Almost all of the expected names made it-just-into the knockout stages of this year’s African Nations Cup. The same can barely be said of the stars who were expected to light up the stage.
Instead, it is some unexpected faces who stormed to the forefront to make their mark, before heading home Osaze Odemwingie is the only Super Eagles to receive a mention in the first round. First round best players include:
GK: Ovono Ebang (Gabon)
Gabon stunned many at this tournament. Not expected to do much but make up the numbers, they caused the first big shock of the competition by handing Cameroun a 1-0 defeat in their opening game, and then went on to draw 0-0 with Tunisia. Ovono was the foundation on which they built those solid performances.
RB: Samuel Inkoom (Ghana)
Ghana’s rookie right back only got the chance for a starting place because of a last minute injury to John Paintsil. How the Fulham man will rue that injury, as his place in the first team is now under serious threat. Inkoom defends with a maturity that belies his 20 years, and can also be counted upon to deliver inch-perfect offensive crosses.
LB: Siaka Tiene (CIV)
In an Ivorien team so far struggling to live up to their reputation, Siaka Tiene stands out as one of the best left backs in the tournament. Mali’s Adama Tamboura also comes to mind here.
CB: Danny Shittu (Nigeria)
Nigeria’s defence looked all over the place in the opening day defeat to Egypt. But the introduction of Shittu brought stability, and two clean sheets.
CB: Wael Goma (Egypt)
Only one goal allowed in three games is not a stat to sneeze at, and Goma has been key to Egypt’s near perfect defensive record.
CM: Josephy Kamwendo (Malawi)
The 23-year-old Orlando Pirates midfielder raised a few eye-brows in Malawi’s win over Algeria with his dominating performance, he didnt slow down in the next two games either. Shame has forwards couldnt quite keep up.
CM: Rainford Kalaba (Zambia)
Strength, speed, skill and strength. Kalaba will be a big miss for Zambia against Nigeria.
LM: Osaze Odemwingie (Nigeria)
Is it just coincidence that Nigeria’s fortunes changed when he returned to the side? He was actually deployed at right midfield but is equally adept on the other flank, as he showed in scorching a daisy-cutter home from there against Mozambique.
RM: Jonathan Pitroipa (Burkina Faso)
He is the reason I moved Odemwingie to the left. Moumouni Dagano was the name on everyone’s lips when Burkina Faso came into the tourney, but Pitroipa is the one who showed skill, strength, endless running and an ability to almost carry the team on his own.
FW: Mohammed Zidan (Egypt)
Very technical player who made things happen for Egypt with his touch, awareness and ability to make the right choices in front of goal.
FW: Flavio (Angola)
The former Al Ahly man’s three goals show just how much of an effect he has on the team. Mark him all you will, he will still find a way to score.
Coach: Hassan Shehata (Egypt)
Mastermind of the only perfect record in the first round. It could have been even better if Chinedu Obasi had not struck that wonderful goal to soil Essam El Hadary’s copy book.
Elephants, Pharaohs Rekindle Rivalry …As Mali, E’Guinea Battle For ¼ Final Ticket
The Ivory Coast and Egypt will rekindle their rivalry at the Africa Cup of Nations with a Round of 16 meeting at the Japoma Stadium in Douala today.
The Elephants and the Pharaohs had two iconic meetings in the latter stages of AFCON tournaments this century: the 2006 final and 2008 semifinal, both of which had Egypt emerge as victors (on penalties after a 0-0 draw and 4-1 respectively).
Yet the North Africans will not enter this clash as favourites after a stuttering showing in Group D, where they only qualified as runners-up behind Nigeria (recording a 1-0 loss to the Super Eagles, followed by 1-0 wins over Guinea-Bissau and Sudan).
One of the Pharaohs’ main problems has been a lack of creativity and efficiency in attack, with star man Mohamed Salah notably short of his best form. Nonetheless, coach Carlos Queiroz has promised an improved showing from their forwards.
“Despite all the pressure they come back [from the defeat to Nigeria]. They play strong, they play good football,” said the Portuguese tactician. “They just need to score more goals. To only play good football is not enough – we need to build up more goals and with that be more relaxed in the game.”
Ivory Coast, meanwhile, were one of the most impressive teams on show in the Group Stage (they topped Group E with an unbeaten record) and are fresh from a big win over a North African heavyweight, trouncing Algeria 3-1 last week to end their reign as AFCON champions.
Coach Patrice Beaumelle insists his side still has vulnerabilities that need addressing, “the goal we conceded [against Algeria] shows our fragility”, but feels “a soul in the team”.
“I’m satisfied with that,” he added. “There is individual talent, but also collective talent.”
In head-to-head stats, Ivory Coast and Egypt have met in 21 matches across all competitions since their first clash back in 1970. The Pharaohs have claimed 11 wins compared to seven for the Elephants, while three games have been drawn.
The teams last met in an international friendly in Abu Dhabi in January 2013 which ended in a 4-2 win for the Ivory Coast, thanks to goals from Gervinho (two), Lacina Traore and Didier Ya Konan.
Mali and Equatorial Guinea will battle for the last Africa Cup of Nations Quarterfinal berth when they meet at the Limbe Stadium this evening.
Mali comes into this clash as the favourite after a fine Group F campaign in which they finished top of the standings ahead of impressive debutants Gambia (who also ended unbeaten and with seven points), Tunisia and Mauritania.
Coach Mohamed Magassouba is taking nothing for granted against Equatorial Guinea, as the Eagles chase a first-ever AFCON title (their best showings have been runners-up in 1972, as well as third-place finishers in 2012 and 2013).
“It is true that this competition is very high [of a high standard]. We made a very good start against Tunisia, the big engine of African football, then hung by Gambia which is also very catchy, tenacious and fast,” said the Mali boss.
“And we finished ahead of Mauritania, who are a very good team as well and were looking to finish on a very good note naturally. For us [at this] competition, we always manage all the games with the same state of mind and we put ourselves in mind that all the games are equal.
“Anyway in this AFCON, you have found that all nations are fighting and everyone is favourite, we are taking on our role and we are working to get there.”
Equatorial Guinea, meanwhile, have been one of the main narrative drivers at this AFCON, earning their spot in the knockout rounds thanks to wins over defending champions Algeria and Sierra Leone (which saw them finish second in Group E behind Ivory Coast).
Nzalang Nacional are very much outsiders for this clash, but coach Juan Micha Obiang is hopeful his side maintain the underdog attitude which has served them so well thus far at the AFCON.
“When you qualify for the second round of a competition, you are naturally happy,” said the Equatorial Guinea coach. “We had a great game, we knew the game against Sierra Leone was going to be difficult, but we prepared accordingly to win the game.
“We know that we are not favourites in this competition, which is why we work every day to achieve good performances.”
In head-to-head stats, Mali and Equatorial Guinea have met in three previous matches, dating back to their first clash in 2009. The Eagles boast a 100 percent record, with a 3-0 win in a friendly in 2009, followed by successive 1-0 wins in March 2016 in qualifying for the following year’s Africa Cup of Nations tournament.
S’Eagles: It’s Time To Rely On Our Own– SWAN President
Following the Super Eagles shock loss and subsequent crash out from the ongoing Africa Cup of Nations in Cameroon at the last 16 stage, the President of Sports Writers Association of Nigeria, SWAN, Sir Honour Sirawoo has called for an introspection from the managers of football in the country and the taking of the right decisions to ensure that the national team builds on the positives noticed at the Championship.
The SWAN President, who was of the opinion that the Eagles ouster at the first knock-out stage after so much promise was unfortunate, believed that the team under an indigenous coach put up more impressive performances than they have done in recent years under an expatriate. He, thus, called for the Nigeria Football Federation, NFF, to look inwards and give more opportunities to local coaches.
“It’s time to rely on what we have, our own”, said Sirawoo. ‘I think it’s time to give the local coaches opportunities to get better because the more you give an individual chances, the better he becomes. Austin Eguavoen has done well despite not getting beyond the Round of 16’.
According to the President, who is also the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Sports, Rivers State,” it is unfortunate that we had to crash out at the stage we did but that should not make us to begin to clamour for foreign coaches. We have good number of local coaches who have done well with our youth teams and some who distinguished themselves with national teams of other countries. We should be able to open them up to opportunities and equip them by sending them on courses to improve themselves”
Sir Sirawoo agreed that technical and tactical deficiencies on the part of the Nigerian bench contributed to the loss to Tunisia, as the team failed to react early and positively to the opponents’ strategy, he however, believes that Nigerian coaches have the potential to develop and take the country to the desired height if given the room, support and cooperation by the relevant authorities.
On the chances of the Super Eagles surviving Ghana and qualifying for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, the President was positive that Nigeria would qualify.
“I think we would qualify for the world cup and going by what we have seen at the AFCON, Nigeria’s team and performance were better than Ghana and considering that the Eagles were missing some key game-changing players at the AFCON, I don’t see Ghana stopping Nigeria.
“Also, by the time the final qualifying round would come, I expect that due analysis on why we failed in Cameroon, what needs to be done to get better and the right personnel to prosecute the matches would have been concluded. In fact, I think Nigeria should be able to beat Ghana and be at Qatar 2022”, concluded Sirawoo.
By: Gabriel Nwanetanya
Iwobi Apologises To Nigerian Fans
Nigeria’s midfield stalwart, Alex Iwobi has apologised to all the Super Eagles fans after they suffered an exit from the Africa Cup of Nations at the knockout stage in Cameroon.
After a good run in the group stage which saw Nigeria win all three of their matches, the only team to do so at the 33rd edition of the competition, they could not get past the Round of 16 after losing 1-0 to Tunisia at Roumde Adjia Stadium on Sunday.
It was Youssef Msakni who notched the all-important goal in the 47th minute to end the Super Eagles’ fairy tale run in the competition. The 25-year-old Iwobi, who currently features for Everton in the Premier League, was also red-carded seven minutes after coming on by Senegal referee Maguette N’Diaye.
“Moments of joy can quickly turn into pain and anguish. As much as it’s a part of football, we came for more,” Iwobi wrote on his Instagram. “Our fans, who shared these moments with us both in Cameroon and across the world, deserved more.
“The beauty of the game is the next moment of jubilation is never too far around the corner. We will be back to fight for our nation, stronger. We owe it to you, and I owe it to myself.
“Thank you for all the words of support and encouragement, It doesn’t go unnoticed.”
Iwobi’s apology comes just a day after Nigeria legend Jay-Jay Okocha supported the decision by the referee to send off Iwobi. Okocha, who is Iwobi’s uncle said the former Arsenal player deserved the red card whether it was intentional or not.
“As a player, we always try to retain possession especially when you’ve had a bad touch but also the referee dished out yellow first because he realized that it wasn’t dangerous play until the VAR called him,” Okocha noted.
“And when they look at replays, sometimes they tell a different story and when we saw that replay I said it that he’s off, whether it was intentional, whatever, he was a bit dangerous on the Tunisian player but that wasn’t his intention.
“I mean these referees play to the book. We’ve had a bad day and when it rains it pours.”
Okocha’s verdict contradicts that of interim coach Augustine Eguavoen, who defended Iwobi by stating his foul was not intentional.
“It’s a little bit difficult, I don’t like to talk too much about referees because they are the masters but there’s nothing wrong if one makes his observations,” Eguavoen told reporters.
“Iwobi’s red card I don’t think was the first foul and it wasn’t intentional also but we have to look at the VAR later and see.
“However, first offense I don’t think demands a red card, it wasn’t dangerous play, and then right in his face, I can see one of the most gentlemen in the team Wilfred Ndidi got smashed right in front of the referee.
“Normally in the game of football when there’s a foul and there’s an advantageous position you let it run so that’s just the only thing I see but again you know the referee is a gentleman and he should be able to control his emotions once the game is on.
“Everywhere is tensed up, it has happened there is nothing we can do about it.”
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