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AFCON Qualifying Matchday 4 Recap: Groups A-F

Matchday four had plenty of surprising results and quality goals. After a long period away from international football, this set of fixtures served to remind us that getting results on the road is easier in theory than in practice as well as the fact that there are very few easy wins these days. Here is part one of Pan-Africa Football’s comprehensive recap of the fourth matchday covering groups A-F.

Group A

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Matchday 4 Results

Chad 1-1 Guinea  (Highlights)
Namibia 1-2 Mali  (Highlights)

Matchday 5 Fixtures

Guinea v Mali on 22 March 2021
Chad v Namibia on 22 March 2021

Player of the Round

Sekou Koita- Mali (Red Bull Salzburg [AUT])

Observations

  • As anticipated, Mali and Guinea have been the class of the group and both are all but qualified at this point.
  • Other than an ill-advised decision from goalkeeper Ibrahim Mounkoro that resulted in Namibia’s goal, Mali played an excellent first half. Sekou Koita, Moussa Doumbia, and Mohamed Camara showed their class with mazy dribbling runs while Aliou Dieng and Lassana Colibaly were relentlessly shutting down any attempts by Namibia to create in the midfield. Mali are playing at a high level under Mohamed Magassouba and are indeed a team to watch.
  • Namibia will be very disappointed to not get at least a point out of their home match. Acclaimed attackers Deon Hotto and Peter Shalulile were unusually quiet, and the team failed to get going until they were down 2-0. The second-half was much better, but it was too little too late as they are now long shots to qualify.
  • Chad is always a difficult team at home. A big and physical team, their style of play is aided by their stadium’s rock-hard artificial turf. The home environment plays a significant role in limiting the ability of playmakers and encourages more direct styles of play. Chad’s goal in the 1-1 draw with Guinea really highlights this “ping-pong” football. Chad doesn’t make it into the qualification picture in World Cup and AFCON qualifying, but can be quite a spoiler when playing at home.
  • With Guinea playing at Chad, it was a matchup between two of the more physical teams in CAF. Guinea failed to adjust to the conditions and the goal by Naby Keita was an excellent strike, but only came because of a poor giveaway by the Chadian defense.

Group B

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Matchday 4 Results

South Sudan 1-0 Uganda  (Highlights)
Malawi 0-0 Burkina Faso  (Highlights)

Matchday 5 Fixtures

Uganda v Burkina Faso on 22 March 2021
South Sudan v Malawi on 22 March 2021

Player of the Round

Tito Okello- South Sudan (Gor Mahia [KEN])

Observations

  • Uganda continues their struggles to return to form following the long layoff. The way South Sudan was able to easily repel the attacking efforts of the Cranes continues a trend of Uganda struggling to create goals that goes back to before the pandemic. Qualification is now far from guaranteed and the Cranes face difficult remaining matchups at home to Burkina Faso and on the road against Malawi.
  • This qualification campaign signifies the end of South Sudan’s status as a fledgling minnow that CAF teams can take lightly. The team continues to bring in new talent from the South Sudanese diaspora aborad, including several players from Australian football. Ugandan-born Tito Okello has taken on the responsibility of being the attacking threat and scored the only goal of the round in Group B against the country of his birth.
  • Burkina Faso continues to be the class of the group, and were the more likely team to score on the road against Malawi. Les Étalons did not put their best performance in on the attacking end, but look assured of qualification with accomplished options at all positions.
  • The Flames of Malawi have no spark in the attack and have only scored one goal in five matches in 2020. Malawi certainly brought an improved effort in their home match against Burkina Faso, but they will be counting on star forward Gabadinho Mhango to be back for the two final fixtures next year because they are in dire need of a regular goalscoring threat.

Group C

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Matchday 4 Results

São Tomé and Principe 2-4 South Africa  (Highlights)
Sudan 1-0 Ghana  (Highlights)

Matchday 5 Fixtures

South Africa v Ghana on 22 March 2021
São Tomé and Príncipe v Sudan on 22 March 2021

Player of the Round

Themba Zwane- South Africa (Mamelodi Sundowns [RSA])

Observations

  • In terms of keeping the group in doubt, Sudan’s second-half injury time goal to defeat Ghana 1-0 was massive. The Sudanese came out with an excellent gameplan to take advantage of the oppressive heat in Omdurman and now remain with a fighting chance to qualify.
  • It was difficult to expect Ghana to deliver a peak performance with so many key players out. Veterans Afriyie Acquah and Wakaso Mubarak did not serve as adquate replacements for injured stars Thomas Partey and André Ayew. The loss shouldn’t be too worrying for Black Stars fans, as the team has their final match against minnows São Tomé and Principe.
  • However, Bafana Bafana fans will be very concerned by Sudan’s victory. South Africa scored six goals over their two matches against São Tomé and Principe, but didn’t dominate as hoped and went behind in the second match. Bafana Bafana’s next match against Ghana at home will be important, because if they lose, then they will need to get a result on the last day in Sudan.
  • São Tomé and Principe are officially eliminated, but it is fair to say the tiny nation are more competitive than their opponents gave them credit for. The threat they ended up posing to South Africa shows how there are very few easy wins in CAF national team competition.

Group D

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Matchday 4 Results

Gambia 2-1 Gabon  (Highlights)
Angola 0-1 DR Congo  (Highlights)

Matchday 5 Fixtures

Gabon v DR Congo on 22 March 2021
Gambia v Angola on 22 March 2021

Player of the Round

Neeskens Kebano- DR Congo (Fulham FC [ENG])

Observations

  • The attack of Tanzania finally came up with a much needed goal after a shaky defensive start to stop Tunisia’s perfect run in Group J. Will it be too little too late? The next match at Equatorial Guinea in March will determine the answer, but Taifa Stars fans will be relieved to see signs of life.
  • It seemed Tunisia had done enough by halftime of the match to clinch qualification, but that will have to wait until next year. Sporting a defense and midfield that has been mostly impenetrable during qualification, the question for Carthage Eagles fans will be if the team can generate goals against higher-level competition.
  • Equatorial Guinea had an excellent week, with the Nzalang gaining maximum points home and away against Libya. Looking rejuvenated with a strong central midfield featuring Pedro Obiang and Pepín, now the team can put all their focus on clinching an AFCON spot by winning at home against Tanzania.
  • The big storyline for Group D from this matchday was the difficulties Gabon had getting into Gambia for the match. Star forward Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang documented the team’s experience, and CAF said it will investigate for any wrongdoing.
  • Gabon played the match close in Banjul despite the circumstances, but one mistake made a big difference. Goalkeeper Anthony Mfa Mezui made an inexcusable error to concede Gambia’s opener by miscontrolling the ball and allowing Modou Barrow to put the ball into an empty net. Time will tell how significant that mistake will be.
  • Democratic Republic of Congo have looked very underwhelming this campaign, lacking the attacking flair that is usually a staple of Congolese football. However, Neeskens Kebano delivered a crucial goal from a shot outside the box to give the Leopards a shot in the arm and boost to their qualifying chances.
  • Angola had hopes of making an impact in this tough group, but Palancas Negras fans will be very disappointed in the team’s results. Star attacker Gelson Dala hasn’t developed the ability to excel as the chief playmaker at this point and needs support. Angola’s U-17 team made an impact last year at the Africa U-17 Cup of Nations and FIFA U-17 World Cup, but it appears to be too early to demand results at the senior level.

Group E

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Matchday 4 Results

Burundi 3-1 Mauritania (Highlights)
Central African Republic 0-2 Morocco  (Highlights)

Matchday 5 Fixtures

Mauritania v Morocco on 22 March 2021
Burundi v Central African Republic on 22 March 2021

Player of the Round

Saidi Ntibazonkiza- Burundi (Vital’O FC [BDI])

Observations

  • The European-based stars like Sadio Mané and Hakim Ziyech will get their deserved plaudits this week, but Burundi’s Saidi Ntibazonkiza was just as, if not more, impactful. The 33-year-old former NEC, Cracovia, and Caen winger doesn’t have quite the blazing pace that contributed to a lengthy career in Europe, but his wizardry was in peak form. Scoring a delightful free kick to equalize late in front of a hostile Mauritanian crowd, Ntibazonkiza followed that up with two goals in the 3-1 home win, including another excellent free kick. Starting the week in Group G’s cellar, Burundi are now in the hunt for qualification with a shout.
  • Burundi’s success came at the expense of Mauritania, who started out promisingly at home before falling victim to the brilliance of Ntibazonkiza. Their next match is at home against leaders Morocco and Al-Murabitun will need to perform at their best in front of the home crowd.
  • Morocco continue to show their class and have no peers in this group, their only slip being a scoreless draw at home to Mauritania in the first match. Hakim Ziyech is playing at another level for Morocco and Chelsea, turning in two sublime performances this week for the Atlas Lions.
  • The scorelines for Central African Republic this week against Morocco are not flattering, but Les Fauves gave a fair account of themselves and had chances to make the matches more in doubt.

Group F

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Matchday 4 Results

Mozambique 0-2 Cameroon  (Highlights)
Rwanda 0-0 Cape Verde  (Highlights)

Matchday 5 Fixtures

Cape Verde v Cameroon on 22 March 2021
Rwanda v Mozambique on 22 March 2021

Player of the Round

Vincent Aboubakar- Cameroon (Besiktas [TUR])

Observations

  • The Mambas of Mozambique were confident of their qualification chances coming into this week… then they met the Indomitable Lions. Striker Vincent Aboubakar was dominant this week, earning PAF’s Player of the Round for both matchdays with three goals. There was some doubt about who would win Group F coming into this week, but now Cameroon’s status is indisputable.
  • Mozambique got the difficult part of the schedule done against Cameroon, but will have regrets that they couldn’t capitalize on chances to get at least a point this week. With two matches remaining against weaker sides Rwanda and Cape Verde, the Mambas can still be optimistic of earning a ticket to AFCON 2021.
  • Cape Verde continue to struggle at generating offense and don’t look like the team that has been responsible for the nation’s recent success. They created opportunities against Rwanda and have the talent to go to another level, but the team is not playing to its optimal level and the lack of inishing has led to draws in all four of their matches.
  • Rwandan fans were hoping the Amavubi would maintain possession better and be more of an attacking threat, but those hopes were dashed when Ally Niyonzima picked up an irresponsible second yellow card, getting sent off in the 29th minute. Amavubi are not out of the running, but they will likely need to get at least a draw against an intimidating side in Cameroon if they can win against Mozambique.

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