Robson Sharuko in CAIRO, Egypt
THE Warriors are creating quite a grim reputation for themselves at the AFCON finals — all the countries who are paired against them in the group stages have a ZERO percent chance of being crowned champions at the end of the same tournament.
And, whether they come in as odds-on favourites, hosts or defending champions doesn’t seem to matter at all.
From a very strong Indomitable Lions of the early part of the new millennium, Egypt (twice), Algeria (twice), Senegal (twice), Nigeria, a World Cup-bound Ghana, Tunisia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda — the story has been the same over the past 15 years.
No teams emerge from their group and go on to be crowned champions of Africa.
There is only just an 11,11 percent chance that any team paired in the same AFCON group with the Warriors is likely to win their first match, in regulation time, in the knockout stages of the tournament.
Only the Teranga Lions of Senegal have managed to do that, beating Guinea 3-2 in a five-goal quarter-final thriller in Alexandria here on February 3, 2006, but even that Senegalese side needed a goal from striker Henri Camara, three minutes into added time, to win that match.
Even those knockout matches, which have spilled into extra-time, like the Algeria/Morocco quarter-final in 2004, have either seen the team that shared the same group with Zimbabwe losing or, as was the case with Nigeria/Tunisia’s quarter-final at the 2006 AFCON finals, did not produce a winner in extra-time.
The Super Eagles only finally emerged triumphant 6-5 after a penalty shoot-out in Port Said.
Senegal, who shared the same group with the Warriors two years ago, battled to a goalless quarter-final draw against Cameroon and extra-time could not produce a winner before the Indomitable Lions triumphed 5-4 on penalties.
There is just only a 22,22 percent chance that a country, which features in the same AFCON group as the Warriors, will make it beyond the first knockout match of the tournament.
Only Nigeria and Senegal managed that and, on both occasions, it only happened in this country at the 2006 AFCON finals with the Super Eagles edging Tunisia, via the shootout lottery, while the Teranga Lions knocked out Guinea in that quarter-final thriller.
As fate would somehow have it, they were both beaten in the next round, the semi-finals, with the Nigerians losing 0-1 to Cote d’Ivoire and the Lions of Teranga succumbing to a 1-2 defeat at the hands of the Pharaohs.
There is a 77,77 percent chance that any team, paired with the Warriors in their AFCON group, will not make it beyond the first knock-out hurdle that they come across.
Only the Super Eagles and the Lions of Teranga, at the 2006 Nations Cup finals, managed to clear the first knockout hurdle they faced after having come out of a group that featured Zimbabwe.
All the others, in the four AFCON finals the Warriors have taken part in, fell at the very first hurdle of the knockout phase of the tourney.
Even when CAF opened a window for the best four third-placed teams, to also join the knockout stage of the tournament, meaning three, rather than two teams, emerged out of the group which featured the Warriors at this AFCON finals, the pattern didn’t change.
The Pharaohs, whom many felt were the favourites to be crowned champions in their home tournament, crashed to a shock defeat at the hands of Bafana Bafana, in their first knockout game, after having dominated Group A by winning all their three games and conceding no goal.
The South Africans, who only qualified for the Round of 16 as one of the four best third-placed teams, their fate being dragged through an agonising patch in the final match where Mali had to win against Angola for them to go through, produced a tactical masterclass to knock out out the Pharaohs. But, fate also appeared on their side — the team that wins the AFCON group, featuring the Warriors, is unlikely to score more than a goal in regulation time of the first knockout game (Cameroon 1-2 against Nigeria in 2004), (Nigeria 1-1 against Tunisia in 2006), (Senegal 0-0 against Cameroon two years ago).
And, save for the Senegalese in Gabon two years ago, it’s likely to concede a goal.
The Pharaohs were not the only ones to suffer the fate of the Warriors, after all, there was just an 11,11 percent chance that any of the three teams that came out of Group A — the Egyptians, the Congolese and the Ugandans — would win the knockout match, in regulation time.
And, just a 22,22 percent chance that any of them would make it beyond the first hurdle.
Congolese fans must be wondering how their team, which dominated the 30 minutes of extra-time against the tiring Madagascar, failed to convert one of the chances that came their way, including seeing their opponents goalkeeper produce a sensational save from Chancel Mbemba’s header.
But, it probably comes with having taken on the Warriors in the group stages because, even that fine Super Eagles side of the 2006 AFCON finals, which won all their three matches, failed to beat Tunisia in extra-time but, unlike the Congolese, won in the shoot-out lottery.
Maybe, that’s why even the foul on Yannick Bolaise was not rewarded with a penalty.
The Cranes of Uganda saw their AFCON finals challenge end, after a defeat in the first knockout game they faced here against Senegal despite the heroics of Denis Onyango saving a penalty from Mohamed Salah.
But, they are not walking alone.
It’s something that probably comes with having played the Warriors in the group stages of AFCON — Cameroon and Algeria made it out of a group that featured Zimbabwe in 2004 and crashed out of the first knockout hurdle, the Indomitable Lions being beaten 1-2 by Nigeria and the Desert Foxes falling 1-3 to Morocco after extra-time.
We have already flagged 2006 as having been an exception, with Senegal needing a goal in the third minute of added time to beat Guinea, the only time a team coming from a group that featured Zimbabwe won the first knockout match in regulation time, and Nigeria doing it the hard way with that penalty shoot-out win over Tunisia.
But, old habits die hard and when the Warriors returned to the AFCON finals in 2017, both their group opponents, Tunisia, who suffered a 0-2 defeat to Burkina Faso, and Senegal were beaten by Cameroon on 4-5 on penalties, as both teams crashed out at the first hurdle of their knockout challenges.
And, at this AFCON finals, there was a bloodbath as Egypt, Uganda and the DRC all fell at the first hurdle of the knockout challenge.
Maybe, when Nigeria faced Cameroon in the Round of 16, and with the Pharaohs have shared the same group with the Warriors here — as was the case in 2004 — we should have known the Super Eagles would win after a comeback.