By Deolu Akingbade.
Takeaways from the Quarterfinals
Algeria 1, Ivory Coast 0: Algerian weaknesses exposed as Mahious nets his third
Arguably the most high-profile, entertaining game of the quarter-finals, Algeria left it late to beat the Ivory Coast, banking on a 96th-minute Mahious penalty to put them through to their second-ever CHAN semifinal. The game was rocked with controversies early on.
A poor back pass forced keeper Alexis Guendouz to leave his box and attempt a risky slide tackle. The tackle seemed fine at first glance, as Guendouz only picked up a yellow card. But, the VAR team ruled the tackle was risky and unsafe and changed the card from a yellow to a red.
Guendouz looked murderous as he stormed off the field, ferociously smacking the ground and yelling to the skies as he left.
Ivory Coast would pick up an ejection of their own not long after. VAR officials had an easier time when Kouassi Attouhoula side kicked Mokhtar Belkhiter in the groin, reducing Ivory Coast to ten. From then on, the match was back and forth.
Sankara Karamoko was the Ivory Coast’s main spark, as he made countless runs inside the box and wiggled himself free from his markers. Tension reached an all-time high when Abdoul Siahoune made a risky tackle inside the box on Mahious in stoppage time, abandoning any thought of the ball and lunging in. Siahoune’s tackle(after deliberation from VAR) earned Algeria a penalty.
After winning the penalty, Mahious calmly slotted his attempt past Charles Ayayi with a hop, a skip, and a precise hit to the bottom left corner. The home crowd was ecstatic, the Ivory Coast despaired, and the first semifinalist set.
Senegal 1, Mauritania 0: Lamine Camara scores, but Senegal attack bores
Senegal moved on to the semifinals of the African Nations Championship with a tight win separated by a Lamine Camara penalty.
The majority of the first half was Senegal, Senegal, Senegal. Malick Mbaye burst down the wing in the 21st minute while sending a clever through-ball past three defenders to find Pape Diallo. Diallo was one-on-one with the keeper, but sent his shot soaring over the bar.
Senegal had another good chance a few minutes later when Mohamedhen Beibou brought down Moussa Ndiaye in the Mauritanian box. After a brief VAR check, the ref stood on his decision. Lamine Camara capitalized on the great opportunity when he cleanly struck his penalty to the left of the goal.
The rest of the match seemed like there could have been a goal any minute. Mauritania’s Mamadou Sy fired off a great curving effort, but Pape Sy came up with an incredible save to preserve the clean sheet.
Hemeya Tanjy also found a goal of his own where he beat Mamadou Sané off the dribble, but he elected to shoot rather than passing to the open man at the far post, which ended with Tanjy’s shot going somewhat off target. In the end, Mauritania could not get the goal they needed, meaning Senegal would be the second semifinalist.
Madagascar 3, Mozambique 1: Madagascar sprints to unknown territories with semifinals spot
Madagascar continued its miracle run with a dominant 3-1 win over Mozambique to make its first semifinals ever. After somewhat of a back-and-forth game, Madagascar scored the opener in the 18th minute.
Jean Martin Rakotonirina played a big long ball to Tantely Randrianiaina, who fed the ball to Solomampionona Razafindranaivo. Razafindranaivo confidently strode to the edge of the box, where he optimistically fired a shot. His wonder strike soared over the defense and into the top right corner, giving Madagascar its first lead.
They continued to attack and attack going into the late stages of the match, with Jean Razafindrakoto scoring off a counter-attack started by midfielder Andriamirado Andrianarimanana.
Although the goal was ruled out, some defensive mishaps helped Olivier Randriatsiferana break loose and get into a one-on-one with Mozambican keeper Victor.
Randriatsiferana buried it to give Madagascar a two-goal lead. Super-sub Marcio Ravelomanantsoa got his goal late in the game after a Jean Martin Rakotonirina-led counter-attack to make the game 3-0. Although Isac netted a consolation goal minutes later with the help of a Melque assist, the lead was too much to overcome.
Niger 2, Ghana 0: Ghana sputters as Niger shines
Niger got into the quarter-finals with an impressive showing against Niger. Action started early as a favored Ghanaian team conceded a goal to some powerful Nigerien link-up play. After Ghana gave up the ball from a goal kick, the ball found its way to the top of the box, where Adamou Ibrahim Djibo was waiting. A great cross found its way to Imarana Seyni, who firmly headed his ball past the Ghana keeper.
Ghana could not work their magic against a rigid Ghana defense, but defensive mistake after mistake helped see Niger through to goal. The game was somewhat dry, as neither side had offensive masterclass worthy of praise in this WFi column, but it still kept viewers on the edge of their seats as each side slogged it out for a decisive goal.
In the end, a 65th-minute goal from Boubacar Hainikoye where Djibo wrestled the ball away from a Ghanaian midfielder and started a threatening counter-attack made the difference as Niger strolled to the quarter-finals. A disallowed Kwame Otu goal did not ease the pain Ghana felt as they bounced out early in the African Nations Championship.
Key Questions for the Semifinals
Algeria-Niger: Can Algeria win without Kendouci and Guendouz?
In a semifinals game where the favored Algeria takes on a Nigerien side running through the tournament, Algeria will miss several key stars. Guendouz, of course, will miss the semifinals thanks to his early red card that he picked up against the Ivory Coast.
But, Ahmed Kendouci, a key central midfielder who has wowed a lot of scouts, recently made a move to Egyptian side Al Ahly.
Because he now plays overseas, Kendouci is automatically ineligible to play another game and will pack his bags immediately.
Yes, Algeria does have a lot of depth. They still can count on Belkhiter, Zineddine Belaid, and, most importantly, Aimen Mahious.
But losing those two key players just before a crunch match that will determine whether Algeria will make it to the finals for the first time ever is not just inconvenient; it could be a death sentence.
MC Algers keeper Farid Chaal saw a fair bit of playing time when Guendouz picked up the red, so he will likely be the one to take Guendouz’s spot in the starting lineup. But we do not know whether Algeria A’ manager Madjid Bougherra will keep his typical 4-3-3 formation or tweak it so that a different midfielder can step in.
Kendouci is someone who likes to play up the pitch, so a winger like Belouizdad’s Youcef Amine Laoufi or an advanced midfielder like Mohamed Islam Belkhir will take his spot.
Now, with the duo’s absence, this is the perfect time for Niger to strike. There are still reasonable questions about Niger’s legitimacy; they have not held over 43% possession this tournament, but a very vulnerable Algeria team could Niger’s perfect statement win.
Niger have been in the form of their lives, and this recent mix-up, along with their recent run, could mean that Niger could stride into the finals for the first time ever.
Senegal-Madagascar: Is Madagascar legit?
Before the tournament, Madagascar was a throwaway team. This was their first African Nations Championship tournament they had ever qualified for, and although that was nice and all, Madagascar would surely bounce out early.
The likes of Morocco and Ghana will dominate them, and Sudan would provide an adequate challenge that the newcomers could not handle. But before anyone knew it, Morocco dropped out. It gave them the perfect window to shock Ghana with a tumultous 2-1 victory.
They booked their ticket to the knockout round with a 3-0 win over Sudan, and bossed around Mozambique in a dominant 3-1 win to get to the semifinals. Just like that, Madagascar were legit.
Or are they? Their route to the semifinals looks weak at first glance; a Ghanaian side that looked uncomfortable in the ball and unable to finish chances, a Sudan side no one expected to go far, and a Mozambique team that did not fit the agenda of a superstar team.
But these are excuses to mask up what has been some very strong performances from the island nation. Madagascar’s strike force of Razafindranaivo and Randriatsiferana looks unstoppable, and the Malagasy defense looks impenetrable.
It’s not to say that cannot fall against Senegal. A strong side boasting Moussa Ndiaye and Lamine Camara has toppled a lot of strong opposition, including wins over Ivory Coast, DR Congo, and Mauritania. But this matchup will rightly be both sides’ toughest tests.
Neither side has room to even falter, much less fail in this semifinal matchup that pits two bloodthirsty, clinical sides against each other. We don’t know whether Senegal can make their creativity count, nor whether Madagascar can keep up their good form. But we do know what this will be a thriller of a match.
Best Eliminated Players:
Ivory Coast: Charles Ayayi
Mauritania: Namori Diaw
Ghana: David Abagna
The Quarterfinals’ Players To Watch:
David Abagna (Ghana)
Despite Ghana’s defeat, Abagna was still good. The best out of a bad collective Ghanaian side, Abagna was physical, accurate, pressuring, and everything a midfielder should be.
The 24-year-old Real Tamale United midfielder had 85 touches, 51 accurate passes, six accurate long balls, and even two successful dribble attempts.
He’s set to join Hearts of Oak sometime in the summer, and with good reason. His defensive intensity (three tackles and three interceptions) and fluidity throughout the pitch should make him one of West Africa’s(if not the whole of Africa)’s most prized midfielders.
Namori Diaw (Mauritania)
Mauritania’s Diaw had a rather uneventful time against Senegal. It was not his fault Mauritania gave up a penalty, and you cannot blame him for failing to save the penalty; he even dove the right way. But Diaw had no saves thanks to Mauritania’s dominance of possession and Senegal’s profligacy. It was a pretty quiet day for the Tevragh Zeina keeper, and he’ll return to the Mauritania Super D1 looking to head the league’s best defense.
Ismael Souley (Niger)
Souley was a key factor in Niger’s bid to make it to the semifinals. His nine(!!) clearances, five won duels(out of five), and three drawn fouls powered Niger to a 2-0 win over Niger. The AS Police defender withstood heavy amounts of pressure from Ghana, but Souley made sparring with the Ghana attackers look easy. Souley will surely play against favorites Niger as they look to keep their record of having conceded no goals in the tournament.
Semifinals Players To Watch:
Boubacar Hainikoye (Niger): The goals were coming during his time in Algeria, and they came in Niger’s 2-0 win. Can the USGN striker continue his good run to power Niger to an unprecented run?
Tokinantenaina Olivier Randriatsiferana (Madagascar): The mighty strike force of Randriatsiferana(commonly named Tsiry) and Razafindranaivo can power Madagascar to a historic finish in the African Nations Championship. The question is; can they?
Pape Sy (Senegal): Sy has been impeccable in goal for Senegal, making ten saves in four total games and conceding just one. This is a Lamine Camara fan page of course, but recognizing the Generation Foot keeper is necessary as he looks to power his side to the finals of the African Nations Championship.
Zineddine Belaïd (Algeria): Again, this is a Aimen Mahious fan page. But, Belaïd is the metronome of this Algerian squad. In three starts, he averaged 78 touches on the ball. He’s the main reason why Algeria can be so dominant in possession, especially as they were against the Ivory Coast(64% possession). It’s fun to watch Mahious score, but Belaïd’s significance to the Fennec Foxes needs to be appreciated.