The quarterfinals of the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations are beginning to take shape. On Saturday Algeria, named by some as a pre-tournament favourite, became the first team to be eliminated from the competition when they fell 2-0 to Togo in Rustenburg. Meanwhile, Group D rivals Ivory Coast punched their ticket to the last eight with a convincing 3-0 win over Tunisia.
But let’s look back on Algeria’s ill-fated campaign for a moment. At few points in their two matches in South Africa (they lost their first contest 1-0 to Tunisia) can they be said to have played particularly poorly. Against both Togo and Tunisia they controlled extended segments of play, and in a post-match interview with the BBC Adlene Guedioura wasn’t far off the mark when he claimed his side’s failure to progress was merely (if you can actually say “merely” in this instance) down to poor finishing.
“The only thing you can reproach us for is not scoring,” he said. “I think against Togo we played well again but destiny just was not with us. It’s very harsh for us because we controlled the game again; we had the majority of possession; we had a lot of chances to score and at the end we lost 2-0.”
Fair points, all. And in their opener against Tunisia, in particular, Algeria should have put the game to bed long before Youssef Msakni’s stunning strike won the match for the Carthage Eagles in the first minute of second-half stoppage time.
Not surprisingly, Algeria manager Vahid Halilhodzic’s assessment of his team’s performance at this Cup of Nations was rather more negative than that presented by Guedioura. In his post-match press conference the 60-year-old said Algeria had not played good football (possession statistics, after all, mean little when you fail to find the back of the net over 180 minutes), adding, “Now we’ll sit down and think about the future of Algerian football.”
A process Guedioura does not feel is necessary.
“It’s not good to finish with three defeats, because we deserved more than to lose the first two games,” he told the BBC. “We have a lot of young players and we need to look forward to the next matches and the World Cup…You can’t reproach us for our competitiveness, our ambition, our style of play.”
But as both Guedioura and Halilhodzic would surely admit, international tournaments reward killer instinct and a sense of timing. Possession, and even style, come a distant second.
Cape Verde advance to last eight
Far from the gloomy Algeria camp Cape Verde are celebrating a first ever win at a major tournament and the quarterfinal place that accompanied it.
The Blue Sharks came into their final Group A match against Angola on the back of draws with South Africa and Morocco and looked to be destined for an early exit when defender Nando inadvertently deflected Amaro’s cross from the left into his own goal. Only a few minutes later Real Valladolid striker Manucho came as close to scoring as he would in South Africa when his hard shot shook the upright and bounced wide. It proved a decisive moment in the match.
In the end, it was manager Lucio Antunes’ halftime substitutions that delivered the three points to Cape Verde. Djaniny, who had come on for Toni Varela at the interval, contributed in driving his side forward in the latter stages of the second half, and Heldon, who had also come on at the break in place of Luis Soares, scored what proved to be the winner in the 90th minute, 10 minutes after Fernando Varela had equalised with a header.
Then, as Antunes prepared to meet the media after the final whistle, one of the moments of the tournament.
The 46-year-old had entered the press gallery with the Cape Verde flag—an unusual act, even for a national team manager—and after he was asked his first question responded by breaking out into the Cantico da Liberdade, the Cape Verde national anthem. Moments later his players stormed the platform and joined him in the song.
“Hope is as big as the sea,” they sang out.
Adebayor, in third person
The tumult of his call-up behind him (the Togolese FA president over-ruled his manager, demanding he be included in the squad selected for the Cup of Nations), Emmanuel Adebayor opened his goal-scoring account in South Africa on Saturday with a strike, provided by Moustapha Salifou, that came well against the run of play.
It was Adebayor’s 27th goal for Togo in what has been a tumultuous international career and his fourth since September. Prior to that tally against Gabon in an AFCON qualifier he had failed to find the back of the net for his country since March 2009, in a 2010 World Cup qualifier against Cameroon.
He was very much himself when he addressed the media following the 2-0 win over Algeria, saying, “The most important thing is not to see the great Adebayor, but to see a goal-scoring Adebayor.
South Africa, who progressed after a 2-2 thriller against Morocco on Sunday, and Cape Verde join Ivory Coast in the last eight, with the other five spots to be filled by Wednesday. South Africa will face the Group B runner-up (it could still be any one of Ghana, Mali, Congo DR and Niger) in Durban on Saturday, the same day Cape Verde will go up against the Group B winner in Port Elizabeth. Ivory Coast will take on the Group C runner-up (Burkina Faso, Zambia, Nigeria and Ethiopia are all still involved) on Sunday in Rustenburg.