In case you’ve been living under a rock, it’s been one week since the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) kicked off, and we’re already approaching the make-or-break fixtures.
Senegal and Cape Verde have become the first teams to book their place in the knockout stage, giving us plenty to discuss, although much remains to be decided in the coming days.
Group B: Cape Verde 3-0 Mozambique
Cape Verde thrashed Mozambique 3-0 to advance to the knockout stages of AFCON, with the away side now winless in their last 14 consecutive games in the tournament.
Looking to build on their previous shock victory over Ghana, Cape Verde started brightly, and Bebe came close to breaking the deadlock, but his fiercely hit free kick could only rattle the left post.
However, the ex-Manchester United man would not be denied at the second time of asking, powering a 45-yard free kick into the back of the net to give his nation the lead, although the Mozambique goalkeeper should have done better.
Mozambique offered little going forward, and any hopes of a comeback were eviscerated when Edmilson Dove was robbed of the ball on the edge of his own area by Ryan Mendes, who kept his cool to double Cape Verde’s advantage six minutes into the second half.
Geny Catamo came agonisingly close to pulling one back for Mozambique just before the hour-mark, but his free kick clipped the top of the bar and went behind.
Kevin Pina then ensured maximum points for Cape Verde with just over 20 minutes to go, unleashing a 30-yard piledriver into the top corner.
Having won their opening two games, Cape Verde have sealed a place in the last 16 as group winners. Meanwhile, Mozambique’s chances of qualification are slim at best.
Victory in their final game against Ghana would be a start, but they’ll still require today’s opponents to avoid defeat against Egypt.
Group C: Senegal 3-1 Cameroon
Reigning AFCON champions Senegal have also joined Cape Verde in the knockout phase after extending their unbeaten run to six matches across all competitions with a 3-1 win over Cameroon.
The fiercely contested heavyweights encounter between the defending champions and the five-time AFCON winners delivered plenty of intrigue in Yamoussoukro.
Given the imperious form of the champions, it wasn’t a huge surprise when they drew first blood as Ismaila Sarr pounced on a defensive mishap to rifle Senegal into the lead via a deflection off Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa.
Andre Onana hardly did himself justice after a dramatic past week as his weak punched clearance allowed Sarr to profit, condemning Cameroon to a fourth consecutive game without a clean sheet.
Senegal were dominant in the first half, preventing Cameroon from recording a single shot on target, and they picked up where they left off in the second period.
Habib Diallo handed the Lions of Teranga a two-goal cushion in the 71st minute, sliding home Sarr’s inviting delivery from the right.
It was a well-worked goal, but the lack of intensity and defensive sloppiness from Cameroon was a worrying sight.
Rigobert Song’s side halved the deficit with their first attempt on target as Jean-Charles Castelletto powered home a brilliant header from Olivier Ntcham’s cross.
Georges-Kevin Nkoudou had a guilt-edged chance to level matters, but his header flew wide, and the Indomitable Lions were made to rue that miss as Sadio Mane sealed the win with a well-placed shot into the bottom corner.
Despite the nervy finish, Senegal did enough to secure safe passage into the last 16, leaving Cameroon with only one victory in their previous eight games across all competitions.
Meanwhile, qualification remains very much in the balance for Song’s struggling troops heading into their final group stage clash against The Gambia on Tuesday.
Group C: Guinea 1-0 The Gambia
Guinea took a giant step towards qualifying for the knockout stages from a very difficult group after securing a narrow 1-0 victory over The Gambia.
Having opened their AFCON campaign with a cagey draw against Cameroon on Monday, Kaba Diawara’s men knew an improved performance was needed against the competition’s lowest-ranked nation.
Guinea dominated possession in the early stages as they looked to stamp their authority on the contest. But the Gambian defence held firm to restrict the National Elephants to little in terms of goalmouth action.
However, Guinea came within inches of breaking the deadlock shortly after the half-hour mark when Mohamed Bayo swept a crisp first-time effort against the base of the post.
That proved to be the best chance of the opening period. But Guinea finally penetrated The Gambia’s resilient rearguard in the 69th minute when Aguibou Camara fired home from Morgan Guilavogui’s cut-back.
They came close to establishing a quickfire two-goal lead but Bayo was denied by the woodwork for a second time after lifting a delicate strike over The Gambia’s goalkeeper.
Grateful for that reprieve, the Scorpions pushed for a late equaliser with time ticking away, but despite a couple of half-chances, the Guinean rearguard held firm to secure victory.
Algeria vs Burkina Faso – 2:00 pm (GMT)
Algeria are looking to ascend to the top of Group D when they take on group leaders Burkina Faso in a high-stakes fixture.
Having exited at the group stage at the last AFCON, Algeria face a tricky encounter against a side that could pose more problems than the Angolans did in round one.
Mauritania vs Angola – 5:00 pm (GMT)
Mauritania and Angola will face off knowing victory would significantly bolster their chances of booking a place in the knockout round.
Still without a win at AFCON, Saturday’s encounter represents another opportunity for the Lions of Chinguetti to claim a first win in their eighth game at the continental showpiece.
Tunisia vs Mali – 8:00 pm (GMT)
Tunisia will be looking to bounce back from their shock opening game defeat to Namibia when they take on Group E toppers Mali.
Mali have never made it to the first knockout round in three consecutive tournaments, a statistic they are keen to change with a positive result against Tunisia.
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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