AFCON: Mane saves Senegal in their first game against Zimbabwe

Senegal, Africa’s top-ranked team, opened its campaign with an unconvincing win in Group B over a Zimbabwe team ranked 101 places below it. It was a win nonetheless as Senegal sneaked victory despite being without goalkeeper Edouard Mendy and captain Kalidou Coulibaly, who have tested positive for the virus.

Sadio Mane saved Senegal with a 97th-minute penalty to beat Zimbabwe 1-0 at the African Cup of Nations on Monday. Morocco won the first meeting of heavyweights with a late goal to edge Ghana, also 1-0.

Neither game produced much high-quality soccer despite them involving three title contenders, but they didn’t disappoint that many fans in Cameroon as both were played in front of sparse crowds.

Senegal, Africa’s top-ranked team, opened its campaign with an unconvincing win in Group B over a Zimbabwe team ranked 101 places below it. It was a win nonetheless as Senegal sneaked victory despite being without goalkeeper Edouard Mendy and captain Kalidou Coulibaly, who have tested positive for the virus.

Mané sent goalkeeper Petros Mhari the wrong way and drilled his very late penalty into the left corner at the Kouekong Stadium in Cameroon’s western city of Bafoussam. The Liverpool forward took his chance after Zimbabwe midfielder Kelvin Madzongwe was penalized for a handball in the fourth minute of injury time as the game suddenly ended in drama.

Zimbabwe protested vehemently, but referee Mario Escobar of Guatemala stuck by his decision after referring to a video review, which is being used at every game at the African Cup for the first time. Madzongwe had thrown himself to the ground trying to block a shot, and the ball struck his arm.

Other teams also made do without key players because of positive virus tests as many might have to throughout the monthlong tournament. Gabon was missing Arsenal forward Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Nice midfielder Mario Lemina when it beat tournament debutant Comoros 1-0 in the day’s last game.

Cameroon’s African Cup opened Sunday when the host team beat Burkina Faso 2-1, finally ending a three-year wait for this tournament for the Central African nation. Cameroon was stripped of the right to host the 2019 African Cup and then saw its second chance in 2021 postponed for a year because of the pandemic.

There have been virus outbreaks in many of the 24 squads and it seems the African Cup will soldier on through them. In an update to its tournament rules because of the virus, the Confederation of African Football has said teams must fulfil fixtures if they have at least 11 players healthy and available, even if it means they won’t have any substitutes.

The positives — tests that is — kept coming on Monday, when the Egypt soccer federation announced its president, Gamal Allam, tested positive while in Cameroon. He did not have symptoms and all of the players tested negative, the federation said.

 

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