Morocco booked their place in the Africa Cup of Nations quarter-finals as Achraf Hakimi's stunning free-kick sealed a 2-1 win over Malawi.

The Paris Saint-Germain full-back struck 20 minutes from time at Stade Ahmadou Ahidjo after Youssef En-Nesyri cancelled out Gabadinho Mhango's magnificent early effort.

After scraping through Group B in third place, Malawi were making their first appearance in the AFCON knockout stages.

The Flames took a surprise lead in the seventh minute, Mhango catching Yassine Bounou off his line with a wonderful 40-yard lob.

Morocco had only lost one of their previous 11 games when facing an opponent in the competition for the first time.

Vahid Halilhodzic's side equalised in first-half stoppage time as En-Nesyri headed home from Selim Amallah's deep cross.

The contest looked possibly set for extra time until Hakimi emphatically beat Charles Thomu from 30 yards to send his nation through to the last eight, where they will face Ivory Coast or Egypt.

Cape Verde are plotting an Africa Cup of Nations upset when they do battle with Senegal in a round-of-16 derby and Morocco are strong favourites to beat Malawi on Tuesday.

Senegal won Group B despite scoring only one goal in three games, while Cape Verde qualified after finishing third in Group A.

Morocco topped Group C and will be expected to advance to the quarter-finals at the expense of a Malawi side that were third in Group B and will be playing their first AFCON knockout match.


Senegal v Cape Verde (16:00 GMT)

This will be the first Africa Cup of Nations clash between the two nations and Cape Verde will be playing only their second ever knockout match in the tournament.

The Blue Sharks were beaten 2-0 by Ghana at the quarter-final stage in 2013 and they will have to defy the odds at Kouekong Stadium to reach last eight once again.

Cape Verde coach Pedro Brito believes his players can spring a big surprise in Bafoussam.

He said: "We have worked hard in our training and facing a team like Senegal is an added motivation, because the match is like a derby.

"They have to respect us as a team the same way we respect them.

"The competition has seen a lot of surprises, and we hope to be the other team that will cause an upset as our mission is to win the game and move to the next round."

The Lions of Teranga have not been firing on all cylinders, but they are the only side in the tournament not to have conceded a goal.

The three sides to have faced Senegal have only been able to muster three shots on target between them, so Cape Verde must grasp any chances they are able to create.
 

One to watch: Idrissa Gueye (Senegal)

Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Gueye is a key man for Senegal, getting through so much work in the middle of the park.

Gueye has played a big part in his side being so solid and the industrious former Everton man can boss the midfield battle.

 


Morocco v Malawi (19:00 GMT)

Malawi and Morocco will also lock horns for the first time in the AFCON at Stade Ahmadou Ahidjo.

Underdogs Malawi will be playing only their 10th game in this competition and they have only won two Africa Cup of Nations matches.

They are unbeaten in two games, though, having remained in the tournament courtesy of a 2-1 win over Zimbabwe and a battling goalless draw against Senegal.

Morocco beat Ghana and Comoros en route to last 16 before a 2-2 draw with Gabon. 

Vahid Halilhodzic's side will under pressure to progress in Yaounde by dispatching a Malawi side that had an average of just 31.5 per cent of possession in the group stage, the lowest of any team.


One to watch: Sofiane Boufal (Morocco)

Boufal is Morocco's leading scorer in the tournament with two and he also created 10 chances 

Only Algeria’s Youcef Belaïli created more opportunities in the group stage with 12 and Morocco will expect the winger to step up again.

 

Senegal secured their spot in the knockout phase of the Africa Cup of Nations as Group B winners after a late penalty reprieve saw them draw 0-0 with Malawi.

The Teranga Lions came into the tournament as one of the favourites, and while they progress to the next stage at the top of their group with five points, it was by no means convincing.

Malawi looked to carry the greater threat in the first half, with Gabadinho Mhango seeing a couple of long-range efforts go close.

Senegal did at least test Charles Thom in the Malawi goal early in the second half, with Abdou Diallo's header tipped just over, though it was hardly a sign of imminent domination.  

Malawi then looked set to take the lead with 15 minutes left when Bouna Sarr conceded a penalty for appearing to foul Gomezgani Chirwa, but the decision was overturned after a VAR check, much to the Flames' fury.

As a result, Senegal finished top of the group, meaning they will play one of the best third-placed teams, while Malawi finish third behind Guinea by virtue of an earlier defeat to them.

Three of the pre-tournament Africa Cup of Nations favourites conclude their group stage fixtures on Tuesday, though one of them is in a tricky situation.

Senegal are on track to qualify from Group B, while Morocco have so far handled the potentially difficult Group C rather well – the same cannot be said for Ghana.

Luckily for the Black Stars, they have arguably – on paper at least – their easiest game of the group stage to look forward to as they bid to avoid falling at the first hurdle for only the second time this century.

Malawi v Senegal (16:00 GMT)

Just by beating Zimbabwe 2-1 thanks to a brace from the excellent Gabadinho Mhango, Malawi have arguably already compounded expectations at this year's tournament.

That was only their second ever win at the AFCON and it ensured they go into Tuesday with a real chance of qualification, either automatically or as one of the four best third-placed teams.

But Senegal still have a lot to play for themselves, with Aliou Cisse's men tied on four points with Guinea.

While that could be enough to take them through anyway, failing to top this group will not be a good look for the team many considered favourites to lift the trophy.

One to watch: Gabadinho Mhango (Malawi)

While Senegal undoubtedly possess the stronger squad, Orlando Pirates striker Mhango really caught the eye last time out with a couple of well-taken goals. One more will make him Malawi's all-time top scorer in the AFCON.

 

Zimbabwe v Guinea (16:00 GMT)

A wonderful opportunity awaits Guinea here, with the Syli Nationale knowing they will win the group as long as they better Senegal's result.

Their 0-0 draw with the Teranga Lions was a decent outcome and means they are one of just three teams still to concede a goal – though goalkeeper Aly Keita's tournament-best record of 2.4 goals prevented may have something to do with that.

They face a Zimbabwe side with only pride to play for having lost each of their first two games, though the omens are not great for Guinea: the Warriors' only previous AFCON wins have been in their final group matches (in 2004 and 2006).

 

One to watch: Mohamed Bayo (Guinea)

Despite their chances being worth 2.98 in terms of expected goals (xG), Guinea have only netted once. That 1.98 non-penalty xG underperformance is the second-worst at the tournament. Bayo arrived in Cameroon in good form – they will hope he can inspire an improvement where it matters most.

 

Gabon v Morocco (19:00 GMT)

As one of only three teams to win both of their first two games this year, Morocco are already assured of a place in the next round – they just need to seal top spot now.

The Atlas Lions are already on their longest unbeaten run at the AFCON (six matches) since going 11 without defeat in the 1970s, and they also boast the best xG (5.3) and xGA (0.5) records of the teams to play twice, evidence of how effective they have been at both ends of the pitch.

But Gabon, who confirmed Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Mario Lemina have returned to their clubs for medical reasons, are aiming to go unbeaten in a second success group stage campaign for the first time, with a point likely good enough to send them through.

One to watch: Youssef En-Nesyri (Morocco)

It has been a frustrating season so far for Sevilla striker En-Nesyri, who has missed prolonged periods through injury and then saw his penalty saved against Comoros. His 25-minute cameo then was his first appearance in the tournament. With qualification already assured, they might opt to build up his fitness for the knockouts with a start against Gabon.

 

Ghana v Comoros (19:00 GMT)

Ghana were held to a 1-1 draw by Gabon last time out, a match that was marred by ugly scenes at full-time after a late equaliser denied them victory. It culminated in a red card for Benjamin Tetteh after he punched an opponent in the face.

Having also lost to Morocco on matchday one, Ghana now need a win to have any hope of progressing – even then, it may not be enough.

If Ghana do not win, it will be the first time they have ever failed to win a single group game in 22 appearances at the tournament.

It would also be their first failure to get out of the group since 2006. Much is at stake.

One to watch: Andre Ayew (Ghana)

While Ghana have some very talented young players in their squad, their qualification hopes are looking a little desperate – they need their experienced stars to take the lead here. Andre Ayew and his brother Jordan are obviously the focus here, given that nine (70 per cent) of Ghana's previous 13 AFCON goals have been scored by the siblings (Andre is on five, Jordan on four).

 

Gabadinho Mhango scored twice as Malawi came from behind to beat Zimbabwe 2-1 on Friday, providing a real boost to the Flames' hopes of getting out of their group for the first time in Africa Cup of Nations history.

Ishmael Wadi had seemingly ensured Zimbabwe were going into the break ahead, with his towering header looping over Ernest Kakhobwe in the Malawi net with 38 minutes played.

But Meck Mwase's men levelled soon after, Mhango turning in Francisco Madinga's sumptuous left-wing cross.

Malawi then completed the turnaround just before the hour mark.

Mhango played the ball into Madinga from the flank and continued his run, which subsequently allowed him to capitalise on Teenage Hadebe's hesitant defending after a flick-on, and he guided a delicate finish over the onrushing Petros Mhari.

The result leaves Malawi with three points from two games, one behind top two Guinea and Senegal, and gives them a fine chance of at least securing one of the qualification spots awarded to the four best third-placed teams – Zimbabwe are pointless and staring at likely elimination.

 

The Africa Cup of Nations group stage continues at pace on Friday, with four matches scheduled to take place.

Senegal, runners-up in 2019, face Guinea in Group B, with both teams having won their opening fixtures. Malawi and Zimbabwe take each other on in the other match in that group.

Meanwhile, Gabon are hoping to have Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang back for their clash with Ghana in Group C, while Morocco, winners against the Black Stars on matchday one, take on Comoros.

Senegal v Guinea (13:00 GMT)

Senegal and Guinea are meeting for the third time at the Africa Cup of Nations, with the former winning their first two encounters: 2-1 in the 1994 group stages and 3-2 in the 2006 quarter-finals.

In both matches, Guinea opened the scoring before eventually finishing as the losing side, and it is Senegal – led, of course, by Sadio Mane – who will be favourites on Friday, the Liverpool forward's 97th-minute penalty sealing an opening win against Zimbabwe.

Mane's fellow Red Naby Keita is Guinea's star man. He attempted more passes in the opposition half (26) than any of his team-mates in the 1-0 defeat of Malawi last time out and it was his precise ball that led to the only goal of the game.

Keita might have his work cut out against a Senegal midfield that will likely include Paris Saint-Germain's all-action Idrissa Gueye, the towering presence of Crystal Palace's Cheikhou Kouyate and Bayern Munich's versatile full-back Bouna Sarr, who had five attempts and played two key passes in the win over Zimbabwe.

One to watch: Sadio Mane

After his last-gasp winner on Monday, Mane has been directly involved in five of Senegal's past six AFCON goals, scoring four and providing one assist. Since his debut in the competition in January 2015, the former Southampton star has been directly involved in more goals than any other Senegal player.

 

Malawi v Zimbabwe (16:00)

After narrow defeats in their opening matches, Group B's other teams will be looking to bounce back knowing they could draw level with one of the pool's big sides with three points.

That being said, neither team exactly have a strong history in the competition. This will be the first encounter between the nations at an AFCON finals, with Malawi winning just one of their seven matches at the tournament (D1 L5).

Zimbabwe, meanwhile, are winless in their past seven AFCON matches (D2 L5), last claiming a victory in the competition in 2006, against Ghana (2-1).

It could be a case of an easily stoppable force meeting a highly movable object, however, with Malawi having failed to score in four of their past seven AFCON games, while Zimbabwe have never kept a clean sheet in 13 such matches, conceding 28 goals. No team has ever played more games in the competition without once keeping the ball out of their own net.

One to watch: Tino Kadewere (Zimbabwe)

Lyon forward Kadewere had to settle for a place on the bench in the first game, though he came on for the second half and had two attempts, which was bettered by only Knowledge Musona for Zimbabwe. In a squad shy of top-level European experience, Kadewere is undoubtedly the standout talent.

 

Morocco v Comoros (16:00)

After Senegal, Morocco are the second-best-ranked team at AFCON, currently placed 28th in the FIFA's world standings.

The Atlas Lions defeated Ghana in their opening Group C match and head into Friday's meeting with minnows Comoros as huge favourites, with Morocco looking to win their opening two matches at an AFCON in consecutive editions of the tournament, having only won both such games in one of their previous 16 appearances in the competition.

Comoros, who went down 1-0 to Gabon on Monday, will hope to avoid becoming the sixth AFCON debutants this century to lose their opening two matches, after Benin (2004), Botswana (2012), Burundi (2019), Niger (2012) and Zimbabwe (2004).

One to watch: Sofiane Boufal

Former Southampton midfielder Boufal scored an 83rd-minute winner against Ghana. No Moroccan player has netted in successive AFCON matches since Houssine Kharja in 2012.

 

Gabon v Ghana (19:00)

Friday's headline clash sees Gabon take on Ghana, and Aubameyang could well be back after he trained with his side following a negative coronavirus result.

Aubameyang, who has not played for Arsenal since early December and was recently stripped of the club captaincy due to a disciplinary breach, tested positive for COVID-19 upon his arrival for the AFCON, along with Mario Lemina.

Gabon will, however, be without coach Patrice Neveu, who is isolating. They are looking to win successive AFCON games for the first time since a run of three victories in 2012.

Four-time champions Ghana, meanwhile, have won just one of their past five group games (D2 L2), losing more in this run than in their previous 12 such matches combined (W9 D2 L1).

One to watch: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang

There is no doubting Aubameyang's quality, even if the 32-year-old has been ostracised at Arsenal recently. Having been out of action for so long, it may take the former Borussia Dortmund star time to get up to speed, though he has the ability to be the difference-maker. 

The Africa Cup of Nations is in full swing following its big kick-off on Sunday, and Monday sees the action taken up a notch.

There will be twice as many games as Group B and Group C get under way, providing first opportunities to see two of the pre-tournament favourites: Morocco and Senegal.

But the shroud of COVID-19 lingers over practically every AFCON match at the moment, and it will be especially difficult to ignore its impact on games on Monday, with the likes of Senegal, Guinea, Malawi and Gabon all missing key players.

Senegal v Zimbabwe (13:00 GMT)

Senegal's second so-called 'golden generation' is running out of time.

They arrived in Cameroon with a stacked squad, but many of their key players are approaching 30 or are already there.

To make matters worse, coach Aliou Cisse is without a host of big players against Zimbabwe, a game he will be keen to just get out of the way.

"I was looking at the composition of our team," Cisse said. "Compared to our last match against Congo, I can already tell you we have six indisputable starting players who are not on the squad list: Edouard Mendy, Krepin Diatta, Ismaila Sarr, Nampalys Mendy, Kalidou Koulibaly and Saliou Ciss.

"Having six absent starting players, it's true that it's worrying."

One to watch: Sadio Mane (Senegal)

Senegal have one of the best squads – if not the very best – in the tournament, but they are going to rely on Mane to a certain degree, particularly given their COVID-19 absences. Thankfully he is exceptional both when it comes to sniffing out chances and creating them, with his 0.67 non-penalty expected goal involvements every 90 minutes being the fourth-best in the Premier League (min. 900 minutes played) this term.

 

Guinea v Malawi (16:00 GMT)

Both Guinea and Malawi have been among the sides struck by coronavirus ahead of this tournament, but the former should still fancy their chances on Monday against a team considered Group B's rank outsiders.

Anything but three points will be a major disappointment for Guinea on matchday one, and key player Naby Keita is not among those to be afflicted with COVID-19.

As such, coach Kaba Diawara is feeling confident.

"We have the ambition to go as far as possible in this competition, which is why I accepted this mission," Diawara told Africa Top Sports ahead of the tournament.

"It's clear that it is the results that will speak. We try to put things in place, sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't."

One to watch: Mohamed Bayo (Guinea)

While Naby Keita may be the team's most-recognisable star, expectations on Bayo are significant given he heads into the tournament with nine Ligue 1 goals to his name with Clermont this season, 45 per cent of their total output, and only one was a penalty. Only Jonathan David (12) and Wissam Ben Yedder and Ludovic Ajorque (both 10) have scored more in the French top flight so far.

 

Morocco v Ghana (16:00 GMT)

After Senegal (60.9 per cent), Morocco are the likeliest to finish top of a group at the AFCON (52.6 per cent), according to Stats Perform analysis. This speaks to the quality in the side assembled by Vahid Halilhodzic.

Even without Chelsea star Hakim Ziyech, who has been exiled, Morocco boast some fine players and will be expected to go deep into the competition – not that coach Halilhodzic is taking anything for granted.

"We have to prepare well to face the three teams in the group: Ghana, Gabon, and the Comoros," the Bosnian told reporters.

"Although Morocco are favourites to reach the second round, we have to prepare well and play with a lot of ambition and determination to go as far as possible."

One to watch: Yassine Bounou (Morocco)

This is likely to be Morocco's biggest challenge in the group stage, so they will want to be solid at the back. Bounou should help them in that respect – the Sevilla goalkeeper's 25 clean sheets in all competitions in 2021 was a total bettered only by Ederson (26) and Edouard Mendy (27) across the top five leagues in Europe.

 

Comoros v Gabon (19:00 GMT)

Comoros' Group C opener will be a momentous game as they play in a major international tournament for the first time.

Making a splash will be tough, but coach Amir Abdou is adamant they are more than worthy of their place in Cameroon.

 

He told Africa Foot United: "We haven't qualified by chance. We therefore don't think that we will let the opportunity to go as far as possible slip away.

"We will fight with our weapons with our various opponents, as tough as they are."

 

One to watch: Denis Bouanga (Gabon)

Gabon are likely to be without two of their most experienced players in Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Mario Lemina due to coronavirus, meaning others will need to step up. Bouanga will probably be among those expected to take on greater responsibility. The gifted Saint-Etienne left-winger is a good dribbler and takes a lot of shots, his 3.4 attempts per 90 minutes being the fifth-most in Ligue 1 this season (min. 900 minutes played).

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