Abidjan — Record seven-time champions Egypt were dealt a major blow on Friday as captain Mohamed Salah was ruled out of two Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) games with a hamstring injury, while holders Senegal and Cape Verde qualified for the last 16.
The Egyptian Football Association confirmed in a statement that Liverpool star Salah would not be able to return for his country unless they reach the quarter-finals at the tournament.
The 31-year-old came off late in the first half of the Pharaohs’ 2-2 draw with Ghana on Thursday.
He will therefore sit out Monday’s final group game against Cape Verde and any last-16 tie that would follow that.
After drawing their opening two games, Egypt need to beat Cape Verde to be guaranteed of advancing in second place in Group B.
That would tee up a last-16 tie in San-Pedro on January 28, while they could also potentially qualify as one of the best third-placed teams.
Of course, today’s games were fruitful! 🤩#TotalEnergiesAFCON2023 pic.twitter.com/AHqawnp5Hu
— CAF (@CAF_Online) January 19, 2024
Salah will therefore only feature again at the competition if Egypt make it to a quarter-final on February 2 or 3.
Senegal, who beat Salah’s Egypt on penalties in the final of the last AFCON, clinched a spot in the next round with one group game to spare thanks to a 3-1 win over Cameroon in Yamoussoukro.
Ismaila Sarr of Marseille put the reigning champions ahead early on and later set up Habib Diallo to make it 2-0.
Jean-Charles Castelletto pulled one back, but Senegal were not to be denied a convincing victory and talisman Sadio Mane put the outcome beyond doubt late on.
Senegal have a maximum six points after two Group C matches, while Cameroon have only one and their hopes of advancing to the last 16 are in the balance.
“I remember that in 2017 we lost to Cameroon in the quarter-finals, so during this match we did everything to win,” said Marseille forward Sarr.
Later on in Group C Guinea, again missing star striker Serhou Guirassy, beat Gambia 1-0 at the same venue thanks to Aguibou Camara’s second-half goal.
The result leaves Guinea second in the section on four points, meaning they need just a draw against Senegal in their next match to guarantee qualification for the last 16, while a victory will see them progress as group winners.
Cameroon and Gambia will meet each other next and can both hope to at least progress as one of the four best third-placed sides.
Earlier, Cape Verde became the first team to qualify for the last 16 thanks to a convincing 3-0 win over Mozambique in Abidjan.
Former Manchester United forward Bebe set the Atlantic Ocean island nation on their way with a remarkable first-half free-kick from 40 metres at the Felix Houphouet Boigny Stadium.
⚽️ 𝔾𝕆𝔸𝕃 ⚽️
What a goal by Bebé!
🇨🇻 1⃣➖0⃣ 🇲🇿
📺 SABC Sport & SABC 1#SABCSportFootball #AFCON2023 pic.twitter.com/SesN7IUmo7
— SABC Sport (@SABC_Sport) January 19, 2024
Captain Ryan Mendes doubled their lead just after half-time and Kevin Pina wrapped up the win with a stunning strike midway through the second half.
Cape Verde’s biggest ever AFCON victory leaves them on six points from two games and means they are now certain to top Group B, after they beat Ghana 2-1 in their opening game.
“I don’t know how far we can go. Now we are into the last 16 and we just need to keep working as we have been,” said Mendes.
“We know it won’t be easy but we believe in ourselves and in our work.”
Cape Verde already know they will stay in Abidjan for a last-16 tie against a third-placed team on January 29.
Mozambique, appearing at their fifth Cup of Nations, have still never won a match in 14 attempts at the tournament.
Tanzania sack coach
Meanwhile, Tanzania fired coach Adel Amrouche after he was banned for eight matches and fined $10,000 over comments about Morocco, a Confederation of African Football (CAF) official told AFP.
His dismissal was confirmed by the Tanzanian Football Federation with Hemed Suleiman promoted from assistant coach to caretaker boss for the rest of their AFCON campaign.
The Group F outsiders lost 3-0 to Morocco on Wednesday and still have to play Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Before Amrouche was axed, a CAF official said “(the organisation) has suspended the coach for eight matches after comments he made about Moroccan officials in a TV interview”.
Algeria-born Amrouche alleged Moroccan officials within CAF decide who referees matches involving the senior men’s national team, and at what time they kick off.
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