Afcon preparations: Tunisia complete hat-trick of victories
No team has impressed more in the pre-Africa Cup of Nations friendlies than Tunisia, who made it three wins out of three with a 2-1 victory over Burundi on Monday evening.
The triumph -- against a Hirondelles team that has also caught the eye during the pre-tournament matches -- came after victories over Iraq and Croatia.
As had been the case against the World Cup finalists, Tunisia had taken the lead only to be pegged back, with a delicious 76th-minute effort from Cedric Amissi -- after fine interplay on the edge of the Tunisian box -- cancelling out Yassine Taha Khenissi's opener 10 minutes earlier.
However, in a repeat of the Croatia scenario, Tunisia rallied, with Naim Sliti netting a 93rd-minute winner after snatching back possession on the edge of the Burundian box, slaloming inside a challenge and hooking a left-footed shot into the far corner.
Coach Nabil Maaloul will bring Anice Badri, Wahbi Khazri and Dylan Bronn into his starting line-up for the Carthage Eagles' Nations Cup opener against Angola on Monday, although experienced duo Fakhreddine Ben Youssef and Ali Maaloul have been dropped from the squad.
While Burundi were unable to deny Tunisia victory as they had against Algeria in their previous international friendly, they can take encouragement from two rugged -- and occasionally inventive -- displays against two tournament favourites.
Nigeria muted, Egypt on song
Brundi's Group B rivals Nigeria ended their preparations on a low note as they were defeated 1-0 by Senegal in a behind-closed-doors friendly in Ismailia on Sunday, with Idrissa Gueye scoring the only goal of the game.
Gernot Rohr retained eight of his first team from the 0-0 draw with Zimbabwe in Asaba, with John Obi Mikel coming into the side for his first start since the Super Eagles' World Cup defeat by Argentina.
However, Mikel was unable to lift the West African giants, who have failed to find the net in either of their two preparation matches.
Also on Sunday, Group B rivals Guinea were defeated 3-1 by Egypt, who delivered a statement of intent.
The hosts will open their campaign in Cairo on Friday, against Zimbabwe, who were held 1-1 by Tanzania in their final friendly. Substitute Mbwana Samatta equalised for the Taifa Stars after Knox Mutizwa had opened the scoring for the Warriors.
Group A's two other teams -- Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo -- were both in action on Saturday.
Faruku Miya scored a 35th-minute penalty for the former as they dispatched Ivory Coast, and laid down the blueprint for the challenges to come over the next few weeks.
Ivory Coast coach Ibrahim Kamara retained Ismael Traore alongside Wilfried Kanon at centre-back, suggesting the Angers defender has been identified as the replacement for Manchester United's Eric Bailly, who misses the tournament due to injury.
Delort helps Algeria forget controversial week
Another contender the title, Algeria, downed Mali 3-2 in their final friendly at the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha on Sunday.
Les Fennecs have been a team to follow during recent weeks of Afcon preparations, the Algerian camp finding themselves in the midst of controversy before a ball had even been kicked.
On Tuesday, Brest's Haris Belkebla was axed from the squad after showing his backside while teammate Alexandre Oukidja was playing popular online game Fortnite live on Twitch.
The footage of Belkebla's buttocks went viral on social media, and, despite a humble apology penned by the midfielder on Instagram, the Algerian federation opted to send him home.
However, Belkebla's misdemeanour may prove to be a blessing in disguise for Algeria coach Djamel Belmadi, who duly replaced him in the squad with Montepellier's Andy Delort.
The 27-year-old former France Under-20 international had expressed a desire to represent Algeria only in the months leading up to the tournament, and he was drafted in as Belkebla's replacement after initially being omitted from the Egypt-bound squad.
While there is an element of unease in Algeria at the presence of a player who didn't feature at all in the qualifiers, and who wasn't even aware of his eligibility until recently, Delort's 14 Ligue 1 goals this term make him one of the strikers to watch this summer.
He made an instant impact after being introduced against Les Aigles, netting the winner for the North Africans after being set up by fellow substitute Riyad Mahrez.
Morocco: Weaknesses exposed
While North African trio Tunisia, Algeria and Egypt are entering the tournament in fine fettle after some commanding displays ahead of the campaign, the same cannot be said for Morocco, whose tricky preparations took another turn on Saturday with a 3-2 defeat by Zambia.
The Atlas Lions had already been handed a reality check by lowly Gambia, who defeated them 1-0 in their first Afcon warm-up, and their latest setback -- against another team that failed to reach the tournament -- raises further concerns about their readiness.
Rather than improving as the tournament approaches, there are signs that Morocco appear to be on the decline following their bold performances at the World Cup a year ago.
Their offensive qualities were evident against the Chipolopolo, with the sensational Hakim Ziyech netting twice, but goals from Musonda Mwape, Kings Kangwa and Enock Mwepu came far too easily against a backline that's seen better days.
Elsewhere, Karl Toko Ekambi equalised for Cameroon as they were held 1-1 by Mali on Friday, while a convincing Mauritania team cruised past Madagascar 3-1.
In a low-key affair on Saturday, Ghana and South Africa played out a 0-0 draw at the Dubai Police Academy, with Stuart Baxter completely changing his Bafana Bafana side at halftime against a backdrop of searing temperatures.