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AFCON updates:
Sarr, Moriba, Tapsoba, Barkok, and Choupo-Moting all advance to knockouts

By Peter Weis   @PeterVicey

Bouna Sarr and Senegal's Terangan Lions are heated to the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations round-of-16 despite another offensively anemic performance. 

At the tail end of a very active game, the FC Bayern München fullback was at the center of a scene that nearly sunk Senegalese hopes.

We'll also cover the fortunes of Sarr's FCB teammate Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting (Cameroon), as well as Edmond Tapsoba (Leverkusen, Burkina Faso), Ilaix Moriba (Leipzig, Guinea), and Aymen Barkok (Eintracht Frankfurt, Morocco) in our latest AFCON update. 
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Photo: CAF
Despite being the highest ranked African team participating in the competition, Also Cissé's Senegalese Lions haven't exactly dazzled yet at the Africa Cup of Nations in Cameroon. The absence of many players due to COVID, along with the usual jet lag issues associated with European club players joining their African national squads late, have left Senegal looking anemic in attack sometimes. The Terangans have scored only one goal through three group stage fixtures. They've beat Zimbabwe 1-0, but only managed to draw both Guinea and now Malawi 0-0.

FC Bayern München fullback Bouna Sarr has started all three group stage matches, often playing out of position. Sarr served in midfield during the opening group stage fixture before moving up to work as a full winger in the second. Sarr began today's final group stage match in his natural right fullback role. With Nampalys Mendy and Habib Diallo back, Cissé had the personnel in place to deploy his preferred 4-3-3.

Sarr was involved early, setting up Liverpool striker Sadio Mané with a cross in the 8th. The Bundesligist remained very active on the right flank all evening, easily racking up more than 100 touches, assisting on another shot in the second half, and putting a diving header just wide. The 29-year-old won almost all of his direct duels, only lapsing defensively twice.

As for the Senegalese team themselves, the offensive machine effectively ground to a halt after some early chances. The underdogs were a little unlucky not to score the opening goal during a flurry of chances around the half hour mark. Cissé's Terangans managed to wake up about seven minutes after the restart. The "Flames" of Malawi nevertheless shone bright through some excellent saves from their forcibly deployed back-up keeper Charles Thomu.

Matters nearly got catastrophic for Senegal in the 76th minute when Cameroonian referee Blaise Yuven Ngwa pointed to the spot for a penalty whilst witnessing Sarr obstructing Malawian left-back Gomezgani Chirwa. Compelled to take another look at the scene by the VAR team, however, Yven Ngwa opted to reverse his decision.

Senegal were still fortunate to escape with a draw as Malawi were the better team down the stretch. Thanks to an upset 2-1 Zimbabwean victory over Guinea in the simultaneous kickoff, the Terangans were still able to top Group B on five points. Guinea (and Leipzig's Ilaix Moriba) also advance in second place on four points despite the loss. Moriba started again and got two shots in on target during a very solid 63-minute-shift.

In other Bundesliga-related AFCON news, Eric Maxim Choupo Moting put in his second relief shift for Cameroon yesterday. The Bayern striker wasn't much of a factor in the final 30 minutes of a 1-1 draw with Cape Verde. The "Indomitable Lions" completed an undefeated group stage and also advance to the knockouts as the first-place team in Group A.

The second place team in Group A, Burkina Faso, also advance following a 1-1 draw with Ethiopia yesterday. Leverkusen center back Edmond Tapsoba started and went the full 90 minutes. Tapsoba nevertheless didn't have the busiest of days as the Stallions and Walias mostly found themselves mired in midfield stalemate all evening.

Returning from COVID quarantine, Eintracht Frankfurt attacking midfielder Aymen Barkok returned to the Moroccan bench squad for the first time in the tournament. Head-coach Vahid Halihodzic sent the 23-year-old on in the 57th minute of an intense match. The Lions of the Atlas were trailing 0-1 and looked almost certain to lose after an 81st minute own-goal that put them behind 1-2.

Former Dortmund man Achraf Hakimi proved the hero with a late equalizer. Barkok kept the ball circulating for his team with five completed passes. Thanks to the draw, Morocco also advance on top of Group C. As the Group C runners up, Gabon will play Tapsoba and Burkina Faso when the knockouts begin on Sunday.

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