The 2019 AFCON continues today at 15:30 CAT with the first game in the second round of games in Group E and both games in Group D.
Tunisia vs Mali (Suez Stadium, 15:30 CAT)
In a battle of Eagles, 2004 Winners Tunisia takes on Mali in the second round of fixtures in Group E.
Tunisia were held to a 1-1 draw by Angola in their opening fixture, they face a daunting challenge against Mali who comfortably beat Mauritania 4-1.
Ranked second best in Africa on the 25th position of the current FIFA rankings only behind Senegal at the 22nd position, Tunisia are making their 19th appearance in the AFCON and lifted the trophy in 2004.
1972 runners-up Mali are making their 11 appearance in the competition and are ranked 62nd in the world.
The two teams only previously played a game in the AFCON in March 1994, with Mali winning that game 2-0 at the group stage of that competition.
Both teams have played against each other on nine occasions with Tunisia leading with five wins against four for Mali. They have never cancelled out each other.
Tunisia have won only three of their last 11 games in the AFCON (D4, L4), after winning three of their previous five (L2).
Tunisia are deadly on set-pieces, four of their last 10 goals in the AFCON have been scored from set-pieces (three penalties and one from a corner kick).
The Eagles of Mali have won only two of their last 12 games in the AFCON (D7, L3)
Both teams are managed by very experienced coaches. Tunisia has Alain Giress, who has led Senegal, Gabon and Mali to AFCON tournaments while Mali has Mohamed Magassouba who has been on the touchline for close to four decades now with coaching experiences in the DRC and Senegalese clubs.
Giress was heavily criticized for his choice of players and tactics in the draw against Angola. The French has made his opinion known about that.
“We have an important and fateful match on Friday and we have to move away from criticism, focusing on winning, not other things. It’s not natural that I am talking about my team changes, and I have the right to keep them completely [to myself] without talking about them,” he told reporters.
A win in today’s game will see Mali through to the next round. Mohamed Magassouba has a lot of confidence in his young team with an average age of 24 years but prescribes caution.
“We have a young team, so we mustn’t get carried away, we must go forward, match by match, opponent by opponent,” Magassouba said.
“We know losing will be tough for us, so we have to ensure we get the three points,” he added.
It is one of the must watch games in the tournament and Tunisia will like to bounce back from that early set-back against Angola while Mali will want to show that their win against Mauritania was not just a flash in the pan.
It’s going to be a tight game, to be decided by the little details.
Players to Watch
Wahbi Khazri (Tunisia)
Position: Forward Club: Saint Etienne Age: 28
Forward Wahbi Khazri failed to come to life in their opening fixture against Angola as that draw has now left the Carthage Eagles in a precarious position. Khazri will want to get off the mark against Mali.
The Eagles of Mali also have to be wary of 28 year old Eupen forward Youssef Msakni who was Tunisia’s most dangerous player in that draw against Angola, he created three chances and scored their penalty.
Adama Traore (Burundi)
Position: Midfielder Club: Cercle Brugge Age: 24
He was the stand-out player for Mali bagging a brace in that 4-1 demolition of Mauritania. The midfielder will be the player to watch in this game from Mali.
Captain Abdoulay Diaby of Sporting Lisbon and Southampton new boy Moussa Djenepo will be other key players for Mali.
Morocco vs Ivory Coast (Al Salam Stadium, 18:00 CAT)
The second round of fixtures in Group E starts today with a clash of two former winners in Cairo’s Al Salam Stadium at 18:00 CAT.
Two time winners Ivory Coast will play against the 1976 winners Morocco.
Both teams won their opening fixtures. While Ivory Coast earned a prestigious first win against South Africa, Morocco labored to see off minors Namibia and only got their win through a late own-goal.
Ivory Coast are making their 23rd appearance in the competition and are currently ranked 62nd on the FIFA rankings, while the Atlas Lions of Morocco are playing the AFCON for the 17th time and are ranked 47th in the World.
Morocco’s coach is 50 year old Frenchman Herve Renard, who ended Ivory Coast’s 23 year wait for a second AFCON trophy by leading them to victory in 2015. He had earlier led Zambia to victory in 2012 to become only the first coach ever to win the trophy with two different countries. He led Morocco to the 2018 World Cup, after a 20 year absence in the tournament. He is considered as Morocco’s x-factor to lead them all the way.
The two teams have played each other 19 times in all competitions with 6 wins each and seven draws. However, Ivory Coast have lost only one of their four games in the AFCON against Morocco, and that was in 2017.
Ivory Coast have lost only once in their last 18 group stage games in the AFCON (W11, D6). That loss was against Morocco in the last tournament.
Toulouse captain Max Alain Grandel has provided two assist in Ivory Coast’s last three goals in the Africa Cup of Nations.
Morocco have won their last two games against Ivory Coast in all competitions, as many as in their previous 11 games against them (D3, L6).
The Atlas Lions have won their last three group stage games in the AFCON, their longest streak at this level of the tournament since January 2000 when they also lined up three wins at the group stage.
It will be a very difficult game, but going by what both teams showed in their opening fixture, Ivory Coast has a slight advantage.
Players to Watch
Hakim Ziyech (Morocco)
Position: Winger Club: Ajax Amsterdam Age: 26
A lot is expected from Ziyech in this competition, the Ajax player of the season just showed flashes of his abilities against Namibia. He actually had seven shots against Namibia and created three chances but this was not enough by his high standards. He will be looking to impress against Ivory Coast as he has proven in the past that he is the man for the big occasion.
Jonathan Kodjia (Ivory Coast)
Position: Forward Club: Aston Villa Age: 26
Many were expecting Lille’s 24 year old winger Nicolas Pepe to be the star man for Ivory Coast but he was disappointing in that opening game against South Africa. The stand-out player for the Elephants was Aston Villa forward Jonathan Kodjia. He missed a number of clear-cut chances, but the fact that he found himself in good positions in most parts of that game means he is a real goal threat. He will be the man to watch in this game while hoping that Pepe finally rises to the occasion.
South Africa vs Namibia (Al Salam Stadium, 21:00 CAT)
South Africa and Namibia lost their opening games with an identical score of 1-0 to Ivory Coast and Morocco respectively.
Both teams will be looking to bounce back and keep their hopes in the competition alive with wins today.
Namibia are making only their third appearance in the tournament and are ranked 113th in the world. 1996 champions South Africa are playing the tournament for the 10th time are ranked 72nd on the FIFA rankings.
While Namibia made Morocco sweat for their victory, South Africa were outplayed by Ivory Coast and the defeat could have been with a wider goal margin.
South Africa won their only previous meeting against Namibia in the AFCON in 1998 with an emphatic 4-1 score, with Benni McCarthy scoring all four goals. The South African striker is the last player since then to score four goals in a single AFCON game.
Bafana Bafana have won only one of their 15 group stage games at the AFCON (D6, L8). That lone win was in 1996 against Angola when South Africa hosted the tournament and lifted the trophy.
Three of South Africa’s past six goals at the AFCOM have been scored from outside the box, so Namibia have to be wary of their long range efforts.
Namibia are yet to win an AFCON game, in their previous seven games, they have drawn 2 and lost 5, failing to keep a clean sheet in any of those seven games, conceding 19 goals.
This clash of neighbours has often been won by South Africa. In their previous nine meetings in all competitions, South Africa have won 6, Namibia have won 2 and one ended in a draw.
South Africa are favourites to win this game, though there should be no room for complacency.
Players to Watch
Percy Tau (South Africa)
Position: Forward Club: Union Saint-Gilloise Age: 25
The South African ‘Messi’ did not do much of the Messi magic that earned him that name in that game against Ivory Coast. He will be looking to do better against Namibia before doubts start creeping in whether he deserves that title or not.
His strike partner Lebo Mothiba has to also up his game and put his physical attributes to good use in this game.
Lloyd Kazapua (Namibia)
Position: Goalkeeper Club: Maccabi FC Age: 30
The heroic goalkeeping of Kazapua was what prevented Morocco from scoring until the unfortunate own-goal from substitute Itamunua Keimuine in the final minutes of the contest. If Namibia succeed to keep South Africa at bay today it will definitely be largely thanks to him.