Naby Keïta was probably always going to turn out for Guinea at the Africa Cup of Nations. The hope for Liverpool fans—and Jürgen Klopp and all at the club—was always that he would be genuinely fit to play for them when he did.
And, with Guinea having now played their AFCoN opener, we can confirm that Keïta did in fact take part in it, coming off the bench an hour into an opening game 2-2 draw with Madagascar with his country trailing at the time.
Though Keïta wasn’t involved in Guinea’s equaliser—a 66th minute penalty converted by Bordeaux striker François Kamano—he showed positive intent on the ball, driving forward regularly and looking if not always sharp at least fit.
He also ended the match moving freely, a major positive given his initial injury timeline would have meant missing at least the AFCoN group stages and the various pre-tournament statements by Guinea’s football federation president.
Ahead of the tournament, Antonio Souare variously stated Keïta’s injury “cannot prevent him from playing the African Cup of Nations,” told the player to “pull himself together,” and labelled Liverpool’s medical judgement “pretentious.”
While Keïta getting through a half hour of live action—and taking a few fouls along the way—isn’t proof that he truly is fit enough to play, it’s at least a promising sign, and hopefully he can make it through the rest of the tournament unscathed.
As for Guinea’s chances, the Madagascar draw hurts in a group where Nigeria are heavy favourites and Burundi presumptive fourth, and if the rest of the results now go as expected second could end up decided by tiebreakers.