Senegal, Morocco kick off AFCON 2021 campaigns with slim victories

By David Ochieng Mbewa

Day two of the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations on Monday saw action in Groups B and C get underway with the four matches all yielding similar 1-0 results and the pre-match favorites all claiming victories.

In the day’s first match, Senegal defeated Zimbabwe 1-0 in their Group B game at the Kouekong Stadium in Baffoussam with Liverpool forward Sadio Mané converting a late penalty to snatch victory at the death.

FILE PHOTO: The Africa Cup Of Nations trophy during a past Africa Cup of Nations Final soccer match. /Getty Images

Despite missing nine players, including captain Kalidou Koulibaly and goalkeeper Edouard Mendy, who were sidelined due to positive COVID-19 tests, the 2019 AFCON runners-up still came into the match as favourites.

The Lions of Teranga dominated possession and created good chances but failed to break the deadlock due to some poor finishing.

With the game seemingly headed for a draw, the referee awarded Senegal a spot-kick deep into added time in the second half after Pape Gueye’s shot hit Kelvin Madzongwe’s arm in the penalty box. A VAR check confirmed the decision and Mané stepped up to score his 27th international goal.

The other group game saw Guinea edge Malawi by a similar score at the same venue. The West Africans had the lion’s share of the ball but Malawi created more chances with Guinea goalkeeper Aly Keita pulling off multiple saves.

The game’s lone goal was scored 10 minutes before halftime when José Kanté wriggled free of Gomezgani Chirwa in the penalty box to set up Issiaga Sylla for a simple finish.

In Group C, Sofiane Boufal’s strike seven minutes from time earned Morocco a 1-0 win against four-time champions Ghana at the Stade Ahmadou Ahidjo in Yaoundé.

Morocco came into the game having only lost once in the whole of 2021 – a 5-3 defeat on penalties to eventual champions Algeria in the semifinals of the FIFA Arab Cup – and only conceding four times in 21 matches, tilting the odds slightly in favor of the Atlas Lions.

Boufal was in the right place at the right time to latch onto a loose ball in Ghana’s penalty box to fire a shot past past goalkeeper Joseph Luke Wollacot.

Morocco are joined at the top of the group on three points with Gabon who beat Comoros Islands with Aaron Boupendza’s strike after 16 minutes proving the difference.

Tuesday’s action will see defending champions Algeria play Sierra Leone in Group E while the pick of the games will see Nigeria take on seven-time champions Egypt. The action will be closed out by Sudan’s match against Guinea Bissau.

(Story compiled with assistance from wire reports)

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