Saturday was a wild day at the Africa Cup of nations, with host Egypt and defending champion Cameroon both falling in the Round of 16.
Egypt was upset 1-0 by South Africa, while Cameroon lost 3-2 to Odion Ighalo and Nigeria in a thriller.
Egypt was the bigger surprise, as the Mohamed Salah-led Pharoahs had won all three Group A games with a plus-5 goal difference. Moreover, they faced South Africa, the last nation to qualify for the knockout stage under the third-place tiebreaker.
But for all Egypt’s quality going forward, they were perceived to be suspect at the back despite not having conceded all tournament. Those fears were realized in the 85th minute, when South Africa mounted an absolutely stunning counterattack.
A chain reaction of one touches began with Percy Tau’s ball forward to Thembinkosi Lorch at the midfield circle, who laid back for Bongani Zungu, who sprung Lebo Mothiba down the right side. Mothiba settled and played into Lorch, who had continued his run down the middle.
Composed and crafty, Lorch beat Egyptian goalkeeper Mohamed El-Shenawy and stunned the crowd in Cairo:
South Africa reaches the AFCON quarterfinals for the first time since 2015, and will look to win the tournament for the first time since the Mark Williams-led side in 1996.
Egypt, meanwhile, has sputtered for the second summer running. After exiting the 2018 World Cup in the group stage — in part due to Salah’s injury suffered in that season’s Champions League final — expectations were high on a program that won three straight continental crowns from 2006 to 2010 but had hit an extended dip this past decade.
The Pharoahs finished as runner-up in AFCON 2017, but this result will leave a bitter taste in their mouths.
As for Cameroon, a rough start under manager Clarence Seedorf continues with the loss to Nigeria. Seedorf took over 11 months ago after Cameroon missed out on the World Cup, and immediately ruffled feathers by dropping players based in the Chinese Super League, which included captain Benjamin Moukandjo.
For all his tactical chops as a player, Seedorf has failed to install much imagination in the Indomitable Lions, and indeed both goals against Nigeria were more products of poor defending and physicality than anything else.
After Ighalo gave Nigeria the lead in the 19th minute, Cameroon struck twice in three minutes right before halftime. Stephane Bahoken met Christian Bassogog’s cross, then Clinton Njie shrugged off Nigeria’s Ola Aina to put Cameroon ahead:
But Ighalo equalized right after the hour mark, and then nutmegged Cameroon’s Michael Ngadeu-Ngadjui to set up this slick Alex Iwobi finish:
After a downturn in the program, Nigeria is back on the upswing in its first appearance at AFCON since winning in 2013. Madagascar shocked everyone by winning Group B over the Super Eagles, and tiebreakers forced Cameroon into second place in Group F, which led to this matchup.
But in spite of how things shook out, Cameroon should be left wanting here. It’s won the continent five times, second only to Egypt’s seven titles, and was the first African nation to reach the World Cup quarterfinals.
Seedorf has work to do. So does Egypt. As for Nigeria and South Africa, well, they’re going to face each other in the AFCON quarterfinals.
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