Franceville, Gabon | AFP |
Algeria 2 (Mahrez 12, 82) Zimbabwe 2 (Mahachi 17, Mushekwi 29-pen)
Standings P W D L F A Pts
Algeria 1 0 1 0 2 2 1
Zimbabwe 1 0 1 0 2 2 1
Senegal 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Tunisia 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Riyad Mahrez scored twice but Algeria had to settle for a 2-2 draw with rank outsiders Zimbabwe as their Africa Cup of Nations campaign got off to a slow start in Franceville on Sunday.
Newly-crowed African player of the year Mahrez gave Algeria an early lead in the Group B match but Kudakwashe Mahachi quickly equalised and a penalty before the half-hour mark scored by Nyasha Mushekwi had the Warriors in front.
In an action-filled encounter Zimbabwe — whose build-up to the finals was overshadowed by a row over bonuses — were just eight minutes away from claiming a famous victory before Mahrez struck again to secure a share of the spoils.
While Mahrez saved Georges Leekens’ side from a humiliating defeat, the draw was not the best start ahead of games against Tunisia and another pre-tournament favourite Senegal.
“We knew the first match was going to be difficult,” said Mahrez.
“We didn’t perform in the first half but played very well in the second half and should have scored several more goals.
“We only have ourselves to blame. We need to keep working and play well in the second match against Tunisia.”
Amid calls from opponents of the government in Gabon to boycott the Cup of Nations there was a sparse crowd in the 20,000-seat stadium in the south-eastern city.
Those who were there witnessed a cracking match, with Zimbabwe recovering brilliantly from a nightmare start.
They lost striker Knowledge Musona to an early injury and then fell behind in the 12th minute as Leicester City star Mahrez ran onto Islam Slimani’s pass and cut inside Costa Nhamoinesu in the area before curling a delightful shot in off the far post with his left foot.
But Zimbabwe were level only five minutes later, South Africa-based Mahachi beating goalkeeper Rais Mbolhi with a speculative low strike on his left foot from the left-hand edge of the box.
Remarkably, they went in front as the half-hour mark approached, Mushekwi sending Mbolhi the wrong way from the penalty spot after a foul in the area by Mokhtar Belkhither.
Zimbabwe won 2-1 in the only previous meeting of the nations at the tournament, 13 years ago, and they missed chances to go further in front in this game.
Only a great save by Mbolhi prevented Khama Billiat from adding to the lead after he had turned Algerian captain Aissa Mandi inside out at the start of the second half.
Algeria then stepped up the pressure and Ramy Bensebaini headed against the bar and Elisha Muroiwa struck the frame of his own goal as he attempted to clear a Faouzi Ghoulam cross.
In between those two incidents Algeria appealed for a penalty as Mahrez went down when he collided with goalkeeper Tatenda Mkuruva in the box.
Zimbabwe looked like they might hold on, but substitute Cuthbert Malajila fired straight at Mbolhi with a great chance and Algeria went straight downfield to equalise, Mahrez’s shot from 20 yards going straight under Mkuruva and in.
Aubameyang’s Gabon denied on Cup of Nations opening day
Minnows Guinea-Bissau enjoyed an Africa Cup of Nations debut to remember as they held the host nation Gabon of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to a surprise 1-1 draw in Libreville on Saturday.
Juary Soares scored a last-minute equaliser to cancel out the opener from Borussia Dortmund striker Aubameyang at the Stade de l’Amitie in the Group A curtain-raiser.
It is all square in the section after four-time winners Cameroon had to settle for a 1-1 draw with Burkina Faso in the day’s second game.
That means there is still everything to play for but the final whistle was greeted with jeers from the home support in Libreville, providing a stark contrast with the joy of the Guinea-Bissau players.
For them, just being at the tournament for the first time in their history is a remarkable achievement and the result saw thousands take to the streets of the capital Bissau to celebrate.
“This is a moment of joy for us. Despite our country’s difficulties we managed to qualify,” said Baciro Cande, the coach of the team known as the ‘wild dogs’.
Guinea-Bissau fell behind seven minutes into the second half when Denis Bouanga’s low ball to the back post was turned in by Aubameyang for the first goal of the competition.
But Gabon then sat back and were punished in the 90th minute as Soares got in front of Bruno Ecuele Manga to head in a Zezinho free-kick.
“We knew Gabon have an excellent team and the best player in Africa and in Europe,” Cande added.
“We have our limits, but we had ambitions coming here and we will try to go as far as possible.”
It was a stuttering start from Gabon as they bid to win the trophy for the first time but their coach Jose Antonio Camacho insisted: “Our chances of qualifying are the same as if we had won.”
There have been calls from opponents of Gabon’s President Ali Bongo to boycott the tournament amid a social and political crisis in the central African country of 1.8 million people, and the 40,000-capacity ground was not completely full for the occasion.
Bongo was there, however, alongside his counterpart from Guinea-Bissau, Jose Mario Vaz, and Issa Hayatou, the Cameroonian veteran head of the Confederation of African Football.