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Africa: Africa Cup of Nations
3 - 1
(2 - 0)
Côte d'Ivoire
F. Kessié (22), I. Sangaré (39), N. Pépé (54)
X R. Mahrez (60), S. Bendebka (73)

AFCON updates:
Bensebaini headed back while all other Bundesliga representatives advance

By Peter Weis   @PeterVicey

Entering the final group stage matchday at the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations in Cameroon, defending champions Algeria found their hopes of attaining the knockouts life support. 

As it turned out, a Cote d'Ivoire squad with Leverkusen's Odilon Kossounou in the starting XI made Algeria's tournament humiliation complete with a 3-1 drubbing Jampona Stadium and Douala. 

The Fennec group stage elimination means that Borussia Mönchengladbach fullback Ramy Bensebaini is headed back to Germany early. 

Meanwhile, Kossounou progresses deeper into the tournament. So too do Taiwo Awonyi (Nigeria, Union Berlin), Omar Marmoush (Stuttgart, Egypt), Diadie Samassekou (Hoffenheim, Mali), Amadou Haidara (Leipzig, Mali), and Ellyes Skhiri (Köln, Tunisia).
Ramy Bensebaini.
Ramy Bensebaini.Photo: Borussia Mönchengladbach
After a surprise draw with Sierra Leone and a 0-1 loss to Equatorial Guinea, the Algerian Desert Foxes began the final group stage matchday in last place in AFCON 2021's Group E. Djamel Belmadi's Fennecs were going to have to produce something something special against a very strong Cote d'Ivoire side in order to keep their hopes of defending their 2019 title alive.

Belmadi made two changes to the squad that lost to the Equatoguinean National Thunder. Ramiz Zerrouki and Said Benrahma played in place of Sofiane Bendebka and Sofiane Feghouli. The team lined up in a 4-2-3-1 spearheaded by Al-Sadd Doha striker Baghdad Bounedjah. Squad captain Riyad Mahrez shifted over to the right wing. Borussia Mönchengladbach's Ramy Bensebaini started his third straight match at left-back.

In something of a surprise, Cote d'ivoire trainer Patrice Beaumelle trusted Leverkusen central defender Odilon Kossounou with a start despite a crucial late error in the preceding fixture. The 20-year-old rotated into the starting XI alongside former Leeds, St. Etienne, and AFC attacker Max Gradel. Together, the pair replaced Eric Bailly and Wilfried Zaha. The Ivorians lined up in a 4-3-3. Former Eintracht Frankfurt marksman Sebastian Haller worked in-between Grades and Nicolas Pépé.

A cagey start to the affair left one with little to discuss after the opening 20 minutes. The Algerians were given a free-kick in a promising position in the third, but captain Mahrez fired directly into the Elephantine wall. Matters picked up thereafter, with Ismael Bennancer coming close for the defending champs. On the ensuing counterattack, however, Pépé and AC Milan's Franck Kessie combined on an excellent give-and-go. The latter buried the finish to put Cote d'Ivoire up 1-0.

Six minutes before it was time to head into the tunnel, the Ivorians doubled their advantage when Ibrahim Sangaré headed home a Serge Aurier free-kick. Down 0-2 at the half, Belmadi introduced Olympique Lyon's Islam Slimani on for some extra offensive pop. The change nevertheless produced little. Algerian attacks were far too ponderous. A bad ball loss in midfield enabled Haller to set-up Pépé for third and decisive Cote d'Ivoire goal. Mahrez had a chance to pull one back from the penalty spot just after the hour mark, but hit the post.

Les Elephants would eventually allow Algeria to pull a meaningless goal back via an artistic finish from Aissa Mandi off a corner in the 73rd. Haller would have his own tally wiped away by VAR at 90+2. Bensebaini did okay in terms of passing and touches, though most of his involvement was fairly irrelevant.  Kossounou--not having terribly much to do in the defensive ranks--barely factored in at all.

In other Bundesliga related AFCON news, Stuttgart's Omar Marmoush Egypt were able to advance to the round-of-16 with a 1-0 win over Sudan yesterday. Marmoush started his third consecutive match for the Pharaohs. Egyptian trainer Carlos Queiroz opted to give the Wolfsburg loanee an early night, pulling him after 66 serviceable minutes. Egypt actually face Cote d'Ivoire next.

Their advancement already assured, Nigerian interim trainer Augustine Equavoen opted to give Union Berlin striker Taiwo Awoniyi the night off entirely in the final group stage match against Equatorial Guinea. The "Super Eagles" wrapped up a perfect group stage with a 2-0 victory to finish atop on nine points.

The Bundesliga duo of Amadou Haidara (Leipzig) and Diadie Samassekou are also advancing atop their group. Les Aigles finished group stage play on a high note with a 2-0 blanking of Mauritania. Samassekou was unavailable for the final fixture. Haidara started the game and delivered quite the performance. The Leipzig man racked up over 80 touches, got his own effort on target, and assisted on a further two shots.

Ellyes Skhiri and the Tunisian "Eagles of Carthage" suffered a shock loss to tournament sensations Gambia. The 1. FC Köln midfielder did his utmost to avoid the result, registering three shots on target during a very stressful day on which his team was reduced to ten-men. In the end, however, the Carthaginians were made to pay for a missed penalty. The Scorpions scored at 90+3 time to down Tunisia 1-0.

Despite two group stage losses, Skhiri and his countrymen were able to advance to the next round by virtue of being one of the better third-placed teams. That's the good news. The bad news for the Tunisians concerns the fact that they must face red-hot Nigeria next.

After a break of two days, the delayed AFCON 2021 kicks off once again with two elimination games on Sunday. Edmond Tapsoba and Burkina Faso first face Gabon at 17:00 (UTC+1). Nigeria-Tunisia square off in 20:00 kickoff.

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