Equatorial Guinea (0) – (1) Zambia [Nuevo Estadio de Malabo]
Libya (2) – (1) Senegal [Estadio de Bata]
So here we are at the final round of Group games. For these fixtures and in order to ensure that there is no advantage to any team, both games kick-off at the same time. It provides an occasion that players, coaches and fans are spending the game with half an eye on events happening elsewhere. The permutations of who could go through and how, made the Duckworth Lewis Method look simple! All that was certain going into the games today was that Equatorial Guinea were through and Senegal were out. Zambia were in control of their destiny in that they knew a victory would see them through and also top the Group. Libya were at the mercy of events in Malabo, all they could do was go out and win the game and hope Equatorial Guinea did them a favour.
Libya got the perfect start when on 5 minutes they opened the scoring. Senegal were sloppy in defence and gifted Ahmed Sa’ad the ball, whose jinking run and clever through ball to Ihab Albusaifi was slotted home. Zambia at this stage were drawing 0-0, so still had the edge in terms of progressing. Senegal then further dented Libyan hopes, when on 11 minutes Deme N’Diaye headed home a corner. His task was made easier by Libyan keeper Samir Aboud, who having started to come for the corner, then stopped and was in no position to claim the corner or stop the header. Back in Malabo there was still no score in the opening ten minutes. Libya and Senegal continued to provide a more end to end game than that between Equatorial Guinea and Zambia and so at the half-time whistle it was 1-1 in Bata and 0-0 in Malabo. The second-half continued to lack bite and edge, not so surprising since both teams had qualified. However, on 68 minutes Zambia took the lead. From a throw-in Chris Katongo received the ball, took on one defender, cut across the penalty area, before sending a skimming shot than bounced a couple of times in front of the keeper before finding the net. This goal meant that Zambia were now top of the Group and the chances of Libya advancing receded significantly. The game in Bata became scrappy, but Libya didn’t give up hope and were rewarded on 84 minutes when Senegal didn’t deal with a long ball into the box, allowing Zuway to cross for Ihab Albusaifi, who volleyed home to give the Libyans a 2-1 advantage. However, to go through they needed Equatorial Guinea to score twice in the remaining minutes, which looked a forlorn hope as the game in Malabo drifted to a finish. At the whistle, Zambia (1-0) and Libya (2-1) had won the final fixtures, with Zambia through as Group winners and Equatorial Guinea as runners-up. Libya had not disgraced themselves given the difficult period they had leading to the tournament. For Senegal it was an embarrassing exit; as one of the pre-competition favourites, they left without a single point.
(1) Zambia: 7 pts, (2) Equatorial Guinea: 6 pts, (3) Libya: 4pts, (4) Senegal: 0 pts.
Libya (2) – (2) Zambia
The second round of group fixtures kicked-off today, which would, if results went a certain way, see the first teams qualify for the Quarter-Finals. After their opening game wins, both Zambia (nicknamed, Chipolopolo – The Copper Bullets) and Equatorial Guinea (nicknamed, Nzalang Nacional – National Lightning) knew that victory today would see them through. Toto famously sang, “…I bless the rains down in Africa…”, although I don’t think the organising committee of the Africa Cup of Nations would agree! The start of this game at the Estadio de Bata was delayed 75 minutes after torrential rain, however even at kick-off the pitch had a great deal of surface water. This didn’t seem to deter Libya (nicknamed, The Mediterranean Knights) who within five minutes had gone ahead. Walid Elkhatroushi picked up the ball midway in the Zambian half and threaded a ball to Ahmed Saad Osman, whose crisp finish was impressive given the wet conditions. With both sides bogged-down (quite literally) by the conditions, the game became scrappy. However, Zambia did get themselves level just before the half-hour mark. From a Rainford Kalaba cross dug-out of a puddle on the left, Emmanuel Mayuka cleverly hooked in a right foot volley across Libyan keeper Samir Abod. The second-half got off to an explosive start, as within two minutes, LIbya went 2-1 ahead. Substitute Ihab Albusaifi got down the right and behind the Zambian defence, to cross into the box. The Zambian defence failed to clear and Ahmed Saad Osman skipped past a couple of tackles and slotted in off the post. Within seven minutes the game was back all square at 2-2. Mayuka’s clever over-head kick sent the ball to the right where Christopher Katongo headed in. Both sides went looking for the winner, with the best chances falling to Ahmed Saad Osman and Ahmed Zuway for Libya and Christopher Katongo and brother Felix for Zambia. There was late drama in the dying seconds as Zambia thought they should have a had a penalty. However, it was not to be and the tournament had its first drawn game. Given the conditions it was a credit to both sides that the game was as good as it was. Although whether the game should have gone ahead in the first place is a different argument entirely.
Equatorial Guinea (2) – (1) Senegal
With the delay to the first match in Bata, this fixture was also put back by 75 minutes. Senegal (nicknamed, Les Lions de la Teranga – The Lions of Teranga) knew that defeat would see them (one of the favourites) out of the competition. On a pitch still sodden and worse for wear after the earlier game, there was drama aplenty. Senegal were quickest to settle in the difficult conditions with Fenerbahçe midfielder Issiar Dia pulling all the strings for Senegal. However, as with Morocco earlier in the week, the Senegalese didn’t capitalise on their chances and at the break the game stood at 0-0. Equatorial Guinea started the second-half with more intent and now it was a much more open, end-to-end game. Senegal paid for their profligacy on 62 minutes when Equatorial Guinea went ahead. A cross-field ball found Kily, whose teasing centre was headed home by Randy. As expected Senegal responded, but their attacks were becoming more desperate as the clock ticked down. Then on 89 minutes, home fans hearts were broken. From a free-kick a hopeful ball was pumped into the box, which ricocheted around until substitute Moussa Sow hooked in an equaliser. Suddenly the stadium was silent and the Equatorial Guinea team looked out on their feet. Senegal sensed that perhaps there was time for a winner. Incredibly, there was a clinching goal, but it was for Equatorial Guinea. Four minutes into time added-on, Kily received the ball outside the Senegal penalty area and unleashed an unstoppable shot into the net – cue pandemonium on the pitch and in the stands! One of the favourites Senegal were out and the lowest ranked team in the tournament were through to the Quarter-Finals. Who said lightning never strikes twice!
Final Group A fixtures: Sunday 29 January – Equatorial Guinea v Zambia and Libya v Senegal
Equatorial Guinea (1) – (0) Libya
Co-hosts Equatorial Guinea got the best possible start to the tournament with a single goal victory over Libya. In pure ranking terms this could be considered to be a surprise result given that Libya are ranked 63rd in the FIFA rankings against that of 151st for Equatorial Guinea. However, given Libya qualified against a background of Civil War and that they were forced to play all their home games in Egypt, the fact that they have even made it to the Finals is an achievement in itself. In an open first half, the home team thought they had taken the lead after 16 minutes, Libyan keeper Samir Aboud made a complete mess of Ivan Bolado’s shot which slipped under his body and crawled over the line, but the goal was ruled out for offside. The second half was a cagier affair, but just when it seemed that both sides would take away a point, Javier Balboa was just onside when he coolly curled home, three minutes from time to secure the victory for Equatorial Guinea and send the fans inside the Estadio de Bata into raptures.
Senegal (1) – (2) Zambia
The second game in Group A also caused something of an upset, when one of the tournament favourites Senegal lost 2-1 to Zambia. The Senegalese found themselves 2-0 down in the opening twenty minutes. Emmanuel Mayuka, who plays for Young Boys in Switzerland, opened the scoring for Zambia after 12 minutes. From a free-kick the ball was headed across the Senegalese penalty area and an unmarked Mayuka from six yards out made no mistake with his header. Zambia’s lead was doubled just seven minutes later by Tout Puissant Mazembe forward Rainford Kalaba, who beat the offside trap before rounding the keeper and slotting home. Senegal responded with a number of second half substitutions, one of which gave Newcastle fans a sight of the Demba Ba and Papiss Demba Cissse partnership. Dame N’Doye another of the substitutes got Senegal back into the game on 74 minutes, when he controlled a cross on his chest, cut inside his man before beating the Zambian keeper at his near post. However, Senegal couldn’t force a second goal and Zambia held firm to clinch a famous victory.
Group A resumes on Wednesday 25 January, with Libya v Zambia and Equatorial Guinea v Senegal.