Liverpool midfielder Naby Keita will miss Guinea's round-of-16 tie at the Africa Cup of Nations after picking up a yellow card in Tuesday's 2-1 defeat by Zimbabwe, but his team have vowed to battle through to the quarterfinals to prove he deserves to be considered one of the continent's top players.
Keita's international career -- like his club career at Anfield -- has been punctuated by injury problems, with the 26-year-old making just one start at the last AFCON in 2019 after being rushed back to contention prematurely following a thigh problem. Now fit, he's caught the eye at the ongoing tournament -- and netted a thumping effort from range in Tuesday's defeat at the Stade Ahmadou Ahidjo -- only to pick up a late yellow in Guinea's last group game that rules him out of the last 16.
"He's often been injured for the national team, and it's a loss," Guinea manager Kaba Diawara told ESPN, "but we just have to do without him. We'll play the last 16 for him. He's given a lot since the first match, and he's now at an age where he should be among the best players at the AFCON -- he wants to prove it -- and he can show that ... if we get to the quarterfinals."
Keita has been one of the star performers of the Nations Cup so far, clinching CAF's Man of the Match award in the victory over Malawi and the draw with Senegal, before bagging a screamer on Tuesday to give Guinea vain hope of turning things around against Zimbabwe.
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"He had two superb games, scored a goal, and is currently at a great physical level," Diawara continued. "He's our best player, so we've got to do it for him, but it's sad news. We have a squad of players, and this is what it's for."
Keita's yellow came in the 91st minute, when he was booked for vigorously attempting to lift Zimbabwe goalkeeper Talbert Shumba up from the turf, while protesting that Guinea's opponents were routinely running down the clock. He must now serve a suspension having earlier picked up a yellow card in Guinea's second group game -- the 0-0 draw with Senegal -- to yet again sideline him for the Syli Nationale.
"He received a yellow card and could have had more," Diawara continued. "We lose our captain, our star, and it's sad news.
"Naby was getting stronger, scored that wonderful goal, but it's yet more bad news. We'll have to take stock and see, but it's sad."
Keita has made only 38 Premier League starts across a stop-start four-and-a-half-year Liverpool career to date, winning both the top flight and the Champions League but struggling to consistently reach the heights of his RB Leipzig form.
Guinea, who advance to the next round alongside Group B winners Senegal, will meet the runners-up from Group F -- either Gambia, Mali or Tunisia -- in Bafoussam on Monday.