On Sunday, Mohamed Salah spared Egypt from an embarassing loss in their first game at the Africa Cup of Nations, while Nigeria was held by Equatorial Guinea despite Victor Osimhen scoring.
Ghana was also in action in Abidjan, where they were defeated 2-1 by Cape Verde, as three countries with 14 AFCON championships between them all failed to get off to a winning start in this year’s tournament.
Egypt needed a Salah penalty seven minutes into injury time to clinch a 2-2 draw with Mozambique in Group B at the Felix Houphouet Boigny Stadium in Ivory Coast’s commercial hub.
Following a VAR review for a foul on Mostafa Mohamed, the penalty was granted, and Salah’s shot denied Mozambique a historic first-ever AFCON victory.
“I was saddened to see my players distraught at the end because we deserved to win,” Mozambique coach Chiquinho Conde remarked.
His country has not won a game in their previous four AFCON outings, and their dismal streak currently stands at 13 matches.
Mohamed had given Egypt a perfect start with a goal within two minutes, but the suffocating heat and humidity appeared to get the better of the Pharaohs.
On 55 minutes, Mozambique equalized with Witiness Quembo’s header, and three minutes later, substitute Clesio Bauque surged through to make it 2-1.
Egypt was rescued by Salah, but it was a shaky start to their campaign in Ivory Coast, where they are seeking to win a record-extending eighth AFCON title and their first since 2010, when the Liverpool superstar made his international debut.
“I want to win every match I play, and when we don’t, I’m sad, but there are no easy games,” Egypt coach Rui Vitoria said.
“We were not the best team before the draw was made and we are not the worst now.”Ghana is taken aback by Cape Verde.
Egypt’s next game against Ghana on Thursday may be make or break for both teams, with the Black Stars reeling after surrendering in injury time to lose 2-1 to Cape Verde.
After Alexander Djiku headed home on 56 minutes to cancel out Jamiro Monteiro’s first-half opening, the Black Stars seemed to be heading home with a point.
But Cape Verde pounced on sloppy defense in the 92nd minute, with replacement Garry Rodrigues tucking the ball into an open goal to the surprise of Ghana supporters in the crowd of just under 12,000 people.
“We want to show the world what we can do, that we are small but we can compete with any team in Africa on football terms,” said Cape Verde coach Pedro ‘Bubista’ Brito.
Andre Ayew’s debut as a substitute was also remarkable, with the 34-year-old being just the third player to compete in all eight editions of the tournament.
The outcome for a nation whose total of four AFCON wins is surpassed only by Egypt and Cameroon is significantly more concerning to Ghanaians.
On target, Osimhen
They were eliminated in the group stage of the last tournament in 2022, and Chris Hughton’s squad arrived here after a 1-0 loss to the Comoros in World Cup qualification in November.
“We conceded a very poor goal, so it’s a very disappointing night for us,” Hughton said of Cape Verde’s winning goal.
“We have no choice but to make sure it is a favourable result in our next game against Egypt.”
Champions three times over Nigeria is hoping that the presence of African Player of the Year Osimhen would inspire a successful campaign, but they were beaten to a 1-1 draw in Group A by Equatorial Guinea.
Osimhen equalized practically immediately after Iban Edu started the scoring in a match that finished with both sides on one point, two less than Ivory Coast.
On Saturday, the tournament hosts defeated Guinea-Bissau 2-0 at the same Ebimpe Olympic Stadium.
“I am dissatisfied. This sketch does not work for us. “Our team created many chances, but we did not score,” Nigeria coach Jose Peseiro remarked.
The image of a mostly empty stadium, with relatively few people attending the game in the 60,000-capacity venue, will be a source of anxiety for organizers.
Holders Senegal begin their campaign against Gambia in Group C in Yamoussoukro on Monday, with Cameroon and Algeria also in play.