Franceville (Gabon) (AFP) – Senegal put a string of disastrous Africa Cup of Nations campaigns behind them Thursday by beating Zimbabwe 2-0 and becoming the first qualifiers for the 2017 quarter-finals.
The Group B match was all but over as a contest after only 13 minutes in Gabonese city Franceville after Liverpool star Sadio Mane and Henri Saivet scored.
Since finishing fourth in 2006, the Senegalese have suffered a horror run in the premier African football competition, failing to get past the group stage three times and not even qualifying twice.
Now they are guaranteed to top Group B — whatever the result of their final fixture against battling Algeria next Monday.
“The goal today was to qualify and we have done that,” said Senegal coach and 2002 World Cup star Aliou Cisse.
“Even when we played badly in the first match (against Tunisia), we won. Today we played well and won and we have qualified.
“It’s been 10 years since we last made the quarter-finals. Now we have done it and I congratulate the players.
“I am very proud of the guys. Now we have to continue like this.”
Tunisia recovered impressively from a first-match beating by Senegal to defeat Algeria 2-1 and become favourites to finish runners-up and also secure a last-eight place.
A draw with Zimbabwe in Libreville, in a fixture scheduled to start at the same time as Senegal against Algeria, will clinch second spot.
Algeria, considered likelier quarter-finalists than Tunisia before the biennial competition kicked off last Saturday, are in serious trouble.
Only if they beat Senegal and Zimbabwe beat Tunisia might the Desert Foxes squeeze through on goal difference, goals scored or the drawing of lots.
Senegal wasted two chances to score before Mane tapped in a Keita Balde cross on nine minutes after Saivet carved open the Zimbabwe defence with a superb pass.
Saivet doubled the lead four minutes later by curling a free-kick over the defensive wall and past goalkeeper Tatenda Mkuruva.
A rout seemed on the cards as Senegal played keep-ball at times, as if in a training session, while increasingly frustrated Zimbabweans chased shadows.
The sole southern Africa representatives in Gabon did have a half-chance before half-time, but star attacker Khama Billiat shot weakly at Abdoulaye Diallo.
Senegal continue to stamp their authority on the match in the second half and Mane was foiled twice in quick succession by Mkuruva and Czech Republic-based defender Costa Nhamoinesu.
Tunisia scored twice in the second half before conceding a stoppage-time goal to confirm their Cup of Nations dominance over Algeria.
The Carthage Eagles also won the only previous clash between the northern neighbours in South Africa four years ago thanks to a late Youssef Msakni goal..
Msakni was involved in the opening goal in Franceville with his cross deflected into the net by Algerian captain Aissa Mandi.
Algeria also contributed to the second Tunisian goal as Wahbi Khazri was fouled in the box after intercepting a weak Faouzi Ghoulam back-header and Naim Sliti converted the penalty.
Substitute Sofiane Hanni scored a stoppage-time consolation goal.
“It was a very important match,” said Sliti. “We knew that after the game against Senegal we were very frustrated. We had chances to win.
“We made amends and showed the true face of Tunisian football. Many say that we play the most beautiful football and today we were rewarded.”
Belgium-born Algeria coach Georges Leekens said: “We started very well, but we know that in a match of this level we cannot give away gifts.
“If we make them two presents in the second half, we cannot win.
“The way we conceded the second goal when we were hit on the counter attack, we cannot have imagined that before the game.”
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