It’s the final round of fixtures in Group B. First up on Sunday are the stragglers. Guinea must count as one of the disappointments of the tournament so far. After taking a first-half lead against Madagascar in their group opener they let their foot off the gas and the AFCON debutants fought their way to a 2-2 draw.
They followed that up with a 1-0 loss to group favourites Nigeria. Naby Keita made his first start since the Champions League final there following injury but has reaggravated the complaint and his health is in doubt for this game now.
That’s a great boost for big underdogs Burundi. They’ve lost both of their games so far by 1-0 scorelines and those results mean their prospects look slight in the competition. In the new 24-team format there are four third-place spots up for grabs, and the only way they’ll get one of those is by winning this game. As such, they’ve a clear goal in this game.
They’ve also played both of their losses closer than the odds for this suggest, and Keita’s questionable fitness must give them some hope too. If Madagascar earned a draw against Guinea, why not Burundi?
The Malagasy side have made a name for themselves – probably involving a combination of eleven vowels – in this tournament. They’d never been involved in the AFCON before, but they’ve set themselves up to progress to the second round at the first attempt thanks to that surprise draw against Guinea and a stunning strike from Marco Ilaimaharitra versus Burundi.
They might need an effort of similar quality in the group finale as they’re up against the West African powerhouse of Nigeria, who have six points from six so far.
Though need is relative because they’ll likely be quite happy to sit back and take a draw here if it’s on offer as that would lift them out of the reach of Guinea and guarantee a top-two finishing spot.
Similarly, the Super Eagles may not wish to over-extend their wings in this one when there are much bigger games to come for them.
The way the group has worked out makes it clear that Guinea and Burundi need results. It also means that the other two in the group don’t really need to do all that much. A draw suits everyone and is worth adding here.
The Congolese would rival Guinea among the letdowns of this competition so far. A turgid performance in the first game was punished by the effervescent Ugandans. It was doubly disaappointing because they knew they’d face the home side in their second game and chances were they’d take nothign from that.
Despite a much-improved display, that proved to be the case following goals for former Premier League name Ahmed Elmohamady and some chap called Mo Salah. it leaves DR Congo needing to win this game to have a hope of going through.
Zimbabwe, to their credit, managed to resist the Ugandan’s might and earned a draw in their second game having lost to Egypt on the opening night of the tournament. It gives them a shot of finishing second if they can get a win in this, though maybe they’ll just be happy to take one of the four third-place qualification slots.
Whatever way they approach this, they’ll likely have to deal with a DR Congo onslaught at some stage. They’ve got the talent to cause problems for any team, and showed it against Egypt by hitting the crossbar twice and pressing in the second half especially.
They should be able to break their scoring duck in this game and we’d expect them to get the result too.
Burundi Double Chance @ evens
Nigeria Madagascar Draw @ 7/4
DR Congo Win @ 7/5