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

Guirassy and Guinea drop final group stage match, yet still advance to AFCON knockouts

In a wild finish to Group C at the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations, a Guinean side featuring both VfB Stuttgart forward and SV Werder Bremen attacker Naby Keïta in the starting XI dropped their final group stage fixture against defending African continental champions Senegal 0-2. 

The Guineans not only lost out on the chance to beat the champions, but also saw themselves overtaken by 2017 AFCON title holders Cameroon for second place in the group. 

Courtesy of the fact that Kaba Diawara's "Syli National" did glean four points from their first two group stage games, however, the Guineans still managed to clinch advancement to the Round-of-16 as a third-placed-side
With all three Bundesliga representatives in his starting XI, Kaba Diawara's Guinean national football team headed into a monster final group stage match-up against defending champions Senegal on Tuesday evening. After a thigh injury kept him out of his country's first two group stage matches, VfB Stuttgart scoring sensation Serhou Guirassy was inserted directly into the starting XI of the Syli National.

After logging some minutes as a substitute in the second group stage match, SV Werder Bremen attacking midfielder Naby Keïta started directly behind Guirassy in a 4-2-3-1. RB Leipzig loan-out - as has been the case since the very beginning of the competition - maintained a starting role in Diawara's midfield. Moriba played 73 minutes. Guirassy and Keïta - due to their respective injury issues - were both taken off in the 63rd.

A first half more prominent for bookings than scoring chances drew to a close with the scoreline still level at 0-0. The defending champs - spurred on by none other than former FC Bayern München attacker Sadio Mané - ratcheted up the pressure after the restart. After knocking on the door for some time, the Lions of Teranga snatched the opener via an Abdoulaye Seck tally just after the hour mark.

Marseille attacker Iliman Ndiaye doubled the advantage as the match entered second-half injury time, some time after all the current German footballing representatives had exited proceedings. Guirassy rarely saw much of the ball and didn't register a shot on target. Keïta recorded 35 touches, assisted on one shot, and worked cross into the box. Moriba again did well in midfield, completing 88 percent of his passes and winning half of his ground duels.

Group C came to a wild conclusion as Cameroon and the Gambia traded three goals in the final minutes of the concurrent kickoff. The Gambian Scorpions turned a 0-1 deficit against the 2017 continental champions into a 2-1 lead with just five minutes remaining. Unfortunately, Tom Saintfiet's side then quickly turned the ball back into their own net in the 87th. The Indomitable Lions then re-took the lead at 90+1.

For a brief moment, it appeared as if the Gambian's had drawn level again. Video review, however, clearly verified that Gambian sub Bubacarr Saneh had knocked the 3-3 past the keeper with his fist. The match ended with Cameroon winning 3-2. Rigobert Song's Lions snatched second place and automatic qualification out of Guinea's hands on the third tiebreaker.

Four points from three matches nevertheless proves sufficient for Guirassy, Keïta, and Moriba to advance to the Round-of-16. The National Elephants currently find themselves in first place among the four third-placed teams who may qualify for the next round in this 24-team-tournament. Only Zambia, Algeria, and Namibia still have a chance to overtake.

Group C's conclusion does officially eliminate Ghana, who had very little hope of progressing following last night's draw with Mozambique. The dreams of tournament hosts Cote d'Ivoire remain on life support following last night's collapse. The Ivorian Elephants still require help from the three nations with overtake potential.

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