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AFCON 2021: first round of group stage matches end with low scores

Ivory Coast players celebrate their victory

The last round of group stage matches AFCON 2021

The last round of group stage matches at the delayed 2021 (AFCON) Africa Cup of Nations ended on Wednesday night with yet another 1-0 result. The first-round matches have seen low-scoring returns with only Cameroon’s opening match against Burkina Faso seeing a high count of goals with the hosts winning 2-1.

On Wednesday, there were three consecutive 1-0 victories with Mali beating Tunisia in a controversial match, while debutants Gambia beat Mauritania and Ivory Coast saw off Equatorial Guinea.

Gambia’s maiden bow at the Cup of Nations was delayed by 45 minutes owing to the confusion in the Tunisia game and even when players ultimately walked in for the game, there was more drama.

Twice, the stadium announcers played the wrong anthem for Mauritania, creating a wrong start to the match.

But on the pitch when the action started, the Gambia, making their maiden bow at the competition were in no mood to relent and they went ahead early through Able Jallow.

Gambia head coach Tom Saintifiet was an excited man after the match, swimming in joy after achieving the first-ever Gambian victory in AFCON.

Gambia players celebrate their first ever AFCON victory

“We were the little thumbs, the outsiders, a small country but with quality players, competitors at heart. We will try to win each match, by not putting unnecessary pressure on ourselves. We are realistic, the second game will be even more difficult. We won our first historic AFCON match. It’s amazing what happens to us when we look in the rearview mirror,” the tactician stated.

Captain Musa Barrow, named man of the match was equally elated.

“I battled to hold back the tears at the final whistle. Gambians are the proudest people in Africa tonight. We came to Cameroon as rank outsiders partly because we are the lowest ranked team here. Qualifying for the first time was special and now we have won our first match. Our goal is to go beyond the group stage,” he said.

Jallow netted the opener and the game’s only goal in the 10th minute with a well taken first time left footed effort after the Gambians played out quick from a throw-in on the left.

Mauritania, coached by former Simba SC head coach Didier Gomes Da Rosa tried to put in the pressure for the equalizer but were thwarted with a hawkeyed Modou Jobe in goal.

The shot stopper did brilliantly well to tip over a header from Pape Ibnou Ba in Mauritania’s first effort at goal in the 36th minute.

In the second half, Mauritania tried to push hard for the equalizer, but were wasteful infront of goal.

Meanwhile in the late kick off of the day, an emotional Max-Alain Gradel scored the solitary goal as Ivory Coast beat a hard fighting Equatorial Guinea by a solitary goal.

Gradel was emotional after the match, having lost his dad just five days before the start of the tournament. He received the news of his father’s death as the Ivorians camped for the tournament in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. He however chose to soldier on and represent his country in Cameroon.

last round of group stage matches Afcon 2021

Max Alain Gradel was emotional after scoring for Ivory Coast

“A lot of players could have earned that honor tonight, but like it’s me, I take it, it’s deserved. Regarding the match, we have to remember the victory and regarding the competition, we arrived with a lot of motivation, sad events must multiply this desire to do well. We were very keen to please our two friends who are going through difficult times,” midfielder Jean Michael Seri, named man of the match, said after the game.

He was referring to their skipper Gradel as well as goalkeeper Sylvain Gbohouo who was handed a doping suspension two weeks before the tournament began.

Gradel struck a brilliant fifth minute belter from outside the area, to give his side the lead.

The Equatoguineans were in full mode fighting spirit as they pumped the pressure to try get themselves back in contention.

Dorian Jr. and Iban Salvador had opportunities to pull level but saw their efforts both go wide of the left post. Ivory Coast weathered the early storm and eventually found themselves probing, but Gradel and Maxwel Cornet were thwarted by a resolute defence.

Juan Micha’s side, who had qualified for the tournament for the first time since 2015, were no pushovers and continued to threaten as they pushed for an equaliser.

Ivory Coast had a firm foothold on the game in the final stages of the second half and almost extended their lead late on as Ibrahim Sangaré’s left foot curler was denied by Manuel Sapunga.

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