Ivory Coast edged a 1-0 win against South Africa in Group D while Tunisia and Angola shared the spoils in a 1-1 Group E opener.
It wasn’t a classic in Cairo as the sweltering Egyptian heat seemed to take an early toll on Les Elephants and Bafana Bafana, but Ibrahim Kamara’s side snatched a crucial win thanks to Jonathan Kodjia, though this was not a convincing performance from the Ivorian nation.
Meanwhile, Tunisia also fell below their usual standards, though unlike Ivory Coast, the North African nation were unable to hold out for three points after Djalma Campos cancelled out Youssef Msakni’s opening penalty.
It was another fascinating day of Afcon football, but what might you have missed from these two tense affairs?
1. Kodjia makes amends but Villa must hope Moraes can fill Abraham void
With news that Tammy Abraham will not return to Villa Park for next season, Dean Smith will be hopeful new recruit Wesley Moraes can prove an adequate successor, because Jonathan Kodjia looked far too uncertain in front of goal this afternoon, despite his second-half finish.
The Ivorian marksman was presented a myriad of goalscoring opportunities throughout the match but proved wasteful on multiple occasions. His goal in the 64th minute certainly made amends for earlier misses, but the Villans will need a striker who can notch circa 20 goals, a la Abraham, and Kodjia may not be that man.
🇨🇮Ivory Coast 1-0 South Africa 🇿🇦
— Coral (@Coral) June 24, 2019
His first big chance in the Egyptian capital came in the opening exchanges after Pepe cleverly surged forward before deftly releasing him; the Villa man subsequently scuffed his effort, producing an epic air shot as the ball tamely rolled out of play.
But he would get another golden opportunity to break the deadlock just 30 minutes later, though again, squandered the chance. A misplaced Thulani Hlatshwayo header sent Kodjia through on goal, but instead of placing his shot, the 29-year-old opted for power and struck straight at Ronwen Williams.
2. No starting berth for Zaha
The prospect of Nicolas Pepe on one wing and Wilfried Zaha on the other is an ominous outlook for any opposition manager, but Les Elephants head coach Ibrahim Kamara opted to leave the Crystal Palace talisman on the bench in favour of Max Gradel.
🇨🇮The Ivory Coast take on South Africa at 3.30pm. Their starting XI…
Gbohouo; Coulibaly, Kanin, Traore, Wonlo, Aurier, Die, Kessie, Gradel, Seri, Pepe, Kodijia.
— Coral (@Coral) June 24, 2019
The 31-year-old didn’t exactly light the Premier League up during his previous spell with Bournemouth, but has somewhat revitalised his career with Toulouse in Ligue 1. That said, he simply doesn’t offer the improvised skill and innate trickery of the Palace winger, who has incidentally been linked with Arsenal in recent days.
Gradel didn’t offer much throughout the match, but vindicated his manager’s decision to start him by providing the decisive assist to gift Ivory Coast all three points. It was a moment of magic, but the Ivorians will need to step their game up for more formidable opponents.
3. Seri channels inner Fulham
A midfield triumvirate of Franck Kessie, Serey Die and Jean Michael Seri offers so much potential, with a blend of power, creativity and inventiveness, and yet the trio failed to really gel and create a fluency in the middle of the park.
Subscribe to Squawka’s Youtube channel here.
Seri, in particular, must have thought he was still playing at Craven Cottage as he looked lax in possession and struggled to really impose his authority on proceedings. Playing a little further forward in more of an advanced playmaker role, the pint-sized midfielder failed to truly inspire any sort of rhythm at the Al-Salam Stadium.
He also picked up a sloppy booking just on the stroke of half time, though in fairness, referee Mustapha Ghorbal was extremely trigger happy with the whistle. Either way, this was a performance Fulham fans were all too familiar with last season.
4. Tau offers South African hope
This was always going to be a difficult task for Scotsman Stuart Baxter as Bafana Bafana simply don’t possess the attacking and technical prowess of Ivory Coast, but there was one player in particular who demonstrated glimmers of creative brilliance, and proved a consistent thorn: Percy Tau.
The 25-year-old is on the Brighton & Hove Albion books and enjoyed a stellar season on loan with Union Saint-Gilloise in the Belgian First Division B, winning the Player of the Season award and being named in the league’s team of the season.
Well, this afternoon you can see why Tau is so highly rated among South African fans. Despite Bafana Bafana struggling to really impose an attacking threat on the match, Tau caused a few problems, especially with his set-piece deliveries – he could prove a key player for Graham Potter next term.
5. No VAR costs South Africa
Despite all the noise that has surrounded the Video Assistant Referee in recent days, the revolutionary technology will not be used in the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations until the quarter-final stage, and that may have just cost South Africa a point.
In the closing stages, substitute Lars Veldwijk was pulled to the ground by Ivorian defender Wilfried Kanon, who appeared to have his arms on the mountainous attacker, while also having a clear hold of his shirt.
We have certainly seen those kind of decisions go the way of the attacker when the referee has consulted VAR, and that would most likely have been the case had Mustapha Ghorbal had the luxury of seeing a replay. Kanon will be thanking his lucky stars.
6. Tunisia lack usual edge
Alain Giresse’s side are currently the second-highest placed nation in Fifa’s world rankings at the tournament, and with players like Wahbi Khazri and Naim Sliti in the Frenchman’s ranks, they enter Afcon as one of the favourites, but this evening they fell below their usual level.
Preparations for the tournament couldn’t have been much better, with the Eagles of Carthage beating World Cup runners-up Croatia 2-1 earlier this month, but it took Giresse’s men 35 minutes to register their first shot on target at the New Suez Stadium: their penalty kick.
Angola themselves were spirited, enjoying more of the ball in the second half, and they were eventually rewarded for their hard work after veteran Mateus’ shot was tamely parried by Farouk Ben Mustapha into the path of captain Djalma Campos, who duly tucked home for the equaliser.
7. Ben Mustapha blunder
With the match heavily poised and entering the closing stages, Angola began to ramp up the pressure and started to ask questions of the Tunisian defence, though without really testing Ben Mustapha between the sticks, that is, until Mateus broke away and fired a low drive at the Al-Shabab ‘keeper.
It looked a routine save straight into the gloves of the 29-year-old, but he elected to dive and parry the ball away. Instead of pushing the ball away from danger, however, Ben Mustapha knocked it straight into the path of an onrushing Djalma Campos, and the Angola skipper happily knocked home into a gaping goal to snatch a vital point.