Senegal became the first team to book their place in the quarter-finals of the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations with a comfortable 2-0 victory over Zimbabwe at Stade de Franceville.
Aliou Cisse’s men did all the damage in the opening stages of the Group B clash on Thursday, launching an early onslaught their opponents were ill-equipped to handle.
Sadio Mane netted from close range and the influential midfielder Henri Saivet scored a magnificent free-kick.
Those goals and a trio of presentable chances all arrived within a torrid opening 13 minutes for Zimbabwe, and Senegal were content to keep their overwhelmed opponents at arms’ length for the rest of the first half.
Slack finishing and heroics from Warriors goalkeeper Tatenda Mukuruva after the interval prevented a more handsome margin of victory.
Only defeat, a Tunisia victory and a five-goal swing against them in the final round of matches will deny Senegal top spot, while Zimbabwe still harbour hopes of taking second with victory over the north African nation – providing Cisse’s men do them a favour against Algeria.
Senegal started firmly on the front foot, with Lazio forward Keita Balde driving towards a retreating Zimbabwe defence and dragging a shot wide, before Saivet dispossessed Willard Katsande and played in Mame Biram Diouf to dink over Mukuruva and into the side-netting.
Keita had an attempt blocked at the end of a menacing run by Sparta Prague defender Costa Nhamoinesu and Zimbabwe’s increasingly desperate resistance was broken in the ninth minute.
Saivet again took advantage of a disorganised midfield and threaded a pass down the left channel to Keita, whose cross was tapped in at the far post by Mane.
Diouf failed to get a decisive touch on Lamine Gassama’s teasing cross but Senegal did not have to wait long for their second.
Keita tormented Zimbabwe once more, drawing a foul from Onismor Bhasera and leaving Saivet to arrow home from 25-yards
Kalisto Pasuwa’s side managed to string together their first sustained spell of pressure after the half-hour mark and Senegal needed a thudding last-ditch tackle from Cheikh M’Bengue to deny Nyasha Mushekwi.
Zimbabwe had improved markedly as half-time approached and Khama Billiat should have done better when he burst into the box and shot at Senegal goalkeeper Abdoulaye Diallo.
Diouf continued his wayward outing in front of goal when he lifted a shot over from seven yards in the 49th minute having been played into the box by Idrissa Gueye – the Everton man who was also pulling the strings when Mane crashed beyond the crossbar shortly afterwards.
Mukuruva came to the fore as his colleagues tired, standing firm to thwart Mane following a jinking run into the box, before beating Keita’s 72nd-minute strike to safety.
A counter-attack then ended with Diallo saving from Mushekwi and Billiat fired wide – Zimbabwe again leaving it too late as they only came to life in the half late on.
Diouf’s replacement Moussa Sow looked to garnish victory with an overhead kick where enthusiasm outmatched execution and Mukuruva prevented Keita from adding the goal his endeavours deserved, but it was highly satisfactory outing for the Teranga Lions.
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