Tue. May 24th, 2022

Garoua, Cameroon The knockout rounds of the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) have arrived with 16 teams advancing and eight eliminated.

While the opening round served just 12 goals in 12 games, the action picked up significantly thereafter.

It proved to be a great tournament for the goalkeepers with a number of excellent performances.

In addition, there are a number of heartwarming stories from some of the traditionally less capable sides who have beaten above their weights to create pieces of history for their nations.

The overarching feeling for host country Cameroon is justification.

Despite doubts about his readiness and ability to host, the proceedings continued with few hook-ups, leading to a great atmosphere inside the stadiums and an unforgettable tournament so far.

Who went through this?

Four of the six top-ranked teams finished at the top of their groups, with Nigeria the only team to achieve a 100 percent record.

Cameroon and Morocco each finished with seven points, while Senegal – despite scoring just once in three matches – amassed five points to top their group.

There was progress for the dark horses Mali, Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso, as well as Gabon despite a difficult preparation and the loss of Captain Pierre Emerick Aubameyang.

The true story of the group stage, however, was the surprising progress of debutants Comoros and Gambia, both of whom are progressing despite challenging draws.

The Scorpions were impressive by winning two of their three matches, while the Comoros produced an unlikely result against Ghana in the last group match to secure progress.

Malawi also penetrated for the first time in their history and held Africa’s highest ranked team, Senegal, against a goalless draw.

Qualified teams: Cameroon, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Senegal, Guinea, Malawi, Morocco, Gabon, Comoros, Nigeria, Egypt, Ivory Coast, Equatorial Guinea, Mali, Gambia, Tunisia.

Who fell out?

The shocking elimination of the reigning champion Algeria was the subject of furious discussion and analysis.

The Fennec Foxes left the tournament after a 1-3 defeat against Ivory Coast, which put an end to a short-lived title defense that ended in a draw against Sierra Leone and defeat at the hands of Equatorial Guinea, which its 35 matches ended unbeaten. run.

There was also sadness for Ghana who finished bottom of Group C, learning experiences for Mauritania and Sudan, reasons for optimism for Ethiopia, Sierra Leone and Zimbabwe, and disappointment for Guinea-Bissau, whose aimless series at AFCON stretched to seven matches. .

What’s next in store?

The standout draw of the last 16 will take place in Douala with Ivory Coast, Group E winners, taking on Group D runners-up Egypt on 26 January.

It would be a match fit to be the final, but nonetheless it promises to be a captivating match.

In Garoua, Nigeria faced Tunisia, a repeat of the play-off match in third place of the 2019 edition.

January 23
Burkina Faso
Gabon
Nigeria vs. Tunisia

January 24
Guinea v Gambia
Cameroon v Comoros

January 25
Senegal in Cape Verde
Morocco against Malawi

January 26
Mali v Equatorial Guinea
Ivory Coast v Egypt

Player of the round

It’s hard to look past the tournament’s leading scorer Vincent Aboubakar as AFCON’s outstanding player so far.

The Al-Nassr striker was a man on a mission in his home country, Cameroon, and deliberately took the lead and scored in all group matches (including draws against Burkina Faso and Ethiopia).

Despite Aboubakar scoring the winner in the 2017 final, Aboubakar has never really played a tournament with the Indomitable Lions. He’s going to do it now.

Group play

Moses Simon came off the bench in Nigeria’s last group match with Guinea-Bissau and delivered a moment of haunting quality.

After weaving his way into the box and past three different challenges, the Nantes’ wing’s shot cannon back from the crossbar and into the path of team captain William Troost-Ekong, who calmly pushed the ball home for the match. ‘s second goal.

Moses Simon Nigerian soccer playerNigeria forward Moses Simon celebrates after scoring his side’s third goal in Group D Africa Cup of Nations match against Sudan [Daniel Beloumou/AFP]

Probably finalists?

The final is still a long way off, but it looks like the tournament group is proposing one of Africa’s classic matches – Cameroon against Nigeria – for the final.

These teams met three times in the tournament, with Cameroon winning all three.

The most recent events took place in Lagos when Nigeria co-hosted the tournament in 2000, and Nigeria’s thirst for revenge makes the prospect of a final rematch just that much more exciting.

How was the interest?

Attendance during the opening match days was mostly sluggish due to COVID-19 restrictions, which required proof of vaccination and a negative PCR result for admission to stadiums.

However, these regulations have been somewhat relaxed, and the last group matches have been played for significant crowds in various centers across Cameroon.

There is also a thriving supporter zone culture, with spectators unable to access the stadiums, or reluctant to go through the COVID protocol, teaming up to follow the action in ad hoc open-air viewing centers.

Cameroon AFCON fanzoneCameroon AFCON fan zone in Yaounde [Daniel Ekonde/Al Jazeera]

Any controversies to speak of?

Natural.

The decision by the Confederation of African Football (CAF) to introduce the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) from the group stage would certainly lead to a number of controversial moments.

Malawi and Guinea-Bissau were resentful of the decision-making process. The former reversed a penalty decision in the match against Senegal, while the latter excluded one of the goals of the tournament, from goal scorer Mama Balde, for a suspected offense, to great consternation of the Djurtus.

However, the biggest controversy of the tournament came in the match between Tunisia and Mali. Referee Janny Sikazwe, one of the continent’s most respected referees, made a series of bizarre decisions late in the second half of that meeting.

First he called a late water break, then signaled for extra time with 11 minutes left on the clock, before blowing the final whistle in the 86th minute, awarding a red card and running past the VAR screen when asked to review the incident, before blowing the final whistle prematurely again.

It was a strange episode that forced Tunisia – 0-1 behind at that time – to submit a petition to CAF for a repeat.

It was summarily rejected and the decision upheld.

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