Picture : Mohamed Salah, in his best AFCON game yesterday, scored the winning penalty.

Penalty shootout qualifies Egypt and Equatorial Guinea 

In what was the most mature and most tactical match of the stage and perhaps the tournament, Egypt went through a penalty shootout to eliminate Ivory Coast at the Japoma venue, 5/4 following a 0-0 through 120 minutes. Fate simply stayed the course as Eric Bailly, wearing a rugby scrum cap due to a head injury was the one who lost the penalty and of course the visa for a quarterfinal appearance for Ivory Coast. The Egyptians were registering their ninth victory in 11 AFCON oppositions with their opponents in a game in which there was all to play for. Victory’s sway was somehow made indicative for Egypt when Sébastien Haller rattled the crossbar in the 16th minute. It was a duplication of the work of art when captain Mosalah provided the photo finish save by keeper, Ali Badra four minutes on, and sending the ball over the crossbar. Nicolas Pépé’s initiative was not complemented just before the half as Egyptian keeper, Mohamed El Shewaney dived to parry Ibrahim Sangaré’s bicycle kick. Both keepers regulated the heartbeat of the game through spectacular saves with the Egyptian sustaining an injury in the 85th minute and being substituted by his second in command. But the new man in charge equally stood his grounds to stop Bailly’s penalty clearly taken without much conviction, possibly out of fatigue from his injury. Mohamed Salah, clearly in his best game so far in the tournament scored the winning goal in what was their third penalty shootout with the same opponents in the history of the AFCON; the only one so far, with Egypt prevailing in all. Mohamed Elneny was the most valuable player in the tournament.

On the flip side of the spectacle, the Mali vs Equatorial Guinea game was relatively insipid with the excitement only coming in during the shootout. Before the game, the statistics blew the trumpets in favour of Mali that had won their last three international outings. But against Equatorial Guinea, it required common sense to relegate the notion of senior staffship to the trashcan of the current tournament. Referee Bakary Papa Gassama was initially hesitant with the use of his cards in the face of ankle-stepping fouls and hand-balls but gradually got in the fray when the going became more intense. The apparent recriminations occurred in the 10th, 71st and 94th minutes. When 120 minutes were unable to dissolve the deadlock, both teams proceeded to the shootout where Equatorial Guinea prevailed 6/5, having bungled from the spot in 2 kicks as against 3 for Mali. Equatorial Guinea’s Pablo Ganet emerged most valuable player for the second time this far in the tournament.

With all 8 matches of the round of 16 having been played, here are the quarterfinal pair-ups: Burkina Faso vs Tunisia, Senegal vs Equatorial Guinea, Cameroon vs Gambia and Egypt vs Morocco. 

Ahead of the two free days this Thursday and Friday, the Confederation for African Football has relocated the next three matches  at the Japoma Stadium after Saturday’s ¼ final between Cameroon and Gambia to the Ahmadou Ahidjo Stadium in Yaounde. The move is blamed on the state of the pitch.