The final matchday of the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) group phase failed to provide a similar level of drama and excitement to what we have been treated to in the last few days.
There were little fireworks with three goalless draws across the four fixtures, but the results have determined the final 16 teams that will continue their adventure in the knockout stage.
Group E: Namibia 0-0 Mali
Mali booked their place in the next round despite being held to a 0-0 draw by Namibia, with the Brave Warriors making AFCON history after advancing to the last 16 for the first time.
Looking to upset Mali’s ten-match unbeaten run, Namibia threatened to draw first blood in the opening stages as Prins Tjiueza saw his well-placed shot tipped onto the post.
Mali began to grow into the game, and Nene Dorgeles forced a remarkable save from Lloyd Junior Kazapua midway through the first half after beating a couple of defenders before unleashing a shot.
Encouraged by the effort, Mali had one final chance to break the deadlock before the interval, but Lassine Sinayoko failed to hit the target from Youssouf Niakate’s inch-perfect cross.
A scrappy affair ensued in the second half, with both sides struggling to craft any worthwhile chances, although Mali controlled possession.
It wasn’t until the final ten minutes that the Eagles looked menacing. Yet, the only shot on target came from Amadou Dante’s hopeful long-range free kick that forced a save from Kazapua.
Namibia managed to dig deep and claim a valuable draw to advance to the knockout stages for the first time, while Mali also preserved their unbeaten run to progress as group winners.
Group E: South Africa 0-0 Tunisia
Tunisia have been eliminated following a goalless draw against South Africa, whose AFCON adventures will continue in the last 16.
Following a shock 1-0 defeat on matchday one and a 1-1 draw against Mali, Tunisia needed a win but were inexplicably passive throughout the first half of the must-win contest.
South Africa’s 4-0 win over Namibia meant a draw would be enough for them to progress, but they didn’t have much to do by way of defending as Tunisia’s attacking display failed to move the needle.
To contextualise just how disappointing Tunisia were, South Africa hardly threatened, but they looked the more likely of the two sides to break the deadlock.
Tunisia saw more of the ball in the first half and conjured two shots on target from a total of six, but there were no fireworks as both sides went into the break level.
Little changed after the break. With an early elimination hanging over their head, Tunisia continued to labour, but South Africa’s Ronwen Williams would rarely have a more serene evening between the sticks.
South Africa initially set up to repel their opponents. But as Tunisia’s desperation grew, they became more open, and Bafana Bafana nearly exploited the defensive void.
With the final 15 minutes on the horizon, Sphephelo Sithole forced a save from Bechir Ben Said before Percy Tau fired an effort just beyond the post shortly after.
Evidence Makgoba then headed straight at Ben Said as his team cranked up the pressure, although they were unable to find the back of the net before the final whistle.
A toothless Tunisia could have snatched a late win, but Haythem Jouini’s failure to hit the target from a glorious position epitomised their lacklustre performance.
Group F: Tanzania 0-0 D.R Congo
The final goalless draw of the day saw DR Congo secure a place in the last 16 at the expense of Tanzania, who have been eliminated and remain without a win at the tournament.
The clash featured two sides yet to taste victory at the tournament after their opening two games, so they could be forgiven for their cautious approach in the opening stages.
Former Chelsea man Gael Kakuta tested the water early on for DR Congo with a free-kick which sailed straight into Aishi Manula, while Lionel Mpasi Nzau made a comfortable save to keep out Feisal Salum at the other end.
Brentford striker Yoane Wissa looked to add a touch of Premier League class to the game as he embarked on a mazy run through the Tanzania defence, but was easily denied by Manula.
DR Congo were handed breathing space as a result of events elsewhere after Hakim Ziyech gave Morocco the lead against Zambia, giving the Leopards a one-point advantage heading into half-time.
Tanzania were yet to register a shot on target heading into the second half, and Simon Msuva’s miserable effort from a promising position in the DR Congo box best summed up the attacking woes of the Taifa Stars.
Wissa came close to finally sparking the game into life with a sublime looping effort, but it was expertly parried over the bar by Manula as both sides settled for a share of the spoils.
Group F: Zambia 0-1 Morocco
AFCON favourites Morocco will continue their title challenge in the last 16 after securing a 1-0 win over Zambia to qualify as group winners, sending Chipolopolo out of the tournament.
The pressure was on Zambia, who needed a draw to stand a chance of progressing, but they were nearly punished for a nervy start when Ismael Saibari saw his effort well blocked by Stoppila Sunzu.
Considering Zambia had only beaten Morocco once in their last six meetings, the odds were firmly stacked against them.
They struggled to assert themselves in the clash, and it took over 30 minutes to muster their first shot on target through a hopeful long-range effort from Emmanuel Banda.
Morocco finally broke the deadlock in the 37th minute as Ziyech pounced on a rebound save to smash home his first of the tournament, sending his nation into the break with a deserved lead.
The Atlas Lions were intent on a second goal to cushion their lead in the second half and almost doubled their advantage when Amine Adli broke into the box but was denied a certain goal by Tresford Lawrence Mulenga.
Morocco were nearly punished for that miss when Lameck Banda wriggled past two defenders before curling an effort agonisingly wide of the post.
Zambia pressed on for an all-important equaliser, and their best chance came from Banda. But his long-range effort was expertly saved by Yassine Bounou, sealing their fate with a narrow defeat.
Ghana axe ex-Newcastle boss after early AFCON exit
Ghana have confirmed the departure of head coach Chris Hughton following their disheartening group-stage elimination at the AFCON.
The four-time champions failed to win any of their three Group B fixtures (D2, L1), managing just two points in what was a hugely disappointing campaign.
Whatever slim hopes Ghana had of progressing as one of the four best-ranked third-placed teams were vanquished following Mauritania’s shocking victory over Algeria.
“The Ghana Football Association wishes to announce that Chris Hughton has been relieved of his duties as head coach of the senior national team with immediate effect,” Ghana said in a statement.
“The Ghana Football Association will in the coming days provide a roadmap on the future direction of the Black Stars.”
Ivory Coast sack coach after humiliating defeat to Equatorial Guinea
AFCON hosts Ivory Coast have sacked head coach Jean-Louis Gasset for ‘insufficient results’ after their gut-wrenching 4-0 defeat to Group A winners Equatorial Guinea.
The Elephants took just three points from three games (W1, L2), but Zambia’s failure to take a point off Morocco sealed their place in the last 16 as one of the four best-ranked third-placed teams.
Ivory Coast have confirmed that former Premier League ace Emerse Fae will take over for the rest of the tournament.
- Ratcliffe unable to spend big at Man United this summer due to PSR squeeze
- Fulham ready to offload Palhinha amid Chelsea, Man City & Liverpool interest
- Liverpool eye summer swoop for Crystal Palace defender Marc Guehi
- Premier League calls emergency meeting amid ‘New Deal’ settlement deadline
- Liverpool and Man United table proposals for Kylian Mbappe
- Chelsea poach Brighton recruitment chief Sam Jewell
- Southgate eyes uncapped replacements for struggling Phillips – but are they good enough?
- Should Chelsea try to rescue Kane from Bayern nightmare?
- West Ham shortlist three managers to replace David Moyes
- Ratcliffe to cut around 250 jobs at Man United amid restructuring