Abidjan — Lamine Camara scored a stunning brace as Senegal began their defence of the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) title with a 3-0 win over Gambia on Monday, but fellow heavyweights Algeria and Cameroon were both held in their opening matches.
Sadio Mane’s Senegal are hoping to retain the trophy they won in Cameroon two years ago and were too strong for their Gambian neighbours, who played the whole second half with 10 men.
Marseille midfielder Pape Gueye swept home an assist by Mane to give the Lions of Teranga the lead inside four minutes in Ivorian capital Yamoussoukro.
Gambia endured a troubled build-up to the tournament, boycotting a training session over an unpaid qualification bonus before their flight to Ivory Coast was forced to turn around just nine minutes after take-off due to technical problems.
Quarter-finalists in 2022, they had Cardiff midfielder Ebou Adams sent off for a studs-up challenge just before the break.
Senegal effectively killed off the game early in the second half when 20-year-old Camara, the African young player of the year, drilled a low shot into the far corner.
He then completed the victory with an early contender for goal of the tournament in the 86th minute, expertly bending a shot into the top corner from just outside the box.
That was a good #TotalEnergiesAFCON2023 day 🙌
Results of today’s encounters. ✅ pic.twitter.com/HWZ19uX2wm
— CAF (@CAF_Online) January 16, 2024
Aliou Cisse’s Senegal will likely face a tougher assignment in their next Group C match when they face five-time winners Cameroon.
The Indomitable Lions, champions in 2017, had to come from behind to draw 1-1 with 10-man Guinea in the second game of the day in Yamoussoukro, with Frank Magri equalising for Cameroon early in the second half.
Guinea had taken an early lead through Mohamed Bayo, who was leading their attack in the absence of the injured Serhou Guirassy, the striker enjoying a fine season in Germany with Stuttgart.
Cameroon, with Manchester United goalkeeper Andre Onana not in the team having not arrived in Ivory Coast until just before the match, were given a boost as Guinea’s Francois Kamano was sent off with half-time approaching.
Magri headed them level, but they could not find a winner in the sapping late afternoon heat.
Algeria, who won the title in 2019, became the latest major nation to fail to win their opening game after Cameroon, Nigeria, Egypt and Ghana, as they were held to a 1-1 stalemate by Angola in Bouake.
Baghdad Bounedjah gave Algeria the lead after 18 minutes in Ivory Coast’s second city, and the striker then had a stunning second goal disallowed for a tight offside call soon after.
Angola equalised through a Mabululu penalty midway through the second half in the Group D game, although they have now failed to win any of their last nine matches at the Cup of Nations, stretching back to 2012.
Burkina Faso and Mauritania meet in the same group on Tuesday, also in Bouake.
Monday’s matches were played out before swathes of empty seats, which has quickly become a source of embarrassment for tournament organisers.
It’s a draw as Cameroon and Guinea share the points after an intense contest. 🤝#CMRGUI | #TotalEnergiesAFCON2023 pic.twitter.com/s68qFvrctG
— Total Energies AFCON (@TotalAFCON2023) January 15, 2024
Ivorian Prime Minister Robert Beugre Mambe on Monday said measures would be taken to try to ensure full stadiums.
“You will see the results in the next 48 hours,” he said, in response to criticism after fewer than 37,000 fans attended Saturday’s opening game between the hosts and Guinea-Bissau at the 60,000-seat Ebimpe Olympic Stadium.
The game had been declared a sell-out, with many Ivorians complaining that certain people had bought tickets in bulk over the internet and had not managed to then sell them on.
“Numerous supporters expressed their concerns about the fact the stadium was not totally full,” acknowledged the Confederation of African Football and the local organising committee in a joint statement.
Tuesday will see the opening games in Group E, with Tunisia meeting Namibia and Mali taking on South Africa in Korhogo.
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