The sight of Arsenal star Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and his Gabon teammates sleeping on an airport floor marred an otherwise successful two rounds of Africa Cup of Nations qualifying.
Gambian authorities would not allow the visiting Gabonese to leave the terminal because they said the delegation had not complied with conditions aimed at combating the spread of the coronavirus.
Confederation of African Football (CAF) official Omar Sey told reporters in Banjul that the Gabonese did not produce Covid-19 test results, while insisting they had been performed before leaving Libreville.
The Gabonese then had to hand over passports and a standoff ensued with the visiting players forced to sleep on the floor for almost six hours from their midnight arrival before going to their hotel.
CAF responded to the incident by ordering an investigation amid criticism from former African Footballer of the Year Aubameyang.
“Nice job CAF, it is as if we are back in the 1990s. It is 2020 and we want Africa to grow, but this is not how we will get there,” he tweeted.
Gabon lost 2-1 to the Gambia, leaving the teams sharing the Group D leadership, one point ahead of the Democratic Republic of Congo with two rounds remaining.
Although prolific Liverpool scorer Mohamed Salah and Arsenal midfielder Mohamed Elneny tested positive for Covid-19, the widespread disruption of the 48-match schedule that many feared did not materialise.
Here, AFP Sport looks at five talking points as nations seek top-two finishes and places at the 24-nation tournament in Cameroon.
Captain Riyad Mahrez led by example as Algeria won at home and drew away against Zimbabwe in Group H to stretch an unbeaten run to 22 matches since October 2018.
His solo goal sealed a 3-1 victory in Algiers and an even more spectacular effort gave the Desert Foxes a two-goal advantage in Harare that they surrendered in a 2-2 draw.
Dropping two points did not, however, prevent Algeria qualifying for the finals with two matches to spare, leaving Zimbabwe, Botswana and former champions Zambia to challenge for the other qualifying place.
In trouble after dropping four points last year, record seven-time champions Egypt defeated Togo twice to replace the Comoros as Group G frontrunners.
The victories over the disappointing Togolese were achieved in the absence of talisman Salah, who contracted Covid-19 before the first match.
Elneny tested positive for the virus in Lome and missed an impressive 3-1 win with Aston Villa forward Mahmoud Trezeguet among the goals.
Mane strikes African Footballer of the Year
Sadio Mane scored the goal that secured 2019 runners-up Senegal a place at the next finals, and his country boasts the only 100 percent record after four matchdays.
The Liverpool star broke the deadlock near Dakar in a 2-0 victory and snatched the only goal of the return match eight minutes from time in sweltering Bissau.
While Senegal have a maximum 12 points, tiny island nation Sao Tome e Principe hold the unwanted record of being the only team not to secure at least one point so far.
Another island nation, the Comoros, looks set to reach the Cup of Nations finals for the first time, mainly thanks to taking four points off Kenya and partly due to the Egyptian revival.
Egypt and the Comoros have eight points each, Kenya three and Togo are out of contention with just one, and the joint leaders can clinch qualification by taking one point each in matchday 5.
A key to the growing strength of the Comorans is stability with Marseille-born coach Amir Abdou in charge since 2014 of a tight-knit squad.
Le Roy struggles
The Midas touch of famed French coach Claude le Roy has deserted him since taking charge of Togo, who share with Sao Tome, Chad, and eSwatini the embarrassment of being eliminated with two rounds to play.
Before setting up residence in Lome, Le Roy won the Cup of Nations with Cameroon and left Senegal, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana and Congo Brazzaville with stronger squads than he inherited.
While woeful defending in a 3-1 home loss to Egypt was not the fault of the 72-year-old, the coach is always the first target in African football when things go wrong.
Nigeria coach Gernot Rohr said Algeria were worthy winners after Riyad Mahrez’s last-gasp free-kick sent his team through to a first Africa Cup of Nations final in 29 years.
Manchester City winger Mahrez fired in from 20 yards with the last kick of the game in Cairo to clinch a 2-1 victory after Nigeria forward Odion Ighalo had canceled out a first-half own goal by William Troost-Ekong.
“It was a big fight until the last minute. Algeria did better in the first half than us but we came back in the second half and we conceded this goal in the last minute,” said Rohr.
“I think the players wanted to go to extra time and believed Algeria would be tired and they could win in it extra time.”
“I have to congratulate the players for a big fight against this very good team. They won it in the last minute and they deserved it,” he added.
Rohr again lauded the resilience of his team, which bounced back strongly to a shock loss to Madagascar by eliminating holders Cameroon and beating South Africa, but they had no time to respond to a stroke of genius from Mahrez.
“It was a wonderful match, but we lost it so we are not happy. We scored an own goal which was unlucky but we came back like throughout the tournament when there was something difficult against us,” he said.
Tunisia ended Madagascar’s fairytale Africa Cup of Nations run in the quarter-finals on Thursday with a 3-0 win over the tournament debutants in Cairo.
Ferjani Sassi’s heavily deflected strike gave Tunisia the lead early in the second half at Al-Salam Stadium and Youssef Msakni squeezed home a second on 60 minutes.
Naim Sliti added a third in injury time to send Tunisia through to a semi-final showdown with Sadio Mane’s Senegal, with the Carthage Eagles into the last four for the first time since clinching their only title when they hosted the 2004 edition.
Tunisia boss Alain Giresse recalled Wahbi Khazri in attack as the lone change to the side that overcame Ghana in a last-16 penalty shootout, while Marco Ilaimaharitra returned from suspension as Madagascar fielded the same team used throughout the group phase.
Tunisia, the continent’s second-ranked side at 25th in the world, had reached the quarter-finals here without winning a single game following four successive draws.
After matches in Suez and Ismailia, this was a first Cairo outing for the Carthage Eagles, who controlled possession early but didn’t truly threaten until a sweetly struck Khazri free-kick was superbly flicked onto the bar by Madagascar goalkeeper Melvin Adrien.
Ghailene Chaalali forced Adrien to push an awkward low shot behind while Mouez Hassen, apologetic after his angry reaction to being substituted ahead of the shootout in the last round, was a largely untested bar from a long-range Ibrahim Amada effort.
Madagascar was trying to become the first newcomers since South Africa in 1996 to reach the semi-finals, but their hopes were effectively extinguished by the hour.
Khazri saw a goal disallowed for offside straight after half-time, but Sassi struck minutes later when his tame shot from the edge of the area hit Thomas Fontaine and spun past a helpless Adrien.
Msakni then promptly doubled Tunisia’s advantage, jumping on a rebound to slip the ball low beyond Adrien moments after he parried a shot from Khazri.
Charles Andriamahitsinoro, who scored twice for Madagascar in the group stage, looked to be through on goal after a long punt forward but failed to muster a shot. Amada was unable to reproduce his wonder strike from the DR Congo tie as he sliced wide from distance.
This was the first competitive meeting between the countries in almost two decades, and while Nicolas Dupuis has transformed Madagascar from a team once ranked 190th, Sliti’s injury-time goal ensured it was the end of a remarkable adventure for the ‘Barea’.
Cameroon coach Clarence Seedorf refused to speculate on his future after the defending champions crashed out of the Africa Cup of Nations in the last 16 after Saturday’s 3-2 loss to Nigeria.
Odion Ighalo scored two goals and set up Alex Iwobi for the winner as Nigeria rallied from 2-1 down after Cameroon had struck twice in quick succession through Stephane Bahoken and Clinton Njie before-half time in Alexandria.
“Maybe you want to give us a few days,” Seedorf responded when asked his for his plans following a premature end to Cameroon’s title defence.
“The first thing is I’m very sorry for the boys. They have worked really hard and played well but this is football and only one can win in the end. It’s not so important in my future. The important thing is what we have built until now, we’ve improved in many aspects on and off the pitch.
“It’s a group that is very united. I hope the people at home can be proud of the fighting spirit we’ve shown. Obviously, the disappointment is really big but this is sport. This is the moment where everyone must say we are united and continue to work for the future.”
The former Dutch star has won just three of nine competitive games since taking over the Indomitable Lions alongside assistant Patrick Kluivert last August and struggled to convince he is the right man for the job.
“I’ve enjoyed every minute I’ve been working with this group, being in Africa especially. And we’ll see what comes in the future,” Seedorf said.
“I feel disappointment obviously and also some anger because I thought we were a little bit tense in a few moments, but I have to appreciate the players have done everything they could today. It was not enough.”
“I repeat that we will stay united and not throw away all the great work the team has done in the last months,” he added.
Moise Adilehou put Benin ahead early in the second half before Youssef En-Nesyri equalised, but Hakim Ziyech blew the chance to seal the victory for Morocco by striking the post with a 96th-minute penalty.
Sofiane Boufal and En-Nesyri both missed in the shootout as Benin, who reached the last 16 on the back of three draws, triumphed 4-1 on spot-kicks.
The Super Eagles of Nigeria will confront the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon in the Round of 16 of the 32nd Africa Cup of Nations finals ongoing in Egypt, and venue is the Alexandria Stadium on Saturday, 6th July.
The match will kick off 5pm Nigeria time.
The fixture was confirmed on Tuesday evening after a 0-0 draw with Benin Republic, and Ghana’s 2-0 defeat of Guinea Bissau, condemned the Cup holders to second place in Group F, and a direct confrontation with the second –placed team in Group B, which is Nigeria.
Cameroon defeated Nigeria in the final of the Africa Cup of Nations in 1984, 1988 and 2000, but most painful for the Super Eagles was the agonizing penalty shoot-out loss in front of home fans at the National Stadium, Lagos on 13th February 2000.
In 2004, Jay Jay Okocha spearheaded a 2-1 defeat of Cameroon in a quarter final match at the Stade Mustapha Ben Jannet in Monastir, Tunisia and in the 2018 FIFA World Cup African qualifying series, the Super Eagles lashed the Lions 4-0 in Uyo and were forced to a 1-1 draw in Yaounde.
Nigeria and Cameroon share eight African titles between them. While the Indomitable Lions have won five times (1984, 1988, 2000, 2002 and 2017), Nigeria were champions in 1980, 1994 and 2013.
Saturday’s game is indeed a titanic battle, and the Super Eagles would be expected to pick themselves up from Sunday’s stunning defeat by Madagascar and battle the bitter rivals the way they should.
VAR, the video review system that sparked chaotic scenes in the African Champions League final last month, will be introduced from the quarter-final stage at the Cup of Nations in Egypt, CAF president Ahmad Ahmad said Thursday.
“It’s a measure of prudence. When you see the various countries that use VAR, they don’t rush into it from the start. It’s a technology that a lot of people don’t completely use yet,” Ahmad said in Cairo, on the eve of the opening match between hosts Egypt and Zimbabwe.
“It was planned for the semi-finals to start with, but we insisted that we have to go a little bit further. The executive committee decided on the quarter-finals so that it’s a success.”
The announcement was one keenly awaited since the controversy that overshadowed the second leg of the CAF Champions League final between Tunisian club Esperance and Wydad Casablanca of Morocco.
In an unprecedented decision, CAF ordered the match to be replayed following the Cup of Nations after Wydad walked off the pitch in protest and refused to return after a faulty VAR system was unavailable to judge a disallowed equaliser.
Nigeria has named a final 23-man squad for the upcoming Africa Cup of Nations with captain John Obi Mikel leading the pack in Egypt.
Obi, Ahmed Musa, and Kenneth Omeruo are the only survivors from the team that won the 2013 tournament in South Africa.
Three-time African champions Nigeria have failed to qualify for the last two tournaments and so 20 of the players on the squad to Egypt will be making their first appearances in the competition.
Leicester City striker Kelechi Iheanacho and Rotherham United midfielder Semi Ajayi were the two players dropped by coach Gernot Rohr from a 25-man provisional squad.
UD Levante winger Moses Simon and Chelsea defender Ola Aina were picked for the Africa Cup after they missed the cut to last years World Cup in Russia.
The squad has opened a training camp in Ismailia and will play a final warm-up game against Senegal on Sunday after they played out a goalless draw with Zimbabwe on Saturday in the southern Nigerian town of Asaba.
They open their Nations Cup quest on June 22 against debutants Burundi in the port city of Alexandra.
Guinea and Madagascar are the other teams in their group.
Goalkeepers: Francis Uzoho (Anorthosis Famagusta/CYP), Ikechukwu Ezenwa (Katsina United), Daniel Akpeyi (Kaizer Chiefs/RSA)
Defenders: Olaoluwa Aina (Torino/ITA), Abdullahi Shehu (Bursaspor/TUR), Chidozie Awaziem (Caykur Rizespor/TUR), William Ekong (Udinese/ITA), Leon Balogun (Brighton & Hove Albion/ENG), Kenneth Omeruo (Leganes/ESP), Jamilu Collins (SC Paderborn 07/GER)
Midfielders: John Obi Mikel (Middlesbrough/ENG), Wilfred Ndidi (Leicester City/ENG), Oghenekaro Etebo (Stoke City/ENG), John Ogu (Hapoel Beer Sheva/ISR)
Forwards: Ahmed Musa (Al Nasser/KSA), Victor Osimhen (Royal Charleroi/BEL), Moses Simon (Levante/ESP), Henry Onyekuru (Galatasaray/TUR), Odion Ighalo (Shanghai Shenhua/CHN), Alexander Iwobi (Arsenal/ENG), Samuel Kalu (Bordeaux/FRA), Paul Onuachu (FC Midtjyland/DEN), Samuel Chukwueze (Villarreal/ESP)