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AFCON 2021: Have the Favourites Deescalated, Standstill or Minors Just Escalated?

Though qualified for the knockouts, some Giants have failed to impress performance-wise in the African cup of nations (AFCON) group stage 2022.

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Continental top-level and most prestigious national teams competition (AFCON) is underway in Cameroon. Since its opening, we have not only experienced unexpected performances and results mostly from the continental football giants against the underdogs but also stiff competition from the minors.

Amazingly, we saw four-time AFCON winners Ghana off the competition without registering a single win and bottoming down their group including a 3-2 loss on their last game against the debutant of the competition Comoros who have progressed to the round of 16 as among of the best losers.

Though qualified for the knockouts, some Giants have failed to impress performance-wise in the likes of The Pharaohs despite finishing second in their group but their wins have been unconvincing to their supporters. 

The Eagles of Carthage, Tunisia, have got a ticket for the round of 16 as best losers with just a single win. Another surprise package is from another debutant, The Gambia who have progressed to the knockouts finishing unbeaten and second in the group tieing points with group leaders Mali and ahead of Giant, Tunisia.

So far there are some Giants you cannot ride them off as title contenders (though any team tossing their die well on knockouts can be crowned). Nigeria has been outstanding in this year’s competition. It is the only team finishing the group stage with maximum points (with only wins in their matches) including a 1-0 win against the all-time AFCON champions, Egypt in their opener. 

The host, Cameroon, started with an unconvincing win against Burkinabe but they have been progressing as days on with their Captain and Talisman Vincent Aboubakar, leading on the scoresheet as the best scorer so far. 

Morocco, Ivory Coast and Mali both topping up their groups with seven points each also on the runway towards the gold medal of the Tournament. Ivory Coast thrashed away convincingly the defending Champions Algeria by 3-1 in their final game. Senegal, one of the favourites, topped their group with five points, but so far haven’t met the expectations from its supporters performance-wise.

History is a gallery of pictures in which there are few originals and many copies.

The reigning champions, Algeria, have just copied from what they did in 1992, after sealing the title in the 1990’s tournaments that they hosted. Algeria’s exit has been among the major casualties of 2021 tournaments after failing to progress to the round of 16  just as how they did in 1992 after winning the trophy in 1990.

Algeria won the last AFCON tournament in 2019 and we’ve seen them being eliminated on the group stage during this year (AFCON 2021) tournaments, somehow what a coincidence? Algeria finished last in their group with just a single point they got in their first match after a goalless draw against Sierra Leone.

Knockouts and the fairytales continue.

The Stallions were the first team to advance to the quarterfinals after beating 10-man Gabon 7-6 on penalties after a 1-1 draw on a tight match which went on to extra time after a late equaliser from the Panthers, cancelling Burkinabe’s lead.

Despite not having their head coach on the bench and several players due to the invasion of Coronavirus in their camp, Tunisia surpassed the best team during the group stage Nigeria, Tunisia surprised Nigeria by 1-0  to book their spot to the last eight for the fourth successive time. 

The black Eagles saw their Evertonian skipper Alex Iwobi been sent off the pitch just seven minutes after he came in and they remained with 10 men. The fairytale from the debutant, The Scorpions, coached by Tom Saintfiet (Former Yanga SC coach) continues as they shocked Guinea and progress to the last eight after a 1-0 win. 

Musa Barrow’s strike earned a spot for The Gambia. This game also ended up with 10-men for each side after Gambia’s Yusupha Njie and Guinea’s Ibrahima Conte were sent off.

Still, to concede a goal, Africa’s top seed in FIFA rankings, Aliou Cisse’s side The Lions of Teranga booked their quarter-final spot after thrashing 2-0 the Blue Sharks in the game which Cape Verde ended with 9 men after its two players were sent off.

With no coach on the bench, first-choice goalkeeper injured, several players involving two remaining goalkeepers sidelined due to COVID-19, the situation forced Les Coelacantes, Comoros to name the Ajaccio left-back Chaker Alhadhur (arguably he played one of the memorable matches of his career) as their goalkeeper for their round of 16 fixture versus the Indomitable Lions.

The fairytale tale for the debutant turned into a nightmare during the early minutes when their captain, Nadjim Abdou was sent off over a VAR-reviewed challenge on Ngamaleu. Despite all, Comoros displayed a tremendous performance to a narrow 2-1 loss.

Morocco secured a spot to the last 8 after coming from behind and winning by 2-1 against Malawi. Eleventh AFCON meeting between them, so far the most played fixture in AFCON history, The Elephants against The Pharaohs ended up with Egypt keeping their good record against the Ivorians in knockout matches after winning by 5-4 on penalties, this was the 10th win for the pharaohs on 11 AFCON meetings against them. 

A 120 minutes goalless draw saw the underdogs Equatorial Guinea qualifying to the quarter-finals after winning 6-5 on penalty shootouts against group F leaders Mali.

The eight matches for the round of 16 produced seven red cards, while group stage matches produced only six red cards, were the knockout game’s battles too physical?

Albert Kananda a Dar es Salaam-based football analyst. He’s available at or on Twitter as @AlbertkElly6. These are the writer’s opinions and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoints of The Chanzo Initiative. Want to publish in this space? Contact our editors at for further inquiries.

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