Sports / In-Depth
Monday, 16 Jan 2017 13:07 EATtmatalanga@kenyafreepress.com
Two days in and the Africa Cup of Nations is rapidly becoming the tournament for the underdogs, as the fancied teams have struggled to secure expected victories. The tournament kicked off on Saturday at Stade Libreville with Group A action. Opponents of the Gabon government had called for a boycott of AFCON 2017, but the tournament opener, which saw the host Gabon held to a 1-1 draw by minnow Guinea-Bissau was played before a near-capacity crowd in the capital Libreville.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang put the Panthers ahead in the 53th minute but Guinea-Bissau leveled the score late on in the 90th minute through Juary Soares. Later on Saturday, four-time winner Cameroon was also held 1-1 by Burkina Faso. Benjamin Moukandjo put the indomitable lions ahead in the 35th minute through a well taken free-kick but Burkina Faso equalized in the 75th minute through Issoufou Dayo.
In Sunday's action, few gave Zimbabwe much hope of even avoiding defeat to one of the tournament's favourites Algeria, but the Warriors came within eight minutes of an upset victory in the Group B opener in Franceville. Riyad Mahrez put the Desert Foxes ahead early on in the 12th minute after tricking his way into the penalty box and unleashing a placed which had Zimbabwean shot stopper well-beaten. Zimbabwe was quickly level after Kudakwashe Mahachi drove home a shot across Algeria goalkeeper Rais M'Bohli.
After that, the warriors continued to threaten on the counter attack and stunned the Algerians on the half hour mark, when Nyasha Mushekwi fired home a penalty to put Zimbabwe 2-1 ahead after the Foxes conceded a penalty through clumsy defending. The warning signs were already there for Algeria, with Khama Billiat having rattled its woodwork with a stunning volley from outside the penalty area.
The brilliant Billiat might have made it three after tricking his way through the Algeria defense early in the second half, but M'Bohli made the best of a series of superb saves. M'Bohli made another crucial stop from substitute Cuthbert Malajila before Mahrez grabbed his late equalizer and brace to a sigh of relief from his Desert Fox teammates and coach Georges Leekens.
Sunday's second match saw a comfortable 2-0 win for Senegal over fellow African powerhouse Tunisia. Senegal is the continent's top-ranked country and it showed against its opponents, with Liverpool's Sadio Mane putting his national side ahead from the penalty spot in the 10th minute. The lead was doubled on the half hour mark as Kara Mbodji rose high to head home the second.
Tunisia had chances to get back into the game in the second half, with Anderlecht defender Mbodji smashing the ball against his own crossbar while attempting to clear, but it was well beaten at the final whistle. The victory has left Senegal in a strong position in Group B, its next game Thursday against Zimbabwe with the other match a North African derby between Algeria and Tunisia.
Matalanga is a student of journalism at the East Africa School of Media Studies and an intern writer at the Kenya Free Press.