s the ongoing Africa Cup of Nations tournament enters the semi-final stage, JOHNNY EDWARD writes about the players who were expected to shine at the continental showpiece but failed to sparkle in Cameroon
Riyad Mahrez (Algeria)
Manchester City winger Mahrez failed to replicate his blistering club form for Algeria, who crashed out in the group stage.
Algeria thus became the 12th AFCON champions to exit the competition in the first round when defending the trophy.
Shockingly, Mahrez, who played in all three games, failed to make an impact, score or make an assist for the Fennecs, who finished bottom of Group E with one point behind third-place Sierra Leone, who had a point more.
Ivory Coast and Equatorial Guinea advanced from the group as group winners and runners up respectively.
In the group decider, Algeria had to beat Ivory Coast to progress but slipped to a 3-1 defeat with the City winger missing a penalty.
Prior to the tournament, the 30-year-old had scored 12 goals and made five assists in 25 appearances for the Premier League champions. But at the AFCON it was a different ball game as he put every foot wrong.
Alex Iwobi (Nigeria)
Regarded as the most creative player in the Super Eagles, Iwobi failed to make the starting line-up in the opening two games against Egypt and Sudan. The Everton forward came on for Moses Simon with one minute left to play in the team’s 1-0 win over Egypt, while he replaced Samuel Chukwueze at half time in their 3-1 victory over Sudan. He played all 90 minutes as the Eagles coasted to a 2-0 win over Guinea Bissau in their final group game, but he was a disaster seven minutes after coming on for Kelechi Iheanacho in the Eagles 1-0 loss to Tunisia as he was sent off for an overzealous tackle. His introduction was expected to change the Eagles attacking play as they trailed the Tunisians 1-0, but his expulsion further made the team’s chances of winning difficult. The former Arsenal man did not create a scoring chance, make an assist or score a goal at the tournament.
Wilfred Zaha (Ivory Coast)
Dazzling Crystal Palace winger Zaha is one of the biggest flops at the tournament. In four games, the former Manchester United made only one assist for the Elephants, who crashed out in the Round of 16 to Egypt on penalties. He won a penalty in the 12th minute in his side’s clash with Sierra Leone, which Frank Kessie missed.
Said Benrahma (Algeria)
The playmaker was in fine form for West Ham United before jetting off to Cameroon, but in two appearances for the Fennecs, totaling 57 minutes, the 22-year-old failed to sparkle.
He was handed a cameo appearance as the defending champions drew goalless with Sierra Leone, and was largely anonymous in their final group fixture against Ivory Coast. He was hurled off at half time after having only 23 touches in his own half, according to Opta stats.
Thomas Partey (Ghana)
The Arsenal midfielder had two assists but was not at his best for the Black Stars after Ghana’s premature exit in the competition. A lot was expected from the 26-year-old, and while the country’s exit from the group stage cannot rest solely on his shoulders, if he had knitted his team’s midfield better – they could have, perhaps, fared better. He played in all three group stages at the tournament and failed to stamp his authority in games against Morocco, Gabon and Comoros.
Eric Bailly (Ivory Coast)
A winner with the Elephants in 2015, Bailly was one of the top flops in the Ivorian squad. The Manchester United defender was expected to lead the Ivoirians to their third title in Cameroon but his miss during the shoot-out against Egypt – a tame penalty – was kept out by goalkeeper Mohamed Abou Gabal in their last-16 defeat to the Pharaohs.
Ayew brothers (Ghana)
Dede Ayew arrived at the AFCON with an ambition to end Ghana’s 40-year wait for the Nations Cup gold and emulate his father’s feat of 1982.
Instead, his campaign ended abruptly, with a controversial red card against Comoros. Prior to that, he had scored a stunner against Gabon but it wasn’t enough as Jim Allevinah equalised for the Panthers late in the second half.
Also, Jordan was a disappointment partnering his elder brother in attack.
The Crystal Palace forward was deployed to the left flank in the three games he played and was not a real threat for the Black Stars as his poor form in the EPL continued.
Prior to the tournament, the 30-year-old had scored once in 21 games for Crystal Palace this term.