The eyes of the African continent fell on the Stade de Franceville in Gabon as Tunisia took on Algeria in a North African derby. The Eagles of Carthage knew this was a must win encounter against an exciting Zimbabwe side after they suffered defeat at the hands of Senegal in their Group B opener.
The first match of the evening saw Algeria scratching their heads as they were defeated by rivals Tunisia. The Algerians had dominated the first half as they forced Tunisian Goalkeeper Aymen Mathlouthi into a number of great saves. Nonetheless, the Tunisians slowly found their feet, creating an exciting end to end contest even though the game remained deadlocked and goalless at half time.
With the resumption of the second half the game had become a cagey affair but Algeria continued to dominate possession and looked the more confident team. The match was brought to life 5 minutes after the break when the Tunisian Youssef Msakni caused havoc down the wing. His shot was deflected into the net by Algeria and Real Betis right back Aissa Mandi. The goal came totally against the run of play. To add insult to injury Tunisia grabbed a second goal in the 65th minute when Wahbi Khazri capitalised on a poor back pass header by Naples based Faouzi Ghoulam. In an effort to rectify his mistake the Algerian was adjudged to have tripped the Sunderland man. Naim Sliti scored the resultant penalty and Algeria looked down and out. However, the Desert Foxes went on to create a nervy end after midfielder Sofiane Hanni grabbed a consolation goal in stoppage time. But it was too little too late as the match ended 2-1.
In the second game of the night Senegal showed why this is the proverbial ‘group of death’. The Zimbabweans faced a baptism of fire from the beginning of the match. Senegal’s prolific pressing game had the Southern African nation at sixes and sevens and the Taranga Lions’ pressure gave Senegal the lead early on. Liverpool winger Sadio Mane tapped in a cross from Spanish born Keita Balde in the 9th minute. Senegal continued to press, looking for a second goal and minutes later Henri Saivet executed an exquisite free kick to double the advantage.
The half time break seemed to only rejuvenated Senegal as they continued to dominate. Stoke City forward Mame Biram Diouf looked dangerous but squandered numerous chances to extend Senegal’s lead. Diouf was eventually replaced by Turkish-based forward Moussa Sow. The Warriors survived wave after wave of Senegal attacks thanks to a combination of horrendous finishing and great goalkeeping by youngster Tatenda Mukuruva. Sundowns star Khama Billiat had a chance late on for Zimbabwe but the runner up to the CAF African based player of the year award lacked the power to trouble the goalkeeper. When the final whistle sounded Senegal had sealed their passage into the knockout round.