Former champions Algeria crashed out of the Africa Cup of Nations in the group stage on Tuesday after a shock defeat against Mauritania, but Cameroon secured a last-16 place with a dramatic victory over Gambia.
Algeria won their second Afcon title in Egypt in 2019 but were then sent packing in the group stage at the last edition in Cameroon two years ago with just one point and one goal scored.
This campaign has been equally miserable for Djamel Belmadi’s team, who drew their first two matches in Group D against Angola and Burkina Faso but would have qualified for the knockout phase with a point against Mauritania in Bouake.
Yet Mauritania, who had lost their opening two matches in Ivory Coast and had never won in eight previous attempts at the AFCON, ran out 1-0 winners thanks to a 37th-minute goal by captain Mohamed Dellah Yaly, who plays his club football in Iraq.
The result relegated Algeria — who started the game with off-form Riyad Mahrez on the bench — to bottom spot in their group and they head home having now gone six Cup of Nations matches without winning since beating Senegal 1-0 in the 2019 final.
Mauritania make history
Mauritania, meanwhile, are now certain to advance to the knockout phase for the first time in their history as one of the four best third-placed teams.
“Nobody was thinking about Mauritania, but football is like that, full of surprises, and we have been rewarded for all the hard work we have put in,” Mauritania coach Amir Abdou told broadcaster Canal Plus Afrique.
Angola finish top of Group D ahead of Burkina Faso after beating the Stallions 2-0 in Yamoussoukro thanks to a goal in each half from Egypt-based striker Mabululu and Zini of AEK Athens.
The Angolans are through to the knockout phase for the first time since hosting the tournament in 2010, and will now play a best third-placed team in Bouake in the last 16.
Runners-up in 2013 and semi-finalists two years ago, Burkina Faso will head to the northern city of Korhogo for a tie next Tuesday against the winners of Group E, which will be Mali, South Africa or Namibia.
Earlier on Tuesday, five-time champions Cameroon secured qualification for the next round with a 3-2 win over Gambia in an extraordinary match in Bouake.
Both teams needed a win to stand a chance of going through from Group C, and Cameroon took the lead early in the second half from a Karl Toko-Ekambi header.
Yet Gambia, quarter-finalists two years ago, drew level on 72 minutes when the unmarked Ablie Jallow finished past Fabrice Ondoa, preferred in goal to Manchester United’s Andre Onana.
Ebrima Colley then put Gambia ahead five minutes from time, meaning the Indomitable Lions were heading out.
However, James Gomez turned a cross into his own net two minutes later to make it 2-2, and Christopher Wooh then headed in Cameroon’s winner in stoppage time.
“It is in our DNA, it’s just what we are like,” Cameroon coach Rigobert Song said when it was put to him that his team never know when they are beaten.
They will now head to Abidjan for a heavyweight last-16 tie against Nigeria on Saturday, while Gambia go home with three defeats in as many games.
Perfect Senegal, Ghana out
Gambia coach Tom Saintfiet confirmed after the match that he would be leaving his position, despite having a contract until 2026.
Meanwhile, reigning champions Senegal beat Guinea 2-0 in Yamoussoukro to top Group C with a 100 percent record, Abdoulaye Seck and Iliman Ndiaye scoring their goals in the second half.
They will stay in Yamoussoukro for a last-16 tie next Monday against one of the best third-placed teams, and there is a good chance they will end up playing hosts Ivory Coast who remain in contention to qualify despite coming third in Group A.
Cameroon’s comeback relegated Guinea — who had star striker Serhou Guirassy back from injury — to third place, but they will go through to the next round.
However, those results condemned four-time champions Ghana to elimination.
The group stage concludes on Wednesday, with South Africa playing Tunisia and Namibia facing Mali in Group E, while Tanzania take on the Democratic Republic of Congo and Zambia meet Morocco in Group F.
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