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Upsets in Africa Cup opener

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2012-01-22

Former Real Madrid striker Javier Balboa helped Equatorial Guinea to a 1-0 victory over Libya in the first Africa Cup of Nations match on Saturday. Later, Zambia went on to beat heavily-favoured Senegal 2-1 in another surprise win.

AP - Co-host Equatorial Guinea snatched a late winner to beat Libya 1-0 in the African Cup of Nations on Saturday, sparking jubilant scenes as fans danced and sang to celebrate the stunning debut result.

Later, Zambia sealed a doubleheader of unexpected results at Bata Stadium in a 2-1 win against highly fancied Senegal.

Libya - new anthem, new shirt, new hope

The fact that Libya even made it to the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations is remarkable enough. With the country crippled by the uprising against Colonel Gaddafi and the ensuing civil war, the team was forced to play its home qualifying matches outside the country. The conflict that ripped apart the country also fractured the team. One player, Walid al-Kahatroushi, walked out of the squad in order to link up with rebels. After fighting on the front line until the fall of Gaddafi in November last year, he was sent back to play for his national team. Tariq al-Taib, considered by many to be Libya’s best player, was not selected for the squad after he described the rebels as “rats” and “dogs”. The team will no longer wear the green shirts of Gaddafi’s Libya and a new national anthem will be played before each game.

“It's an amazing time,” Libya’s Brazilian coach Marcos Paquetá said. “They don't play only for the national team, they play for the people who have endured difficult lives.”

(See FRANCE24's 2012 Africa Cup of Nation's preview - winners and losers)

Javier-Angel Balboa slotted Equatorial Guinea’s decisive strike into a top corner of Libya’s goal in the 87th minute to send the home crowd into raptures.

Equatorial Guinea, the lowest ranked team at the tournament, overcame a turbulent preparation during which coach Henri Michel resigned just weeks before the tournament, leaving replacement Gilson Paulo with little time to drill his squad.

“We played a good game. We had trained so little time, but the tactical dedication of our players was great,” Paulo said.

Zambia’s win was secured thanks to goals in the first half from Emanuel Mayuka and Rainford Kalaba.

Senegal rallied in the second period and cut the deficit through Dame N’Doye’s strike, but Zambia held on for the win.

“We knew the opportunities to score were to play behind their backs, because they have very strong players in the air,” Zambia coach Herve Renard said. “We did that to perfection in the first half.”

A fan crush just hours before the opening match almost marred the beginning of the tournament, with police forced to use tear gas before an entry gate to the stadium complex was opened to let the hordes of supporters through.

Meanwhile, the Libya football team said it had to force the Confederation of African Football to correct its website on Saturday with the new flag adopted by the country since Moammar Gadhafi’s overthrow.

Libya threatened to boycott all media events and stop cooperating with African Cup organizers until the blunder was fixed, team media officer Fathi Aborzeza said.

CAF said it had “taken note” of Libya’s new flag from the time it was first used but an error with the website’s old database caused it to reproduce the old flag.

African tribal dancing and traditional songs and pop music played a major role in the opening ceremony, while fans were given glow-sticks to wave in the colors of the Equatorial Guinea flag. Images of Africa were projected onto a heptagonal tower in the middle of the pitch with seven white mats stretching across the grass toward the stands as dancers bobbed and weaved.

As kickoff approached, a 15-minute firework display burst out, shrouding the stadium in smoke and culminating in a finale that shook the seats.

Following the display, Equatorial Guinea president Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasolo, who has ruled over the country for more than 30 years, led the teams onto the pitch.

Although Libya began by dominating possession, Equatorial Guinea’s players soon found a foothold in the game and deserved their victory.

The home side finally delivered when Javier-Angel Balboa raced onto a throughball and slotted past Libya goalkeeper Samir Aboud into the top corner in the 87th minute.

This week, the team was promised a $1 million bonus from the son of the country’s president if the team won the match.

“It’s the famous $1 million,” midfielder Juvenal Edjogo-Owono said with a grin. “For us the money is not very important, the most important thing is to start the competition with a win.
“Now we will see the future more optimistically.”

In the late match, Zambia quickly took a stranglehold on its meeting with Senegal.

Emmanuel Mayuka put Zambia ahead with a header following a free kick in the 12th minute and Rainford Kalaba extended the lead with a clinical finish in the 20th.

“It feels great (to score). We worked hard,” Mayuka said. “This is only the first game though and we have to keep playing well.”

Early substitute Dame N’Doye pulled a goal back with neat control setting up a near-post finish in the 74th, but Senegal ran out of time to rescue a draw.

Although the lower-ranked teams claimed victories, Renard bristled when it was suggested the opening results were a surprise.

“It’s not a surprise for us. It’s only the result of a lot of hard work. We knew we were able to do that,” he said. “And we were a bit lucky in the second half because they hit the post.”

Date created : 2012-01-21

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