Madagascar beat Nigeria 2-0 in one of the biggest shocks in recent Africa Cup of Nations memory.
The Super Eagles were unable to cope with the energy of their opponents and in the end, the Madagascans were good value for their win as they sealed top spot in Group B.
In the Group’s other match, Guinea saw off 10-man Burundi to give themselves a shot of progression into the knockout rounds as one of the best third-placed teams.
Later in the day, Group A was decided with Egypt topping the group with a 2-0 win over Uganda, who still finish second thanks to DR Congo’s 4-0 victory against Zimbabwe.
Read on for five things we learned from Sunday’s Afcon matches.
1. Madagascar press thwarts Super Eagles
In one of the biggest shocks of the tournament so far, Madagascar pulled off a remarkable 2-0 win over Nigeria to finish top of Group B.
13': Madagascar 1-0 Nigeria
53': Madagascar 2-0 Nigeria
— Squawka News (@SquawkaNews) June 30, 2019
Right from the start, the Barea looked up for it, swarming three, four and five players around Nigeria as the Super Eagles tried to play their way out from the back. In fact, it was this tactic which brought the first goal, with Lalaïna Nomenjanahary closing down a panicking Leon Balogun, stealing the ball, rounding the ‘keeper and slotting the ball home.
Madagascar kept this sort of energy up for almost the entire match and although their second goal was an incredibly fortunate deflected free-kick from Carolus Andriamatsinoro, it was nothing less than the underdogs deserved for their monumental efforts.
2. Yattara makes Burundi pay after seeing red
For Burundi to beat Guinea, it was always going to take a miracle. That miracle moved totally out of reach within 12 minutes when Christophe Nduwarugira was shown a red card, leaving the pitch in tears.
Dakika ya 12 Burundi walipata pigo kwa mchezaji wao Christophe Nduwarugira kutolewa nje kwa kadi nyekundu.
30': Burundi 0-1 Guinea.
— Azam TV (@azamtvtz) June 30, 2019
From there, Guinea made them pay with goals from Mohamed Yattara either side of half time putting them in control of the match and well in contention to reach the knockout rounds as one of the best third-placed teams.
That 2-2 draw between Madagascar and Burundi in the opening game, which left both looking in danger of failing to make it to the round-of-16, now looks like a valuable point which could see both qualify from Group B, while it helped Madagascar top it outright.
3. Age catches up with Mikel
John Obi Mikel is a hero in Nigeria. A 2013 Afcon winner, Olympic bronze medalist and veteran of 86 caps, he’s seen and done it all with the Super Eagles.
However, all those years with his country, as well as with Chelsea in the Premier League, seem to finally be catching up with him and at 32, he isn’t the force he once was.
This showed on Saturday, with Mikel lasting just 59 minutes before being replaced by Alex Iwobi. During that time, Mikel was dispossessed four times – only Odion Ighalo was dispossessed more (5) – completed just 83% of his passes and failed to make a single tackle.
The old-timer’s creaking bones meant that every time he had the ball, things slowed down for Nigeria. As a result, they were unable to play through the Madagascan press, create overloads or exploit any space beyond their own midfield.
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There’s every chance and experienced campaigner like Mikel will come back and dominate his next match but Sunday was certainly not his day.
4. More Mo magic
You’ve all heard by now just how good Mohamed Salah is. Golden Boot winner, European champion, you don’t need reminding of his quality anymore. But, just in case you really, really needed one final memo, he stepped up and provided once again on Sunday.
— James Nalton (@JDNalton) June 30, 2019
Uganda had been causing Egypt all sorts of problems during the opening 30 minutes or so, constantly catching the hosts out on the break and testing goalkeeper Mohamed El-Shenawy on a number of occasions. Then, Salah stepped up, winning a free-kick on the inside right, about 25 yards outside the Ugandan penalty area.
From there, only one thing was going to happen. Salah stepped up, curled it over the wall and into the back of the net for his second goal of the tournament so far. Egypt pressed on for the win from there and finally finished a plucky Ugandan side, with Ahmed Elmohamady grabbing a second goal.
Salah actually only managed 43 touches of the ball all game – a very modest amount compared to the likes of Nabil Emad (58) and Uganda’s Farouk Miya (60) – but every time he had it, the Liverpool star looked a threat, showing real class despite his limited involvement.
5. DR Congo send Zimbabwe home but left to sweat
DR Congo really threw the cat amongst the pigeons in Group A on Sunday. Sitting bottom of the group with no points before the start of play, they knew they had to win against Zimbabwe to have a chance of making the knockout rounds and even then, it’d be a slim bet at best.
HT" | Zimbabwe 0-2 DR Congo
— #AFCON2019 (@ourAfricanFooty) June 30, 2019
Still, they pressed on and took a 2-0 half-time lead thanks to goals from Jonathan Bolingi and Cédric Bakambu. Bakambu then made it three after the break, while Britt Assombalonga finished the rout. All good, right? Well, even that 4-0 win might not be enough to see them through to the round-of-16, with teams in other groups looking set to pick up four or more points.
What the result did do, though, was ensure Uganda would progress and send DR Congo’s opponents, Zimbabwe, home. DR Congo’s crop of lethal forwards could see them do well in the knockout rounds but for now, they’ll just have to sit and anxiously wait for the conclusions of the other groups.