinical finish past Williams, ensuring all three points for Eric Chelle’s side.
South Africa gave Mali a decent contest, but they lacked the quality to truly hurt the opposition and will have to do better in upcoming games against Namibia and Tunisia.
This was a morale-boosting victory for a Mali side who will be aiming to end their unwanted record of playing the most AFCON matches (55) without winning the tournament.
Morocco vs Tanzania – 5:00 pm (GMT)
One of the heavily fancied AFCON favourites Morocco will get their campaign underway when they take on Tanzania at Stade de San Pedro.
One of our football predictions for 2024 was for the World Cup semi-finalists to snap their AFCON voodoo this year, and a winning start would undoubtedly prove to be a massive confidence booster.
DR Congo vs Zambia – 8:00 pm (GMT)
The first round of matches in the 2023 AFCON will draw to a close when DR Congo meet Zambia at the Stade de San Pedro.
There has been considerable improvement from Zambia over the past year, and they could be one of the dark horses in this competition, particularly with former Chelsea manager Avram Grant at the helm.
How to watch?
All AFCON games are broadcast live on Sky Sports in the United Kingdom. Numerous other live football streaming websites will allow you to watch the tournament in real time regardless of your location.
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