Africa Cup of Nations – Group C Camp Focus

Gabon and Tunisia meet on Tuesday in the last round of Group C fixtures in the Africa Cup of Nations with both sides already guaranteed of progression to the next stage. That leaves Niger and Morocco with only the ignominy of finishing last in the group up for grabs. The two qualified sides do however have something more tangible to play on offer, as finishing top of the group and avoiding Group D’s likely victors Ghana in the quarter-finals is a prize worth fighting for.

After the drama and spectacle of Gabon’s dramatic victory over Morocco, however, there may be a feeling, forgivable and inevitable to an extent, that the match with Tunisia is an inadequate follow-up. Having seemingly thrown the points away when Morocco scored a late penalty equaliser, the euphoria of Gabon’s even later free-kick winner, curled wonderfully by Bruno Zita Mabanangoye, will be hard to top. Supporters in Franceville could be excused for creating a celebratory atmosphere as they welcome the local heroes fresh from such a spectacular triumph, but all should be aware, from the Gabon players and coaches to the fans, that the job is not yet complete. Knocking out Morocco, one of the tournament favourites, is not the objective itself, but should now merely be a step on the way to an overall competition victory.

As for Morocco, the disappointment at not escaping the group stage would only be compounded if they were to suffer the humiliation of placing bottom of Group C. It would be almost unthinkable for the Atlas Lions to lose to the minnows of Niger, but then again the same would have been said of Morocco losing both their first two group games. Morocco, who conceded only twice on the way to qualification, have shown little of that defensive strength once reaching Gabon, letting in five goals in two games and suffering the consequences. Morocco Coach Eric Gerets, pictured above, said in the aftermath of the loss to the co-hosts that his side cost themselves the victory. Gerets added: ““Tactically we lost in the last 20 minutes. The team did not seem capable of doing what we had done so many times in the past.

The form of both Gabon and Tunisia pales into comparison with Ghana, underlining just why the Black Stars are the team both wish to avoid. Ghana have, like Gabon and Tunisia, won both their group games to date but have done so without conceding a goal, whereas both Gabon and Tunisia have been breached on a number of occasions. Gabon, in particular, have scraped through in stunning fashion against Morocco but Ghana are unlikely to be so lax. Meeting Guinea or Mali, the two remaining Group D sides with a chance of qualification opens up an on-paper much smoother passage to the semi-finals and beyond, but reaching it will require another 90 minutes of Herculean effort. But, with a frenzied, partisan Gabonese crowd, the home side must be made favourites, but the fate of Morocco is proof that favourites do not always prosper.

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