With all 24 nations having played at least one game at this year’s Africa Cup of Nations, we take a look back at the best performers and who has had a week to forget with African football journalist Usher Komugisha…
Aboubakar the shining light
The player of the tournament so far has to be the Cameroon captain Vincent Aboubakar. He’s scored four goals in two games, and you can see he’s on his way to putting in an incredible performance across the whole tournament.
When you look at the top goalscorers in the previous five tournaments, you see that Odion Ighalo scored five in the 2019 edition in Egypt and the rest are just at four and three goals in the whole tournament so kudos to Aboubakar who is leading from the front and is showing a lot of character and precision with his finishing.
Let’s see how far Cameroon will go, but they have impressed in becoming the first team to qualify for the round of 16. It’s important to note that Cameroon are the only team so far in the tournament to score more than a goal in a single game, having won 2-1 in their opener against Burkina Faso and now 4-1 in their second match against Ethiopia.
Looking at the team Cameroon have now, led by Aboubakar and playing at home, and the fact that they are unbeaten in Yaounde since October 1988, it’s a very powerful record they have so they are using the home support and that familiarity to find their way into the business end of the tournament.
Bad start for Salah and Egypt
The situation with Mohamed Salah is that the Egypt head coach Carlos Queiroz conceded after the defeat to Nigeria that he wanted to play him out of position in order to surprise the opposition.
But it looked like he actually surprised himself and his team-mates. The more you think about it, the more it looks like he got that tactically wrong. Watching the game back, Salah looked a complete shadow of himself.
It’s not easy for North African sides to play in Sub-Saharan Africa and most of the Egyptian players who play in their national leagues, they’re used to playing games at night whenever it’s the summer and when it’s hot.
Playing the game in a hot environment during the day is something that could be affecting the Egyptian players but if they want to win, they’re going to have to step it up and produce a convincing performance. Against Nigeria, they looked lost, but you also have to give credit to Nigeria who are a very solid, well coached side.
Teams of the round: Sierra Leone and Gambia
I would have to choose two countries so far who have really lit up the tournament – the first being Sierra Leone, who are playing at their first Africa Cup of Nations since 1996.
To see the manner in which they held the defending champions Algeria to a draw in their opening match was unbelievable. Algeria are now unbeaten in 35 competitive games so to see them draw that match was a thing of beauty, led by their captain Kei Kamara.
When you look back at where Sierra Leone has come as a country in terms of their civil war back home and the way it was greatly affected by the Ebola virus a couple of years ago, seeing the country trying to recover from that is inspirational.
The performance was about much more than picking up a point from their opening game. It brought together so many people back home, and when you see the celebrations of the people sitting on the streets, thousands of them watching their team play in Freetown, you understand the impact of that sort of performance.
It showed you just how much AFCON means to fans around the continent.
Gambia would be my other team, as they’re playing in their first ever AFCON. Until this edition, they were the only West African country never to qualify for the tournament so seeing them perform the way they did in beating Mauritania was very impressive.
They have many young and talented players who ply their trade in Europe, and you can see the quality in their finishing and the way they play together. They look like a team who could cause some upsets in this tournament.
Why so few goals so far?
Nine of the 12 games in round one across the six groups at AFCON ended in 1-0 wins! I’d like to attribute that to the fact that there were so many cancelled friendlies in the build-up to the tournament.
Teams had less than a week to prepare for the competition because CAF entered into an agreement with European clubs and associations to release players only after January 3.
That hampered the preparations of so many teams that have their players based in Europe. A team like Senegal have all of their players based in Europe.
For all of them to be in camp and with all the travelling and Covid protocols… all these things have affected the way that teams have started but most of the players who tested positive a few days into the tournament have already recovered.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang missed Gabon’s opener, but he trained as normal today and will be available for the next round of fixtures, so things will get better as the players grow into the competition.
What has been fallout to chaotic end to Tunisia vs Mali?
It’s the aftermath now to what turned out to be a disastrous day for Zambian referee Janny Sikazwe, who handled the Tunisia vs Mali game on Wednesday.
It was disappointing and shocking what happened, to know that he ended the game minutes before it should have. He stopped the game in the 85th minute and later on resumed play only to end the game in the 89th minute.
Information has since come out that he suffered a heatstroke, and we also have news that he was quickly rushed to the hospital from the stadium before CAF had decided to resume the game and for Mali to agree and come onto the pitch.
Tunisia had already got into their ice baths, so they declined to come back out to finish the match with the fourth official then in charge. It didn’t make sense and so they accepted the result at that point, but Tunisia have come out and said they will appeal the outcome.
CAF have called for an emergency committee meeting and we shall await the decision about this. It’s very clear that Sikazwe was not himself because when you look at replays of the game, there’s a part where he went to the VAR monitor prior to the controversial ending but he walked past it.
So, it shows you that there were signs that he was not OK during the game. You have to feel for Tunisia because yes, they were one goal down, but we’ve already seen that Senegal won their game against Zimbabwe in the 96th minute so they will feel they still had a chance.
What has Tunisia’s response to the incident been?
Tunisian journalist Tarek Ghdri told Sky Sports:
“This is my 10th AFCON tournament and I’ve never seen a disaster like this in my career. The referee was totally out of his depth both mentally and physically.
“Tunisia is crying now because this is an injustice. We’ve never seen anything like this before. The Tunisian FA are awaiting a decision from CAF whether or not the match will be replayed, but I seriously doubt this will happen. It’s very difficult to reach this outcome.
“Tunisia remains one of the biggest teams in Africa so I feel losing one match is not a big deal. They should win against Mauritania and Gambia and go further into this competition.”
Sky Sports to show AFCON live
The Africa Cup of Nations tournament will be broadcast live on Sky Sports in January and February.
The tournament, originally scheduled to be played in June and July 2021, will be played in Cameroon between January 9 and February 6, 2022, with Sky Sports showing all 52 games live.
Twenty-four teams will take part, kicking off on January 9 as hosts Cameroon host Burkina Faso in Yaounde, before culminating in the final on February 6 in the capital.