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Week 3’s roundup of AFCON begins with some sad news. It has been reported that at least 8 people died and another 38 were badly inured in a stadium crush during Cameroon’s last-16 victory over Comoros on Monday. Investigations are ongoing but our thoughts go out to the victims, friends and family affected by this tragedy. 

The match itself saw a Comoros outfit, who’s inspiring underdog story has galvanised the tournament, start the game with left-back Chaker Alhadhur in goal. After a 7’ red card for Nadjim Abdou’s it seemed all but inevitable the indomitable Lions would cruise to victory. On the contrary a stunning shift in goal from Alhadhur and resolute defending from Comoros meant Cameroon had to fight for every inch on the way to a 2-1 victory. Comoros even threatened a late comeback after Youssouf M’Changama’s insane 30 yard free-kick on 81’ teased late drama. No such luck for the plucky island nation, but they have gained a newfound respect on the international stage.

The day before high fliers Nigeria were brought swiftly back down to earth after a shock 1-0 defeat to Tunisia whilst Burkina Faso edged Gabon 7-6 on penalties. The highest ranked remaining nation Senegal booked their place in the quarter finals thanks to a pinpoint finish by their talisman Sadio Mané and a cool counter attack finished off neatly by Dieng in extra time. The game should have been more comfortable for Senegal, as underdogs Cape Verde decided to up the ante by receiving two ludicrous red cards and playing over half an hour with 9 men in the sweltering heat. 

Tuesday’s match between Morocco and Malawi absolutely oozed quality. After only 7’ minutes Gabadinho Mhango received the ball just past the halfway line. Rather than being mired in the reality that 45 yards is not a reasonable distance to shoot from, Mhango chose instead to write himself into AFCON history with a strike for the ages. After En-Nesyri’s equaliser in extra time of the first half the match was finely poised. The second half belonged to PSG star Achraf Hakimi. A generation of full backs likely inspired by Dani Alves and Marcelo are rebranding the position and electrifying games time and time again. Relentless runs and overlaps, evocative of a pitch sized bleep test, clearly exhausted the Malawians into a tired lazy challenge on the edge of the box. Had they watched Morocco’s last game against Gabon they’d have known how ill-advised that was. Hakimi struck another inch perfect whipped free kick into Malawi’s net from nearly the same blade of grass he struck against Gabon.

A round of fixtures punctuated by wonder goals bizarrely closed out with two 0-0’s. Equatorial Guinea edged Mali 6-5 on penalties. Subsequently, the Egyptian king Mo Salah’s final 5th penalty saw off Ivory Coast, after Eric Bailly took the characteristically chaotic decision to employ a casual short run up, side foot tactic that was easily saved. Penalty shoot outs aside week 3 alone provided enough content for a solid goal of the tournament shortlist. Let’s hope the tetchy quarter-final fixtures don’t halt the ambition for the amazing.

Written by Martyn Ewoma. @_martynewoma
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