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Cup of Nations: Togo win eliminates Algeria

Jan 26, 2013, 3:54 PM EDT

South Africa African Cup Soccer AP

It was a game largely dominated by the better side. At least, it was dominated by the team we thought the better side coming into today’s game. Algeria held huge advantages in all the relevant statistical categories — advantages that reflected how the game was played — but their fate was determined by two events. Emmanuel Adebayor got in front of Essaïd Belkalem for the first goal. Dové Wome converted the Sparrow Hawks’ second chance at goal in the 93rd. Two shots, two goals, and a 2-0 win for Togo.

The win was only the nation’s third in Cup of Nations history. Having never advanced our of group stage, Togo is now one point away from a spot in the quarterfinals.

For Algeria, having already lost to the only two teams they can catch in Group D, the result condemns the Desert Foxes to last place ahead of a highest-anticipated but now meaningless match with Cote d’Ivoire.

After giving up the opener in the 31st minute, you sensed Algeria were in real trouble, with Togo almost immediately adopted a more conservative posture. Whereas the first half hour saw the Sparrow Hawks probe the Algerian defense in hopes of creating chances for Emmanuel Adebayor, the last hour rarely showed the Togoans building the kind of play that would enable hopeful connections to their captain. Against an Algerian side that rarely tested Tunisia, Togo were content to sit back and let the Foxes proved themselves dangerous.

That never happened. Long rare shots and the random headed chance gave goalkeeper Kossi Agassa two good scares, but there was never the sustained quality in the final third that convinced anybody the Algerians would finally breakthrough. When Wome scored the insurance goal, there was little doubt the match was over, even if a broken goal post near the end of the second half meant there’d be a remarkable 13 minutes extra time.

But it was never meant to be. Togo’s two shots on goal amid an otherwise average performance were enough. Against Algeria, they were overkill.

Now Togo enters Wednesday’s match with Tunisia needing only a point to qualify for their first knockout round spot. Given what we’ve seen from the sides through two rounds, it’d be no surprised if they got it. Tunisia has only scored once this tournament, while Togo gave Cote d’Ivoire a scare on the group’s opening day. On form, Togo might be the better side.

Algeria, on the other hand, have nothing to play for in Valid Halilhodzic’s match against his former team. Same for the Ivorians, who would stay in first place with a loss.

While the Desert Foxes could have looked to Wednesday’s match as a showcase rematch of their dramatic 2010 quarterfinal win, now the drama’s gone. Wednesday’s game is meaningless.

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