World: Africa Cup of Nations
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South Africa
By Peter Weis@PeterVicey

Skhiri, Laïdouni, and Tunisia exit AFCON via meek group stage draw

After both simultaneous kickoffs on the final day of Group E action at the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations ended in 0-0 draws, a Tunisian side featuring three German football club players are headed home after being eliminated from the competition. 

A Malian team with two Bundesliga players on its roster, by contrast, is headed through to the Round-of-16 as group winners. The relatively young south-west African nation of Namibia is also headed through to its first ever AFCON knockout round. 

The under-fire host nation of Cote d'Ivoire still retains a slim hope of advancing should both Tanzania and Zambia lose their respective fixtures in the later kickoffs. A Zambian loss and Tanzanian draw will also prove sufficient for the hosts. 
Two goalless draws on the final day of Group E action at the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations have sent two Bundesliga players (Diade Samassekou of Hoffenheim and Amadou Haidara of Leipzig) representing Mali through to the knockouts as the winners of their group. The news is unfortunately not good for three German club players (Ellyes Shkiri of Eintracht Frankfurt, Aïssa Laïdouni of 1. FC Union Berlin, and Oussama Haddadi of SpVgg Greuther Fürth) on the Tunisian national team roster. The "Eagles of Carthage" have been eliminated from the competition in the group phase for the first time since 2013.

Tunisia never recovered from a shock upset loss to Zambia in their tournament opener. A 1-1 draw with Mali in the second fixture left them needing a win against South Africa in order to secure advancement. Tunisian national team trainer Jalel Kadri turned to both Skhiri and Laïdouni in his starting XI. The Bundesliga pros began alongside one another as double-sixes in a 4-2-3-1. Laïdouni played the full 90 minutes while Laïdouni was subbed off in the 84th. Hadaddi remained unused on the bench for the third consecutive match.

The two sides mostly neutralized one another in a midfield-centric match in which chances were as even as they were rare. Skhiri himself did his level best to influence play, accruing 64 touches and unleashing two efforts on target. Laïdouni accrued even more touches (70) and had a crack himself. The nature of the match left both players with well over 50 attempted passes. The pair were nevertheless not able to produce much memorable. This generally applied to opponents South Africa as well.

The goalless draw between Mali and Namibia (both 0-0s were the first scoreless matches of an otherwise exciting tournament) could also fairly be described as very boring. Neither one of the Bundesliga players on Eric Chelle's roster featured in the match. The Malian trainer opted to keep Samassekou on the bench after an inspiring performance in the Tunisian draw. With little need to take any risks, Haidara was withheld from the squad entirely. A big win in the opener and two draws are good enough for the Aigles to advance as group winners.

The results send both South Africa through as group runners-up and its former colony Namibia into the knockouts for the first time ever. If there was a piece of good news from the pair of 0-0 draws for Africa enthusiasts, it's that beleaguered hosts Cote d'Ivoire may continue to hope that they may still advance as the last of the third-placed teams permitted to head through to the knockouts. It all comes down to the final set of final concurrent kickoffs in Group F laters this evening.

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