Matchday One thrills and spills as stars dazzle
THE opening matches in the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) were cagey affairs as teams sized each other up. Njabulo Ngidi, who attended Group Amatches in Libreville as well as the Group D clashes in Port-Gentil, picks the highlights of match day one.
Benjamin Moukandjo’s stunning free-kick for Cameroon against Burkina Faso came a close second. But Riyad Mahrez takes it with his first goal against Zimbabwe that showed why the Algerian is Africa’s Footballer of the Year. Mahrez received the ball from Islam Slimani who didn’t have much support. The Leicester City playmaker didn’t need any support, squeezing the ball past four defenders and the goalkeeper with a brilliant curler into the back of the net.
If it wasn’t for Algeria goalkeeper, Rais M’Bolhi, Khama Billiat could have scored the goal of the tournament. Billiat weaved his magic on the Desert Foxes’ defence, twisting and turning Aissa Mandi before unleashing a shot inside the small box. M’Bolhi used his body well to cover the goals and then stretched out his hand to produce a save to deny Billiat what would have been a memorable goal.
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) had the best celebration even without Robert Kidiaba. The 40-year-old goalkeeper is famous for his bum bounce goal celebration. Junior Kabananga pulled out his own moves after scoring in the DRC’s 1-0 win over Morocco. The centre-forward ran onto the halfway mark, jumped over the advertising board to spank the air with his left arm as he shuffled sideways.
The opening game of this tournament between Gabon and debutants Guinea-Bissau was underwhelming. It took Algeria and Zimbabwe to light up the Afcon with an entertaining spectacle in Franceville. The Algerians took the lead through Riyad Mahrez’s brilliance. The Warriors responded through Kudakwashe Mahachi and Nyasha Mushweki before Mahrez helped Algeria steal a point at the death. Zimbabwe could have won this match if they were more clinical as they easily opened up the Desert Foxes’ defence but failed to find the killer touch. Senegal’s 2-0 win over Tunisia takes second place because of the drama the thrilling second half dished up.
Zezinho came with the assist, whipping a perfect ball into Gabon’s box. Juary Soares did the rest, directing the ball with his head past Didier Ovono to score a memorable goal for the tournament’s debutants, Guinea-Bissau. That was not only the small nation’s first goal at this tournament but it also gave them their first point, stunning the hosts in the final minute of the match.
The Mali fans at Stade de Port-Gentil created an electric atmosphere as the Eagles took on Egypt, who were making a return to the Afcon after a seven-year absence. Their drums dominated the stadium, even making the small portion of Egyptian fans dance to it. They loudly backed their team, dressed colourfully in the bright yellow of Mali.