The curtain dropped on the first round of matches at the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) on Wednesday evening with Group F in action.
There were just two games scheduled but it was certainly an entertaining matchday. Let’s unpack all the action.
Group F: Morocco 3-0 Tanzania
Plenty was expected from Morocco in this tournament, especially after their historic feat at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar and they certainly gave the fans and neutrals their money’s worth.
The AFCON favourites kicked off their campaign emphatically, comfortably dispatching East African minnows Tanzania in a 3-0 victory at Laurent Pokou Stadium.
Tanzania, who are still searching for their first-ever win at an AFCON tournament, were forced to see out the remaining 20 minutes of the clash with ten men.
Morocco were heavily fancied to emerge from their AFCON opener with maximum points, but Tanzania weren’t just going to roll over for the 1976 champions.
Their well-organised rearguard kept Morocco at bay for much of the opening proceedings although Youssef En-Nesyri would have been kicking himself for not hitting the target after Hakim Ziyech’s cross fell favourably.
The Atlas Lions finally took the lead on the half-hour mark and Ziyech was in the thick of things again as his stinging long-range free-kick proved too hot to handle for Aishi Manula.
The Tanzanian goalkeeper could only parry the effort into the path of a grateful Romain Saiss, who made no mistake slotting home to give his nation the lead.
Considering the calibre of players on Morocco’s star-studded line-up, it was unsurprising that the contest was largely one-way traffic with Tanzania failing to register a single shot in the opening 45 minutes.
Big chances came at a premium for Morocco in the first half but Walid Regragui would have been a little disappointed with a slender 1-0 lead at the break.
Tanzania lacked ideas in the final third to significantly threaten a Morocco side who piled on relentless pressure in the second half looking for a second goal cushion.
They were handed a boost in the 70th minute when Novatus Miroshi was sent off for two bookable offences.
Morocco finally got their second as Azzedine Ounahi ghosted into the area and stroked home to double the advantage for Regragui’s side.
En-Nesyri rounded off the thrashing just three minutes later, pouncing on an inviting cross from Achraf Hakimi for a simple tap-in.
Morocco will be looking to seal their place in the knockouts when they take on D.R. Congo on Sunday afternoon.
Group F: DR Congo 1-1 Zambia
The final fixture of the first round saw DR Congo and Zambia play out a 1-1 draw, with Brentford’s Yoane Wissa rescuing a point for his country.
Morocco had already laid down the marker with their emphatic win meaning these two sides may already be playing catch-up in Group F.
Searching for their first AFCON win since their 2012 triumph, Zambia opened the scoring in spectacular fashion.
Playing as a sweeper keeper, Congo’s Lionel Mpasi thought he should have been given a foul after needlessly committing himself to a loose ball 30 yards away from his area.
Unfortunately for him, referee Bamlak Weyesa wasn’t interested in his protests, leaving the goalie stranded and Zambia pounced with a quick throw-in before Kings Kangwa executed a long-range lob that evaded two desperate defenders.
Despite the howler, Congo levelled matters just four minutes later through Wissa who latched on to Cedric Bakambu’s back post cross with the simple task of a tap-in.
After levelling the score sheet, Congo exerted their dominance and were nearly rewarded until VAR overturned the referee’s decision to point to the spot for what looked like a handball.
Congo had one final chance to snatch a win, but unselfish play from Wissa thwarted the attack and the huge chance went begging as both sides ultimately settled for a share of the spoils.
Zambia have now drawn six of their last seven AFCON games and will be desperate to buck that trend against Tanzania this weekend.
Equatorial Guinea vs Guinea Bissau – 2:00 pm (GMT)
Equatorial Guinea and Guinea Bissau will get the ball rolling for the second round of the AFCON group phase.
With Group A still delicately poised, both sides will head into this encounter knowing a win would be monumental to their qualification hopes, particularly with the group favourites facing off.
Ivory Coast vs Nigeria – 5:00 pm (GMT)
Two of Africa’s heavyweights will cross paths this evening as Ivory Coast take on Nigeria at the Alassane Ouattara Stadium.
The stakes are undeniably higher for the Super Eagles after their rather disappointing draw against Equatorial Guinea last time out as anything but a will greatly jeopardize their qualification chances.
Having failed to pick up maximum points in their respective opening games, the loser of this highly anticipated contest will be staring down the barrel of a group phase elimination.
Considering both nations are favourites to make it out of the group on paper, we should be in for an action-packed contest in a battle of who wants it more.
How to watch?
All AFCON games are broadcast live on Sky Sports in the United Kingdom. Numerous other live football streaming websites will allow you to watch the tournament in real time regardless of your location.
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