Eight standing

Alaa Abdel-Ghani , Tuesday 25 Jan 2022

AFCON has reached the quarter-finals where the remaining games will separate the wheat from the chaff, reports Alaa Abdel-Ghani

Cameroon s Aboubakar (r) is challenged by Comoros  forward El Fardou Nabouhane during the AFCON
Cameroon s Aboubakar (r) is challenged by Comoros forward El Fardou Nabouhane during the AFCON photo: AFP

By the time the Al-Ahram Weekly comes out, the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) would have reached the quarter-finals. What we know for sure at the time of writing, Burkina Faso, Tunisia, Gambia, and Cameroon reached the last eight. As we speak, we await the results of four more games, including the huge head-to-head collision between record seven-time champions Egypt and two-time winners Ivory Coast scheduled for Wednesday, 26 January.

In the round of 16 matches that we can report on, Tunisia upset Nigeria to set up a quarter-final against Burkina Faso.

Youssef Msakni beat Super Eagles keeper Maduka Okoye with a long-range effort two minutes into the second half.

It took only seven minutes for Nigerian substitute Alexander Iwobi to be sent off, in the 66th minute, for a reckless studs-up challenge, making his country’s attempt to at least tie harder still.

Nigeria, three-time AFCON winners, was the only county to win all three group games, including a 1-0 win over Egypt, but the achievement counted for next to nothing.

Nigeria could have done worse after it dismissed its long-serving German coach Gernot Rohr just four weeks before the tournament.

But the side had done well under interim coach Augustine Eguavoen, dominating its group, which included Sudan and Guinea-Bissau, comfortably.

Tunisia went the other way, barely getting out of its group after losing twice and only went through as one of the best losers.

The team was also hit hard by Covid, with a host of players missing, as well as coach Mondher Kebaier who tested positive for the coronavirus.

Tunisia’s win on Sunday was a major upset in the tournament following the group stage exit of defending champions Algeria. Ghana, which has won this championship four times, had also been dumped out, finishing bottom of Group B after a stunning 3-2 defeat by debutants Comoros.

Tunisia, Nations Cup winners in 2004, will now face Burkina Faso in the last eight on Saturday 29 January.

Burkina Faso had earlier on Sunday defeated Gabon in a 7-6 penalty shootout to become the first nation to reach the quarter-finals. 

Substitute Ismahila Ouédraogo buried the decisive spot kick to prevail over a brave Gabonese side which had a man sent off in the 67th. It was 1-0 for Burkina Faso at the time. But 10-man Gabon equalised in injury time through an own-goal by Burkina Faso midfielder Adama Guira to send the game to extra time where it remained until the spot kicks.

Gabon was without captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang of Arsenal who had tested positive for coronavirus.

Kudos to Burkina Faso for even playing in the midst of what appears to be a military coup in the country. The government and parliament have reportedly been dissolved.

With the whereabouts of President Roch Kaboré unclear, it must be asked how focused the players will be against Tunisia. 

On Monday, making its AFCON debut, Gambia booked its place in the quarter-finals after Musa Barrow’s goal in the 71st minute gave it a 1-0 victory over Guinea in a West African derby. 

At 150th in the world, the lowest-ranked side at the tournament, Gambia was unbeaten in its three group games and even managed a win at the death over Tunisia.

Guinea, meanwhile, was already under much pressure with junta leader Colonel Mamady Doumbouya telling the squad they will have to repay the cost of state-funded preparations if they do not bring the trophy back to Conakry.

The absence of suspended captain, Liverpool midfielder Naby Keita, definitely weakened the side.

On its way out, Guinea did make some history in a way when Rwanda’s Salima Mukansanga became the first woman to take charge of a men’s AFCON game, refereeing Zimbabwe’s win over Guinea.

In the quarters, Gambia will be up against hosts Cameroon who edged out a spirited Comoros 2-1 in Monday’s round of 16.

Few gave Comoros, even after its famous win against Ghana, a chance against Cameroon when it was forced to put an outfield player in goal because of Covid-19 and injuries and even less of a chance when it was down to 10 men early on but the small island nation pushed Cameroon all the way. Comoros can be hugely proud of its superb effort.

Cameroon skipper Vincent Aboubakar netted his tournament-leading sixth goal.

Cameroon vs Gambia will also be played 29 January.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 27 January, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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