Big guns aim to emulate Cameroon and book Afcon knockout spots

Issa Kabore of Burkina Faso challenged by Jamiro Monteiro of Cape Verde during the delayed 2021 Africa Cup of Nations match between Cape Verde and Burkina Faso at Olembe Stadium in Yaoundé, Cameroon, on 13 January 2022. (Photo: Ntombela / BackpagePix)

Teams such as Morocco, Senegal and Nigeria can book their spots in the next round with one game to spare if they win their second group games.

Hosts of the ongoing Africa Cup Nations (Afcon) Cameroon became the first team to book passage to the round of 16 after walloping Ethiopia 4-1 on Thursday evening.

Indomitable Lions captain Vincent Aboubakar added another brace to his two goals from the opening match victory against Burkina Faso, with the fleet-footed Karl Toko Ekambi also adding his own brace after Dawa Dukele had given Ethiopia the lead.

“We played a better second half with more rigour and concentration to seal the score and put up three more points. We played well offensively with several goal-scoring chances in addition to the four goals scored… Our objective is to win our matches and go as far as possible in the tournament,” Cameroon coach Antonio Conceiçao stated after the game.

Now sides such as Senegal and Morocco have a chance to also take control of their respective groups when they play on Friday.

Senegal are set to take on Guinea in what is poised to be a hotly contested West African derby in Group B. Both sides are on three points apiece after identical 1-0 victories versus Zimbabwe and Malawi respectively in their opening matches.

After toiling and struggling to break down a disciplined Zimbabwe, the Lions of Teranga will hope for a more convincing display against their regional neighbours, to further enhance their tag as one of the tournament favourites.

History is on their side, as they were victorious in the previous two Afcon encounters against the Syli Nationale. However, Senegal head coach Aliou Cisse knows that history means nothing in such tournaments and is expecting a tough encounter.

“When Senegal play Guinea it’s always an exciting match, a derby to watch. Our aim is to win every game, but we have to remember they are an equally very strong side. I have always told our players we have no small teams in the competition,” Cisse said.

“I played against Guinea coach Kaba Diawara 24 years ago and we know each other well. However, on the pitch things will be different as we both want to win”.

To threaten the Lions of Teranga, Diawara will once again rely on his leader and Liverpool midfielder Naby Keita, the hero in their key win over Malawi — Issiaga Sylla, as well as striker Mohamed Bayo to threaten Senegal’s defence.

Should the Syli Nationale emerge victorious, it will only be the second time in their Afcon history that they have won their opening two matches at the tournament, having last done so during the 2006 edition.

Also out to seal qualification to the knockout phase early on is Morocco.

The Atlas Lions managed to best Ghana 1-0 in their opening match, despite the encounter being largely a game of chess between two teams who showed signs of overly respecting each other.

The Moroccans know that a win for them against tournament debutants Comoros will ensure passage to the round of 16. A convincing win will send a message that they are not just at the tournament to make up the numbers.  

“We had an important win in a tough game against Ghana. That win served to boost the mood of the team and the players. We come to this competition with a lot of ambition. It has been a long time since Morocco won the Afcon title. We are here to do our best and we are optimistic to make the Moroccan people happy,” said Morocco’s Bosnian coach Vahid Halilhodzic.

On Saturday, Nigeria, who sent out a clear message to the other contenders for the coveted African title, will also eye early passage to the next round.

Despite only securing a 1-0 win in their opening match, the Super Eagles dominated seven-time African champions Egypt. Their solid defence also managed to contain the lethal Mohamed Salah during that game, keeping him on a tight leash and frustrating him.

When they take on Sudan, they will be eyeing to maintain similar defensive discipline while hoping their forwards can be even sharper than they were against Egypt, where they managed to penetrate the Pharaohs’ defence on numerous occasions, but were thwarted by goalkeeper Mohammed El Shenawy.

The Egyptians will be out to bounce back from their first group phase loss in 18 years when they clash with Guinea-Bissau on Saturday night. DM  


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