With the group stage of the Africa Cup of Nations almost over, we reflect on five things about the Arab teams’ latest efforts.
1. Egypt does the job, but needs to be more clinical
Egypt only needed a point against Sudan but prevailed 1-0, which was enough to seal second place in Group C and a place in the last 16. It remains to be seen whether finishing under Nigeria will work out well in terms of the opposition facing the next round.
It was a deserved win against a side that sat out for much of the game and didn’t offer much going forward. Egypt will be happy to recover from the opening game loss to Nigeria to take six points, but there will be some concern that only two goals have been scored in 270 minutes of football.
Against Sudan, Egypt had over 70% possession and although chances were created, none were ruled out except for Mohamed Abdelmonem’s header in the first half. Mohamed Salah looked sharp in flashes but was handled well by the Sudanese defence.
Despite a lack of creativity in midfield, Egypt did what they had to do and withdrew from the group stage. Coach Carlos Queiroz said: “The real tournament starts now.” He has a point, but Egypt will have to take more chances in the round of 16 or they won’t be around for too long.
2. Classic performance in the group stage from a confident Morocco
It was a stress-free group stage for Morocco. Victories in the first two games secured a place in the knockout stage even before the final group showdown against Gabon. This meant coach Vahid Halilhodzic could make six changes, rest some players and give others a taste of the tournament.
Solid in defense and creating chances, Morocco fought hard against Ghana to win the big opener 1-0 and would have beaten Comoros more than 2-0 had they not met a goalkeeper inspired.
If the Atlas Lions continue, the boss may not have to answer questions about Chelsea star Hakim Ziyech’s exclusion, but he’s sure to still focus on what turns into a solid team spirit.
“Now we are playing faster and there is more movement off the ball,” Halilhodzic said. “The goals were scored by defenders, midfielders and forwards, because our strength is the collective and that’s very important.”
Everything is going well. With Algeria missing out on the chance to equal Italy’s world record of 37 games unbeaten, Morocco could be next on the list as they have now gone 24 games unbeaten.
3. Sudan tough opponents, but will leave with some regrets
Sudan lost the Nile Valley Derby 1-0 to Egypt to be eliminated, but it’s worth remembering that when these two teams met last month at the 2021 FIFA Arab Cup in Qatar, Egypt – without Mo Salah and their Eurostars – ran out 5-0 winners. This result contributed to trainer Herbert Velud getting his marching orders and Burhan Tia temporarily taking over the reins. It was a very different line-up and a different result.
Sudan had been vulnerable to set pieces throughout the tournament and there was always a feeling that Egypt would benefit from great firepower in that regard, and it proved.
The Sudanese team performed well in the whole tournament, but they may have some regrets regarding the last game. They just didn’t ask Egypt enough questions, and when they found themselves in interesting positions in the Pharaohs’ half, they were only too happy to unleash a wild shot from long range. Egyptian goalkeeper Mohamed El-Shenawy didn’t have much to do and it was too comfortable.
It’s no shame to leave the competition at this stage, but Sudan will surely regret not lifting a glove over Egypt. It wasn’t until the last 10 or so minutes that they started to push forward, but it was too little, too late.
4. Do or die for Algeria
Thursday night should be interesting, indeed. Who would have thought that Algeria, defending champions and undefeated for 34 games before the tournament, would be last with no goals and one point in two games? They only have to beat Ivory Coast to pass. If they do, they could progress as group winners.
For now, Algeria will just move on because they have been terrible so far. They looked complacent against Equatorial Guinea in the second game and crashed out to a 1-0 loss. They have one last chance but can’t afford to be wrong again. As coach Djamel Belmadi said: “We are in a difficult situation, a big difficult situation that we haven’t experienced for a long time.”
Now let’s see what Algeria is made of.
Tunisia have already qualified, but won’t want to finish in their current third position because that would mean a meeting with Nigeria, perhaps the best team in the tournament so far. A victory against Gambia will guarantee at least second place.
5. Nigeria and Egypt have done service to Comoros, as have Ivory Coast and Equatorial Guinea
Anyone with the slightest interest in African and Arab football knows that tournament debutants Comoros beat four-time champions Ghana 3-2 on Tuesday.
Those three points, the first the islanders had scored in the tournament, eliminated the Black Stars and put Comoros in contention to advance to the second round. The margins were tight, as if Guinea-Bissau beat Nigeria or Sudan beat Egypt, it was all over. Both however lost.
There is still a danger on the last day of the first round. At the moment, Sierra Leone will overtake Comoros on goal difference should they draw against Equatorial Guinea. But if Algeria, currently last in Group E, beats Ivory Coast, it will also be over for the Comoros.