While the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations did not produce a plethora of goals, some of the competition’s efforts were a delight to watch.
A cool 100 goals were scored in 52 games at the finals, an average of 1.92 goals per game, significantly lower than every year’s mean since the 2004 competition, except the 2019 edition where 1.92 goals per game were scored as well.
Having said that, which efforts stood out in the month-long showpiece?
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Kelechi Iheanacho vs Egypt
Nigeria opened their Nations Cup campaign with a 1-0 win over the Pharaohs, and the goal was worthy to win any game.
After controlling the ball from a headed Joe Aribo pass, Iheanacho struck the ball into the top right corner of Mohamed El Shenawy’s goal with minimal backlift to send the Super Eagles ahead on the half-hour.
It was typical of the Leicester City frontman who makes it a habit scoring from nothing.
Wahbi Khazri vs Mauritania
Tunisia’s needed a big performance after a 1-0 defeat by Mali in their opening game and they delivered in a 4-0 success over Mauritania.
This game had a few striking goals but Khazri’s second was probably the finest.
A goal involving Ali Maaloul, Ghailene Chaalali and the goalscorer, the Carthage of Eagles star man put his team 3-0 up just after the hour mark.
After sending the ball out to the overlapping Maaloul, Chaalali continued his forward run. The left-back sent a pass into Khazri inside the box but the attacker deceived the Mauritania defence with a dummy, went round his marker and coolly slotted the ball past Babacar Diop after Chaalali set him up.
Indeed one of the tournament’s finest goals.
Gabadinho Mhango vs Morocco
Malawi went into an early lead in their Round of 16 clash with the Atlas Lions, with Mhango’s effort a beauty.
Receiving possession in the left half-space, the forward turned, advanced with the ball and, despite being under pressure from Achraf Hakimi and a nearby teammate, unleashed a powerful drive from around 40 yards into the right corner.
Bono was beaten by the ferocity of the seventh-minute effort which threatened to upset the applecart.
Hakimi vs Malawi
While Youssouf M'Changama’s brilliant free-kick for Comoros in their 2-1 defeat by Cameroon and Hakimi’s dead-ball against Gabon ran this one close, the Morocco star’s winning free-kick against Malawi was a joy to behold.
Despite the set-piece seemingly favouring a left-footer, the Paris Saint-German wide defender curled the effort up and over the wall and past Charles Thom who had denied Hakimi earlier in the game and was having a brilliant match.
Hakimi netted two incredible free-kicks at the finals but the importance of the strike against Malawi sees it outrank his Gabon effort.
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Dango Ouattara vs Tunisia
As counter-attacking goals go, Ouattara’s effort to seal Burkina Faso’s swift transition from back to front against Tunisia was delightful.
The Stallions habitually looked to pounce on opponents on the counter-attack, evident by goals against Gabon in the Round of 16 and the winner vs the Eagles of Carthage in the following round.
In the latter, with half-time approaching, Ibrahim Blati Toure received possession and releases Ouattara with a first-time pass into space.
The attacker still has a lot to do but he chops inside rather than shoot, deceiving defenders Oussama Haddadi and Dylan Brown before firing a left-footed strike into Bechir Ben Said’s goal.
Even though the 19-year-old was sent off with eight minutes of normal time to play, he scored arguably the finest goal at Afcon 2021.