By Boris Esono Nwenfor
Sports Writer, kick442.com-Cameroon
The Nzalang Nacional of Equatorial Guinea have qualified for the knockout phase of the ongoing Africa Cup of Nations after the team picked up a win against the Leone Stars of Sierra Leone this Thursday, at the Limbe Omnisports Stadium.
A thunderous strike from Real Murcia’s Pablo Ganet ensured that Equatorial Guinea goes to the next round, a feat they achieved in each of their two previous AFCON appearances, where they even finished fourth in 2015.
Returning to the Africa Cup of Nations after 26 years of absence, not so many expected Sierra Leone to impress at the ongoing TotalEnergies AFCON 2021.
Unfortunately, the defeat for Sierra Leone means the country bows out of the competition. With the defeat Algeria had against Ivory Coast, a draw for Sierra Leone against Equatorial Guinea would have carried the team over the line into the knockout phase as one of the four third-best placed teams for the first time in the country’s history.
It has been an unforgettable experience for the Leone Stars who gave their fans plenty to smile upon after holding defending champions Algeria in their first game. They followed that up by coming from behind to hold 2015 champions Ivory Coast in the second encounter.
AFCON 2021 is the first appearance for Equatorial Guinea since 2015 when the country last hosted, and they got off to the best possible start knowing what was install for them should they pick a vital win against Sierra Leone. Ivan Edu Salvador was key finding spaces in between the defence of Sierra Leone but the finishes from his teammates lacked direction.
Edu Salvador who plays for Fuenlabrada CF in Spain continued being the menace to the Sierra Leonians but Steven Caulker (former Liverpool and Tottenham player) was able to produce some outstanding blocks and interception to keep his side in the game.
Things will, however, be different at the 38 minutes with Equatorial Guinea finally taking the lead in the encounter.
A beautiful interplay from a free kick saw Pablo Ganet finding the back of the net, Edu Salvador with the assist.
Sierra Leone had a couple of opportunities few minutes later to bring the game to parity but the defence of Equatorial Guinea proved difficult to break down.
Like in the first half, Equatorial Guinea continued bossing the Sierra Leone side with the former having majority of the ball possession and the side also created majority of the goal-scoring opportunities.
Sierra Leone will be gifted a penalty but Goalkeeper Jesus Lazaro Ngua produced a fine save to keep out Kei Kamara. That goal would have sent Sierra Leone to the next round but that would not be the case.
Substitute Emilio Nsue would have put the game to bed but he dragged his shot just wide from the goal post as the game ended 1-0 for Equatorial Guinea.
In the other Group F matche, the Elephants of Ivory Coast send defending champions Algeria crashing out of the competition with a 2-0 victory. This means Algeria top group F with 7 points follows by Equatorial Guinea with 6 points, both sides head into the knockout phase of the competition.
Sierra Leone finished third in Group F with 2 points while Algeria goes home with just a point. Both sides will need to turn their attention now for the upcoming qualifiers for the 2023 TotalEnergies AFCON in Ivory Coast which begins in earnest.
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