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Thursday, February 29, 2024
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TODAY AT AFCON

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Namibia vs. Mali 17hrs

By Devesh Jaganath

The final standings in Group E at the Africa Cup of Nations will be decided this week, and Mali will look to secure the top spot when they face Namibia at Stade Laurent Pokou on Wednesday evening.

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As the only undefeated team in the group after the first two matches, Mali lead Group E with four points, while Namibia are still well in contention for a spot in the last 16, currently level with second-placed South Africa on three points.

Regardless of the outcome of this match, Namibia will look back at this tournament with fond memories when all is said and done, as it has been a historic one for The Brave Warriors.

Under the guidance of Collin Benjamin, Namibia pulled off one of the biggest upsets of the competition on matchday one when they claimed a historic first victory against the heavily fancied Tunisians.

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However, they were unable to follow up on that performance on Sunday evening when they took on neighbours South Africa and after going behind to a Percy Tau penalty in the first half, they slumped to a 4-0 defeat.

Nevertheless, that matchday one victory marked not only their first win against The Carthage Eagles but also their first-ever win at an Africa Cup of Nations, and they will now look to achieve another first by making it to the knockout phase.

The highly anticipated AFCON showdown between Mali and Tunisia, who were considered the top contenders in Group E, largely lived up to the hype as the teams went toe-to-toe in an intense 1-1 draw on Saturday.

Lassine Sinayoko opened the scoring for The Eagles with an exquisite left-footed strike from a delightful assist by Kamory Doumbia in the 10th minute, but they only held the lead for 10 minutes until The Carthage Eagles levelled proceedings.

That result followed an excellent tournament opener against South Africa, where they were let off the hook when Tau missed a penalty while the scores were still level at 0-0, and went on to make the most of their good fortune by claiming a 2-0 victory.

In their last eight AFCON tournaments, The Eagles have been sent packing from group stages on four occasions, while in the last two tournaments, they were eliminated in the Round of 16.

However, based on their performances this year, Eric Chelle’s side needs just a draw or better here and will be full of confidence in getting the result they need, having beaten this opponent in four of their six encounters while only losing once.

Team news

Peter Shalulile seems to have fully shaken off the injury that threatened his participation in this competition, and the Mamelodi Sundowns attacker will almost certainly lead the line for The Brave Warriors on Wednesday evening.

Absalom Iimbondi and Petrus Shitembi were both withdrawn at halftime against South Africa and could start this one on the bench, with Bethuel Muzeu and Ngero Katua possibly replacing them in the first 11.

With no new injury concerns to report, Chelle is likely to deploy a similar starting lineup to one that held Tunisia to a 1-1 draw with Sinayoko and Sekou Koita leading the line in a 4-3-1-2 formation.

Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Yves Bissouma dropped to the bench for that match but is likely to return to the starting 11 here and will provide coverage for the central defensive pairing of Boubakar Kouyate and Braga’s Sikou Niakate.

Namibia possible starting lineup:

Kazapua; Nyambe, Amutenya, Haukongo, Hanamub; Petrus; Muzeu, Katua, Tjiueza, Hotto; Shalulile

Mali possible starting lineup:

Diarra; Traore, Kouyate, Niakate, Sacko; Dieng, Bissouma, Haidara; Doumbia; Sinayoko, Koita

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South Africa vsĀ  Tunisia 17hrs

A delicately poised Group E in the Africa Cup of Nations will draw to a close this week, and South Africa will look to book their place in the knockout round when they take on Tunisia on Wednesday evening.

Mali currently leads the group from South Africa with four points and will progress with a draw or better against third-placed Namibia in the other match, while Tunisia must win here to keep their hopes of qualifying alive.

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South Africa finally got on the board in this year’s Africa Cup of Nations as they come into this match after securing a decisive 4-0 win against their neighbours Namibia at this venue on Sunday evening.

After missing a penalty against Mali, Al Ahly’s Percy Tau showed his class as he stepped up under huge pressure to slot away a spot kick against The Brave Warriors to give his side the lead.

From that point on, Bafana Bafana were by far the better side in the contest and had put the match to bed before the interval, with 34-year-old Themba Zwane bagging a first-half brace before Thapelo Maseko added the icing on the cake with the fourth goal of the afternoon in the second period.

With that result, South Africa extended their record of avoiding defeat in their first two matches of the AFCON since 2006, when they lost all three matches in their group and were sent packing before the Round of 16.

Having rebounded from their first match, a 2-0 defeat to Mali, Bafana Bafana are now in second place, and while the group dynamics may see a draw being good enough to progress to the next round, they will likely target another big performance, which could earn them top spot and a favourable draw in the knockouts.

With all four teams retaining hope of advancing to the knockout stages and Mali facing Namibia at the same time as this match, Tunisia find themselves with the most demanding task as they strive to avert an early exit from the AFCON.

Since 2013, the 2004 champions have consistently advanced beyond the group stage of this competition, but they head into the final group-stage match with just one point after the first two games.

Tunisia secured their only point by playing out a 1-1 draw in their last match against Mali. While they faced an early setback, they managed to level the score before the hour mark, courtesy of Hamza Rafia’s equaliser.

That result came after they were shockingly beaten by Namibia in the first match of the tournament, which was also the first win in an AFCON match for The Brave Warriors in their history of the competition.

Undoubtedly, The Carthage Eagles have faced a challenging campaign, but a silver lining for them is that their sole defeat in the last seven matches across all competitions was the match-day one loss to Namibia.

A return to victory in Wednesday’s crucial encounter could potentially secure a top-two finish, though that will be contingent upon The Eagles beating The Brave Warriors in the other match in this group.

South Africa came away from their match against Namibia with no fresh injuries, and considering their performance in that fixture, it would come as no surprise if Hugo Broos sent out an unchanged lineup in this one.

At 34 years of age, Zwane was excellent in attack and should lead the line again here, while Zakhele Lepasa will hope to make the starting 11 after another impressive cameo off the bench.

If Lepasa is promoted to the starting lineup, that would likely see his Orlando Pirates teammate Evidence Makgopa, who has yet to open his account in this competition, drop to the bench.

Tunisia’s forward, Taha Yassine Khenissi, has officially been ruled out for the remainder of the tournament due to a knee injury he sustained early in his side’s opening match against Namibia.

Haythem Jouini was an unused substitute in the draw to Mali, but considering Tunisia’s need for additional firepower in this match, the Stade Tunisien striker could be brought into the starting 11 to lead the line alongside Sheffield United’s Anis Ben Slimane.

South Africa possible starting lineup:

Williams; Mudau, Xulu, Mvala, Modiba; Maseko, Mokoena, Sithole, Tau; Zwane, Lepasa

Tunisia possible starting lineup:

Said; Abdi, Talbi, Meriah, Kechrida; Achouri, Skhiri, Laidouni, Rafia, Jouini, Slimane

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Zambia vs Morocco 20hrs

Morocco complete their Africa Cup of Nations group stage campaign against Zambia on Wednesday night.

The heavy pre-tournament AFCON favourites and 2022 World Cup semi-finalists made a comfortable start in Group F by brushing aside Tanzania 3-0 last week, but came unstuck somewhat in surprising fashion against DR Congo on Sunday afternoon.

Morocco looked set for another straightforward win in San Pedro after Achraf Hakimi’s early volley, but could not press home their advantage and were deservedly pegged back after the break in a frustrating 1-1 draw.

The Atlas Lions still head into the final round of group fixtures sitting top and with a place in the last 16 probably all but secure already with four points on the board and eight third-placed teams set to head through, but they will still want to make sure of their position as winners to potentially get an easier tie in the next round.

2012 champions Zambia’s hopes of a place in the last 16 are also still alive after back-to-back 1-1 draws with DR Congo and Tanzania, but they will need to beat Morocco to progress – no easy feat at all.

The match will take place at the Stade Laurent Pokou in San Pedro, Ivory Coast.

Zambia vs Morocco team news

Morocco remained without Noussair Mazraoui against DR Congo, with the Bayern Munich defender still sidelined with a lingering thigh problem suffered with his club last month.

It remains to be seen if he will be fit to play any part against Zambia on Wednesday.

Morocco did not appear to suffer any fresh injury concerns against DR Congo, though their decision to start Sofiane Boufal over Abde Ezzalzouli may well be reversed with the former flattering to deceive and the latter looking lively once again off the bench.

Prediction

Morocco were impressive against Tanzania and started in lightning quick fashion against DR Congo, providing an ominous warning to their rivals as they chase a first AFCON title since their lone triumph to date in Ethiopia all the way back in 1976.

However, Walid Regragui’s side could not build on that electric opening in game two, getting a lucky break when Cedric Bakambu missed a late first-half penalty for DR Congo and then deservedly conceding inside the last 15 minutes.

In truth, it was the least that the Leopards deserved for an excellent second half in which they were the much better team, with Morocco failing to match their energy, intensity and attacking adventure after a sequence of clever substitutions from head coach Sebastien Desabre.

It was a clear warning to the Atlas Lions not to get complacent or carried away with their status as tournament favourites, one we expect them to heed fully on Wednesday night.

Zambia shocked the world with an emotional first AFCON triumph in 2012, but have not been beyond the group stage since and did not even qualify in 2017, 2019 and 2021.

They don’t look a real threat under Avram Grant after back-to-back draws and it would be a major upset to see them topple Morocco here.

Head-to-head, history and results

Morocco have a strong edge on the head-to-head front and beat Zambia 3-1 at the African Nations Championship in 2021.

However, they were bested 3-2 by the same opponents in a friendly in 2019, drawing another in 2013. Zambia wins: 6 Morocco wins: 10.  Draws: 2

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Other fixture: Tanzania vs DR Congo

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