2019 AFCON Qualifiers: What we learned from Matchday 3 & 4
The much anticipated 2019 Africa Cup of Nations tournament, the first to have 24 teams participating in the finals is drawing closer. If the events that came with matchday 3 and 4 are anything to go by, the world is poised for a real treat come the 15th of June all through to the 13th of July 2019. With two more match days to go before the 24 finalists are confirmed, we took time to reflect on the just ended matches. Here are the three things we learnt.
Familiar and an unfamiliar face
Five teams have since booked a place in the finals after an impressive run in 4 of the 6 qualifiers. Of the five, The 2017 Champions in Cameroon are flexing, sitting pretty at the top of group B even though they have automatic qualification by virtue of being hosts. Senegal, Egypt and Tunisia - the trio who were part of Africa’s 2018 world cup five, were also among those to book early tickets. Senegal and Tunisia were a bit humble in their approach, getting some modest wins over the likes of South Sudan and Niger. But not Egypt. The Pharaohs continue to be some of the biggest entertainers, humiliating Niger and eSwatini to 6-0, 4-1 respectively in some of the fixtures. Madagascar is one unfamiliar face that booked a finalist spot. The Indian Ocean Islanders will appear in their first ever Africa Cup of Nations finals tournament in their history. They recorded some important wins against Equatorial Guinea and South Sudan in the process, also pulling off a famous 2-2 draw against Senegal at home. What a real boost of confidence for the Malagasy CAF president, Ahmad Ahmad. Niger, eSwatini, Equatorial Guinea and South Sudan were effectively eliminated from the AFCON contest as a result of the above qualified teams.
Shot-stoppers club run by Khune and Onyango
The South African and Ugandan international goalkeepers are yet to concede a goal in the four qualifiers played so far. The Kaizer Chiefs shot stopper, Khune has been in charge of the goal for Bafana since 2008 even setting a record of second most appearances against for the national side against Seychelles with 90 caps, a few caps shy of record-holder Aaron Mokoena with 107. His ABSA Premiership counterpart, Denis Onyango who plays Mamelodi Sundowns has also been doing a similar job for the Ugandan Cranes. Both sides only need at most 3 points in their remaining fixtures to book spots at the 2019 Cameroon AFCON finals.
Ighalo a man in form, Musa the playmaker
One man who cannot stop scoring is Nigeria’s Odion Ighalo. After getting a hatrick against Liberia in Nigeria, he got two more goals in just a few days in the return fixture to go top of the scoring charts with 6 goals. The Changchun Yatai forward’s form has been really shocking and with resemblance of Jesus’ water into wine stuff, especially after having a barren 2018 world cup campaign. Perhaps Ahmed Musa is the reason why the 29-year-old is singing the blues. Musa provided assists two both of Ighalo’s goals in Liberia, also adding his name on the scoresheet. The 26-year-old is continuing from where he left off at the world cup and has been at the forefront of more mature performances by the Super Eagles since he got the captaincy in the absence of John Obi Mikel. Nigeria’s 4-0 and 3-2 wins over Liberia have seen them take control of group E, with a lucrative chance of booking a finals spot.
Bonus lesson we got is the prospect of exciting final rounds of matches as some groups look to be going down the wire. Zambia, the 2012 AFCON champions, have a lot to do as they currently sit bottom of group K and still to face a determined Namibia and proud Mozambique. Group G currently led by Zimbabwe is my personal favorite with all the teams, DR Congo, Liberia and Congo being knitted close together in terms of points gained. Anything can happen, prepare to be wowed.
Here is a complete list of all the group standings.