Tuesday night saw the final round of fixtures in Group C with any one of the four teams still able to secure qualification into the next round. At the Stade de Port- Gentil the DR Congo took on Togo knowing they only needed a draw against Emmanuel Adebayor’s team to secure qualification. In the other simultaneous game of the night the Stade d’Oyem, Morocco faced off against the defending champions Ivory Coast in what was a must win clash for both sides. The permutations for Group C were simple. Togo had to defeat the DRC and if they could not the winner between Morocco and Ivory Coast game would progress into the quarterfinals.
The penultimate night of the group stages started tentatively, particularly in Oyem where possession was turned over far too often. However, Herve Renard’s men almost went one up after an exquisite free kick by Faycal Fajr rattled the woodwork. News then broke that the Congolese had scored in the 28th minute through Junior Kabananga after he slotted home an exquisite through ball from Chancel Mbemba. The Leopards continued to dominate and with a minute left for halftime Kabananga almost had his second of the night as his looping header came back off the post.
As the halftime whistle approached in Oyem Morocco lost their talismanic striker Aziz Bouhaddouz to injury. The Lions of Atlas were forced to endure a nervous few minutes as the Ivorian’s pressured the Moroccans’ defence. Late in the half the Elephants thought their pressure had paid off but unfortunately for the former Chelsea man Salomon Kalou, his effort hit bar.
As all four teams trooped of down the tunnels at halftime the current score lines would see the DRC and Morocco advance.
The second half resumed and Morocco came close to getting a precious goal. The Ivorian goalkeeper made a poor punch from a cross and the ball fell at the feet of Mehdi Benatia. However, the Juventus defender could not get his shot on target in an attempt to lob the goalkeeper. Back in Port-Gentil Togo knew they needed a minimum of two unanswered goals if they had any hope of qualification. The Togolese showed a greater attacking impetus in search of a way back into the game. That left them exposed at the back and the Congolese duly took advantage and grabbed their second goal in the 53rd minute. This time it was AS Vita Club forward Firmin Mubele whose goal ended any hope The Sparrows had of progression.
It also meant that the Ivory Coast had no option but to defeat Morocco if they were to advance. But it was Herve Renard and his Morocco side that broke the deadlock in Oyem. Rachid Alioui, the French-born Moroccan, scored a contender for Goal of the Tournament from the edge of the area in the 63rd minute. The goal looked like it deflated the winners of the Afcon 2015 who rarely looked like scoring a goal, never mind the two they needed to progress.
In the 68th minute Togo grabbed a goal through Kodjo Laba that gave the Sparrow Hawks the slightest glimmer of hope. However, those hopes were crushed in the 79th minute when Florent Ibenge’s charges wrapped up the game through M’Poku. Togo’s talismanic captain Emmanuel Adebayor had one final chance to end off his international career with a goal but the former Arsenal, Spurs and City striker had his shot cleared off the line.
As the final whistle sounded in both games it signalled progression for both the surprise package of the tournament DR Congo as group winners, and Morocco as Group C runners-up. Both teams will need to wait until group D is completed to see who lies in wait in the quarterfinals.