Three of the pre-tournament Africa Cup of Nations favourites conclude their group stage fixtures on Tuesday, though one of them is in a tricky situation. Senegal are on track to qualify from Group B, while Morocco have so far handled the potentially difficult Group C rather well – the same cannot be said for Ghana.
Luckily for the Black Stars, they have arguably – on paper at least – their easiest game of the group stage to look forward to as they bid to avoid falling at the first hurdle for only the second time this century.
Malawi v Senegal (17:00 CET)
Just by beating Zimbabwe 2-1 thanks to a brace from the excellent Gabadinho Mhango, Malawi have arguably already compounded expectations at this year’s tournament. That was only their second ever win at the AFCON and it ensured they go into Tuesday with a real chance of qualification, either automatically or as one of the four best third-placed teams.
But Senegal still have a lot to play for themselves, with Aliou Cisse’s men tied on four points with Guinea. While that could be enough to take them through anyway, failing to top this group will not be a good look for the team many considered favourites to lift the trophy.
One to watch: Gabadinho Mhango (Malawi)
While Senegal undoubtedly possess the stronger squad, Orlando Pirates striker Mhango really caught the eye last time out with a couple of well-taken goals. One more will make him Malawi’s all-time top scorer in the AFCON.
Zimbabwe v Guinea (17:00 CET)
A wonderful opportunity awaits Guinea here, with the Syli Nationale knowing they will win the group as long as they better Senegal’s result. Their 0-0 draw with the Teranga Lions was a decent outcome and means they are one of just three teams still to concede a goal – though goalkeeper Aly Keita’s tournament-best record of 2.4 goals prevented may have something to do with that.
They face a Zimbabwe side with only pride to play for having lost each of their first two games, though the omens are not great for Guinea: the Warriors’ only previous AFCON wins have been in their final group matches (in 2004 and 2006).
One to watch: Mohamed Bayo (Guinea)
Despite their chances being worth 2.98 in terms of expected goals (xG), Guinea have only netted once. That 1.98 non-penalty xG underperformance is the second-worst at the tournament. Bayo arrived in Cameroon in good form – they will hope he can inspire an improvement where it matters most.
Gabon v Morocco (20:00 CET)
As one of only three teams to win both of their first two games this year, Morocco are already assured of a place in the next round – they just need to seal top spot now. The Atlas Lions are already on their longest unbeaten run at the AFCON (six matches) since going 11 without defeat in the 1970s, and they also boast the best xG (5.3) and xGA (0.5) records of the teams to play twice, evidence of how effective they have been at both ends of the pitch.
But Gabon, who confirmed Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Mario Lemina have returned to their clubs for medical reasons, are aiming to go unbeaten in a second success group stage campaign for the first time, with a point likely good enough to send them through.
One to watch: Youssef En-Nesyri (Morocco)
It has been a frustrating season so far for Sevilla striker En-Nesyri, who has missed prolonged periods through injury and then saw his penalty saved against Comoros. His 25-minute cameo then was his first appearance in the tournament. With qualification already assured, they might opt to build up his fitness for the knockouts with a start against Gabon.
Ghana v Comoros (20:00 CET)
Ghana were held to a 1-1 draw by Gabon last time out, a match that was marred by ugly scenes at full-time after a late equaliser denied them victory. It culminated in a red card for Benjamin Tetteh after he punched an opponent in the face. Having also lost to Morocco on matchday one, Ghana now need a win to have any hope of progressing – even then, it may not be enough.
If Ghana do not win, it will be the first time they have ever failed to win a single group game in 22 appearances at the tournament. It would also be their first failure to get out of the group since 2006. Much is at stake.
One to watch: Andre Ayew (Ghana)
While Ghana have some very talented young players in their squad, their qualification hopes are looking a little desperate – they need their experienced stars to take the lead here. Andre Ayew and his brother Jordan are obviously the focus here, given that nine (70 per cent) of Ghana’s previous 13 AFCON goals have been scored by the siblings (Andre is on five, Jordan on four).