The second round of group matches at the Africa Cup of Nations in the Ivory Coast came to a conclusion on Sunday night as South Africa ran rampant over neighbours Namibia for their first points.
It means now that the permutations for qualification are much clearer and with only two countries so far assured of a place in the last-16, it sets up the prospect of an exciting last round of group matches, concluding the first phase of the tournament in the Ivory Coast.
Group matches are now being played simultaneously and Group A and B will conclude on Monday, followed by Groups C and D on Tuesday and the last two groups on Wednesday.
The top two finishers in each of the six groups advance along with the four best third-placed teams, meaning that only eight teams go home after the first round.
Here is how things stand after two matches for each of the 24 competing countries.
GROUP A: Hosts Ivory Coast suffered a morale-deflating setback against Nigeria in their second game, with a VAR decision settling the outcome at the Alhassan Ouattara Olympic Stadium. It was a tough physical battle where Nigeria’s five-man defence held out strongly and kept the Ivorian attackers at bay while, at the other end, they were looking for an opportunity for African Footballer of the Year Victor Osimhen. He finally got a chance when hacked down by Ousmane Diomande early in the second half and captain William Troost-Ekong blasted home the penalty for victory. Nigeria advanced to four points, with the hosts on three, but the surprise group leaders are Equatorial Guinea. Veteran striker Emilio Nsue scored the tournament’s first hat-trick since 2008 as they beat Guinea Bissau 4-2 in their second game. It left Guinea Bissau bottom without any points and six goals conceded in the tournament, more than any other country.
GROUP B: Heavyweights Ghana and Egypt provided an exciting, if error-ridden clash, drawing 2-2 at the Felix Houphouet-Boigny Stadium with a double from Mohamed Kudus on his return to the Black Stars line-up after injury. The result, however, left the two still without a win after two games. For Egypt there was the added trauma of talisman Mohamed Salah going off with a hamstring injury before halftime. He will miss a minimum of two games. Cape Verde Islands then went on to win a second match and take an unassailable first place in their group. Their 3-0 thumping of Mozambique was impressive as Bebe and Kevin Pina both struck brilliant long-range goals and Kaizer Chiefs centre-back Edmilson made a defensive howler to allow Cape Verde captain Ryan Mendes onto the scoresheet too.
GROUP C: Senegal’s 3-1 win over fellow former winners Cameroon in Yamoussoukro continued their winning start to the tournament and meant that the defending champions, with their six points, are assured of a top-two finish and are, therefore, through to the last-16. Senegal were 2-0- up until late in the game when Cameroon suddenly pulled a goal back through Jean-Charles Castelletto and Georges-Kevin Nkoudou should have netted an equaliser almost straight away but missed a sitter. Sadio Mane then broke away to make it 3-1 and settle Senegal’s nerves, although coach Aliou Cisse was admitted to hospital after the game with a stomach complaint. Guinea were 1-0 winners over Gambia with Agibou Camara sliding home the winner to move them to four points and leave Gambia bottom without any points.
GROUP D: Two of the most exciting games seen at the Cup of Nations in decades delivered nine goals in Bouake on Saturday as Algeria had to scramble to draw with Burkina Faso while Angola beat Mauritania. Baghdad Bounedjah scored a double for the 2019 champions but the second came in stoppage time and rescued Algeria’s chances, although they must win their last match or will go home early again. Burkina Faso were just minutes away from confirming their qualification for the next round when they conceded a second goal. Gelson Dala scored a double for Angola, in their 3-2 win although the two goals for Mauritania were brilliantly scored and the match was an exciting, end-to-end affair with Angola holding on for the points in the end.
GROUP E: South Africa are right back in the race after forging the biggest win of this tournament so far with a 4-0 thumping of Namibia in Korhogo on Sunday, with two from Themba Zwane, a Percy Tau penalty and a fourth from substitute Thapelo Maseko. Tau showed great character to take responsibility for an early penalty again awarded to Bafana Bafana and tucked it away after he had missed against Mali in their opening game. But Zwane stole the show with his skills and despite his 34 years, was the star on the pitch. Mali are top of the table after they drew 1-1 with Tunisia on Saturday while the north Africans, who were top seeds for the group, are floundering on a single point and must beat South Africa to progress. Mali’s goal came from Lassina Sinayako, a striker in the French second division, who now has two for the tournament.
GROUP F: Morocco would have booked their place had they held onto the early lead they took against the Democratic Republic of Congo but then gave away a penalty that Cedric Bakambu squandered before Silas Katompa got a deserved equaliser for the Leopards, who finished stronger and could have snatched a winner against the World Cup semifinalists. Zambia then had to rally against Tanzania in San Pedro after going down to 10 men when former Ajax Cape Town and Sekhukhune United midfielder Rodrick Kabwe, who is their captain, was sent off. They were already behind to an early goal from Simon Msuva as Tanzania showed no ill effects from having their coach Adel Amrouche had been suspended on Friday. Patson Daka headed home a late reply to salvage a point for Zambia but they are still up against it as they finish their group fixtures against Morocco on Wednesday.