Algeria and Senegal both won big to conclude Group C of the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations.
Sadio Mane scored twice as Aliou Cissé’s men put three past Kenya without reply. Meanwhile, The Fennecs produced the same result against a hapless Tanzania.
Earlier in the day, Group D saw Morocco leave it very late in their 1-0 win over South Africa to maintain their perfect start – which they share with their north African rivals Egypt and Algeria – and Ivory Coast inflicted a 4-1 defeat on Namibia.
Here are five observations from Monday’s matches.
1. Desert Warriors got talent
Chances are, Islam Slimani’s long-term future will not be with parent club Leicester City. He’s got a year left on his present deal, and there are sure to be a handful of suitors for the man once dubbed by Sporting CP supporters as “Dragon Slayer”, due to his goal-scoring record against FC Porto. Having not featured in Algeria’s opening wins over Kenya (2-0) and Senegal (1-0) it was fair to say Slimani was a man on a mission.
He would break the deadlock against Tanzania – an opponent many observers felt wouldn’t trouble Djamel Belmadi’s makeshift side – with his 21st international strike. The goal was neatly created by Napoli winger Adam Ounas, who also sat out their first two games. Ounas would then score twice before half-time, both efforts created by Slimani, proving what strength in depth the north African side has.
2. Kenya’s second-half nightmare
There’s no bigger stage than an international tournament. Scouts are everywhere and for those playing in modest league, it’s the perfect opportunity to show a larger audience what you’ve got. Kenya goalkeeper Patrick Matasi, who currently plies his trade in Ethiopia’s top division, did just that against the might of Senegal, and he needed to given the difference in quality between the sides.
As predicted, The Lions of Teranga had the lion’s share of possession (67%) and even won an early penalty which Matasi saved from European Cup winner Sadio Mane. Never a side to go away quietly, they continually peppered his goal, though he remained resolute producing one incredible save after another. All that good work disappeared in the second half. 18 minutes after the break, Ismaila Sarr – whom Matasi spectacularly denied before half-time – broke through. Eventually, this led to Mane getting his goal for the evening. He would then double his tally from the spot after Philemon Otieno produced a shocking challenge inside the penalty area which earned him a second yellow.
3. Atlas Lions get lucky
On paper, Morocco has arguably the strongest collection of players at this summer’s tournament. However, as we know all too well, the game is played on the pitch. You get the sense there’s something lacking from Hervé Renard’s men. No zip or ingenuity, despite the best efforts of Hakim Ziyech. No one said putting together an international team, consisting of players from different clubs (who don’t all play the same style), was easy but it shouldn’t be a struggle to watch a team laced with supremely gifted individual talents.
Given the disparity you felt they would produce something out of nothing, cue a cheap free kick given away by Bafana Bafana in the 90th minute, which Moubarak Boussoufa ultimately punished. The result maintains their 100% start, but they’ll need to play more cohesively if their championship ambitions are to be realised.
4. Zaha blanks no more
Wilfried Zaha is headline news at the moment. Off the pitch, he’s the subject of a potentially huge transfer. The Ivorian forward has made it known he seeks pastures new, with childhood team Arsenal the preferred destination, though Crystal Palace are in no mood to entertain any thought of him leaving. All that will come to a head when he returns to London from his Egyptian excursion.
He’s not exactly been a presence at Afcon 2019 having made a 21-minute cameo in their 1-0 win over South Africa before completely sitting out the 1-0 loss to Morocco. This obviously led to speculation that manager Ibrahim Kamara was not exactly fond of Zaha, though he started against Namibia, which saw him break his duck. It was Ivory Coast’s third of the game – Max Gradel and Serey Die had scored earlier – before Maxwel Cornet added number four.
5. Contrasting fortunes
Bafana Bafana will have to wait to see if they are among the four best third place teams. A point against Morocco might have been enough, but a loss considerably reduces those chances. It was a poor game from Stuart Baxter’s side. They weren’t threatening, instead content to play on the counter.
Meanwhile their neighbours Namibia, who did well to qualify for these championships, don’t go home empty handed. Another 90-minute drought would have seen them equal Burundi – and potentially Guinea Bissau, who play Ghana in their final game – as scoreless, but Joslin Kamatuka had other ideas. His 71st-minute run and finish was celebrated enthusiastically as you would expect.