Afcon 2021: Early shocks and a comedy of errors

APA-Douala (Cameroon)

The 33rd Africa Cup of Nations already underway in Cameroon may be remembered for many things among them the shock results by less fancied sides and a comedy of pitch-side errors which adds to the drama.

The shocks began in the opening day of the tournament when Burkina Faso almost turned the football pyramid on its head by scoring first against Cameroon who needed two penalties to save their blushes.

Since then subsequent matches kept giving, salient among them the shock nil-nil draw pulled off by minnows Sierra Leone in face of a formidable opposition in Algeria, the defending champions going into the tournament.

Sierra Leone's last qualification for Africa's most prestigious football festival was back in 1996 when South Africa hosted and won their first and only continental title. 

It spoke volumes about the resilience of the current Sierra Leone side after their keeper Mohamed Kamara won the man of the match award thanks to his heroics, almost single-handedly holding a superior Algerian frontline led by its talisman Riyad Mahrez of Manchester City repeatedly at bay.

But more was on the way as newcomers The Gambia against the odds as FIFA's lowest ranked team in the history of the tournament won their first ever AfCON game against fellow minnows Mauritania who are on their second participation in the competition.

Gambia's Scorpions continued that unbeaten run after holding Mali in their second Group F game courtesy of a VAR-awarded penalty at the death. 

The Leone Stars' second outing against Cote d'Ivoire was also memorable given that keeper Kamara saved a crucial penalty and gave his side a fighting chance against the two-time champions.

The Sierra Leoneans twice came from behind to level the scores and secured a famous 2-2 draw against the Elephants who went into the tournament as one of the favourites of AfCON 2021.

But perhaps the greatest of them all which shook the African football pyramid was the shock 1-nil victory by fellow Group E rivals Equatorial Guinea over defending champions Algeria who are yet to score a goal after 180 minutes. 

Sport pundits say even if there are no other shocks by less illustrious teams, the tournament will be remembered for these unusual results which shook the very foundation of the African football pyramid.

Like the results of the football on the pitch, events on the peripheries also stand out for their peculiarities such as the controversial decision of the Zambian referee Janny Sikazwe to end the Mali-Tunisia match prematurely, leaving both sets of players non-plussed.

The West Africans were leading the Carthage Eagles 1-nil and were defending the slender lead when Sikazwe blew his whistle for the end of the game at the 89th minute, causing the raging Tunisian coach to remonstrate with him in vain.

But the incident did not end there because the Confederation of African Football ordered the remaining minutes of the game including stoppage time to be played.

Although the Malians took to the field once again to see out the rest of the game, the Tunisians had disengaged and forfeited it and Mali celebrated.  

Hours later another blip, this time with the national anthem of Mauritania during the pre-match rites ahead of their clash with The Gambia's Scorpions.

Three times the wrong tune was played and each time this elicited nods of disapproval from the Mauritanian players who were left singing the national anthem to rescue the situation. 

There was no mistake about The Gambia's anthem and soon the match got underway and ten minutes into it, the Scorpions struck with what proved to be the only goal of the game.    

However, despite all this Yaounde and other Cameroonian cities are an explosion of impressive colour which began at the opening of the tournament on January 9th, setting in motion the disparate parts of a jigsaw of African football mosaic being showcased to the rest of the world.


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