The Africa Cup of Nations has reached the crucial stage where the last round of group matches will decide which eight teams progress to the quarter finals. Our pick for the tournament winner – Senegal – were the first team to qualify for the last eight after beating Zimbabwe 2-0 with the minimum of fuss. The Lions of Teranga face Algeria in the final group match, and its the last chance saloon for the Desert Foxes.
Mahrez and Slimani are the leading lights of the Algerian side, both currently plying their trade with English Premier League champions Leicester. However, they’ve not been able to drag their country through to the next stage, and after a draw with Zimbabwe and defeat to Tunisia the Foxes face early elimination. That makes the match with Senegal a must-win game – although it may prove to be academic if Tunisia defeat Zimbabwe to claim the second qualification spot in group B.
One of the surprises of the competition so far has been the performances of DR Congo, who find themselves top of group C ahead of Morocco and Ivory Coast. A final group match against Togo presents them with a great opportunity to qualify, where a draw will be good enough to see them through. That means current holders Ivory Coast are on the verge of going out of the tournament, after draws with both DR Congo and Togo have left them third in the section with two points. Fortunately for the Elephants, their final group game is against the team in second – Morocco. Victory for either side will ensure qualification, so it really is a ‘winner-takes-all’ contest.
Senegal v Algeria
Starting with a cracking game on Monday night between Senegal and Algeria, and over 2.5 goals looks worth a bet at huge odds of +146 with Marathonbet.
Notwithstanding any changes the Senegal manager chooses to make to his line up, viewers of the Premier League will see several familiar names line up in this match. Liverpool’s Sadio Mane has already bagged two goals in the tournament so far, and English fans will know all about the midfield qualities of Kouyate and Gueye at West Ham and Everton respectively. That’s without even mentioning Italian Serie A stars such as Keita and Koulibaly, and it’s clear that Senegal are serious contenders to win this trophy.
2-0 victories over Tunisia and Zimbabwe were as comfortable as possible, with both leads established within the first half an hour of the games. Having already qualified for the last eight it would be no great shock to see some of the aforementioned players rested, which is one reason it’s difficult to back Senegal despite very generous odds of +200 .
Algeria were one of the pre-tournament favourites to lift the trophy, but their participation in the competition has gone from bad to worse. A point was rescued by Mahrez’ late strike in the opening 2-2 draw with Zimbabwe, but there was no coming back from a two-goal deficit against Tunisia – a late injury time goal scant consolation. It leaves the Desert Foxes in the tricky position of needing to beat Senegal just to stand a chance of getting through to the quarters.
That sets this game up and a chance is taken on it being an open affair as Algeria push for the result. With both of their AFCON matches so far going over the 2.5 goal line, there’s every reason to believe this one will go the same way as the Desert Foxes throw caution to the wind.
Zimbabwe v Tunisia
Our next bet is in the same group, and a win for Tunisia at -118 with Betway could render the above result meaningless.
If the Tunisians earn victory, Algeria are out of the competition even if they do beat Senegal. That looks to be a likely outcome against a Zimbabwe side which is participating in its first Africa Nations Cup since 2006, and is rated 14th of the 16 teams according to World ELO football rankings. That opening draw with Algeria was a great result against all expectations, but Zimbabwe were brought crashing back down to earth in their second group match. Senegal were 2-0 ahead within 14 minutes, and never looked like relinquishing the lead.
Tunisia were equally outclassed by Senegal, but led Algeria 2-0 right up until Hanni’s late consolation. With a quarter-final berth in their sights, Tunisia should be capable of following up with a win here.
Morocco v Ivory Coast
Finally, it’s do or die for the Ivory Coast, and we’ll side with them at a decent +111 with Marathonbet.
At least, unlike Algeria, the Elephants have their destiny in their own hands. A win over Morocco would send them through to the last eight, regardless of the result in the other group game between DR Congo and Togo. Draws against the latter pair have hampered Ivory Coast’s chances of defending their crown, so one would expect them to come out all guns blazing in this match.
It’s a similar story for Morocco, who sit 2nd in the group with three points, although a subtle difference is that a draw here would see them qualify. That presents a dilemma as to whether they adopt a conservative approach in an attempt to protect the point. The Moroccans lost 1-0 to DR Congo first time out, but turned their tournament around by coming from behind to beat Togo 3-1.
The last three meetings between these sides – all within the last 18 months – have ended in a 0-0 draw and a pair of 1-0 wins for Ivory Coast. The last time Morocco beat Ivory Coast was in 1973, and the Elephants have the edge. With the likes of Bony and Zaha in their ranks, Ivory Coast should have enough to get the job done in pressing circumstances.
Senegal v Algeria – Over 2.5 Goals
Monday 23rd January, 19:00 GMT
Tunisia to beat Zimbabwe
Monday 23rd January, 19:00 GMT
Ivory Coast to beat Morocco
Tuesday 24th January, 19:00 GMT
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