What a competition this is turning out to be! That all sixteen nations still have a fair chance of making it to the Round of 16 speaks volumes about the progress made as far as the sport is concerned on the continent. In my previous assessment of matchday 1, I thought all sixteen sides had given a good account of themselves and deserved to progress to the next stage. It was early days yet though as it was impossible at the time to say who had the upper hand going into matchday two. With every tourney, certain nations are tipped to go all the way while some are barely given a chance to even make it out of their group. Those in the business of doing that would have to be rewriting their scripts by now.
Has it really come to this would be the question on the lips of everyone in the host nation and their neighbours Gabon. These two nations shared the prestige of hosting the CAN only three years ago. A competition that would be best remembered for that amazing Zambian spectacle which saw the Southern African nation win the competition for the first time having lost in the finals of 1974 and 1994 to DR Congo and Nigeria respectively. With three points in the bag, Gabon would fancy their chances of progression and why wouldn’t they?
In Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, they have one of the paciest forwards in the game. A point might just be enough for them but against the host who would have a sizeable number of expected 38,000 fans rooting for them, everything is possible.
A win would definitely see the hosts through. A draw, as they have experienced in their first two games would surely not be enough. It is that tight and how the prayers would intensify when the two sides line up at the Estadio de Bata come Sunday. The atmosphere would surely be electrifying. I understand the leaders of the two countries, His Excellencies Presidents Obiang Mbasago and Ali Ben Bongo would be at the Stadium to cheer their sides on. With the significance of this game, I would not envy the passionate and football mad fans of the two nations at all.
Claude Le Roy’s Congo look like having the best chance of qualifying from this group with four out of a possible six points. Lead striker Thievy has been instrumental in getting the Congolese this far and it would take a monumental effort from 2013 finalists Burkina Faso to get that all important win which may still not be good enough depending on how the other game pans out. Head to head, goal difference? It could just come to that. Intriguing, isn’t it?
Claude Le Roy
Prior to the commencement of the CAN, I honestly thought all four nations in this group stood a very good chance of progressing to the next stage of the competition. In Tunisia, Cape Verde, DR Congo and Zambia, they all seemed to be at par for me. The results in their two games though can be likened to the scenario we have in Group A. Tunisia only just edged out Zambia after the Chippolopolo squandered countless and begging opportunities to win that tie. Belgian George Leekens and his charges would not be bothered about that as a draw in their final round against DR Congo should be enough to see them through. The Congolese would be wary about history repeating itself as they ended up drawing all three games in the previous edition in South Africa. They find themselves in familiar territory and they would know that only a result would see them progress.
Cape Verde were exciting to watch when they qualified for their maiden CAN event two years ago where they made it to the quarter final stage. The neutrals would surely be rooting for them in their final game against Zambia. They punched above their weight in the previous edition. Can they do it again?
He may not be playing for a fancy club in a competitive league but how many times has Yaw Asamoah Gyan defined Ghana’s performances in various tournaments in the last decade? He may not have won anything yet with the side but when his goals continue to make a difference to his side’s performances, you have got to doff off your hat for the lad. After that painful loss to the Senegalese in the group's opener, one could literally see the nervousness that was written on the faces of many a Ghanaian football fan around the globe as the nation lined up against Africa’s number one side Algeria in the group's matchday two. The Dessert Warriors are in the form of their lives and the Ghanaians were not going to be the side to deny them a result. A Fairy tale ending though as a 92nd winner by Gyan put Ghana right back in the mix.
A point would surely not have been good enough for the Black Stars. It had to be Gyan and Gyan it was. Up next is a crucial tie against the Bafana Bafana of South Africa in a game where both sides need a win to guarantee qualification to the quarter final stage. The South Africans have played some exciting football but inexperience has cost them greatly in their last two games. Shakes Mashaba would have to dig deep into his coaching reserves for one final magical display to see his side through.
The other group tie between Senegal and Algeria is that mouthwatering. The Terranga Lions could do with a point while the Algerians would have to win at all cost to ensure qualification to the quarter finals. If they draw they would have to hope for South Africa to beat Ghana. It is anyone’s game now.
How closer can this group get? All games have ended 1-1.And how about the possibility of another 1-1 drawn games on the final day of matches. Funny isn't it? The rules are clear though- Head-to-head, goal difference, the greatest number of goals and the drawing of lots in that order will finally determine which team goes through to the next stage. It may just come down to any of these when the Cameroonians come up against the Ivorians and Guinea take on Mali. All four teams have got Malabo buzzing with their exciting brand of football, some of the best in the competition so far. How sad that two of these nations would have to exit the competition on their final day of Group games. It is simply too close to call here.
With all sixteen nations in with a chance of making it through, Africa awaits the best from the lot. Who might just blink first?