Ivory Coast thumped Algeria 3-1 to send the defending champions crashing out of the Africa Cup of Nations finals following a disastrous Group E campaign.
Nicolas Pépé’s fine solo goal early in the second half put the game out of sight, the Arsenal winger advancing into the penalty area and curling the ball into the far corner with his left foot. The Elephants led 2-0 at half-time thanks to Franck Kessié’s opener and an Ibrahim Sangaré header from Serge Aurier’s free-kick.
Algeria needed a win to escape the group after drawing with Sierra Leone and losing to Equatorial Guinea in their previous matches, but they were outplayed in Douala. Djamel Belmadi’s side were awarded a soft-looking penalty at 3-0 down but Riyad Mahrez hit the post with his spot-kick.
Sofiane Bendebka pulled a goal back for Algeria in the 73rd minute, but Ivory Coast thought they had a fourth in stoppage time, only for Sébastien Haller’s strike to be disallowed by the VAR for offside. Patrice Beaumelle’s side go through as group winners, and will face Egypt in the last 16 next Wednesday.
“This is something we have to swallow,” Belmadi said after the game. “It is hard for us because we are not used to losing. It is a bitter taste – it’s horrible.”
Equatorial Guinea finished second in Group E after a 1-0 victory over Sierra Leone in Limbe. Pablo Ganet scored what proved to be the winner in the 38th minute, slotting home from José Machín’s quickly taken free-kick – but the goalkeeper Jesús Owono was the National Thunder’s second-half hero.
With Algeria behind in their game, Sierra Leone needed a draw to sneak into the last 16 as one of the four best third-placed sides. Their chance came when they won a penalty with five minutes to play. Kei Kamara stepped up, but saw his spot-kick saved by Owono – allowing Comoros to progress in their place.
Earlier results also guaranteed that Tunisia would progress regardless of their final Group F result – but the 2004 winners had to settle for third place after losing 1-0 to surprise package the Gambia. Abile Jallow’s superb strike in stoppage time earned their second win of the tournament after Seifeddine Jaziri’s first-half penalty for Tunisia was saved.
The Scorpions will face Guinea in the last 16, while Nigeria await Tunisia, who went through despite losing two of their three games. “We are very proud,” said Tom Saintfiet, the coach of the Gambia. “It’s an amazing result to beat Tunisia [and] finish with seven points. We could not have wished for more.”
Mali finished top of Group F, edging out Gambia on goal difference after a 2-0 win over Mauritania. Massadio Haïdara scored the fastest goal of the tournament as he netted after 92 seconds, before Mali added a second via the penalty spot through the striker Ibrahima Koné.
Aubameyang ‘absolutely fine’ after early Afcon return
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has allayed fears over his health by insisting his heart is “absolutely fine” after he had to return prematurely from the Cup of Nations. The Arsenal forward has not played for his club since the start of December due to a disciplinary breach which saw him stripped of the club captaincy. Aubameyang tested positive for Covid-19 on his arrival in Cameroon, and was sent home following “cardiac lesions” being reported by Gabon and CAF medical staff.
In a post on Instagram, the 32-year-old striker wrote: “I came back to London to do some additional checks, and I’m very happy to say that my heart is absolutely fine and I’m completely healthy!! Really appreciate all the messages over the last few days and I’m already back at it.”