Ivory Coast, Equatorial Guinea, Mali and Gambia all qualified from Groups E and F on the final day of the Group Stage, with results that could be classified as embarrassing, stunning, and expected on the parts of losers Algeria, Sierra Leone, Tunisia and Mauritania respectively.
AFCON 2021: 3 lessons we learnt as Ivory Coast, Mali, Gambia, Equatorial Guinea secured qualification
Algeria repeated their unfortunate 1992 AFCON performance in Cameroon
Although defeat meant nothing to Tunisia who also qualified for the Round of 16 via one of the "best loser" spots, it was heartbreaking for the likes of 2019 champions Algeria and impressive underdogs Sierra Leone, but not much of a surprise for already eliminated Mauritania.
Here are three lessons learnt from the as the group stage came to an end.
Algeria ran out of gas; Ivory Coast? Unstoppable
A final Group E encounter with Ivory Coast saw Algeria surprisingly lose their second game of the competition, 3-1 the result at full-time. The result meant a premature ouster for the defending champions, who have had an abysmal outing in Cameroon.
Before drawing with Sierra Leone in their first game, losing to Equatorial Guinea in their second, and falling to Ivory Coast, Algeria were on an impressive run of 34 games without a defeat. At the AFCON, however, they constantly played like they had nothing left in their tank against an Ivory Coast side that seemed out for blood.
The Ivorians on their own part could not have cared less about the status of the 2019 champions, as goals from Frank Kessie, Ibrahim Sangare and Nicolas Pepe contributed to a comprehensive win. At full-time, it was evident that Patrice Beaumelle’s well-drilled team were going to be a feared side as the knockout stages kicked off.
Sierra Leone let carelessness overshadow their hard work
Sierra Leone went into their final Group E encounter against Equatorial Guinea with the hopes of qualifying to the knockouts but lost 1-0 instead. Having held heavyweights Algeria and Ivory Coast to two draws, their final game would have at least secured them a round of 16 spots via the best loser slot.
However, the Leone Stars allowed themselves to be pinned in their own half, with a Pablo Ganet moment of class in the first half deciding their unfortunate fate - elimination.
Debutants Gambia are brilliant in the art of defending
Gambia stung Tunisia thanks to Ablie Jallow’s stunner in the dying embers of their final Group F game to ensure that they finished level on points with group winners Mali, and qualified for the knockout stages of the AFCON on the first attempt.
The 150th-ranked team in the World proved once again against Tunisia that their ability to keep their opponents out was their strongest point of the play. Despite coming under intense pressure from a wasteful Tunisia, they kept their cool to grab their second clean sheet of the competition, stinging Tunisia at the Limbe Stadium in stoppage-time to win 1-0.