by Tom Stewart
So this years African Cup of Nations 2012 is now four days in, and we’ve seen all 16 teams in action. So who has impressed and who has disappointed so far? Here is our review of the action from the first round of group matches…….
The tournament kicked off on Saturday with co-hosts Equatorial Guinea facing off against Libya. In what was a close affair, the “National Lightning” beat Libya three minutes from time, with a Javier Balboa goal. The son of the Equatorial Guinea president, Teodoro Nguema has given the squad $1m as a reward.
In the groups other game, Senegal played Zambia. The Senegalese were heavily fancied to make an impression before the tournament started but stuttered to a 2-1 defeat to Zambia. Poor defending gave Emmanuel Mayuka a goal after 12 minutes, with Rainford Kalaba doubling Zambia’s lead just seven minutes later. A great goal from Dame Ndoye pulled one back for Senegal, but poor finishing from a slugglish looking side left them unable to secure an equaliser.
Next fixtures (both 25/1/12): Libya v Zambia; Equatorial Guinea v Senegal
Sunday saw Group B spring into action, with tournament favourites Ivory Coast beating a resolute Sudan 1-0 win in their opening game. It wasn’t a particularly impressive display from the Elephants, but Chelsea pair Solomon Kalou and Didier Drogba linked up for Drogba to head home to give his side a precious win.
In the other game, one that is seen as possibly deciding 2nd place, Angola picked up a crucial 2-1 win over Burkina Faso. After an drab first half, Angola took the lead when Mateus took advantage of some slack defending to smash the ball into the bottom corner. Burkina Faso levelled with an excellent free-kick from Alain Traore, but former Manchester United striker Manucho dispossessed the Faso defence to slot home from 20 yards and give his side an important 2-1 win.
Next Fixtures (both 26/1/12): Sudan v Angola; Ivory Coast v Burkina Faso
Monday saw co-hosts Gabon play the debutant Niger in front of 40,000 ecstatic fans at the Stade de l’Amitie. They played an intensely attacking game and came out with a 2-0 win. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang latched on to Stephane Nguema’s cross to head home from a tight angle. Nguema doubled the lead on the stroke of half time to give Gabon a comfortable victory.
The other game saw a classic North African derby between Tunisia and Morocco. Both of these teams were fancied to qualify from this group. Morocco squandered chances throughout, giving the Carthage Eagles a 2-1 win over the Moroccans. Khaled Korbi opened the scoring with a floated free-kick, before Youssef Msakni doubled the lead with a brilliant solo effort. Moroccan skipper Houcine Kharjah pulled one back, but Tunisia deserved their win.
Next Fixtures (both 27/1/12): Niger v Tunisia; Gabon v Morocco
Ghana got off to a winning start today with a 1-0 win over the potentially tricky Botswana. Captain John Mensah but Ghana ahead after scoring from close range following a corner. However, the Lyon defender was sent off for a professional foul after bringing down Jerome Ramatlhakwane, with the Zebras striker through on goal. Ten-man Ghana had to make do with their narrow win, but showed their professionalism that could see them win this tournament.
In what could prove to be a crucial game to decide 2nd place, Mali defeated Guinea 1-0. Barcelona’s Seydou Keita was on fine form all day, but it was AS Nancy’s Bakaye Traore who gave the Eagles the win. His powerful drive on 30 minutes from the edge of the area took a deflection on it’s way past Guinea goalkeeper Naby Yattara.
Next fixtures (both 28/1/12): Botswana v Guinea; Ghana v Mali