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Which team needs to do what to reach the AFCON knockout rounds?

The Africa Cup of Nations group stage has been an exciting journey so far, with plenty of goals, several surprise results, and numerous outstanding performances.

However, with many of the teams able to take points from each other, and only one side eliminated so far, there’s still much at stake as we head into the final round of group games.

Here, ESPN have done a deep dive into the AFCON last-round permutations, outlining what every team needs to avoid elimination…and to progress to the knockouts.

Group A

Guinea-Bissau sit bottom of the group and, having lost both games, they’re the only team already eliminated from the Nations Cup. This leaves a three-way battle for progression, where all there sides will be fancying themselves to advance given that four of the best six third-placed teams will all progress.

Equatorial Guinea and Nigeria are both on four points, and while the former have a superior goal difference (+2 vs +1), the Super Eagles have a more straight-forward assignment as they take on Guinea-Bissau at the Felix Houphouet Boigny Stadium.

“We must take first place,” Nigeria head coach Jose Peseiro said in his pre-match press conference, “and to do that, we must do battle. We must do what’s necessary to accomplish our mission [on Monday].”

The Equatoguineans, meanwhile, must face the hosts in the capital. Draws for both Equatorial Guinea and Nigeria would see them through, with the Super Eagles either needing to better the Central Africans’ result or to match their result but improve their goal difference, in order to top the group.

The Ivorians could still achieve their primary aim of topping the group and remaining at the Alassane Ouattara Stadium if they win and Nigeria fail to beat Guinea-Bissau.

Heading into matchday three, the Ivorians currently top the best third-placed teams ranking, on three points, and would require a disastrous defeat to really find themselves in danger of a first round exit.

Group B

The surprise package of the tournament so far, Cape Verde have not only secured progression after two matches, but already nailed down their position as group winners. They will now face the third-placed team from either Group A, C or D in Abidjan on January 29.

Egypt, in second position on two points, will advance with a victory, and could also take second place with a draw if Ghana vs Mozambique also ends with a point apiece.

The Pharaohs will have to do without Mohamed Salah, who will miss at least two matches with a hamstring injury.

“I’m not speculating about what will happen after the Cape Verde game,” Egypt head coach Rui Vitoria said in his press conference. “Our concentration is solely on this game, I’m fully aware we’re facing a formidable opponent.”

Mozambique, currently bottom on one point, could leapfrog both of the group giants into second place if they defeat Ghana and Egypt fail to beat Cape Verde, although Os Mambas were thoroughly outclassed in their second match, a 3-0 defeat by the islanders.

For Ghana, a draw would not be enough to take them above Egypt unless the Pharaohs are defeated by Cape Verde, while a victory would still leave them in third place if the North Africans also win.

In this instance, the Black Stars would be confident of progressing as one of the best third-placed teams. Since the AFCON was expanded, no third-placed team has failed to advance with four points or more.



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Group C

Back-to-back victories have sent Senegal into the knockouts, and they’ll secure top spot if they avoid defeat, regardless of the result between Cameroon and The Gambia.

Guinea (four points) would leapfrog Senegal into top spot with a win, whereas even a draw would secure their progression to the knockouts in second place regardless of the result in the other match.

Cameroon have got off to a slow start in the Nations Cup, taking just one point from their opening two matches, including a miserable 3-1 defeat by Senegal in Yamoussoukro.

However, it’s not all doom and gloom for Rigobert Song and Samuel Eto’o, who still have some control over their destiny. Defeat Gambia, and their four-point tally should be enough to see them through at least in third place, while the Lions could even overhaul Guinea on goal difference (currently a three-goal deficit), if Cameroon and Senegal win.

The best Gambia can hope for is progression in third. For this, they would need to defeat Cameroon, improve their -4 goal difference, and hope that results in other groups go their way. Even if progression may be beyond them, Tom Saintfiet’s side will surely be determined to end a testing campaign with a big win.

Group D

Angola and Burkina Faso are both tied on four points and with a +1 goal difference heading into their final match, where winner secures top spot in the group. A draw would be a mutually convenient result for both, almost certainly seeing them both through, while Algeria could also end the campaign on five points if they defeat Mauritania.

This could lead to a situation where all three teams end the campaign on five points, and while the trio would all likely progress, the order would be decided by the number of goals scored in games between the teams – currently, Angola are at a disadvantage.

A draw for Algeria against Mauritania would leave them in third place. Three points and a neutral goal difference would have been enough for them to progress in the last two tournaments.

For Mauritania, things look tough. The Mourabitounes, like Gambia, need to win, reduce an unhealthy goal difference, and keep their fingers crossed that results in other groups allow them to sneak through as one of the best ranked third-placed teams.

Group E

Namibia’s opening 1-0 victory over Tunisia has really burst this group wide open, with any of the teams still theoretically capable of topping the group.

Mali, already guaranteed one of the top three positions, are in control on four points. They advance as group winners with victory over Namibia, who were dispatched 4-0 by South Africa on Sunday.

Even a draw would leave Mali in one of the top two positions, although South Africa could then overtake them into top position with a victory over Tunisia. Namibia could still end their campaign in top spot in the group with victory over Mali and if South Africa fail to beat Tunisia.

The Carthage Eagles were favourites to win the group at the start of the campaign, but with one point from their opening two matches, they’re in line for an early exit.

At least it’s straightforward for Tunisia, they only remain alive with a victory over an in-form Bafana side, and even that would leave them progressing only as one of the best third-placed teams if Namibia avoid defeat against Mali.

For context, Tunisia have qualified for the last 16 tournaments, and only failed to reach the knockouts on four previous occasions.

Group F

Morocco started their campaign strongly with a 3-0 victory over Tanzania, but their progress slowed as they failed to defeat the Democratic Republic of Congo in their second match, with the pair playing out a 1-1 draw.

Nonetheless, Morocco are in top spot, guaranteed of a top three berth, and will progress if they avoid defeat against Zambia. Even with a loss, they’d almost certainly progress, even if it meant dropping into third. Given their healthy goal difference, even this scenario could only happen if both Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo win.

The Leopards and Zambia both have two points, with an identical record and head-to-head record, meaning that identical results in their fixtures would lead to the drawing of lots to see who finishes in second and third respectively.

Tanzania’s inability to see out their match against Zambia – they led with two minutes left to play – has cost them dearly, leaving them at the foot of the group on one point heading into their final group game.

The Taifa Stars could nonetheless advance in second if they secure a first-ever AFCON victory and the Congolese fail to beat Morocco.

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