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Ghana's midfielder Joseph Paintsil (L) falls as he fights for the ball with Cape Verde's defender Pico during the Africa Cup of Nations 2023 group B football match between Ghana and Cape Verde at the Felix Houphouet-Boigny Stadium in Abidjan on January 14, 2024. /CFP

Faltering start for African giants at AFCON 2023

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Four games in at the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) and three football powerhouses, who share 14 titles among themselves, failed to get their campaigns to a winning start.

Nigeria, Egypt and Ghana, all of whom played on Sunday, failed to win their opening games in the ongoing continental tournament in Cote d’Ivoire.

After Saturday’s opener that saw the host nation win 2-0 against Guinea-Bissau, the stage seemed set for the three African giants to announce their presence at AFCON 2023.

This was not to be however, as Nigeria, first to take the turf, struggled to impose their game plan against Equatorial Guinea despite starting a strong line-up that included napoli talisman Victor Osimhen, Atalanta forward Ademola Lookman and Fulham’s Alex Iwobi.

The Super Eagles went behind in the 36th minute thanks to an Ivan Salvador goal that seemed to take the stadium by surprise.

Two minutes however, Osimhen netted home to equalize and put the Nigerian’s plan back on track. This would however prove to be the game’s last goal, as Equatorial Guinea frustrated all attempts by the Super Eagles to get an advantage.

Seven-time AFCON champions Egypt took the stage next against Mozambique, who were yet to score at the continental competition in 14 years.

The North Africans began the game in positive fashion when Mostafa Mohamed took advantage of some lacklustre defending to put the ball past a hapless Hernâni Siluane in the 2nd minute.

The early goal did not put out the Mozambicans’ hope as they kept their nerve against a team that, in Mohames Salah, has one of Africa’s best footballing talents of the past decade.

Mozambique’s courage bore fruits in the second half as Witi found an equalizer in the 55th minute. Three minutes later, the Mozambiccans turned the game on its head after Guima neatly fed Clesio who evaded a tackle from Ahmed Hegazi before slotting past Mohamed El Shenawy.

The Pharaoh’s thereafter increased the game’s tempo, but Mozambique remained resilient, closing spaces cleverly to stop any attacks.

Egypt waited until the dying minutes of the game to salvage a draw, as Salah netted a penalty kick awarded after a VAR review.

Ghana closed the day’s schedule against Cape Verde, a game many would have expected the Black Stars to win.

The four-time AFCOn champions were however stunned when Jamiro Monteiro found the back of the net after 17 minutes.

Cape Verde were pegged back in the 56th minute by an Alexander Djiku goal, but a stoppage time strike from Garry Rodriguez sealed the upset.

The three games embodied what the Confederation of African Football (CAF) president Patrice Motsepe expressed a day earlier, that the tournament had the potential to go down in history as one of the best AFCON shows in history.

Three more games are scheduled for Monday, including a clash between neighbors Senegal and The Gambia. Cameroon will take on Guinea in the second match before Algeria plays Angola in the day’s final match.

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