The 2017 Africa Cup of Nations began this weekend with host nation Gabon opening the competition against underdogs Guinea-Bissau.
Tensions were high in the first half as both sides struggled to find any real chances in front of goal. Guinea Bissau did well to make Gabonese stars Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Mario Lemina look mediocre in their play. But they couldn’t keep the good defensive work up in the second half. The hosts took the lead in the 53rd minute through the goal-scoring machine that is Aubameyang. It was a brilliant play from Denis Bouanga who was able to get a low cross in towards the far post where the Borussia Dortmund striker only had to stretch out a leg to easily tap the ball into the back of the net.
The goal saw Guinea-Bissau come alive. Constantly pressing the Gabonese back line it was a surprise they didn’t equalize sooner. The spirit of the Gabonese fans was broken just before full time when defender Juary Soares rose to beautifully head the ball past the goalkeeper. It was a deserved goal that sent a feeling of jubilance through the entire Guinea-Bissau squad. The referee blew the final whistle shortly after and fairytale side Guinea-Bissau found themselves securing a point in their first ever match in a major tournament. Gabon was left disappointed and still with much to prove.
Elsewhere in Group A Burkina Faso and Cameroon played out to the same result.
Cameroon took the lead in the first half when captain Benjamin Moukandjo struck a gorgeous free kick high into the back of the net. The score remained the same until the 75th minute when a goalmouth scramble ended in Burkina Faso defender Issoufou Dayo heading the ball into the net from close range. Despite a few more chances from the Indomitable Lions the match ended in a 1-1 draw.
On Sunday the four teams from Group B were in action.
First, Algeria took on Zimbabwe in what ended in an exciting 2-2 draw. The first half proved to be more entertaining as Zimbabwe had a 2-1 lead heading into the locker room for half-time. Although Algeria started the better side in the second half, Zimbabwe still impressed on the break. With ten minutes left to play Zimbabwe should have sealed the game when substitute Cuthbert Malajila entered into a one-on-one with the Algerian goalkeeper but couldn’t finish the chance. Exactly two minutes later the African Player of the Year made them pay. Riyad Mahrez proved why he was named the best player in Africa when he dribbled through the Zimbabwe defenders and scored his second goal of the match, securing a point for his side.
Senegal were the only team this weekend to secure three points when they took on Tunisia. The first half was all Senegal needed to win the game. After just 10 minutes they found themselves in the lead when Liverpool winger Sadio Mane converted a penalty kick. Tunisian defender Aymen Abdennour was at fault taking down midfielder Cheikhou Kouyate in the box. Twenty minutes later Senegal had their second. Mane was involved yet again as he whipped in a ball that Anderlecht’s Kara Mbodji met with a powerful header that found the back of the net.
Tunisia had multiple opportunities but could not seem to capitalize. Youssef Msekni finally found the net for Tunisia in the 90th minute, but it was ruled out for offside.
After one match Group A remains wide open while Senegal tops the table in Group B.