Liverpool forward Sadio Mane converted a penalty in injury time as Senegal, last edition’s finalists, escaped with a narrow 1-0 win over Zimbabwe to open their 2021 African Cup of Nations campaign.
96:18 – Sadio Mané's penalty after 96 minutes and 18 seconds for Senegal against Zimbabwe is the latest winning goal in normal time at AFCON since Bruno Zita Mbanangoyé scored after 96 minutes and 55 seconds for Gabon against Morocco in 2012. Cold-blooded. #AFCON2021— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) January 10, 2022
Despite being Africa’s top-ranked team, Senegal never played like one as they struggled to impose themselves on the game against the lowly rated Warriors at the Kouekong Stadium (Bafoussam) on Monday.
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After squandering numerous chances in the first half to go in front, the opportunity eventually came from the spot when Zimbabwe’s Kelvin Madzongwe was penalized for a handball in the fourth minute of injury time. Guatemalan referee Mario Escobar stuck by his initial decision as Mane held his nerves in the 97th minute, sending the goalkeeper the wrong way to save the Teranga Lions’ blushes in their Group B opener.
Elsewhere in the group, José Kanté held his own marker to set up fullback Issiaga Sylla for the game’s only goal in the 35th minute as the National Elephants of Guinea edged a wasteful Malawian side on Monday Evening.
Guinea and Senegal, unsurprisingly, lead the way in Group B and both top seeds will meet next matchday while Malawi and Zimbabwe will be keen to get their tournament back on track when they meet.
Atlas Lions too strong for Ghana
Morocco, undefeated in their qualification campaign, faced off with Ghana, who were hoping to record their second opening AFCON group match win in five years, in Group C’s heavyweight clash at Stade Ahmadou Ahidjo.
FULL-TIME ⏰ #TeamMorocco 1️⃣-0️⃣ #TeamGhana— CAF (@CAF_Online) January 10, 2022
Morocco leave it late to seal the victory against Ghana, courtesy of a Sofiane Boufal strike! 🦁 #TotalEnergiesAFCON2021 | #AFCON2021 | #MARGHA pic.twitter.com/S974EMObFC
Yassine Bounou produced a stunning stop to deny Ghana’s Joseph Paintsil’s goal-bound effort in the 73rd minute to keep the game goalless. However, the largely balanced encounter was eventually settled by Sofiane Boufal’s late goal for the Atlas Lions as they condemned the Black Stars to an opening day defeat. The
Morocco’s excellent defensive record of 17 clean sheets in the last 21 competitive matches prior to this match set the tone for the win and the result in Yaoundé extended their unbeaten run over 90 minutes to 35 matches in competitive games.
No Aubameyang no problem for Gabon
Gabon, without their talisman Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in attack and midfielder Mario Lemina due to COVID-19, claimed a 1-0 win over debutants Comoros Islands in their Group C opener on Monday Night.
FULL-TIME! ⏰#TeamComoros 0️⃣-1️⃣ #TeamGabon— CAF (@CAF_Online) January 10, 2022
It’s a hard-fought victory for the Leopards against Comoros thanks to Aaron Boupendza’s strike ✅#TotalEnergiesAFCON2021 | #AFCON2021 | #COMGAB pic.twitter.com/n3Otd7TB3k
As witnessed in most games of the finals so far, chances were few and far between the two teams. However, the Panthers went in front through Aaron Boupendza’s ferocious finish in the 16th minute and held on for the rest of the game to begin on a winning note.
After this impressive result, Patrice Neveu’s men next face Ghana on Friday, while Les Coelacantes will have to restrategize ahead of their clash with Morocco on the same day.
More games to come in the 33rd edition of the AFCON on Tuesday;
Algeria v Sierra Leone – 2pm
Nigeria v Egypt – 5pm
Sudan v Guinea-Bissau – 8pm
NB: Nigerian time (GMT+1)
Photo Credit: AFP