2023 Africa Cup of Nations: 5 things we learned on Day 11

Mauritania pick their moment to win a first match at a Cup of Nations tournament to leave us wondering: “1, 2, 3, really Algérie?” 

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Plaudits aplenty to Mauritania. They lie 105th in the Fifa world rankings but made a mockery of the lists with a 1-0 defeat of Algeria – ranked 30th – in their final game in Group D. Mohamed Dellahi Yali scored the goal just before half-time and they held on for their first win at a Cup of Nations tournament in their third consecutive appearance. The three points also took them into the knockout stages for the first time as one of the four best third-placed teams.

Black Stars trek

And with Mauritania’s enterprise against Algeria, Ghana’s slender hopes were extinguished. Their two points won’t be enough. Cote d’Ivoire – with a “worse” three points than Mauritania still have a chance of scraping into the last-16. Depends on the games in Groups E and F on Day 12. Wonderful. Even if the hosts don’t continue, they’re to be heartily congratulated for orchestrating such nail-biting intrigue. Such munificence.

Algeria à no go-go

Well, at least there’s some consistency in it. Algeria slumped out of the 2021 Cup of Nations after the group stages. That was something of a blow as they went into the extravaganza in Cameroon as defending champions. In Cote d’Ivoire they performed abysmally again and though a win would have taken them into the last-16, they could not recover to beat Mauritania. After his wonders in Egypt in 2019, the writing is surely on the wall for Algeria coach Djamel Belmadi.

My time is done

Gambia coach Tom Saintfiet hit the wall. His side squandered a 2-1 lead to lose 3-2 to Cameroon and the chance to advance. The Gambians were pretty to watch but lacked heft. During his five years in charge, Saintfiet steered Gambia to their first appeance at the Cup of Nations in 2021 where they reached the last eight. “Thank you for your service gaffer,” the Gambia Football Federation said on X. “After everything is said and done, Gambia will indeed miss a great tactician. Always the best of luck.”

Say it ain’t so, Mo

Beaten finalist in 2017 and 2021, the Africa Cup of Nations isn’t a plain of lyrical happiness for the Egypt skipper Mo Salah. His hamstrings went all discordant as he roved and ranged for the glory of Egypt at the 2023 romp in Cote d’Ivoire. The poor lamb is out for up to a month. His club Liverpool and Egypt have agreed for the 31-year-old to return to Merseyside so he can receive the best cotton wool and have an outside chance of playing should Egypt reach the final on 11 February. The return to England has been lambasted as desertion by some pundits back in Egypt who feel Captain Mo shouldn’t go but instead stay in Cote d’Ivoire supporting his boys even if it’s on one leg. “The one you should never doubt the commitment of is Mo Salah,” said Liverpool assistant coach Pep Lijnders. “I’ve never met a player but also a human being — who is more committed to the life of being a professional football player.” Oh do stay Mo and hear the troops cheer lustily: “Yalla for Salah.”


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