Defending champion Algeria was dumped out of the African Cup of Nations 2021 in the group stage with a 3-1 loss to an Ivory Coast team that was rampant at times and announced itself as a contender for the title in Cameroon. (More Football News)
Ivory Coast’s one-sided victory meant Algeria, who were again one of the favorites this year, exited without a win after two shock results earlier in the tournament left them at the bottom of Group E. The drubbing by Ivory Coast made sure it stayed there.
Algeria joined another former champion, Ghana, in leaving early after failing to win a game and finishing bottom of the group. While those two African soccer powers are on their way home, Comoros and Gambia are on their way to the knockout stage of their first major tournament.
In another surprising result — the upsets are almost a daily occurrence at this totally unpredictable African Cup — Gambia scored in the 93rd minute to beat former champion Tunisia 1-0 in Group F. Ablie Jallow slammed a shot high into the net from the edge of the area for Gambia.
The upshot after the last day of the group stage is: Ivory Coast and Equatorial Guinea are through from Group E and Mali, Gambia and Tunisia — which was one of the four best third-place teams — all progressed from Group F.
Algeria had needed to beat Ivory Coast to keep its title defense alive after drawing with Sierra Leone and then finding itself on the wrong end of one of the biggest upsets in African Cup history when it lost to Equatorial Guinea on Sunday.
It didn't come close to turning it around as Ivory Coast surged into a 3-0 lead in Douala through goals by Franck Kessié and Ibrahim Sangaré in the first half, and Nicolas Pépé in the 54th minute.
Kessié turned a volley in for the opener and Sangaré was completely unmarked from a free kick to power a header home. The Algerian defenders stood and looked at each other after the goal.
Pépé's goal was high quality as he bore down on goal, swerved in between two defenders, and stroked a shot into the left corner. Riyad Mahrez missed a penalty after 60 minutes to encapsulate Algeria's miserable tournament. The Manchester City forward sent Ivory Coast keeper Badra Ali Sangaré the wrong way but his spot-kick cannoned off the post.
Algeria did pull one back through Sofiane Bendebka's header but that did nothing to soften the blow of a disastrous tournament for the North Africans.
Ivory Coast set up a last 16 meeting with Egypt next Wednesday in what looks to be the game of the round. Ivory Coast won the African Cup in 2015 in the Yaya Touré era but had been overlooked at this tournament.
That changed with a compelling performance against Algeria which could have easily produced more goals. Equatorial Guinea followed up its stunner over Algeria by beating 10-man Sierra Leone 1-0 in the other Group E game on Thursday to progress behind group winner Ivory Coast.
Sierra Leone's 37-year-old striker Kei Kamara missed a late penalty that would have put his team through as one of the best third-placed teams at the expense of Comoros. Comoros had to wait since Tuesday to see if it would advance but ultimately squeezed through as the lowest-ranked of the third-place teams.
The tiny island nation stunned four-time African Cup winner Ghana 3-2 in Group C to claim its first victory in major tournament soccer. For context, Comoros only played its first game as a team in 1979, by which time Ghana had already won three African titles. Comoros' reward is a last-16 game against host Cameroon at the showpiece Olembe Stadium in Yaounde on Monday.
Tunisia's Seifeddine Jaziri had a penalty saved in the loss to Gambia, the third missed spot-kick of the day after Mahrez and Kamara. Mali won 2-0 against Mauritania in the other Group F game, when Ibrahima Koné ended that trend and did score from the spot for Mali's second.
The African Cup has Friday and Saturday off before returning Sunday with the first two games in the round of 16; Burkina Faso vs. Gabon and Nigeria vs. Tunisia. Tunisia's penalty for losing to Gambia is a meeting with the in-form Nigerians.