MALABO, Equatorial Guinea, January 26 – Billed as the toughest section at this year’s Africa Cup of Nations when the draw was made, Group C reaches its denouement on Tuesday evening.
Everything is still up for grabs as group leaders Senegal take on pre-tournament favourites Algeria in Malabo while Ghana and South Africa clash in Mongomo.
There are myriad different scenarios as all four sides bid to advance to the knockout stages, although Alain Giresse’s Senegal know that a draw against Algeria will take them through, while a win will ensure they go through to the last eight as group winners.
The Lions of Teranga are looking to qualify for the tournament knockout stage for the first time since 2006, when they reached the semi-finals in Egypt.
Algeria, who won 2-1 in the 1990 semi-finals in the only previous meeting of the sides at the competition, know a win will take them into the last eight.
However, Christian Gourcuff’s side, Africa’s top-ranked team, will also progress with a draw if South Africa beat Ghana in the other match.
Meanwhile, in Mongomo, Ghana will go through with a win, while a draw will suffice provided Algeria don’t beat Senegal.
South Africa must win and hope Senegal beat Algeria, although they would also go through in the case of an Algeria win provided they can overturn their goal difference deficit to Senegal.
The different possibilities are headache-inducing, but Algeria defender Madjid Bougherra insisted that the situation in Group C showed how exciting the tournament is.
“When you look at this African Cup, every group is being decided in the last games. It’s exciting and I think it’s been a great competition this year. The standard is really high,” said Bougherra.
His teammate Yacine Brahimi added: “There is so much at stake. We are approaching this match as if it is a final. The match against Ghana (a 1-0 defeat) is behind us. We have learnt from our errors and we will give everything against Senegal.”
The encounter sees two French coaches going head to head in Gourcuff and Giresse, with the former hoping the pitch in Malabo on the island of Bioko helps his side produce the kind of passing football they have been unable to develop in their first two games in Mongomo.
“If the pitch in Malabo is better then that’s good for everyone. May the best team win,” said Giresse, the former France international.
Back in Mongomo, on continental Africa, Ghana are targeting a first Cup of Nations victory against South Africa as they bid to extend a record of reaching at least the semi-finals at each of the last four Nations Cups.
The Black Stars put an opening defeat to Senegal behind them when they beat Algeria thanks to a late goal from Asamoah Gyan on his return from a bout of malaria.
However, Andre Ayew said: “We’e not taking anything for granted. Algeria is behind us and next is South Africa. It will be a very tough battle.
“Expectations back at home must now have risen, but Ghana have always dealt with the pressure.”
South Africa have the toughest task of all four contenders and will be without Thulani Hlatshwayo after he suffered concussion in the 1-1 draw with Senegal last time out.
However, young defender Rivaldo Coetzee could return after missing that game.
“We still have another game to play, so don’t write us off just yet. Football has its own miracles. With one game to go, we can still surprise a lot of people,” insisted coach Ephraim ‘Shakes’ Mashaba.