AFCON 2017: Algeria on brink of early exit, Senegal qualifies for quarterfinal

    Story highlights

    • Algeria 1-2 Tunisia
    • African Player of the Year Mahrez fails to inspire Fennec Foxes

    (CNN)The likes of Algeria and Tunisia have endured something of a dry spell in recent years, with no team from north of the Sahara reaching the Africa Cup of Nations semifinal since Egypt lifted the trophy in 2010.

    On the evidence of Thursday's North African Derby -- billed as must-win for both sides -- that barren run doesn't look any closer to ending for Algeria.
      Few in this tournament can boast star names on the level of Yacine Brahimi, Islam Slimani and CAF African Player of the Year Riyad Mahrez, but it has now been almost three decades since the Desert Warriors' solitary AFCON title back in 1990 on home soil.
      This is Algeria's seventeenth AFCON appearance, the same as three-time winner Nigeria, but coach Georges Leeken's men are in danger of becoming known as one of this competition's perennial underachievers.
      Football has never been played on paper and, despite a promising start from the Fennec Foxes, it was Tunisia that took the lead on a humid afternoon in Franceville.
      After intricate play down the left, Youssef Msakni's cross deflected agonizingly off the foot of Ramy Bensebaini and looped over Malik Asselah in the Algeria goal.
      There was nothing the stand-in keeper could do and Algeria might have felt justifiably aggrieved, having shaded an end-to-end first half.
      Aymen Mathlouthi was certainly the busier of the two goalkeepers throughout proceedings, and the Tunisia captain had to be at his best to deny Slimani after just five minutes, stopping a powerful header at point-blank range.
      With Premier League quality abounding in the Algerian ranks, Adlène Guédioura of Watford also saw a fierce swerving drive beaten away by the Tunisian goalkeeper.
      And yet it for all the mounting pressure, Algeria failed to break the deadlock.
      The Fennec Foxes had scored 25 in just six games during qualification for the tournament but, just as a porous defense let them down against unfancied Zimbabwe on matchday one, the frailties again began to surface here.
      Dealing with an innocuous ball over the top, left-back Faouzi Ghoulam of Napoli attempted a looping header back to his goalkeeper from all of 50 yards, unaware of the approaching Wahbi Khazri.
      Tunisia's chief threat here and in the defeat to Senegal, Khazri was alert to the opportunity, and looked set to test Asselah as he broke through on goal.
      That was until Ghoulam attempted to rectify his mistake, chasing back and clumsily bringing down his opponent for a Tunisia penalty.
      A yellow card was generous from the referee given Ghoulam had denied a clear goalscoring opportunity, but Naïm Sliti dished out further punishment by coolly stroking home the spot kick.
      If Tunisia's first goal had more than a hint of good fortune, the Algeria players now had a mountain to climb of their own making.
      Leekens, taking on the side he led to the quarterfinal stage two years ago, attempted to bridge the gap by introducing attacker Sofiane Hanni of Anderlecht in place of an unhappy Brahimi.
      Hanni did make the scoreline respectable with a fine sweeping finish in added time after Mathlouthi had been forced off injured, but it was ultimately too little too late.
      Algeria's attacking triumvirate would walk into almost any side in the competition, but defeat today means their 2017 AFCON future is no longer in their own hands. The drought goes on.

      Senegal's year?

      In Group B's later fixture, Senegal became the first nation to book a place in this year's quarterfinals after easily getting the better of Zimbabwe.
      The Lions of Teranga had looked impressive in Sunday's convincing 2-0 win against Tunisia and overcame Zimbabwe in similar fashion in Franceville, ending any semblance of a contest with two early goals.
      Liverpool star Sadio Mane was once again on song, poking a teasing ball from the mercurial Keita Balde into an empty net with less than ten minutes played, after good work from wideman Henri Saivet down the left.
      Zimbabwe -- ranked 110th in the world -- had been hoping to pull off an upset after matchday one's unexpected 2-2 draw against Algeria, but the gulf in quality quickly began to show.
      The imposing central midfield pairing of Cheikhou Kouyaté and Idrissa Gueye -- the latter the Premier League's top tackler this season (71) -- weren't allowing Zimbabwe an outlet in attack.
      And, still collecting themselves after Mane's goal, it wasn't long before 'the Warriors' were dealt a knockout blow.
      Placing the ball down around 25 yards from goal, Saivet stepped up having only scored one goal in the past calendar year.
      A former standout player for France U21s, he had once been touted as one of European football's next big stars, but seen a promising career stall having left boyhood club Bordeaux.
      Now a full international for his country of birth, it was some way for the 26-year-old to score his first Senegal goal, whipping a free-kick of real quality over the wall and into Tatenda Mukuruva's top-right corner.
      The valiant Zimbabwe players, to their credit, refused to crumble. African Champions League winner Khama Billiat tested Abdoulaye Diallo in the Senegal goal, as Zimbabwe looked to get back into the game.
      But in a match decided within the opening quarter of an hour, Senegal never relinquished control.
      Aliou Cisse, a former Senegal player, praised the humility of his squad in the build-up, admitting they had "perhaps been overconfident in previous campaigns."
      Long regarded as one of African football's powerhouses after a 2002 World Cup quarterfinal appearance, the Lions of Teranga look capable of winning AFCON for the very first time.