Senegal began their Africa Cup of Nations title defense with a 3-0 win against 10-man Gambia in Yamoussoukro on Monday, with Lamine Camara scoring two goals.
Senegal climbed to the top of the early Group C standings ahead of Cameroon’s match against Guinea later Monday.
Aliou Cisse’s squad shown enough skill in the Ivorian heat to believe they may become the first team to win consecutive AFCON championships since Egypt in 2006, 2008, and 2010.
Senegal’s starting lineup consisted of just five players from the side that defeated Egypt on penalties in the final two years ago, and teenager Camara stole the show.
Gambia already has a difficult job in reaching the knockout stage two years after a stunning run to the quarter-finals on debut.
The holders wasted no time putting pressure on their West African counterparts, taking the lead in the fourth minute.
Sadio Mane was left with plenty of room at the back post, and the unmarked Pape Gueye stroked his lay-off in left-footed from inside the box.
Gambia had a difficult build-up to the tournament, boycotting a training session over an unpaid qualifying bonus before their aircraft to the Ivory Coast was forced to turn around nine minutes after takeoff owing to mechanical difficulties.
Despite the early setback, they surged into the game and came close to equalizing when Musa Barrow curled a free kick into the side netting.
Gambia were handed a blow just before halftime, however, as Cardiff City midfielder Ebou Adams was sent off for a studs-up tackle.
However, the underdogs continued to threaten after the break, with Senegal goalkeeper Edouard Mendy having to dive to his right to save Barrow’s long-range shot, and Ali Sowe slicing the rebound wide.
Senegal essentially finished the game seconds later, when 20-year-old Camara collected Ismailia Sarr’s ball and drilled a low shot into the far corner.
In the 86th minute, the Lions of Teranga scored an early contender for goal of the tournament.
Iliman Ndiaye’s clever trickery got him past two players, and Metz midfielder Camara beautifully curved his ball into the top corner from the outside of the ‘D’.
Mohamed Badamosi came close to giving the Gambians a late consolation when he headed wide, but they were eventually overwhelmed and will now focus on their second encounter against Guinea on Friday.
Senegal will most likely have a more difficult task when they meet five-time champions Cameroon.