Sadio Mane’s late penalty secures nervy opening win for Senegal

Africa Cup of Nations round-up: Guinea, Morocco and Gabon also off to winning starts

Senegal 1 Zimbabwe 0

Senegal's Sadio Mane converted a penalty seven minutes into stoppage-time to hand the pre-tournament favourites a 1-0 victory over Zimbabwe at the start of their Africa Cup of Nations campaign in Bafoussam, Cameroon on Monday.

Zimbabwe defender Kelvin Madzongwe was penalised for blocking a shot with his hand extended away from his body in the penalty area in a heartbreaking turn of events for his side as they were on the cusp of an upset at the start of Group B action.

Senegal are Africa’s top-ranked team but had only 18 players available for their opening group match because of l coronavirus and injury and despite a lion’s share of possession and opportunities produced a tepid performance.

Senegal’s Boulaye Dia thrashed a shot just wide of the Zimbabwe goal after 40 seconds, suggesting the match might turn out to be a one-sided affair. However, it proved anything but as Zimbabwe came within seconds of an unexpected point.

Mane had one enterprising move down the left flank, tricking his way past two defenders but then hitting his angled effort straight at goalkeeper Petros Mhari in the 24th minute.

Captain Idrissa Gueye had the best effort for Senegal seven minutes from halftime with just the goalkeeper to beat, but his first touch was too heavy as he steadied himself for a shot and the opportunity was lost.

With some 20 minutes to go, Senegal defender Abdou Diallo came close with a headed attempt from a free kick, putting it just over the crossbar.

Zimbabwe were restricted to a handful of counterattack chances and set piece opportunities, the best of which their captain Knowledge Musona wasted by floating it over the top.

They had been under threat of expulsion before the tournament by Fifa, who warned of a ban after the Zimbabwe Football Association was disbanded by the government, after accusations of fraud, but a deadline to reinstate the association’s executive has passed without any action.

Guinea 1 Malawi 0

Guinea left back Issiaga Sylla scored a first-half goal to steer his side to a fortunate 1-0 victory over depleted Malawi in an entertaining Group B clash in Bafoussam.

Malawi, making a third appearance at the finals and first since 2010, had 13 members of their squad unavailable following a Covid-19 outbreak in their camp, which meant they could only name four players on the bench that included two goalkeepers.

But they missed numerous chances to claim something from the game and were left to rue their profligacy after 35 minutes when Guinea forward Jose Kante teased their defence before sliding a perfect pass for Sylla to score from close range.

Guinea move level with Senegal at the top of the group and the top two will meet in their second pool game at the same venue on Friday.

Malawi had plenty of opportunities but needed cooler heads in the box, though they also found Guinea goalkeeper Aly Keita in inspired form.

Most wasteful for them was striker Yamikani Chester, who twice found himself one-on-one with Keita.

The best of his chances came after 16 minutes when Mohamed Ali Camara’s poor pass in defence was intercepted by Chester, who had a clear run on goal.

But he panicked and pulled the trigger too early and without much power, allowing a comfortable save for the keeper.

Malawi’s Peter Banda was also denied when his curling shot seemed destined for the top corner, before Keita clawed it away with a remarkable stop.

Guinea had other chances too, even if it took them a while to get out of first gear. Their first sight of goal came midway through the first half as Ibrahima Sory Conte’s header from a corner crashed against the post.

But Sylla’s gamble to roar into the box when Kante had the ball out wide proved the decisive moment as he was presented with a simple chance to slip his shot past keeper Ernest Kakhobwe from close range to net his third international goal.

Morocco 1 Ghana 0

Morocco’s Sofiane Boufal seized on a loose ball to score seven minutes from time and secure a 1-0 win over Ghana in their opening Group C match.

Boufal hammered home from close range after a mazy run into the penalty area from Zakaria Aboukhlal that saw him tease the Ghana defence, only to be checked by Thomas Partey, with the ball then running perfectly for Boufal to score.

The goal came from a rare chance in a game where both sides showed defensive prowess but did little to impress in attack.

Both countries are looking to end a long wait for success in the continental championship but showed little early sign of making an impact at the tournament in Cameroon, admittedly after disrupted preparations.

Boufal’s goal did open up a cagey affair and Morocco had two more decent chances as captain Romain Saiss headed wide after an 87th-minute free kick and then in stoppage time Ghana’s goalkeeper Joe Wollacott stopped a blistering shot from close range.

Until then, there had only been two opportunities for Ghana.

Joseph Paintsil hit a goal-bound shot towards the top corner in the 70th minute only for Morocco goalkeeper Yassine Bounou to turn the effort around the post.

Ghana also had a good set-piece opportunity in the 31st minute but Partey fired his free kick over the bar.

The victory extended to 10 matches Morocco’s winning streak, including all six World Cup qualifiers played between September and November.

Morocco won their only Cup of Nations title in 1976 while Ghana are four-time African champions – the last time in 1982.

Gabon 1 Comoros 0

Aaron Boupendza’s strike from a narrow angle sealed a dull 1-0 win for Gabon over tournament debutants Comoros Islands in their opening Group C clash.

Gabon, who were missing talisman Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and influential midfielder Mario Lemina due to Covid-19 infections, never looked troubled and scored from one of only a few shots on target at the Stade Ahmadou Ahidjo.

Boupendza rifled the ball into the roof of the net after he was set free in the box by Louis Ameka, giving Gabon their first win at the continental finals since they defeated Burkina Faso 2-0 in the 2015 group stages.

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