Ivory Coast became the first nation to punch their ticket to the quarterfinals of the 2008 African Cup of Nations today after a 4-1 romp over Benin, a game in which Benin needed a 90th minute goal to avoid a shutout and the Toure brothers combined on a nice goal for the winners.
Ivory Coast now need only a draw in their last group match against Mali to win Group B and the game against the runner-up in Group A that comes with it. My pre-tournament favorites are looking good so far and I’m going to stick with them until the very end. They’re getting contributions from everywhere right now, not just up top and in the midfield, and I’m not convinced that anyone in this tournament can beat them with the possible exception of Ghana. Chelsea striker Didier Drogba is the captain ahead of some other worthy candidates like Arsenal’s Kolo Toure and he scored the opening goal to start the ball rolling today for Ivory Coast.
Mali needed something out of today’s game against Nigeria and they got the job done with a 0-0 draw. It was by no means pretty to watch, but if you’re a Mali fan, you have to like the position your team is in now with just one group game to go. Yes, it’s against Ivory Coast, but with both teams needing only a point to keep their respective places and advance, I can see Mali coming out with a share of the spoils because it suits both teams just fine. Mali was very, very unlucky to not win today’s game as an 83rd minute left-footed drive by Seydou Keita came off the crossbar.
Nigeria now need to beat Benin in their last game and hope Ivory Coast beat Mali. The Super Eagles boast a pretty potent front line with Newcastle striker Obafemi Martins and Everton’s Yakubu, but somehow have been held scoreless thus far in the tournament. I have no doubts they’ll take care of Benin, but as I said before, a draw seems the most likely result in the Ivory Coast-Mali match.
Group B Standings (after two games):
1. Ivory Coast (6 points, +4 goal differential)
2. Mali (4 pts, +1 GD)
3. Nigeria (1 pt, -1 GD)
4. Benin (0 pts, -4 GD)
In tomorrow’s action, wins by Zambia against Cameroon and by Egypt against Sudan can seal those countries’ places in the last eight. Egypt should get the job done against Sudan with relative ease, but Zambia will really have their hands full with favored Cameroon.