Ivory Coast marched into the last 16 of the Africa Cup of Nations and sent holders Algeria crashing out with a 3-1 victory at Japoma Stadium.

Algeria needed a win to stay in the tournament, but the sorry defending champions are heading home after finishing bottom of Group E.

Ivory Coast exploited Les Fennecs' frailties to cruise through as group winners and set up a showdown with Egypt, Franck Kessie setting them on their way by volleying in with his left foot to finish off a slick move midway through the first half when Nicolas Pepe squared the ball into his path.

Ibrahim Sangare capitalised on terrible defending to double their lead with a free header six minutes prior to half-time and Pepe was allowed to run forward unchallenged before picking his spot to add a third goal early in the second half.

Riyad Mahrez rattled the right post with a penalty after Simon Deli was adjudged to have fouled Youcef Belaili before Sofiane Bendebka scored Algeria’s first goal of the tournament with a header 17 minutes from time.

Sebastien Haller had what he thought was the Elephants' fourth goal ruled out for offside right at the end, but they gained sweet revenge for a defeat to Algeria at the quarter-final stage of the 2019 showpiece.

Algeria could become the second major casualty of the Africa Cup of Nations as the group stages are concluded on Thursday.

The defending champions head into their final – and arguably toughest – Group E match in a desperate position after failing to impress in their first two outings.

Thursday will also bring an end to Group F, where Algeria's neighbours Tunisia have plenty of work to do as well.

Ivory Coast v Algeria (16:00 GMT)

With one point from two matches, Algeria head into matchday three bottom of Group E and staring into the abyss of elimination.

Only a victory against group leaders Ivory Coast will be enough to take them into the knockouts, otherwise they will fall at the first hurdle for the third time in five AFCON tournaments.

Ivory Coast will be hoping to gain a measure of revenge for their 2019 quarter-final penalty shoot-out defeat to the Fennec Foxes, with the Elephants heading into the game unbeaten in five AFCON games.

They too have something to play for, with top spot still up for grabs.

One to watch: Youcef Belaili (Algeria)

You certainly cannot fault the effort of winger Belaili, given his eight shots is three more than any of his team-mates and he has also tallied the most touches in the opposition's box (11), but there is little getting away from the fact Algeria in general need to sharpen up in front of goal if they are to avoid following Ghana into shock elimination.

 

Sierra Leone v Equatorial Guinea (16:00 GMT)

Before the tournament started, few would have given this pair much hope of finishing in the top two, yet either could grasp that opportunity on Thursday.

Equatorial Guinea are second and hold a one-point advantage, meaning a draw may well be enough to get them through at least as one of the best third-placed teams.

But Sierra Leone drew 2-2 with Ivory Coast last time out following a goalless stalemate with Algeria – the results showed they are not to be taken lightly.

Equatorial Guinea will be favourites, however, and they have only ever lost two of their eight AFCON group games.

One to watch: Mohamed Nbalie Kamara (Sierra Leone)

Kamara has been one of the standout goalkeepers at the tournament so far. His 12 saves are the most of anyone, and those stops have seen him record a 'goals prevented' record of 2.1, the second-best record among keepers at the AFCON.

 

Gambia v Tunisia (19:00 GMT)

Although Tunisia could potentially sneak through as one of the best third-place teams with their current haul of three points, it would be a disappointing group stage total for a side that came into the tournament with high expectations.

Yet the Carthage Eagles' situation is slightly complicated by the fact they recorded seven new positive COVID-19 cases in the build-up, with key players Wahbi Khazri and Ali Maaloul among them.

That will be a boost to Gambia, however, with the Scorpions aiming to become only the third AFCON debutants this century to go unbeaten in the group stage.

But Tunisia have not lost to an AFCON debutant since the 1996 final.

One to watch: Hannibal Mejbri (Tunisia)

Manchester United youngster Hannibal has been used sparingly in this tournament, playing just 45 minutes so far. Yet, his tally of two chances created is only bettered by Khazri and Maaloul (both on three), and given Tunisia's COVID-19 issues, a first start may be on the cards.

 

Mali v Mauritania (19:00 GMT)

A wonderful chance presents itself here for Mali, as they target topping Group F.

If they better Gambia's result against Tunisia, that is exactly what they will achieve, as well as extending their longest ever group stage unbeaten run to seven matches.

Anything other than a Mali win would be a significant surprise given Mauritania are bottom of the group and pointless, their five goals conceded second-worse to Ethiopia, who have played a game more.

One to watch: Ibrahima Kone (Mali)

Kone has played a prominent role in Mali's solid start to the tournament, scoring a penalty in each of their two matches. If he nets against Mauritania, he will be the first Malian to tally get three goals in a single AFCON edition since former Barcelona midfielder Seydou Keita in 2013.

 

Algeria's Africa Cup of Nations title defence hangs in the balance following a 1-0 defeat by Equatorial Guinea.

Esteban Obiang struck 20 minutes from time at Stade omnisport de Douala to lift the National Thunder to second place in Group E.

The result also condemned Algeria to a first defeat in this competition since a 2-1 reverse against Tunisia in 2017, while they must now beat Ivory Coast in their final group game to have any chance of progressing to the knockout stages.

Despite only enjoying 33 per cent of the possession, Equatorial Guinea had the better first-half chances. Oscar Siafa drew a smart save out of Rais M'Bolhi, while Iban Salvador's rasping long-range drive was just wide of the target.

Algeria had the ball in the net at the other end, but Baghdad Bounedjah was denied by the offside flag.

The Desert Warriors continued to dominate possession, but were hit by a 70th-minute sucker punch as a low corner was flicked on by Josete Miranda, before Obiang applied the finishing touch at the far post.

Algeria pushed for the equaliser as the clock ticked down, but were unable to preserve their nine-match unbeaten run at the Africa Cup of Nations and are still seeking their first goal in this year's event.

Sunday's action at the Africa Cup of Nations will see two former winners go in search of much-needed points.

Algeria, champions in 1990 and three years ago, were held to a surprise draw by Sierra Leone on matchday one and sit second in Group E.

North African neighbours Tunisia, who won the tournament back in 2004, started their campaign with a 1-0 defeat to 10-man Mali and are in desperate need of a result against Mauritania.

Mali will take on Gambia, while the Ivory Coast will look to consolidate top spot in their group when they meet Sierra Leone.

 

Gambia v Mali

Gambia are bidding to become the first debutants to win their opening two matches at the Africa Cup of Nations since Equatorial Guinea did so in 2012.

That said, Mali are on a run of three wins in five AFCON games – as many as in their previous 15 in the competition – and are looking for consecutive victories to start the group for the first time since 2004.

In what will be a first meeting of these sides in this tournament, the advice is to keep your eye on the action in the second half: in the past 12 years, Mali have scored 21 of their 31 goals in this competition after half-time, a figure second only to Ivory Coast (25).

One to watch: Hamari Traore

Rennes captain Traore made nine final-third entries against Tunisia, the most of any player, as he proved a dangerous outlet. He could be a major threat.

 

Tunisia v Mauritania

Tunisia's shock loss to Mali was their third in a row at the AFCON, something they last suffered in 2004. They have never before lost four consecutive matches at this tournament.

The 2004 champions are also enduring a four-game winless run in the group stage and were held to a goalless draw by Mauritania in 2019 in their only previous meeting in this competition.

Mauritania, still without a victory at the Africa Cup of Nations, will at least hope to end a three-game run without a goal.

One to watch: Wahbi Khazri

Khazri missed a crucial 77th-minute penalty against Mali during a frustrating performance. The Saint-Etienne forward will be more determined that anyone to make amends.

 

Ivory Coast v Sierra Leone

Ivory Coast are seeking a third consecutive win in the AFCON group stages, something they last managed between January 2010 and January 2013.

History is on their side against Sierra Leone: they won the only previous meeting at this competition 4-0 back in 1994, in which Joel Tiehi scored a hat-trick - something no Ivory Coast player has managed since in the AFCON.

Sierra Leone have not scored in five of their previous six games at this event, only managing to do so against Burkina Faso in 1996, but they do have a man in good form at these finals...

One to watch: Mohamed Nbalie Kamara

Having studied Algeria's Riyad Mahrez by watching Manchester City footage, Sierra Leone goalkeeper became a national hero for his performance in their opening game. He even won praise from the country's president, Julius Maada Bio, who delivered a personal message of thanks on social media.

Algeria v Equatorial Guinea

The third-highest-ranked African side were frustrated on matchday one, and there will be a determination to put things right.

They do at least boast an impressive defensive record, having gone unbeaten in nine matches in this tournament and kept six clean sheets in their most recent eight games.

Equatorial Guinea have won just one AFCON match since getting two victories on their tournament debut in 2012. Still, they were unbeaten in five games before these finals and beat Tunisia in World Cup qualifying towards the end of last year.

One to watch: Youcef Belaili

Belaili created six opportunities on matchday one, taking his tally to 18 in the competition overall. That is double the amount of chances created by any other Algeria player since his debut three years ago.

 

Riyad Mahrez and co. failed to spark as reigning Africa Cup of Nations champions Algeria were held to a 0-0 draw by Sierra Leone in their opening Group E fixture.

Heading into the delayed 2021 edition of the tournament aiming to become the first team to win consecutive AFCON titles since Egypt won three in a row between 2006 and 2010, Algeria dominated on Tuesday but could not find a way through Sierra Leone's stubborn rearguard.

Appearing at only their third AFCON finals and their first since 1996, Sierra Leone went close themselves midway through the first half through Alhaji Kamara and Umaru Bangura, though they only managed one attempt on target throughout.

The second half was all Algeria, yet Mohamed Kamara pulled off some excellent saves to deny Yacine Brahimi and Mahrez, while one-time England international Steven Caulker made a superb block from Sofiane Bendebka.

Algeria were able to call on the likes of Baghdad Bounedjah – who netted the winner against Senegal in the 2019 final – and Said Benrahma from the bench, but the West Ham attacker spurned a glorious opportunity late on as the holders' profligacy proved costly in an underwhelming start to their title defence in a group that also includes the Ivory Coast and Equatorial Guinea.

Tuesday will be a day of contrasts as defending champions Algeria begin their Africa Cup of Nations title defence against a Sierra Leone side returning to the competition after a 26-year absence.

Algeria will be unequivocal favourites as they look to begin Group E in positive fashion, with Djamel Belmadi's men unbeaten in 34 competitive matches.

Their success in last month's Arab Cup contributed to that run and provided part of their squad with a solid period of preparation.

But the biggest game of the day will take place between Group D rivals Nigeria and Egypt, who will both be hoping to make early statements in their respective title bids.

Algeria v Sierra Leone (13:00 GMT)

It is déjà vu for Sierra Leone, as they faced Algeria – their only previous AFCON meeting – when they last qualified for the competition back in 1996.

But AFCON stalwarts Algeria will be massive favourites here as they begin their 19th participation in the tournament, aiming to become the first team to win back-to-back titles since Egypt's three in a row between 2006 and 2010.

Few will envy the task on Sierra Leone's hands, with Algeria having scored more goals (19) in qualifying than any of the 24 teams in Cameroon.

If they avoid defeat on Tuesday, Algeria will beat their previous best unbeaten run (eight matches) at the AFCON.

One to watch: Said Benrahma (Algeria)

The Fennec Foxes' squad is packed full of experience and quality, with as many as five players boasting double-figures for international goals. West Ham star Benrahma is yet to establish himself among their key players, but this season has found another level in the Premier League, his nine non-penalty goal involvements being bettered by only seven forwards.

 

Nigeria v Egypt (16:00 GMT)

On paper, Group D looks very tough to call – this encounter could at least give us an idea of who is likeliest to finish top.

Either way, this is a proper heavyweight duel between two of the AFCON's most-recognisable nations.

This will be Egypt's 25th appearance at the AFCON, more than any other country, and they are aiming to win it for a record-extending eighth success.

But Nigeria's pedigree is similarly impressive given the fact they have reached the semi-finals in 14 of the previous 16 tournaments.

If they do emerge victorious on Tuesday, it will end Egypt's 16-match group stage unbeaten run, which dates back to 2004.

One to watch: Mohamed Salah (Egypt)

Obvious? Perhaps. Justified? Absolutely. Many would argue Salah has been the best player in the world over the past year, and so he has high expectations to meet here. No other player in Carlos Queiroz's squad has more than seven international goals and despite only being 29, he's at least four years older than any other forward in the selection – and let us not forget, he already has 25 Premier League goal involvements this term, 12 more than anyone else.

 

Sudan v Guinea-Bissau (19:00 GMT)

Sudan will be hoping it is a happy return to Africa's biggest tournament as they prepare for a first outing since the 2012 edition.

Ending a run of no clean sheets in the competition since beating Ghana 2-0 in the 1970 final would certainly go along way to giving them a platform to build on over the next month.

Since that success 52 years ago, Sudan have only picked up three wins from a possible 13, but they will not head into the fixture scared of Guinea-Bissau, even though they lost to them 4-2 as recently as September.

Baciro Cande's men have finished bottom in each of their previous two AFCON appearances and go into this game without a goal in 437 minutes in the competition, the worst goalless run of this year's participants.

One to watch: Mohamed Abdelrahman (Sudan)

The Falcons of Jediane will be pinning most of their hopes on striker Abdelrahman, who scored a third of their nine goals in the qualification campaign.

Holders Algeria have been grouped alongside two-time winners Ivory Coast following the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations draw ceremony held in Yaounde on Tuesday.

The delayed event, which will be hosted in Cameroon from January 9 to February 6, features 24 teams for the second time with six groups of four.

Algeria, who triumphed in Egypt in 2019, are alongside 1992 and 2015 winners Ivory Coast as well as Sierra Leone and Equatorial Guinea in Group E.

Hosts Cameroon will open the tournament in Group A, where they were drawn alongside Burkina Faso, Ethiopia and Cape Verde.

Record seven-time winners Egypt, who last lifted the title in 2010, are grouped with three-time champions Nigeria, Sudan and Guinea-Bissau in Group D.

Arsenal team-mates Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Thomas Partey will face off in Group C with Gabon and Ghana alongside first-timers Comoros and top seeds Morocco.

Debutants Gambia are alongside Tunisia, Mali and Mauritania in Group F, while 2019 runners-up Senegal are in Group B with Zimbabwe, Guinea and Malawi.

Africa Cup of Nations draw:

Group A: Cameroon, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Cape Verde

Group B: Senegal, Zimbabwe, Guinea, Malawi

Group C: Morocco, Ghana, Comoros, Gabon

Group D: Nigeria, Egypt, Sudan, Guinea-Bissau

Group E: Algeria, Sierra Leone, Equatorial Guinea, Ivory Coast

Group F: Tunisia, Mali, Mauritania, Gambia

© 2022 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.