The first important game of the 2008 African Cup of Nations took place yesterday and once again, a player who earns his paycheck in the Premiership took center stage. Chelsea striker Salomon Kalou capped a beautiful solo run by coolly slotting the ball past Nigerian goalkeeper Austin Ejide and into the net to give Ivory Coast a critical 1-0 victory. Les Éléphants now have a stranglehold on the group and barring an unforeseen collapse, will advance to the quarterfinals as the winner of Group A. Newcastle striker Obafemi Martins started for Nigeria, as did fellow Premiership players Yakubu, Kanu, John Utaka, Joseph Yobo, and John Obi Mikel, while Kolo Toure, Abdoulaye Meite, Didier Zokora, and Didier Drogba started for Ivory Coast. Martins had a decent shout for a penalty in the 33rd minute, but the referee instead booked him for diving.

Morocco coasted by Namibia 5-1 in front of a near-empty stadium behind a hat trick from Soufiane Alloudi. The reported attendance only numbered around 200, which is an embarrassment for a competitive international game.

Mali recorded a huge, huge 1-0 victory over Benin to cap off yesterday’s slate of games. Group B is extremely tough with Ivory Coast and Nigeria at the top, and it was key for Mali to beat Benin to keep their hopes of advancing alive. They’ll play Nigeria next and the winner of that game (or Mali if they can get a draw) will be in prime position to move on.

Group C is in action today as Egypt and Cameroon will square off and Sudan and Zambia, the two minnows out of the four in the group, will play. Full details tomorrow, check back during the afternoon.