MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - Sunday, October 24, 2021: Liverpool's Naby Keita during the FA Premier League match between Manchester United FC and Liverpool FC at Old Trafford. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Naby Keita’s AFCON journey ends at last-16 – will return to Liverpool

Naby Keita‘s Africa Cup of Nations campaign is over after Guinea fell to a narrow 1-0 defeat without their captain in the last 16, making him the first Red to return from Cameroon.

All three of Liverpool’s representatives at the tournament qualified for the knockout stage, with Keita’s Guinea the first to decide their fate ahead of Senegal and Egypt.

But while Sadio Mane and Mo Salah can have a direct bearing on if their team progress to the quarter-finals, Keita had to watch from the sidelines as his team faced Gambia on Monday.

It was thanks to receiving a one-game suspension after picking up two yellow cards in the group stage, one of which came from a challenge on Mane.

It was a battle of group runners up, with Guinea having finished a point behind Senegal in Group B and Gambia were only separated from Mali by goal difference in Group F.

Naby Deco Keita of Guinea during the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations match between Nigeria and Guinea at the Alexandria Stadium, Alexandria on the 26 June 2019 ©Muzi Ntombela/BackpagePix

Keita’s presence was noticeably missed for Guinea following his star performances in the group stage, with a clear cut chance coming before halftime through Mohamed Bayo who twice couldn’t capitalise.

Gambia would then hit the front in the 71st minute to ignite Guinea into action, seeing them press forward and find the net, only for Ibrahima Conte’s effort to be swiftly ruled as offside.

A red card for Gambia created late drama as Guinea hit the crossbar and upright in quick succession in the final moments before they too received a red card.

The result means Keita will now make his return to Liverpool after a three-week absence.

The January/February international break will ensure he too gets time to recharge following his AFCON exploits before joining in with preparations for the visit of Cardiff on February 6.

Liverpool will be eager to see their No. 8 continue with where he left off with his country having put in two Man of the Match displays in addition to a rocket of a goal in the group stage.

The fate of Mane and Salah in the competition will be decided over the coming days, first with Senegal against Cape Verde on Tuesday before Egypt meet Ivory Coast on Wednesday in the last 16.