World: Africa Cup of Nations
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A. Seck (61), I. Ndiaye (90)
By Peter Weis@PeterVicey

Guirassy and Keïta's Guinea aim to "beat the champions" in blockbuster Senegal showdown

The West African nation of Guinea gets set to square off against the defending continental champions Senegal in their final group stage fixture at the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations on Tuesday. 

A draw will suffice for the Syli National to secure passage to the round-of-16, but Guinean national team trainer Kaba Diawara made clear that his team will be aiming to make a statement by beating the Aliou Cissé's "Lions of Teranga". 

Injuries are beginning to clear for the four-time AFCON quarterfinalists, with squad captain Naby Keïta of SV Werder Bremen logging minutes off the bench in the second group stage fixture. 

Stuttgart scoring sensation Serhou Guirassy nevertheless still hasn't made either one of Diawara's bench squads with continued hamstring problems. Guirassy's team could certainly use his help against Cissé's side. 
An opening group stage fixture in which neither SV Werder Bremen attacking midfielder Naby Keïta nor VfB Stuttgart striker Serhou Guirassy featured led to the West African nation of Guinea picking up only one point against 2017 continental champions Cameroon. The news ended up not necessarily being so bleak for Kaba Diawara's Syli National, however, as the Guineans furnished the right response in the tournament's "Group of Death".

Guinea - who were actually knocked out by Gambia's "Cinderella Scorpions" in the last AFCON two years ago - furnished a 1-0 over the Gambians in their second group stage fixture. Commenting on the result during a post-match press round, trainer Diawara called the win "appropriate payback for a loss that was so hard to take". Diawara also emphasized that - heading into the final group stage match against Senegal - the aim was to top the group.

Defending continental champions Senegal have already booked passage to the knockouts with two wins in their opening group stage fixtures. Former FC Bayern München attacker Sadio Mané has glistened for the 2021 title-holders. While a draw against their fellow West Africans will prove sufficient to see them through, Diawara made clear at a subsequent press round that his team would play to win.

A repeat of the 0-0 between these two sides seems unlikely. Guinea looked significantly better in their second match, in part because some of their injuries are beginning to clear up. The 1-0 win over Gambia, as opposed to the round one draw with Cameroon, featured two of Guinea's Bundesliga AFCON representatives.

Guinean national team captain Naby Keïta - after not featuring in the first match - was able to come off the bench late and log a 13-minute-shift. As brief as his appearance was, Keïta appeared very lively. In a performance reminiscent of a brief relief shift for his German club team this season, Keïta eagerly hunted down 15 touches and got an effort on goal off.

Midfielder Ilaix Moriba - technically still a Bundesliga representative - looked strong in midfield for the second consecutive match. German football fans appear to have much to look forward to in Guinea's final group stage encounter, though the continued absence of Stuttgart forward Serhou Guirassy has counted as a significant disappointment.

Guirassy's hamstring problems have kept the VfB star sidelined throughout the competition. Even if Guirassy makes it back in time to make Diawara's bench squad, it seems unlikely that he will displace the generally effective Mohamed Bayo at the top of the attack. Circumstances can naturally change if the Guineans progress further in the tournament.

"Our aim is to beat the champions, not just play them," Diawara made clear in his post-match comments, "We've improved a lot over these last two years and worked very hard to get better."

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