AFCON 2019: A recap and a look ahead


As this summers African Cup of Nations heads into the knockout stages, I thought I’d take a brief look at how the group stage panned out before seeing what the last 16 has in store. 

In what has been a competitive and hard-fought continental showpiece up to now, Group A has seen hosts Egypt dominate, winning all three games without seemingly hitting top gear as of yet.

Egypt’s Trezeguet has perhaps marginally outshone star man Mo Salah so far as their main creative force, while they have remained defensively solid and are yet to concede a goal.

Surprise package Uganda finished in second place following an eye-catching 2-0 win over dark horses DR Congo in their opening game. They followed this up with a draw with Zimbabwe, meaning a defeat to the Egyptians in their final game proved irrelevant as they sailed through.

Working well as a team unit, the Ugandans have been a real threat from set pieces. Frontmen Patrick Kaddu and Emmanuel Okwi caught the eye, both for their technical and physical qualities.

Although DR Congo disappointingly lost their opening two games, they secured qualification as one of the best third-place teams with a resounding 4-0 win over an otherwise competitive Zimbabwe side, who themselves are now eliminated after picking up a solitary point.

Group B saw a surprise as debutants Madagascar topped the group after picking up two wins (including a 2-0 victory against Nigeria). Midfielders Anicet and Marco Ilaimaharita were vital cogs in the hardworking Madagascan machine, while striker Andriamatsinoro provided a threat, scoring two goals so far.

Despite their aforementioned defeat to Madagascar, Nigeria finished second to comfortably qualify for the next stage. With the likes of Leicester’s Wilfred Ndidi and Arsenal’s Alex Iwobi performing well, the Nigerians will have hopes of going the distance in Egypt.

A talented Guinea side will remain a dark horse after qualifying as a high ranking third-placed team, while Burundi endured a disappointing campaign which saw them end up goalless, pointless and eliminated.

Looking at how Group C went, it would be fair to say that the most impressive team at the tournament so far, Algeria breezed through with three wins and a defence yet to be breached.

The Algerians are a well-balanced unit with strength in depth throughout but Ismael Bennacer and Adam Ounas have stood out alongside the well-known talents of Islam Slimani and Riyad Mahrez.

Despite suffering defeat to the Algerians, Senegal also qualified comfortably with victories over both Kenya and Tanzania which saw them finished second in the group.

With the talents of Liverpool’s Sadio Mane and Napoli’s Kalidou Koulibaly, the Senegalese will see themselves as real contenders, though they will be hoping striker M’baye Niang can find his shooting boots having proved wasteful in front of goal so far.

Although Kenya did beat Tanzania, their inferior goal difference compared to others sees them miss out on a best third-placed finish qualification spot, meaning they head home with the Tanzanians.

Group D saw the dominance of another one of North Africa’s footballing powerhouses, with Morocco winning three out of three, including an impressive 1-0 victory over a strong Ivory Coast team.

Though not at their prolific best, three 1-0 wins have seen the Moroccans through without conceding a goal. While Moubarak Bousouffa has controlled the midfield, Nordin Amrabat has been in impressive creative form.

A talented Ivory Coast squad including Wilfried Zaha, Max Gradel, and Serey Die are also through after victories against South Africa and Namibia saw them finish runners up.

Although the current squad perhaps lacks the presence of previous years, they look to have more than enough quality to trouble the latter stages.

An underwhelming South Africa can count themselves fortunate to scrape through as a best third-placed finisher. Some unimaginative displays have gone a long way to prove the theory that South African football is in regression.

Although Namibia propped up the group and are therefore ultimately eliminated, they can be pleased with their competitive performances against nations with a far bigger footballing foothold than themselves.

Group E ended with Mali comfortably on top, with seven points and six goals to show for their efforts. Solid if unspectacular performances from the likes of Moussa Marega, Amadou Haidara and Abdoulay Diaby saw them through with plenty to spare.

Tunisia join them in the next stage despite being largely unimpressive. Although defensively strong, they have lacked creativity and have therefore scraped through after drawing all three games.

Angola may be slightly disappointed with their summers work and find themselves heading home alongside a battling Mauritania as they both end up with two points apiece.

Finally, we look back on a very tightly contested Group F where Ghana edged top spot from Cameroon courtesy of a superior goal difference as both sides finished on five points.

The Ghanaians rely heavily on Ayew brothers Jordan and Andre, while Cameroon have been impressive defensively, with Yaya Banana of Olympiakos in great form.

A battling Benin are also through from Group F after defender Olivier Verdon lead from the back as they ground out three draws to progress as a high ranking third place team. Guinea-Bissau bow out after a disappointing summer saw them end goalless and with just one point for their efforts.

With eight teams eliminated and heading home, the round of 16 begins in earnest on Friday, July 5th, with a strong Morocco facing Benin (17:00UK time) followed by a very useful Ugandan side hoping to upset strong favourites Senegal (20:00 UK time)

Saturday’s (July 6th) offerings sees three-time AFCON winners Nigeria take on reigning champions Cameroon (17:00) in a battle of two of the continents footballing powerhouses. This is followed up as hosts Egypt face a so far disappointing South Africa (20:00) in a game they’ll be very confident of winning.

Sunday’s (July 7th) games begin with surprise package Madagascar facing a somewhat enigmatic DR Congo (17:00) in an intriguing match that could go either way. Later in the evening (20:00), the impressive Algerians face a potentially troublesome encounter against an unpredictable Guinea side.

The final two last 16 games take place on Monday (July 8th) with a solid Mali team hoping to get the better of a good but beatable Ivory Coast unit (17:00) and is concluded by hopefuls Ghana looking to overcome a solid Tunisian outfit which has struggled with the creative side of the game of late.

So, there is some finely balanced and intriguing ties to look forward to over the next few days as Africa’s finest go head to head in search of a quarter-final place.


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