Sadio Mane lead a furious onslaught and scored early again to set Senegal on their way to the African Nations Cup quarterfinals after they beat COSAFA side Zimbabwe 2-0 in their Group B encounter on Thursday.
A second successive victory, after beating Tunisia by the same score on Sunday, sees Senegal guaranteed top place in the last eight and establishes them as early tournament favourites as they became the first country to advance.
Mane, who is Africa’s most expensive footballer after moving to Liverpool last year, netted after nine minutes with an easy back post tap-in after Senegal had already missed three good chances.
A stunning curling free kick from Henri Saivet four minutes later made it 2-0 and effectively ended the contest.
Mane, who converted an early penalty in Senegal opening game against Tunisia, was unmarked at the back post as Lazio’s Diao Balde Keita drilled a pass across the face of goal and needed just a simple touch to score.
By then Zimbabwe were already teetering from wave after wave of early attacks that might have delivered even earlier had Mame Biram Diouf not missed several times.
It was a pattern that continued for the Stoke City striker throughout but made no matter after Saivet hit his free kick with a wicked swerve from outside the area to double the lead.
Diouf’s worst miss came shortly after half-time as he shot wide after being set up by Idrissa Gueye, another of the Premier League players in the winning line-up.
Mane was clear on goal just after the hour mark but his initial effort smothered by Zimbabwe goalkeeper Tatenda Mkuvura, only for Mane to get possession back again and chip towards goal but see his effort cleared off the line.
Nyasha Mushekwi had Zimbabwe’s first real effort in the 72nd minute.
Only Tunisia can match Senegal’s six point in the group, but even if then Senegal will be first in the standings by virtue of the head to head result between the two.
Senegal last made it to the knockout phase of the finals in 2006, having flopped at the first round stage in three tournaments since.
Algeria and Zimbabwe have one point but still a slight chance but both need victory in their final games, in which case it would be settled on which of them has the better goal difference.
A draw for Tunisia against Zimbabwe in Libreville on Monday is enough for them to progress with Senegal, even if Algeria also win because of the head-to-head tiebreaker. Tunisia beat Algeria 2-1 earlier on Thursday in Franceville.