Madagascar, Senegal, Egypt and Tunisia this week became the first teams to qualify for next year’s Africa Cup of Nations, which will be hosted in Cameroon. Here are five things we learned from the latest round of qualification matches for the competition.
Madagascar make history
Madagascar made history yesterday when they beat Equatorial Guinea 1-0 to qualify for the Africa Cup of Nations for the very first time in their history. In the process, they also became the first team to join hosts Cameroon in the list of participant nations for the 2019 AFCON. They set themselves up for that success with a similar score line against the same opponents last Saturday.
Madagascar are now on 10 points with two matches to go and are guaranteed of a spot in the finals regardless of how results go in those.
Egypt can win without Salah
Mohamed Salah scored an unbelievable goal directly from a corner as Egypt beat Swaziland 4-1 over the weekend. Unfortunately, he was then forced off in the second half with muscle sprain and he ended up missing the reverse fixture yesterday. Nonetheless, the Pharaohs were unperturbed as they comfortably dispatched their opponents 2-0 to seal their spot in Cameroon. Salah’s injury has however since been confirmed as a minor one.
Ighalo proves his worth for Nigeria
Odion Ighalo has not always been able to translate his often-impressive club form to the international level with Nigeria. For example, the former Watford man now has 20 goals in 25 Chinese Super League matches this season. He was castigated for failing to deliver at the World Cup and notably made the scapegoat for missing a chance in the match against Argentina that confirmed the Super Eagles’ elimination.
Since that time, Ighalo has found his best form for Nigeria, with six goals in three AFCON qualifying matches. Five of those came in the double-header against Libya in the last week.
Kenya close in on the end of 15-year AFCON wilderness
The Harambee Stars of Kenya are now within touching distance of qualifying for the Africa Cup of Nations, something they have not managed to do since the 2004 edition in Tunisia. After being held to a 0-0 draw in Ethiopia last Wednesday, the Kenyans shifted through the gears and beat Ethiopia 3-0 in Nairobi on Sunday.
Kenya’s qualification at this moment is still being held by pending communication from the Confederation of African Football (CAF), regarding the fate of Sierra Leone, another team in the same group. The West African nation appealed a ban from all football activity by FIFA, and are awaiting a final decision. If the ban is upheld, then Kenya’s place in Cameroon will be confirmed, otherwise they will still need to beat Sierra Leone at home to qualify.
Murphy’s law strikes for Liverpool’s African stars
For Liverpool, everything that could go wrong appears to be going wrong during this international break. After Salah was injured against Swaziland, Sadio Mané and Naby Keita also sustained injuries whilst representing Senegal and Guinea respectively.
All this is bad news for manager Jürgen Klopp, who has to navigate his team through a packed fixture list in the coming weeks.