Uganda upsets DR Congo, Nigeria edges out Burundi, Madagascar wins first point ever
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In Group A, Uganda confidently beat the Democratic Republic of Congo 2-0, while in Group B Nigeria beat Burundi with a single goal.
Uganda ended a 41-year wait for an Africa Cup of Nations victory when they upset the Democratic Republic of Congo 2-0 Saturday in a Group A match in Cairo.
The Cranes last won at the showcase of African football in March 1978, defeating Nigeria in a semi-final before losing the final to hosts Ghana.
Uganda did not qualify again for the Cup of Nations until two years ago in Gabon, when the best they managed in three group matches was a draw.
Uganda exposed poor defending by DR Congo at the Cairo International Stadium to score in each half through Patrick Kaddu and Emmanuel Okwi.
Winning by two goals lifted Uganda to the top of the table, ahead of host nation Egypt on goal difference.
The scene inside the stadium was very different from the previous night when a 70,000 crowd watched Egypt beat Zimbabwe 1-0 in the tournament opener.
With the mid-afternoon temperature 36°C, there were just a few thousand spectators to witness the second match in the section.
Ahead of the tournament, most pundits tipped record seven-time champions Egypt to top the standings, leaving DR Congo, Uganda and Zimbabwe in an intriguing scrap for second place.
The six group winners and runners-up are guaranteed round-of-16 places and will be joined by the best four six third-place sides in a tournament expanded to 24 teams from 16 this time.
Uganda did not resemble a team 31 places below DR Congo in the world rankings as they controlled the early exchanges and deservedly went ahead on 14 minutes.
As a corner was floated toward the goalmouth, Kaddu sprinted away from a marker and his glancing near-post header flew past goalkeeper Ley Matampi.
It proved the only goal of an opening half in which Uganda were hungrier to win and retain possession than two-time champions DR Congo.
The Congolese regularly struggled to deal with aerial threats during the opening 45 minutes and this weakness was punished again as Uganda scored a second goal on 48 minutes.
A free-kick was directed toward a crowd of players just inside the box and Okwi, facing away from the goal, flicked the ball into the corner of the net.
DR Congo coach Florent Ibenge sensed changes were necessary to try to turn the tide and introduced Jonathan Bolingi and Jacques Maghoma.
Bolingi justified his introduction by heading on to the top of the crossbar and over with 20 minutes left, the closest the Congolese came to a goal.
Nigeria edges out Burundi
Odion Ighalo came off the bench to score the goal that gave former champions Nigeria a 1-0 victory over Burundi on Saturday in the opening Africa Cup of Nations Group B match.
The Shanghai Shenhua forward had been on the pitch only four minutes in Egyptian Mediterranean city Alexandria when he struck the 77th-minute winner.
It was an unconvincing performance from the three-time trophy-holders, who lacked attacking sharpness against well-organised opponents.
Bookmakers have made Nigeria fourth-favourites at 9/1 to win the competition, behind Egypt, Senegal and Ghana.
Debutants Burundi battled bravely throughout before a small crowd that included four-time African Footballer of the Year Samuel Eto’o from Cameroon, one of the tournament ambassadors.
Burundi, who qualified at the expense of a Gabon team including Arsenal star Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, lie 89 places below Nigeria in the world rankings.
But they showed no signs of inferiority during the opening half in the ancient city and came closest to breaking the deadlock during the first 45 minutes.
Cedric Amissi darted on to a brilliantly weighted pass and it took a brave parry from perfectly positioned Nigeria goalkeeper Daniel Akpeyi to prevent a sizzling close-range shot finding the net.
The close shave came just after beanpole Nigeria forward Paul Onuachu had displayed his aerial prowess to force a good save from Jonathan Nahimana.
Nigeria, back at the Cup of Nations after failing to qualify for the last two editions, dominated first-half possession as anticipated but seldom threatened to score.
The Super Eagles fired blanks in two warm-up matches, a draw with Zimbabwe and loss to Senegal, and German coach Gernot Rohr expressed concern ahead of the Burundi clash.
“Players like Alex Iwobi need to score more regularly,” he said, referring to the misfiring 23-year-old Arsenal forward.
Iwobi was well policed by a Burundian side known as the Swallows, who were enjoying their debut at the African football showpiece.
Kenneth Omeruo, one of two survivors in the starting line-up from the Nigeria team that won the 2013 Cup of Nations, came close soon after half-time with a header off a free-kick.
As the hour mark approached, Rohr took off veteran captain John Obi Mikel and introduced Ahmed Musa, hoping the pace of the wide attacker could unlock the Burundi defence.
Ighalo, the leading scorer in the qualifying competition with seven goals, later replaced Onuachu and soon broke the deadlock.
A superb pass from Ola Aina set up Ighalo to fire past the onrushing Nahimana and the ball landed in the far corner of the net.
Madagascar claim their first ever point
Africa Cup of Nations debutants Madagascar secured a first ever point at the tournament on Saturday from an entertaining 2-2 draw against Guinea in their Group B opener in Alexandria.
Guinea started without influential midfielder Naby Keita after his recent injury troubles but went ahead through Sory Kaba’s confident finish on 34 minutes.
Indian Ocean islanders Madagascar, who were the first qualifiers for this year’s tournament, replied early in the second half through Anicet Andrianantenaina.
They promptly took the lead when Charles Andriamahitsinoro produced a nerveless finish after latching onto a hopeful punt forward 10 minutes after half-time, but Francois Kamano salvaged a point for Guinea from the penalty spot following a foul on captain Ibrahima Traore.
Guinea failed to qualify for the 2017 edition but have made the quarter-finals in four of their past five appearances, although Keita was only fit enough for a place on the bench having yet to fully recover from a thigh injury that ruled him out of the Champions League final with Liverpool.
Madagascar, one of three teams appearing at the expanded 24-nation event for the first time, nearly presented Guinea with the opening goal just before the half-hour when Thomas Fontaine’s header grazed against his own post.
They soon found themselves trailing though after Kaba’s perfectly timed run left him clear of the defence, allowing the Dijon forward to latch on to a lofted Amadou Diawara pass and dink over Malagasy goalkeeper Melvin Adrien before rolling into an empty net.
Madagascar have their sights set on becoming the first newcomers since 2013 quarter-finalists Cape Verde to advance beyond the first round, and they pulled level on 49 minutes as Andrianantenaina glanced home at a corner.
Sory went close to restoring Guinea’s advantage with a scuffed shot across goal that clipped the outside of the post, but instead Madagascar struck again when Andriamahitsinoro controlled a long ball forward with a deft first touch, using the second to clip beyond Guinea ‘keeper Aly Keita.
However, their lead lasted barely 10 minutes with Guinea clawing their way back courtesy of a Kamano penalty that was awarded after Traore burst into the box and was scythed down by Romain Metanire.
Traore nearly snatched a winner for Guinea but couldn’t guide his effort beyond the legs of Adrien, leaving both sides trailing group leaders Nigeria following a 1-0 win for the Super Eagles over first-time participants Burundi at the same venue.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)