A tight battle for quarterfinal spots
GROUP A concluded its business last night in Gabon’s capital Libreville. The top two teams in this group joined Ghana and Senegal who had already booked their places in the quarter-finals. Tonight until Wednesday four more nations will join the quartet to make up the last eight. Group B: Senegal v Algeria @ Stade de Franceville and Zimbabwe v Tunisia @ Stade de l’Amitie, both tonight at 9pm
The Lions of Teranga are already guaranteed a first place finish even if they lose to Algeria and the Tunisians beat Zimbabwe. Senegal will still finish on top because of a better head-to-head with the Carthage Eagles. It’s a fitting position for Senegal because they’ve not only been the best team in Group B but also the best in the tournament so far.
The same can’t be said for Algeria who are facing an embarrassingly early elimination despite boasting a strong team that saw them tipped as the tournament’s favourites. The Desert Foxes have picked up a measly point, which they were lucky to get, from Zimbabwe. Their stars – Riyad Mahrez, Yacine Brahini and Islam Slimani – have tried to inspire Algeria to success but they have lacked potency. Their problem has been that they react instead of being proactive. Being put in this corner could count in their favour because they need a massive reaction. Tunisia’s clash with Zimbabwe could be a straight shoot-out of who will join Senegal in the last eight. Group C: Morocco v Ivory Coast @ Stade d’Oyem and Togo v Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) @ Stade de Port-Gentil, both tomorrow at 9pm
Of all the groups, this is the most open because all four teams can still qualify for the last eight.
Morocco’s clash with Ivory Coast will be an emotional moment for Herve Renard. It will see the coach come up against the team he guided to continental success in 2015, in his new role with a sleeping giant that is Morocco.
The Atlas Lions started this tournament on a shaky note, losing to DRC. They woke up, dusted themselves up and convincingly beat Togo to sit in second place, a point behind the Leopards.
Renard’s mentor, Claude le Roy, will be involved in his own emotional match. He will lead Togo against the only team, DRC, he failed to take to the last eight of this tournament. The veteran coach of nine Afcons is a shrewd tactician who has a way of making teams punch above their weight. Group D: Egypt v Ghana @ Stade de Port-Gentil and Uganda v Mali @ Stade d’Oyem, both on Wednesday at 9pm
The Black Stars have already booked a place in the last eight while Uganda will return home after Wednesday. That leaves Egypt and Mali battling to join Ghana in the knockout stage. Even though the Pharaohs and the Eagles play against countries that already know their fates, they will have to put on a strong fight to beat them.
Ghana are looking to finish the tournament with a 100 percent record.
Uganda want to return home with something to show, especially having made Ugandans wait close to 40 years to watch the Cranes in the continental showpiece.
Mali will welcome the change of venues. They’ll be able to play their flowing brand of football in Oyem without being limited by a poor pitch.