By Beng Emmanuel
The first round matches of the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations concluded on Wednesday. Here are some key point to remember before the second round begins.
Favorites pick up first win, giants struggle
Host Cameroon got off to an impressive start to the competition after staging a late first half comeback to beat Burkina Faso 2-1 in the tournament opening game. Senegal also claimed their first win after a hard fought 1-nil win thanks to Sadio Mane’s injury time penalty against Zimbabwe in Bafoussam.
Morocco, Mali, Nigeria and Ivory Coast were also victorious in their first games. On the other hand Egypt started their campaign with defeat in Garoua, and defending champions Algeria were held to a goalless draw by Sierra Leone.
Goals difficult to come by
A total of 12 matches were played during the first round of the Nations Cup with 12 goals scored. it represents a sharp decline compared to 2019 when 27 goals were scored in the first round of the newly expanded 24-team format.
Only host nation Cameroon proved to be the exception by scoring more than once since the start of the tournament. Two fixtures finished goalless and nine others ended with a 1-0 score.
History making moments
History was made during the first round of the ongoing Nations Cup as The Gambia claimed their first ever win at the tournament in their first appearance.
They narrowly edged a Mauritania side still on the hunt for a historic win since making their maiden stint in 2019. It was a great moment for 23-year-old Ablie Jallow who became the first player to score for his country at the Nations Cup.
There were also celebrations in Cape Cape Verde after the Blue Sharks marked their return back to the Africa Cup of Nations after missing out in 2017 and 2019 with a slim 1-0 win against 10-man Ethiopia.
Holders Algeria on their part extended their unbeaten run to 35 games. They are now only two shy to equal Italy’s record of 37 matches unbeaten.
Cameroon’s captain Vincent Aboubakar also became the first player to score a brace in the opening game of the Afcon since Angola’s Flavio Amado and Seydou Keita in 2010.
African stars yet to make their mark
It’s been a difficult start to life for African football stars for their respective countries at the Nations Cup.
Sadio Mane opened his goal account from the spot despite some good opportunities to score during the game against Zimbabwe. His Liverpool teammate Mohamed Salah was a muted force in their group D opener against Nigeria and failed to exert any serious influence.
Sebastien Haller was missing during Cote D’Ivoire’s game against Equatorial Guinea. This season’s UEFA Champions League top scorer rather threatened the opponents defense and didn’t even have a shot on target. Manchester City winger Riyad Mahrez showed a glimpse of his brilliance but could not inspire Algeria to a winning start.
Referee blunder leads to controversial ending
There were fierce scenes at the end of the game between Tunisia and Mali in Limbe after refree Janny Sikwaze blew full-time prematurely.
The game was first stopped five minutes to stoppage time but Sikwaze rescinded his decision and then erroneously ended the game on 89minutes again prompting protest from staff and players of Tunisia.
Mali won the game by 1-0 courtesy Ibrahima Kone’s second half winner from the spot.