NELSPRUIT, South Africa (Reuters) – The African Nations Cup stumbled into life on Sunday with goals, a victory and a glimpse of some of the treasures that may lie ahead in the next three weeks following Saturday’s turgid false-start.
Included in those treasures would be Congolese goalkeeper Robert Kidiaba’s crazy dancing horse goal celebration, Gagnam-style, sitting on the pitch.
The goals flowed – three of them in the second half – when Democratic Republic of Congo fought back from 2-0 down to draw 2-2 with Ghana at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth.
It was the third draw in three games following Saturday’s goalless stalemates in Group A between South Africa and Cape Verde Islands and Angola and Morocco.
Although the flow was reduced to a trickle when Mali met Niger at the same stadium later on Sunday, former Barcelona midfielder Seydou Keita never stopped looking to find the net, and eventually got his reward in the 84th minute to earn his side the first three points of the tournament.
Keita, who had thundered the ball against the bar a few minutes earlier, pounced when Niger goalkeeper Daouda Kassaly dropped an easily catchable cross and was powerless to stop the 33-year-old sweeping home through a crowd of players.
After one game, Mali lead Group B with three points, followed by Ghana and DR Congo with one and Niger with none.
Niger, who lost all three games in their debut finals appearance last year, played some neat passing football at times but they lacked any real threat in front of goal and will have to improve if they are to snap their losing run when they face DR Congo in Port Elizabeth on Thursday.
Ghana, who are one of the front-runners for the title, face Mali in their next match.
After three hours of football without a goal on Saturday, the first of the tournament finally arrived on Sunday when Ghana’s Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu scored in the 40th minute against DR Congo.
Kwadwo Asamoah doubled Ghana’s lead in the 49th minute when he was left unmarked and headed home off the underside of goalkeeper Kidiaba’s bar but the Congolese were quickly back in the game.
Tresor Mputu, who had a superb match passing, moving and shooting, made it 2-1 four minutes later with a flick of his right boot, and DR Congo pulled level when Dieumerci Mbokani scored with a confident penalty by sending Ghana keeper Fatau Dauda the wrong way.
At the other end of the field Kidiaba performed his crazy horse-riding celebration sitting on the field of play, similar to the Gangnam-style dance made popular by South Korean popstar Psy.
Like much of what happens in African football, it is unique.
With only four matches played it is far too early to make any assumptions about the way the tournament is going to unravel, but on Sunday’s evidence, DR Congo’s spirit could well see them through to the later stages of the competition, especially with Claude Le Roy seemingly working his old magic on the team again.
Le Roy, who was wrongly rumoured to have quit as coach on Friday, took charge of a team for a record 29th time in the finals, and has a 100 percent record in steering his sides past the opening phase.
On Monday defending champions Zambia will be in action for the first time, taking on Ethiopia in Nelspruit, where the heavy rain that dampened Saturday’s action is again forecast.
That is unlikely to dampen the ambitions of either Zambia or Ethiopia, who are back in the tournament for the first time in 31 years.
That match, which kicks off at 3 p.m. British Time will be followed at by Nigeria v Burkina Faso at 6 p.m.
(Editing by Pritha Sarkar)
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