Well we all know how the competition started but the tournament kicked off in earnest on Sunday evening with the host nation Angola entertaining Mali. Hopes were high after all the political wrangling that engulfed the weekend, football could return to the forefront. What no-one expected was a series of breathless games and major shocks that have turned the Cup Of Nations on its head.
Angola stormed in to a 4-0 lead in the opening game and the home fans were jubilant. When Manucho hit a penalty in the 74th minute, Mali looked down and out, shocked to the core by the host nation. Yet by full time, Angola were delighted to hear the final whistle, after an extraordinary fightback saw the The Eagles score 4 goals in the last 15 minutes. Barcelona’s Seidou Keita scored a brace, with Freddie Kanoute scoring and Mustapha Yatabare hitting the equaliser in the fourth minute of injury time.
It really was a breathless encounter that hardly stopped for a second, a delightful and passionate affair that seems to have set the template for this years tournament. Monday saw Group B kick off and the shocks just kept on coming. The Ivory Coast struggled to a draw against unfancied Burkina Faso in a one sided encounter, but it was a massive result for The Stallions. Ivory Coast had 21 shots but couldn’t find the back of the net and Marseille’s Bakari Kone missed several gilt edged chances to win the match.
In Mondays other game, Algeria were smashed to pieces by Malawi, 3-0. It was a disturbing performance to see the World Cup qualifiers so easy picked apart after the Algerian goalkeeper gifted the opening goal by smashing a clearance against Essau Kanyenda who squared the ball for an easy goal for Russel Mwafulirwa. After that, the Algerians couldn’t get going and by the time Malawi made it 3-0, they were looking like the final whistle couldn’t come quick enough.
The Algerian manager has come under some criticism for blaming the weather for his teams bad performance, but as it has been pointed out, he’d only got himself to blame. If you playing in a humid country, would you prepare by holding your base in a chilly South of France? No, I thought not!
Yesterdays’ clashes saw Group C enter the fray and finally, one of the favourites delivered. Nigeria took the lead against Egypt in the heavyweight clash after 12 minutes, but that was as good as it got. Egypt just kept purring and showed that even without Mido and Amr Zaki, they can still score goals. Egyptian legend Ahmed Hassan, winning his 167th international cap, set one goal up and scored another as the Pharaohs cantered to a 3-1 win. What did surprise me though was the ovation that greeted Kanu when he came on from the Angolan crowd. There is no doubting how much of an icon in African football he is after playing for 3 of Europes most illustrious clubs, Ajax, Inter and Arsenal.
The second game in Group C saw Mozambique and Benin clash and 90 minutes later, both countries were still waiting for their first win in African Cup Of Nations history. It was another super game though, despite some dodgy goalkeeping, as a 2-2 draw was probably a fair result. Despite the relative weakness of both sides, Nigeria will know that a slip up could see them crash out in the group stages, for the first time since 1963.
Yet, probably the biggest shock of the first round of matches happened this afternoon. Cameroon, Samuel Eto’o and all were stunned by some comedy defending that allowed Gabon, ranked 62nd in the world, to snatch a 1-0 win. It was a heroic performance after Daniel Cousin, of Hull City, had scored as Gabon dug in and held out for a famous win. Until today, I didn’t realise they were managed by former French legend, Alain Giresse and he’ll have enjoyed the win over compatriot Paul Le Guen.
Finally, Zambia and Tunisia fought another fairly even draw that was a positive result for the Zambians. Despite the recent troubles that Tunisia have had in world football, they are still one of Africa’s key footballing nations. Zambia will be delighted with the 1-1 result but it will be tempered by the fact they have to face a wounded Cameroon next. Cameroon know they need to win, and well to have a hope of qualifying.
So there you have it, all four of the countries that have qualified for the World Cup have managed a total of 1 point this week. We’ve had 22 goals in 7 games, no sendings off and some dynamite games. All the big countries now have to pick themselves up and show everyone that they deserve their billing, otherwise some very famous footballers will be coming home extremely early.