Picture : Seko Fofana was the first Goalscorer in the competition.

Day-1 matches project the 34th AFCON as one of surprises

The 34th TotalEnergies Africa Cup of Nations is living true to its billing in takeoff histrionics, depth of play, suspense and surprises too. When the tournament took off  with a blistering Opening Ceremonies at the Stade Olympique Alassane Dramane Ouattara last Saturday with FIFA President Infantino, CAF Boss Motsepe and Ivorian President Ouattara all taking to the rostrum to hail the future of African football and youth, fans across the globe began salivating in anxious wait for football frenzy to take centre stage. All and sundry have been having their fill after watching  12 matches crowning first day matches for all 24 participating countries.

Ivory Coast 2 0 Guinea Bissau.

Ivorian forward, Seko Fofana set ablaze the Stade Olympique Alassane Dramane Ouattara stadium scoring the very first goal of the 34th AFCON in  a 4th minute screamer from just inside the box to warn Guinea Bissau about what they were in for. His feat was much more splendid compared to the 1984 opener by Koffi Tia whose 27th minute competition opener had handed hosts, Ivory Coast the leeway to a 3-0 defeat of Togo at the Félix Houphout Boigny Stadium Abidjan. Jean-Philippe Krasso later took tally to 2-0 with his double intrusion on 58 minutes. MVP Fofana’s achievement contrasted with teammate Evan Ndicka’s 29th minute first yellow card of the tournament.

Nigeria 1 1 Equatorial Guinea

The second group game played the next day saw minnows, Equatorial Guinea stand up to pikes, Nigeria in a 1-1 draw. Equatorial Guinea raised the curtains 36 minutes into play through Iban Salvador benefitting from a José Ndong Machin Dicombo assist. Nigerian reaction would be in two minutes courtesy of Victor Osimhen from an Ademola Lookman assist. Equato Guinean keeper, Lazaro Owono emerged MVP at the end of the shootout at the Alassane Dramane Ouattara Olympic Stadium.

Egypt 2 2 Moçambique

The two opening games of group B were played at the Félix Houphouet Boigny Stadium Abidjan during which there was plenty of drama. Yet a minnow stood up to a pike. Mostafa Mohammed quickly gave Egypt the lead with just two minutes into the game from a Mohammed Salah assist. Chimoio Witi brought back Moçambique on 55 minutes after a Macandza  Domingos assist. Two minutes on Bauque Clésio outran his marker to put Moçambique ahead after a Ricardo Martins Guima assist. It took up to seven minutes of stoppage time for Salah to equalize with a 97th minute penalty after a VAR review. Although Moçambique fell short of scoring their first ever AFCON victory, their player Ricardo Martins Guima took the MVP award.

Ghana 1 2 CapeVerde

The most competitive match yet was the second group B game in which Cape Verde extinguished Ghana 1-2. It was a thriller at the Félix Houphouet Boigny Stadium. Jamiro Monteiro got an assist to put Cape Verde up 1-0. Alexander Djiku equalized following a Jordan Ayew assist. And Cape Verde put the game beyond Ghanaian reach two minutes into stoppage time following a Gilson Tavares assist that Garry Rodrigues converted. Defeated Ghana after a 37th minute VAR review annulled a goal got a consolation when Alexander Djiku made away with the MVP award.

Senegal 3 0 Gambia.

Defending champions Senegal opened group C games at the Charles Konan Banny Stadium Yamoussoukro handing the Gambia their heaviest AFCON defeat yet. Pape Guey capitalized on a Sadio Mane assist to slot in past the diving keeper in the fourth minute. Just before the half a  VAR review confirmed that Ebou Adams further dishonored his losing side by receiving the first red card in the tournament after heavily tripping Lamine Camara . That numerical disadvantage worked well for Senegal with Ismaila Sarr assisting juvenile Lamine Camara to find the net in the 52nd minute. The eventual MVP found a brace when he benefitted from an Illiman Ndiaye assist four minutes from time with an arced volley from just outside the box. 

Guinea 1 1 Cameroon.

Playing 10 against 11 for all of the second half after captain François Kamano took a red card three minutes into stoppage time of the first half for double tripping on Frank Magri’s heel as confirmed by VAR review, Guinea, just once AFCON quarterfinalists played to a 1-1 draw with 5-time champions, Cameroon. It was Guinea who electrified the Charles Konan Banny stadium with an unprecedented show of resilience and opening scores on 10 minutes through Mohamed Bayo whose second attempt conquered a hard-fighting keeper Ondoua who had earlier stood his ground. The scorer did benefit from a give-away assist by Olivier Kemen. Cameroon later got the equalizer in the 51st minute when Frank Magri nodded home an indirect free kick by Georges-Kévin Nkoudou. Guinean player Mohamed Bayo emerged MVP.

Algeria 1 1 Angola. 

It was a peaceful settlement at the Stade de la Paix Bouaké when Algeria and Angola raised the curtains to group D and playing to a 1-1 draw. In the 18th minute Baghdad Bounedjah outran his markers to score the first goal after an assist by Mohamed Belaili. Thereafter, the Desert Foxes prided in fanciful and entertaining football only short of more goals as the Palancas Negras of Angola meticulously built from adversity to equalize through a penalty by substitute Agostinho Mabululu in the 68th minute. At full time, Fares Chaibi of Algeria received the MVP award.

Burkina Faso 1 0 Mauritania.

It took up to the 96th minute for the deadlock to be melted in the second group D game. It was eventual MVP Bertrand Traoré who scored a penalty to hand Burkina Faso the day’s victory. They must also thank the VAR review for the sigh of relief. The match, known more for its four  yellow cards, two-a-piece did stretch to 100 minutes before being relegated into the dustbin of history.

Tunisia 0 1 Namibia.

Tunisia and Namibia raised group E deliberations with what would turn out to be arguably the second most sensational game in the tournament yet treating fans at the Amadou Gon Coulibaly stadium Khorogo to a pleasant evening. The Brave Warriors of Namibia shoved aside  projections for outright domination by the Eagles of Carthage of Tunisia carry the day. It was an elaborate showing of might, determination and wherewithal that closed with the lone goal crafted from a Bethuel Muzeu assist that landed the ball in the path of eventual MVP Deon Hotto to score on 88 minutes. Once more the lesson that there are no more pushovers in the African game found practical expression.

Mali 2 0 South Africa

A 19th minute penalty did not propel South Africa ahead of Mali just because captain Percy Tau shot wide. That slip up did invigorate Mali who stood firm in the face of adversity until the 60th when captain Hamari Traoré put scores at 1-0 following a woodwork rebound. Six minutes on, Kamory Doumbia provided the assist for Lassina Sinayoko to make it 2-0. But at the end of the game it was the super eagle  Amadou Haidara who made away with the MVP award.

Morocco 3 0 Tanzania.

In their group F opener at the Laurent Pokou stadium San Pedro, Qatar World Cup semifinalists, Morocco demonstrated why they are the top favourites in the tournament. They improved on their last November qualifier performance when they defeated Tanzania away 2-0 beating their victims in their seventh AFCON final game yet. Hakim Ziyech’s strike parried away by the keeper was squarely lodged home by Romain Saiss for the opener on 30 minutes. A 70th minute second yellow and expulsion for Novatus Miroshi made matters worse for them when a 1-2 combination between Azzedine Ounahi and Mohamed Munir  registered the third goal to the credit of the former. Morocco’s third goal came in in the 80th minute from Youssef En-Nesyri following an Achraf Hakimi assist to close the night with Azzedine Ounahi being awarded the MVP title.

DR Congo 1 1 Zambia.

The last of day-1 matches was a cracker between 1968 and 1974 winners DR Congo and 2012 winners Zambia. From the onset, DR Congo maintained play in the Zambia half and box. But it was rather Zambia who got the match opener in a rare counter offensive that saw  keeper Lionel Mpasi-Nzau go far too much to clear a situation only for Patson Daka to hurriedly throw in and Kings Kangwa finding the net  with a distant lob.  Four minutes on, Cédric Bakambu provided the assist for Yoane Wissa to equalize. The Zambians were later saved by a VAR review when the referee mistook a collapsing situation for  handball. Yoane Wissa was the MVP winner in the last act of match day-1 of the tournament.