from ROSY SADOU in Yaoundé, Cameroon
YAOUNDE – AWASH with drama but bereft of goals.
That best sums up the opening round of matches at the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) underway in Cameroon.
The 33rd edition of the continent’s biggest football tournament opened last Sunday with a glitzy ceremony at the Olembe Stadium in the capital Yaoundé.
Hopes were high the goals will flow, with some of the continent’s most globally-recognised strikers unleashed at the showcase.
However, they have failed during the first matches.
A total of 12 goals have been scored in the opening round. This is more than twice less than the same number of goals scored during the same stage of the previous tournament.
This is the second time the tourney is played on a 24-team format, up from 16.
Some 27 goals were scored in the opening matches in the AFCON 2019 in Egypt. That averaged 2,25 goals per match, a stark contrast to an average 1 goal per match in the opening group matches in Cameroon.
One match has produced more than a single goal thus far in the current edition.
That was the opening fixture between the hosts Cameroon and Burkina Faso.
It produced three goals in a 2-1 win for Cameroon, whose goals came from the penalty spots.
Those were two of the four goals that have come from penalties.
The 1-0 outcome is the most frequent in Cameroon. A total of nine matches have produced that result.
There have been two goalless draws.
Those stalemates featured Guinea Bissau and Sudan in Group D as well as champions, Algeria, and Sierra Leone in Group E.
While goals have been a scarcity, two deserve mention.
Nigerian Kelechi Iheanacho’s 30th minute winner against Egypt in Group D was worthy of winning any high-profile match.
He struck a half volley on the turn at the edge of the area, beyond goalie Mohamed El Shenawy, to settle matters and get the Super Eagles flying.
Ablie Jallow’s goal 10th minute goal for Gambia against Mauritania in Group F was not only expertly taken but historic.
From outside the box, he brought the ball under control and curled a wonderful shot out of reach of goalkeeper Diop Babacar.
It secured The Scorpions a win in the first match of their first appearance in the tournament.
It remains to be seen if the total of 102 goals scored in the last tournament will be reached.
While goals have been in short supply, it has been drama galore.
Pre-tournament favourites Senegal scored with the last kick of the match, in injury time, to secure victory over Zimbabwe in Group B.
Sadio Mane, the Liverpool striker, bottled all afternoon by the Zimbabweans, netted the spot-kick.
The most dramatic scenes were witnessed at the Limbe Omnisport Stadium on Wednesday where Zambian referee, Janny Sikazwe, caused a stir in the Group F encounter between Mali and Tunisia.
Inexplicably, Sikazwe apparently blew the whistle to signal the end of the match in the 85th minute.
The match resumed only for the referee to end the match seconds shy of regulation time (90 minutes), much to the ire of the ten-man Tunisians who were chasing an equaliser after falling behind to a 48th minute penalty by Ibrahima Kone.
“The referee blew the (final) whistle at the 85 minute mark (and) at the 89 minute mark. It’s lunar,” lashed Tunisia coach, Mondher Kebaier, in the post-match interview.
After lengthy negotiations, Mali returned to the pitch to play the remaining time but the infuriated Tunisians, who earlier missed their own penalty 15 minutes from time, declined.
Kebaier said the referee had deprived his team of concentration.
“We did not want to resume because the players had already taken their baths, de-concentrated and demoralised in the face of this gruesome situation,” he said.
Tunisia has reportedly lodged a complaint with the Confederation of African Football (CAF).
– CAJ News