The penultimate round of the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) group phase delivered plenty for us to unpack including goals, drama, upsets and comebacks.
Here’s the recap of all the frantic action.
Group C: The Gambia 2-3 Cameroon
Cameroon booked their place in the knockout stage at the expense of The Gambia after emerging on the winning side of a dramatic five-goal thriller.
Victory was imperative for Cameroon ahead of the game, having taken just one point from their opening two games. But they were nearly pegged back inside the opening ten minutes as Ali Sowe threatened from long range.
It wasn’t long until Cameroon stamped their authority in the game, but despite controlling possession, their goalkeeper Fabrice Ondoa was instrumental as The Gambia continued to probe.
Ondoa pulled off two impressive saves in quick succession – the best of which denied Musa Barrow’s venomous drive from inside the box – to keep matters level heading into half-time.
A game of two halves saw the second period get off to an electrifying start. Georges-Kevin N’Koudou missed an excellent chance to open the scoring, crashing his effort from point-blank range off the woodwork.
However, he made up for the miss by setting up Karl Toko Ekambi to break the deadlock shortly before the hour mark
In a high-stakes fixture such as this one, the next goal is always important and The Gambia levelled the scoreline as Ablie Jallow latched onto an inch-perfect cross and drilled home a low drive.
Ekambi rattled the crossbar just minutes later before The Gambia turned the game on its head in the 85th minute as Ebrima Colley rifled an effort into the far corner.
Staring down the barrel of a group phase elimination, the Indomitable Lions poured forward in search of a response, but they didn’t have to wait long as James Gomez turned a low cross into his own net just two minutes later.
The pulsating clash kept supporters on the edge of their seats, and the game delivered more drama as Cameroon completed a comeback of their own through Christopher Wooh, who rose high to head home the winner from a corner.
Remarkably, The Gambia appeared to have levelled matters deep into stoppage time when Muhammed Sanneh had the ball in the net. But it was chalked off after a VAR check spotted a deliberate Maradona-esque handball.
Group C: Guinea 0-2 Senegal
Senegal preserved their perfect record in their final group phase game, easing past Guinea to book a place in the last 16.
Defeat for Guinea saw them finish third in the group but are guaranteed to compete in the knockout stage as one of the best third-placed teams.
The AFCON holders came into the clash having already guaranteed a place in the next round, but that didn’t stop them from grabbing the game by the scruff of the neck after a tense opening period.
Senegal have previously developed a reputation as fast starters, scoring inside the opening 20 minutes in four of their last five games, but neither side managed a shot on target before the half-hour mark.
A pair of deflected efforts from Nampalys Mendy was as close as the Lions of Teranga came to breaking the deadlock, with tempers boiling over once more on the stroke of half-time.
Senegal kicked off the second period with renewed attacking vigour and eventually crafted a clear-cut opportunity when Sadio Mane went around Ibrahim Kone but skewed his finish wide.
Mane was offered a reprieve minutes later as Abdoulaye Seck connected with a dangerous free-kick delivery from Krepin Diatta to head Senegal into the lead.
That goal encouraged Guinea to come out of their shell, but they failed to create anything worthwhile, and a late strike from Iliman Ndiaye sealed the victory for the defending champions.
Senegal are now undefeated in ten AFCON finals games (W8, D2), keeping clean sheets in seven.
Group D: Angola 2-0 Burkina Faso
Angola secured a comprehensive 2-0 victory over Burkina Faso to qualify for the AFCON knockout phase as group winners for the first time, extending their unbeaten run to nine games.
An underwhelming start to the game saw both sides toil without looking dangerous, but things began to pick up when Issa Kabore missed a big chance to give Burkina Faso the lead, sending his close-range effort over the crossbar.
Angola took the lead in the 36th minute with Mabululu directing an easy header into the roof of the net from Fredy’s free-kick delivery.
Burkina Faso’s lack of cutting edge made it easy for Angola to head into the break with their lead intact, and the Stallions’ final third struggles continued into the second period.
Having scored in 16 consecutive games before kick-off, Burkina Faso were expected to raise their game, especially as they have scored after the 80th minute in five of their last six AFCON matches.
Despite Burkina Faso’s impressive stats, they failed to penetrate a resilient Angola backline before Zini put the game to bed with a point-blank rebound in stoppage time.
Burkina Faso ended their group phase campaign with four points in the bag, but it proved to be enough for the West African side to continue their AFCON adventure.
Group D: Mauritania 1-0 Algeria
Mauritania sent shockwaves across the competition when they beat their neighbours Algeria 1-0 to advance to the knockout stage for the first time in their history.
Algeria have been knocked out of the AFCON for a second consecutive year in a row after a massively underwhelming campaign, where they picked up just two points from three games.
Les Fennecs needed a win to guarantee progression to the last 16, and they had plenty of chances to open the scoring early on. But the best chance fell to Houssem Aouar, who failed to hit the target from close range.
Buoyed by Algeria’s profligacy in front of goal, Mauritania grew into the game, and they stunned the away side into silence, taking a shock lead through Mohamed Dellahi.
Dellahi profited from Omare Gassama’s blocked shot falling his way as he cooly slotted home from ten yards out.
Algeria had a couple of chances to respond before the break, but Hitcham Boudaoui spurned both, while Aboubakary Koita had a fierce effort beaten away.
Mauritania were on course for their first-ever AFCON victory, which coincidentally would see them qualify as one of the tournament’s best third-placed finishers.
They needed to shut out Algeria and had their goalkeeper, Babacar Niasse, to thank as he made a couple of remarkable saves to repel Boudaoui’s flicked header and Aissa Mandi’s effort from point-blank range.
As Algeria poured forward in search of an equaliser, Mauritania took advantage of the spaces and nearly doubled their advantage, but Ibnou Ba missed a sitter, rattling the woodwork from yards out.
Those squandered chances ultimately proved inconsequential as Mauritania registered their first-ever win against Algeria.
CAF launch investigation into Morocco-DR Congo racism allegations
The Confederation of African Football (CAF) have launched an investigation into accusations of racist abuse in a post-match altercation between DR Congo defender Chancel Mbemba and Morocco manager Walid Regragui.
After Sunday’s 1-1 draw between both sides, Mbemba claimed that Regragui had insulted him and subsequently received racial abuse on his Instagram post.
It is unclear what remarks sparked the conflict between both parties, but the African football governing body are committed to getting to the bottom of the unsavoury incident.
Namibia vs Mali – 5:00 pm (GMT)
The action kicks off in Group E as unbeaten leaders Mali take on Namibia, looking to seal a spot in the knockout stage.
Regardless of the outcome of this match, Namibia will look back at this tournament with fond memories, having secured their first-ever AFCON triumph over a heavily fancied Tunisia.
South Africa vs Tunisia – 5:00 pm (GMT)
South Africa will take on Group E underachievers Tunisia, looking to build on their emphatic victory over Namibia.
The stakes couldn’t be higher for the Tunisians, who must secure a victory to keep their hopes of progressing alive.
Tanzania vs D.R. Congo – 8:00 pm (GMT)
Tanzania and DR Congo kick off Group F action, going head to head for a place in the knockout stage.
The Leopards have defied expectations to still be in contention for a knockout berth, but only a win will keep their fairytale alive.
Zambia vs Morocco – 8:00 pm (GMT)
Morocco have found Group F perhaps harder to navigate than they’d previously expected.
But they remain in charge of their own destiny, heading into the final group fixture against a resilient Zambia side.
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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