Mane vs Naby, Partey vs Aubameyang as AFCON group ties enter round two
AFCON enters second round matches
The early kick-off will pit Liverpool FC teammates Sadio Mane and Naby Keita against each other as Senegal faces Guinea in the early kick-off at 4 pm while in the late kick-off at 10 pm, Arsenal teammates Thomas Partey and Pierre Emerick Aubameyang square off when Ghana plays Gabon.
In other matches, Malawi plays Zimbabwe while Morocco plays debutants Comoros in matches that kick-off at 7 pm.
Group B: Senegal v Guinea, Malawi v Zimbabwe
Both of these sides are regarded as the front runners in the group and each won their opening match 1-0. Senegal needed a late penalty scored by Mane to beat a stubborn Zimbabwe by a solitary goal while Guinea waded off a challenge from Malawi with their solitary goal scored by left back Issiaga Sylla.
Heading into the match, either side will progress to the round of 16 if they pick a win.
Senegal have been boosted with the arrival of three players who had remained behind in Senegal after testing positive before they travelled last week.
Nampalys Mendy, Pape Matar Sarr and Saliou Ciss have all travelled from Senegal to Cameroon. In their opening match against Zimbabwe, coach Alliou Cisse only had 17 players available.
However, they have received a fresh blow with Idrissa Gueye and Fode Ballo set to miss the game after they tested positive for COVID during the last round of testing on Wednesday.
Coach Alliou Cisse who is seeking to push Senegal into their first ever AFCON title will be under pressure to ensure the team plays better, despite the sweltering heat expected.
“When Senegal play Guinea its always an exciting match. Our aim is to win every game, but we have to remember they are equally a very strong side. I have always told our players we have no small teams in the competition,” said Cisse ahead of the tie.
Meanwhile, Guinea’s skipper Keita hopes that he can inspire the team to a second win, having put up a man of the match performance in their 1-0 victory over Malawi.
Senegal and Guinea are meeting for the third time at the Africa Cup of Nations, with Senegal winning their first two encounters: 2-1 in the 1994 group stages and 3-2 in the quarter-finals of the 2006 tournament.
In the late kick off, Malawi and Zimbabwe face off in an exciting Southern African derby, with each looking to put their campaign back on track.
Malawi will move into the tie a bit more confident, especially after their performance against Guinea. Despite losing by a solitary goal, The Flames put up a spirited performance and only rued missing a myriad of chances.
Malawi have a full squad at their disposal with no positive COVID cases on their side.
Zimbabwe meanwhile will pick confidence from their spirited run against Senegal, having held the giants well until a last minute penalty knocked them off.
Zimbabwe have not won an AFCON game in 16 years. Their last victory in the tournament was a 2-1 win over Ghana in 2006, The Warriors have failed to win in their last seven Africa Cup of Nations matches, gathering just a couple of points in the process.
“We have been working on recovery after the last-minute loss to Senegal. We have a very good side, and we know our game against Malawi is a mist win. I spoke to the players who were very emotional, and I am happy they have decided to forget the Senegal game. I am not going to make changes to my squad but will just emphasize on consistency and using our chances effectively,” said Norman Mapeza, the Zimbabwe head coach.
Group C: Morocco vs Comoros, Gabon vs Ghana
Morocco will book their place in the next round if they pick maximum points against debutants Comoros in the second round of Group C matches in Yaounde. The Atlas Lions, though nowhere near convincing, managed a vital 1-0 over Ghana in their opening match.
Against a Comoros side which lost their opening match against Gabon, Morocco will fancy their chances and are optimistic of clinching their second win.
Meanwhile, Ghana and Gabon will provide the toughest match of the day. The Gabonese have been boosted with the availability of striker Pierre Emerick Aubameyang.
The forward had tested positive for COVID-19 but has now been cleared by the medial team after Wednesday’s round of testing.
Ghana have meanwhile at their disposal a full strength squad, with skipper Andre Ayew declared fit despite finishing the match against Morocco with a wounded head following a mid-air clash.
The Black Stars who are seeking to quench their long wait for an African title must beat the Gabonese if they are to keep their knockout phase hopes alive.