For all the entertainment Africa’s Cup of Nations offers around the games, the actual action can be quite dull – perhaps the result of squads with too little time together meeting high coaching turnover, something that can result in conservative (“I’m not quite sure what to do with these guys yet, so let’s at least be solid”) tactics. Through group stage of this year’s event, only four teams were averaging more than a goal per game, with 13 of the stage’s 24 games ending in draws.
Unfortunately, the first 54 minutes of today’s quarterfinal in Bata, Equatorial Guinea, looked set to live up to those trends. Condo and DR Congo were scoreless, showing no intention of blazing new trails in what looked like an additional, inevitable 66 minutes. For a tournament that’d lacked both goals and wins, broken justice demanded a scoreless draw in the first quarterfinal.
Then the break through, some poor defending on a 55th minute restart allowing Congo’s Ferebory Dore to put Claude Le Roy’s team in front. Seven minutes later, Thievy Bifouma played Mr. Right Place, Right Time to double Congo’s lead, putting a down payment on the Red Devils’ ticket to the semifinals.
Over its first 325 minutes, DR Congo had two goals. The Leopards had been denied by the woodwork twice, but how was it going to find two goals over the next 28 minutes?
If only it stopped at two, Congo was left lamenting a half-hour later. Starting with the first from Dynamo Kiev’s Dieumerci Mbokani in the 65th minute, Congo DR scored four times before the final whistle, with Jeremy Bokila and Joel Kimwaki pushing the Leopards in front before Mbokani’s 91st minute insurance.
After 54 minutes of nothing but close calls, Cup of Nations’ first quarterfinal had given us six goals in 37 minutes, with a two-time champion earning its first final four appearance since 1988.
For Cup of Nations, the eruption was drastically out-of-character. No other match this tournament had featured five goals, let alone six. No other team had scored four, and no match had seen both teams put up multiple goals.
Recent history provides even more contrast for the outburst. The last time a knockout round game featured this many goals was 2008, and that was a third place match between Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire. For an elimination round game that mattered, you have to go back 19 years: Tunisia 4, Zambia 2 in the semifinals of South Africa 1996.
Of course, six-goal games are rare, but in the context of Cup of Nations, they’re needles in (small) haystacks. For this year’s tournament, the result was also a welcome change of pace. DR Congo now awaits the winner of Algeria-Cote d’Ivoire in the semifinals, while wait and see whether the rest of the tournament can trend the way of the Congos.