Feature Photo: Fadel Senna / AFP
Philip Lawer Alimo, International Freelance Sports Journalist
Suez, June 25, 2019 – Africa Cup of Nations debutants Mauritania were given a baptism of fire as they were beaten convincingly by West African neighbors Mali 4-1 in their Group E game played on Monday night in Suez.
The Eagles of Mali were the superior side from the blast of the referee’s whistle to the end of proceedings. Les Aigles capped an exciting evening with a valuable result that saw them edge closer to the next round of the competition and sending a strong message of intent to other teams playing in the month-long tournament.
Captain Abdoulaye Diaby, set the stage for Mali with a 20-yard ferocious shot into the top corner of the net after 37 minutes. FC Porto attacker Moussa Marega, one of the leading goal scorers in last season’s UEFA Champions League, scored from the spot kick to double the lead before the break.
Ten minutes after the interval, Adama Traore smashed in a third with a beautiful low drive, but Les Mourabitoune reduced the deficit when Hacen neatly scored a penalty after Mamadou Fofana impeded Ismael Diakite to give Mauritania their first ever goal at the AFCON. Substitute Adama Traore, who changed his namesake, dashed any hopes of Les Mourabitoune coming back into the game when his curled shot went straight to the right corner beyond a helpless goalkeeper Souleymane to add a fourth for the Eagles.
Meanwhile, the Elephants of Cote d’Ivoire began their AFCON campaign with a lone goal victory over Bafana Bafana at El Salam Stadium on Monday Afternoon.
Aston Villa’s Jonathan Kodja struck the only goal from a neat cross by Max Gradel in the 64th minute to give the Elephants victory over Bafana Bafana in the steamy Cairo heat. The lone goal was enough for the Elephants, even though Nicolas Pepe’s free-kick was denied by the crossbar in the first half and the other was brilliantly saved by goalkeeper Ronwen Williams.
In Monday’s second game at the Army Stadium in Suez, the Palancas Negras of Angola snatched a late equalizer to earn a 1-1 draw with the Carthage Eagles of Tunisia when Alanyaspor Midfielder Djalma Campos pounced on a goalkeeper mistake to score in the Group E encounter.
Youssef M’sakni gave Tunisia the lead when he converted a 34th minute penalty for the Carthage Eagles. Today’s fixtures will see Cameroon play Guinea Bissau and the Black Stars of Ghana lock horns with West African neighbors Benin all in Group F.