Chris O (follow on Twitter: @COakleyFtbl)
Thu 24 January 2008

African Cup of Nations: Round-up #1

Over the last five days, each of the sixteen competing nations have played their opening games of the 2008 Africa Cup of Nations, so now we have some idea of who's likely to impress and disappoint during the course of the competition.

The party started in Group A last Sunday when hosts, Ghana, took on Guinea in Accra. It's fair to say that Guinea didn't feature much in this match, outplayed as they were most of the time by the Ghanaians, but luckily for them Ghana didn't appear to have anyone that could shoot straight or on target.

The hosts got a reward for their possession play, however, when Gyan converted a penalty nine minutes into the second half, yet their lead was short-lived. Despite seeing little of the ball in the first half, Guinea took just ten minutes to find a breakthrough of their own and equalise thanks to Kalabane's goal.

1-1 then, and with it came a return to normality as Ghana went back on the attack, but a winning goal looked unlikely to arrive as the hosts found themselves restricted mainly to long-range shots. It was therefore with a sense of irony that the winning goal finally came in the 90th minute when Portsmouth's Sulley Muntari hit an unstoppable 25-yard shot that flew into the top corner of the net. Ghana had won, but they'd left it dangerously late...

The following day, it was the turn of Namibia and Morocco to take to the field of battle and this time goals were not so hard to find. Poor Namibia found themselves two goals down within five minutes and a rout looked on the cards as Soufiane Alloudi got the Moroccans off to an emphatic start.

Wave after wave of attack followed, but to Namibia's credit they were the next to score when Brendell pulled one back. Sadly, that was to be the sum total of their achievements on the day as Alloudi completed his hat-trick in the 28th minute to put Morocco 3-1 up. A fourth goal followed five minutes before half-time through a Sektioui penalty, but Namibia steadied the ship at that point, keeping Morocco at bay until the 74th minute when Zerka added a fifth.

As the lowest FIFA-ranked team in the contest, it was a real baptism of fire for Namibia, but Morocco looked sharp and may have an upcoming star in Alloudi. One to watch for the future, we think...

Group B has been less than forthcoming where goals are concerned as two 1-0 results opened the campaign there. Mali were the victors in the first, totally outplaying Benin, yet both sides were guilty of some woeful shooting that never looked likely to trouble the statisticians. Once again, it was a dubious penalty that provided the goal and surprise surprise, it was Fredi Kanoute who stepped up to take it in the 49th minute. Three points for Mali as expected, but they'll need to improve their shooting if they're to progress to the quarter-finals.

The other 1-0 win went to the Ivory Coast in a fascinating encounter against Nigeria. Both teams looked worthy of their top billing in the group and played some good football. In stark contrast to the previous game, it was difficult to predict a winner but Chelsea's Solomon Kalou ensured it would be his Ivory Coast team with a brilliant dribble past three players in the penalty area before a calm finish earned him a goal to remember.

The Nigerians had played well and tried hard for an equaliser in the last 25 minutes or so, but their opponents ran out the winners of this match and promptly took their place at the top of the group with Mali.

Group C gave us more goals and great ones at that. The first game on Tuesday was between Sudan and Zambia, and for the former it was an all-too-rare chance to play on such a big stage. They'd always be expected to struggle against a confident Zambia, and consequently no-one was surprised when James Chamanga put the Zambians in front after just two minutes.

Despite the early setback, Sudan sprang back into life and nearly equalised ten minutes later. They took control of the remainder of the first half and were only lacking a goal to reward all their hard work but they were to rue their missed chances. Zambia scored a second early in the second half and when a third goal followed shortly after that, it was game over for Sudan.

A great start for the Zambians against a tricky team that will give them confidence going into their tougher remaining games, but at least Sudan can take heart from the way they took the game to their opponents, albeit in vain.

The big match on the day was between Egypt and Cameroon - reigning champions against many people's favourites to win this year. If you were watching the game like me, you'll have been equally as gobsmacked by Egypt's impressive two goal opening in the first 16 minutes. The Indomitable Lions had been rocked not so much by their own ineptness, but by the efficient and skilful way the Egyptians had prized open their defence.

The scorer of the second goal was Mohamed Zidan, and if you're looking for a player of the tournament, this could be him. He scored a third goal for the Egyptians at the end of the first half and helped his side get the penalty that opened the scoring in the fourteenth minute. The Hamburg player was instrumental in putting Egypt well in front before the second half began, but Cameroon weren't ready to die yet.

Samuel Eto'o headed in from a cross to get a goal back after 51 minutes, and with Arsenal's Alex Song giving more of an edge to their play, it looked as though Egypt would need to defend well from then on to secure their victory. In the end, a fourth goal for The Pharaoahs nine minutes from time would seal the win, despite a second from Eto'o in the 90th minute. Egypt had won 4-2 and done so convincingly enough to make people doubt Cameroon's credentials as a likely winner of the tournament.

Finally to Group D which began yesterday. Tunisia and Senegal provided the sparks in the first game and there was no love lost between these two teams with a fiery history. Tunisia took an early lead through Jemaa on nine minutes, but Senegal fought back to not only equalise but go 2-1 up in the second half, playing the more positive football along the way.

Though it looked for all the world that Senegal would see out victory, they got a rude awakening when Medji Traoui smashed home a 25-yard shot to draw Tunisia level and earn a share of the points. Senegal had been the better team, but they'll be scratching their heads at how they didn't win this one.

Later in the day, it was time to view the last two teams to play - South Africa and Angola. It was an entertaining encounter and one which saw the South Africans play the slightly better football. Sadly for them, it was Angola who scored against the run of play thanks to a superb flying header from Manchester United's signing Manucho near the half-hour mark.

The South Africans went in search of an equaliser and tested Angolan keeper Lama several times, but they had to wait until a minute from the end of normal time to get it when Elrio van Heerden struck yet another long range screamer to keep this tournament's tally of quality goals ticking along. The game, like its predecessor, ended a draw, but the two teams put on a good show for the crowd who will no doubt be coming back to see more of the same in their forthcoming matches.

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