After complaints about the quality of play at the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) made headlines following an abysmal first round of group games that saw only 12 goals, the second round saved the day.
AFCON 2021: What to expect as the third round of group games kick off today
The third round games kick off today, but what are we to expect from all the teams?
A whopping 29 goals scored across all 12 games also came along with drama for some teams, chaos for others and permutations for the favourites at the point of competition exit.
But with the second round now completed, what fate lies in store for all the teams as they wrap up their group stage affairs with a third and final round of group matches?
Cape Verde vs Cameroon
Cape Verde, like hosts Cameroon had an impressive start in Group A. After having won their opening fixture against Ethiopia by a 1-0 scoreline, the Blue Sharks recorded their first defeat by the same scoreline to Burkina Faso in their second game. Coming up against the hosts in the final game, it is only fair to say, it might not end well for them either.
Having scored an impressive 6 goals in their first two games, Cameroon will look to better it when they take on Cape Verde. Considering their porous defence which has conceded a goal in both of their previous games, the five-time African champions will know that the only way to win Cape Verde in front of their home fans, is to score more than a goal.
Malawi vs Senegal
Malawi have indeed put up a sort of a fine display against their opponents in Group B. Having lost to Guinea and won Zimbabwe, Malawi know that the only way to make the round of 16 in their third-ever AFCON attempt, is to fight like their lives depend on it against an unimpressive Senegalese side.
Despite being led by Liverpool forward, Sadio Mane and boasting of an array of stars, Senegal's display at the AFCON has been below impressive. Those poor displays, however, has managed to get them four points from their first two games against Zimbabwe and Guinea. Against Malawi, should Senegal fail to step up their game, they might be subjected to a shock defeat, at best, a score draw.
Zimbabwe vs Guinea
Zimbabwe has shown in two games that they have nothing to offer in Group B. Although holding Senegal for 90 minutes (plus added time) before eventually being subjected to a painful penalty in the 97th, Zimbabwe failed to step up when they played Malawi, throwing away their lead to lose 2-1. In Guinea, they find a more formidable side who will not wait around to see them score first.
Currently, top of the group, Guinea knows the only way to stay there and avoid a tougher round of 16 opponent, is to win. And so they will, against Zimbabwe who has on two occasions, already shown they can lose concentration in the latter stages of the match.
Gabon vs Morocco
Group C will be riddled with two fight-to-the-finish fixtures starting with Gabon and Morocco. While this might seem pretty even, Gabon will find fighting difficult against a clinical Moroccan side. With captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang back for this fixture, the Panthers would hope Morocco not be the only side being clinical.
For Morocco, winning goes beyond being clinical. A win would mean they will sit comfortably at the top with all available 9 points and meet a favourable opponent in the round of 16. While Gabon might pressure, Morocco's ability to have kept Ghana and Comoros from scoring them in their first two fixtures will be at play again as they try to win.
Ghana vs Comoros
Four-time African champions Ghana failed to win either of the first two Group C games and any result other than a win in their last group game against Comoros will see them eliminated. For Ghana, winning is everything. Not like's it's not everything for Comoros who have failed to score a goal in their first two games, but for Ghana, winning would fix their pride already in the mud.
For Comoros, winning will give them a chance to progress to the knockouts in their very first AFCON tournament. While it will mean a lot, their lack of being resilient against Gabon and Morocco will be their problem. Should it repeat against Ghana, the Black Stars will waste no chances.
Egypt vs Sudan
Egypt goes into their final Group D game with Sudan knowing that they cannot top their group if they win and, they can get knocked out if they lose. While luck might have been on the side of the seven-time African champions in their 1-0 win over Guinea-Bissau, they will ride beyond it when they take on Sudan.
The Sudanese too go into this game knowing their hope of qualifying lies in their hand. Having gained a terrible goal difference against Nigeria and would need to do too much to get on a clean slate, they should get overwhelmed. In that moment should Egypt strike them, and hard.
Guinea-Bissau vs Nigeria
While Group D might be open for every other team, Guinea-Bissau knows that for Nigeria, a passage is already secured and they would be playing with less seriousness. But quality would be the order of the day. Something Guinea-Bissau who have drawn a game, and lost the other, is lacking.
Already certified the first position spot in Group D, Nigeria should most likely field a weakened side against a Guinea-Bissau who wants to win at all costs. But Nigeria's weakened side will put Guinea-Bissau in their place to show head coach Austin Eguavoen that they too deserve a bet in the first-choice starting XI.
Cote d'Ivoire vs Algeria
Ivory Coast takes on defending champions Algeria in what should be the biggest match in the third round of group games. Knowing all they need to qualify is to draw, the Elephants would simply settle for playing a frustration card against Algeria.
Algeria on their part will not be new to getting frustrated at the AFCON. Sierra Leone exposed them in their first group game as a side who can't do much to under frustration. Equatorial Guinea in their second group game exposed Algeria as a side who can crack under it. Luckily, Ivory Coast would only be focused on getting them worn out, and not making them crack under frustration. Perhaps, not the kind of luck Djamel Belmadi's side will want.
Sierra Leone vs Equatorial Guinea
Perhaps an even bigger battle in Group E than that of Ivory Coast and Algeria. Sierra Leone will play with a combination of the defensive mindset they played with against Algeria, and the counterattacking mindset they deployed against Ivory Coast. But how it pays off for them is entirely on which mindset they focus on the most.
Equatorial Guinea, wary of how the result from Ivory Coast and Algeria's game could affect them would constantly pressure Sierra Leone. So much that it could put them in trouble should Sierra Leone get successful with a counterattack? However, both sides should end this affair with frustrations, and possibly qualification tickets to show for it.
Gambia vs Tunisia
Currently, and surprisingly top of their group, debutants Gambia will have everything to prove when they play Tunisia. Their formidable defending has seen them concede just a goal - against Mali - and are yet to lose a game. Luckily, all they need to do against Tunisia in their final group game is grab a draw and that, they will do with much resolute.
Tunisia on their part will make this game seem like predator versus prey. Gambia, being the prey who escapes. While Tunisia might have shown they can be clinical against Mauritania in their second group game, they meet the Gambia who will stop at nothing to make history.
Mali vs Mauritania
This could go down as one of the easiest fights in the final round of group games as Mali should get an easy win against Mauritania. Their attacking finesse against both Tunisia and Gambia should be replicated in a game against Mauritania who let Tunisia have a field day with them.
There is no way out of this one for Mauritania. For lack of better explanation. Mali will kill them with goals - much more, than Tunisia.