Monday evening saw the Afcon group of death in its final throes. Senegal, who had already secured qualification, faced a wounded Algerian side who knew that only a win would suffice if they wanted to progress. In the other game, played simultaneously, Zimbabwe took on Tunisia with in a must win game for both. It was all set up to be an enthralling night of football as three teams vied for one final spot in the next round.
In the capital Libreville the Eagles of Carthage came out the blocks strongly in front of a sparse crowd. The North Africans looked to assert their authority and the early pressure paid off. Naim Sliti had his shot deflected past a helpless Tatenda Mukuruva with only 8 minutes on the clock. The Lille midfielder’s second goal in as many matches put Tunisia in the driving seat to qualification.
In Franceville, Senegal had made ten changes to their starting eleven as progression was already sealed. Algeria were quick to profit from the understandably disjointed Senegalese and in the 10th minute got their goal through a close-range volley from Leicester City’s Islam Slimani.
The action did not let up in either game in the first half, especially so in Libreville as Tunisia scored their second goal of the night. Youssef Msakni finished smartly after a piece of superb build up play in the 21st minute. The Qatar-based midfielder’s goal appeared to end any hope Zimbabwe had of progression as The Warriors now had the monumental task of having to score three unanswered goals in an effort to save themselves from elimination. But the first half misery didn’t stop there for the southern African nation as Tunisia added to their tally in the 36th minute through Yassine Khenissi. At that point Zimbabwe were dead and buried, however, hope flared briefly of an unlikely comeback when Knowledge Musona pulled one back just before halftime. That hope was quickly extinguished right on the halftime whistle as catastrophic defending led to a Tunisian penalty. Sunderland winger Wahbi Khazri stepped up and calmly dispatched the penalty. 4-1 after a frantic half.
The half time break brought 15 minutes of respite to the Zimbabweans who looked down and out as they walked into the tunnel. Tunisia were now in pole position to qualify regardless of what happened in Franceville. Unfortunately for the highly fancied Algerians, they conceded an equaliser just before the break courtesy of Espanyol defensive midfielder Papakouli Diop.
The second half resumed in both encounters with Algeria aware that Tunisia’s lead in Libreville made qualification impossible but they were determined to go out with a bang. Slimani bagged himself a second goal in the 52nd minute as his effort was adjudged to have just crossed the line. But the Algerians had barely finished celebrating their goal when Senegal struck back. Fenerbahce striker Moussa Sow scored a beautiful, driven goal from outside the area to level the scores at 2-2.
In Libreville the goal-fest wasn’t finished either. Zimbabwe refused to give up and reduced the deficit through Orlando Pirates striker Tendai Ndoro in the 56th minute. The current South African PSL top scorer had just come on Danny Phiri and immediately added extra impetus in attack.
From there, goals in both games dried up as the full time whistles approached. Slimani had a late chance to grab the tournament’s first hat trick but the Algiers-born forward squandered his effort. In the end Algeria were forced to settle for a 2-2 draw and group stage elimination, while Zimbabwe finished bottom of Group B with a solitary point. Senegal go through as group winners and will face Cameroon in the quarterfinal, while Tunisia have the Burkina Faso lying in wait.