All eyes were on Bafana Bafana coming into the game, but it was the Cape Verde’s Fernando Varela who took the plaudits with a battling defensive display. The 25-year-old centre-half ably dealt with the Rainbow Nation’s long-ball tactics all afternoon and smothered livewire forward Bernard Parker to give his country their first point. Misfiring Morocco are the Blue Sharks’ next opponents, and with the defensive steel of Varela the qualification conquerors of Cameroon might yet spring more surprises.
In a drab 0-0 draw between Morocco and Angola, only one player stood out – Angolan striker Manucho was everywhere, but unable to balance industry with quality. Though he spurned the Palanca Negras’ best scoring opportunity during an intense, yellow-carded performance, he really only needed a little more luck. And if the nomadic striker can rediscover a clinical edge against stuttering South Africa, Angola may still prove a decent bet for group qualification.
There was some confusion when Ethiopia manager Sewnet Bishaw didn’t start Addis Hintsa for the Wayla Antelopes’ first game against Zambia. But the Ethiopian Player of the Year wouldn’t be denied – within a minute of coming on he set up Adane Grima to give the Black Lions an unlikely point. With Burkina Faso up next, it remains to be seen if Ethiopia can capitalise on their unlikely point – but whatever happens, the play-making Hintsa will be crucial to their hopes.
Despite making a sluggish start in their potentially tricky encounter against Togo, Ivory Coast were able to exert control largely through Yaya Touré. With driving runs from deep, the powerful midfielder was a thorn in the sparrow hawks’ side all afternoon and a goal was just reward for his efforts. And with Didier Drogba arguably on the wane, Ivory Coast will need Touré all the more if they are to finally deliver the trophy to Abidjan.
The celebratory ‘bum bounce’ may have put goalkeeper Robert Kidiaba in the spotlight, but the eccentric dance also masked a great performance. With the score at two-all, the TP Mazembe man produced two world class saves – tipping over a swerving free kick at full stretch before palming wide an Asamoah Gyan thunderbolt. Yet a repeat performance will be needed from Kidiaba if he is to keep Congolese hopes alive, especially when faced with Mali’s Seydou Keita and Freddie Kanoute.
Mali were staring down the barrel of a potentially embarrassing result against Group B minnows Niger before star man Seydou Keita came to their rescue. The former Barcelona superstar remains as sharp as ever, constantly bursting through the Nigerien lines to offer Mali’s most potent attacking threat. But if the Eagles are to add the AFCON to their trophy cabinet for the first time, they will definitely need of Keita’s attacking dynamism in upcoming fixtures.
Though Alain Traore may have secured Burkina Faso’s first points of the competition, it was the man who provided the assist that caught the eye. Jonathan Pitroipa’s dazzling footwork troubled the Super Eagles all night before his dribble-and-cutback in the penalty box put Traore in for his goal-scoring slide. Pitroipa will undoubtedly have more time on the ball in Burkina Faso’s upcoming clash against Group C minnows Ethiopia – if he keeps up this form, the Stallions should buck expectations.
An uneventful Mahgrebi derby between Tunisia and Algeria suddenly burst to life with a moment of magic from winger Youssef Mskani in injury. The Qatar-based forward justified Paris Saint-Germain’s interest in him, cutting inside from the wing and curling an unstoppable 30-yard shot past stranded goalkeeper Rais Mbolhi. But with a Togo side desperate to stay in the competition up next, the Eagles of Carthage will hope Mskani can bottle the same lightning twice.
ENHANCED ODDS: Get Italy, Netherlands and Belgium to win at 14/1