Stunning opener brings football to the fore again

To say the African Cup of Nations began under a cloud would be the understatement of the year.

The tragic death of Togo’s assistant coach, press officer, and their Angolan coach driver following a machine gun attack put the whole tournament in doubt, with some questioning the choice of Angola as host – especially the use of the disputed and unsettled Cabinda region where the attack took place.

No blame can be attached to the Togo players for pulling out, football is probably far from their minds right now after such a harrowing experience, but the tournament itself should go ahead.

For starters it would be a show of defiance against the terrorists and a chance for Africa to unite against such violence. Angola itself is desperate for a successful tournament to announce its re-birth on the world stage after three decades of civil war. It would be cruel to take it away from them now. As long as the politicians and security forces fulfil their side of the bargain, there would be more losers than winners if the tournament was scrapped.

So what a relief it was to finally see a ball being kicked in an opening match that justified the decision to continue. Angola and Mali put on a game that will live long in the memory and lays down the gauntlet to the South Africans when they kick off their own tournament next June.

Angola raced into a 2-0 lead early in the second half and when Manucho made it 4-0 an emphatic win for the Angolans seemed the only outcome. But the African Nations is renowned for throwing up surprises and we were treated to one of the greatest comebacks of all time as two injury time goals secured a 4-4 draw for Mali against their stunned hosts. It was a result that delighted viewers and no doubt upset a few football betting coupons.

The surprises continued in the second round of games when rank outsiders Malawi thrashed Algeria, England’s opponents at next year’s World Cup, 3-0, while favourites Ivory Coast could only draw with Burkina Faso.
There will no doubt be more surprises by the time this blog comes to print and that is what makes the African Cup of Nations so special – and why it was the right decision to carry on.

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