Football News

A long-overdue treble plus other AFCON stats & stories you might have missed

By Mohamed Moallim

Published: 22:00, 18 January 2024

There is nothing quite like the Africa Cup of Nations with this year’s edition no different than its predecessors with each game a riot of colour, noise and energy.

Given so much is already happening in the Ivory Coast-held tournament with matchday one complete and second-round fixtures concluding it’s only natural if an important event slips your attention.

But don’t worry, Squawka is here, with some things you might have missed.

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Age is just a number: Part 1

Equatorial Guinea began their campaign by holding continental powerhouse Nigeria to a 1-1 draw. Iban Salvador gave the underdogs a 36th-minute lead before Victor Osimhen equalised two minutes later. Juan Michá’s men capitalised on that hard-fought point with a ruthless 4-2 win over Guinea-Bissau which saw Emilio Nsue etch his name into the history books.

Nsue, formerly of Middlesbrough and Birmingham City, first became the oldest goal scorer at the AFCON since Ima Andriatsima (35 years and 34 days old) netted for Madagascar against DR Congo in July 2019. At the age of 34 years and 110 days he not only went on to become the oldest AFCON hat-trick scorer but the first player to register a treble since Soufiane Alloudi of Morocco (against Namibia) in January 2008.

The Curious Case of Umar Sadiq

Before the festivities got underway Nigeria received more unfortunate news with Victor Boniface ruled out after sustaining a groin injury. He joined Taiwo Awoniyi and Wilfred Ndidi on the sidelines.

Just when things couldn’t get any worse Real Sociedad forward Umar Sadiq pulled out through a knee injury, but only a few days later Sadiq was named in his club’s Copa del Rey squad much to Super Eagles boss José Peseiro’s bemusement.

“I’m also confused,” he told reporters. “What I can say, I saw the report from the medical test that he’s injured and that he cannot recover in 15 days, at least, or more time … The report went to the club, and the club said he must come (back) to recover.”

“I am happy that he recovered well. I am sad that he’s not here to help us,” Peseiro added.

Sadiq’s absence was somewhat felt as Nigeria were held by Equatorial Guinea but they did recover with a huge 1-0 win over Ivory Coast, their first win on the soil of their West African neighbours, making Group A tightly poised heading into matchday three.

Onana’s Journey

Altay Bayindir’s long-awaited Manchester United debut should be in their FA Cup fourth-round showdown at Newport County, and that’s only because Cameroon did the Red Devils a solid by allowing the much-maligned André Onana — who at one point had returned from international duty — to remain in England, so he could face Tottenham before turning out for Erik ten Hag’s side at Wigan earlier in the week.

Consequently, the Indomitable Lions started against Guinea a day later, with Onana immediately boarding a private jet bound for Ivory Coast only for the goalkeeper to endure a nightmare 16-hour journey after the plane was unable to land because of fog and was instead diverted 150 miles south to Abidjan, where it arrived shortly before 6am on Monday.

Nîmes shot-stopper Fabrice Ondoa, who is Onana’s cousin, started in their 1-1 draw.  Interestingly, if Cameroon fails to progress beyond the group stage. Onana would return before that aforementioned FA Cup fourth-round clash much to Bayindir’s expected chagrin. Next up is a clash with champions Senegal (January 19) before ending their first phase against Gambia (January 23).

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A historic rivalry renewed

Across their first seven AFCON appearances, Ghana were crowned winners on four occasions with two runners-up finishes, since then it’s been a combination of so close and yet so far. Optimism of winning their fifth star, and first title since 1982, was subdued. Form heading into this latest edition wasn’t the best and no one could be hardly surprised when the Black Stars opened up with a 2-1 loss against Cape Verde subsequently extending their winless AFCON run to five matches. That result led to an incident that saw a disgruntled fan get into a verbal altercation with head coach Chris Hughton at Ghana’s hotel.

If things weren’t bad, next up was a meeting with historic rivals Egypt, who since Ghana’s last African crown lifted the prize on no fewer than five occasions. This evening’s contest was their fifth Africa Cup of Nations showdown with The Pharaohs leading 2-1 in the head-to-head. Rui Vitória’s men were moments away from a shock opening round upset against Mozambique but Mohamed Salah rescued a point from the penalty spot in stoppage time.

Salah though wouldn’t last the opening half coming off with a suspected injury. As soon as the Liverpool man departed Mohammed Kudus put Ghana in front. Egypt fought back through Omar Marmoush but Kudus restored the Black Stars’ lead. It didn’t last long as Mostafa Mohamed restored parity once more. The result does not do either side any good with Cape Verde knowing a win over Mozambique sees them into the knockout phase.

Age is just a number: Part 2

One guarantee in an international tournament is the unearthing of a new star. An individual or two coming from relative obscurity and positioning themselves for a significant future transfer.

A candidate in this AFCON is Senegalese midfielder Lamine Camara — who has exclusively played his football in France with Génération Foot and Metz — the 20-year-old netted twice in the defending champions win over Gambia on matchday one. In doing so, he became the youngest player to register a brace since Ali Zitouni for Tunisia in 2000.