WE'RE reaching the halfway point in the African Cup of Nations group-stage and Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) unearths the value from Thursday's Group B contest between Senegal and Zimbabwe.
Senegal v Zimbabwe | Thursday 19:00 | Eurosport
Zimbabwe were expected to be the rags in a highly-competitive Group B but the Warriors’ display in their opening game against Algeria has thrown the pool wide open as we enter the second round of group-games.
Callisto Pasuwa's team may appear on paper to be the weakest team in the section but Zimbabwe recovered from 1-0 down to cause Algeria a mighty scare, leading until the final eight minutes.
Kudakwashe Mahachi and Nyasha Mushekwi had given Zimbabwe a surprise half-time lead but in truth, it could and probably should have been more. The Warriors, making their first appearance at the finals since 2006, will perhaps count themselves a little unlucky after playing some excellent football.
Khama Billiat was superb for Zim and was only denied a spectacular 30-yard goal by an outstanding fingertip save from Algeria goalkeeper Rais M’Bholi, who diverted the ball on to the post.
Mbholi thwarted Billiat on more than that one occasion and also produced a brilliant save with his leg to keep out Cuthbert Malajila's shot when the score was 2-1 to Zimbabwe.
The Warriors should take plenty of heart from their performance. They lost a key player in Knowledge Musona through injury after only 12 minutes – Musona remains sidelined here – but continued to threaten after the interval.
Algeria improved considerably in the second-half but Zimbabwe fully deserved a share of the spoils ahead of a defining contest against Senegal on Thursday evening.
Senegal start with a win
Senegal began their African Cup of Nations campaign with victory over Tunisia but the 2-0 final scoreline wasn’t a fair reflection on the encounter. The Lions of Teranga were took the lead through Sadio Mane's penalty before Kara Mbodj powerfully headed in a second soon after.
But Aliou Cisse's side troops could easily have been a goal down inside the opening two minutes when Ahmed Akaichi's header skimmed the post and Tunisia were also guilty of missing a catalogue of chances during the second-half.
Senegal scored with their only two on-target efforts and were eventually out-shot 19-8 as the well-fancied outfit decided to shut up shop and defend their 2-0 advantage.
Victory for Cisse's men on Thursday would secure their place in the quarter-finals but the Senegal head coach has warned his team against underestimating Zimbabwe. Fortunately for the favourites, there are no reported injuries or absences ahead of the encounter.
The Lions of Teranga are looking to lift the AFCON crown for the first time in their history and arrive on the back of their first AFCON clean sheet in 15 outings. And despite the headline names in their camp, I wasn’t entirely convinced they looked solid enough at the camp.
The betting angle
With that in mind, I’m keen to find a pro-goals selection to support. Zimbabwe have failed to score once in seven competitive fixtures since the 2015 AFCON, four of which have featured Both Teams To Score winners.
The Warriors managed only two clean sheets across that same small sample and I can’t imagine they’ll have enough at the back to keep out the likes of Sadio Mane, Balde Keita, Mame Biram Diouf and co.
And so with Senegal scoring at least twice in 10 of their last 11 meaningful matches over the past two years, it makes sense to get Over 2.5 Goals onside at a generous 29/25 (Marathon) here.
Senegal v Zimbabwe – Over 2.5 Goals (29/25 Marathon)