It was a pulsating match at the Alexandria Stadium as Madagascar triumphed for a historic first ever Africa Cup of Nations victory with a 1-0 win over Burundi.
Burundi came out with plenty of intent but Madagascar produced the moment of magic to seal three points after Marco Ilaimaharitra rifled home a scintillating free-kick, leaving them second in Group B behind Nigeria.
Later, Algeria managed to fight off Senegal 1-0 in a physical battle between two pre-tournament favourites, with the north African side now taking charge of Group C, while Kenya were able to see of Tanzania in an entertaining 3-2 win.
But what did we learn from the games?
1. Subdued skipper Saido
Once tipped to become an England regular during his formative West Bromwich Albion days, Saido Berahino is now captain of Burundi, leading the Swallows to their first-ever appearance in the Africa Cup of Nations. Unfortunately, the now-free agent failed to really impose his authority on the match, posing an isolated figure up top as the Madagascar defence nullified his attacking presence.
In the first half, the 25-year-old mustered the least number of touches of any player on the pitch and registered just the single shot, an all too familiar story for a player many were once backing to go all the way. Indeed, against Nigeria in the opening match, Burundi equalled the great African nation for shots taken (15), but the former Stoke striker failed to get his name to any of those, and it was an equally uninspiring performance at the Alexandria Stadium on Thursday, with the forward subsequently coming off in the 61st minute – hard to remember the days when he looked destined for Tottenham Hotspur.
2. Daring Dupuis
In the 50th minute as Carolus Andriamatsinoro – one of, if not, Madagascar’s biggest threats – delivered an overhit free-kick beyond the net and out for a goal kick, manager Nicolas Dupuis made an immediate change and took the Al-Adalah forward off for Paulin Voavy, much to the confusion of Andriamatsinoro.
With only five minutes on the clock in the second-half, it appeared an odd time to make a substitution, couple in the fact that Andriamatsinoro had registered the most shots of any Madagascar player (five) and was looking a real livewire in the final third, it made the change look all the more baffling.
A few words were exchanged between Andriamatsinoro and Dupuis as the Barea forward left the pitch, and Madagascar lost their way a bit after the alteration took place, but like any good manager, his decision eventually paid dividends as Voavy won the decisive free-kick that led to the goal – he’ll certainly claim a managerial masterstroke.
3. A first ever meeting
This was, of course, the first-ever meeting between these two sides in the Africa Cup of Nations as both are making their debut appearances in the continental competition, and despite the low scoring antics of the inaugural collision, it was an exhilarating encounter.
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There were no signs that the sweltering Egyptian heat was playing a part this afternoon, like it has done in so many matches across northeast Africa, as both sides attacked with elan and offered a very entertaining end-to-end clash.
Madagascar, in particular, were impressive throughout the match; on evidence of this afternoon’s game, it’s baffling how the island country has never qualified for a previous Afcon as they were deadly in attack and resolute at the back. But Burundi grew into the match as the clock ticked down and looked the better side at stages of the second half, though their opponents refused to back down and ultimately battled for a crucial 1-0 win.
4. No penalty, no problem
As we know, VAR won’t come into play until the quarter-final stage of this instalment of Afcon, and that nearly haunted Madagascar, as they should have been awarded a penalty with 15 minutes to go. As Voavy darted forward, Burundi centre-back Omar Ngandu lunged into an awkward challenge that caught the Madagascar forward, but the referee only pointed to a free-kick rather than 12 yards.
A penalty kick looked conspicuous on first glance, and when the replays were shown, it confirmed the initial suspicion. But Madagascar needn’t have worried, though, as Marco Ilaimaharitra stepped up and cannoned a delectable free-kick into the top corner.
Jonathan Nahimana had absolutely no chance as Ilaimaharitra’s strike whistled past him with ferocious speed. It was a set-piece speciality, a well-wrought finish, and quite incredibly, a first for the Charleroi centre-mid – not a bad time to mark your first ever international goal.
5. Clash of the Titans
Thursday’s Group C clash between Senegal and Algeria brought together two sides that have finished in the final four of this competition on a combined 10 occasions. Armed with the likes of Sadio Mane, Keita Bald and Riyad Mahrez, both are were among the pre-tournament favourites, making this a hotly anticipated clash.
Unfortunately, the first half was bogged down by 26 fouls between the two teams, with each picking up two yellow cards and allowing themselves to be drawn into a petty battle to fool the referee. Mahrez has the joint-fewest number of touches (16) of any outfield player for Algeria during the first 45, while Mane completed just one dribble. In short, the big guns weren’t firing and it seriously harmed the spectacle.
The second half, though, sparked into life quickly with a 49th-minute goal from Youcef Belaili, firing Algeria ahead in clinical fashion for just his second international goal.
That said, this match was a battle rather than a ballet, with Senegal and Algeria notching up a combined 51 fouls with Baghdad Bounedjah and Ramy Bensebaini, in particular, culpable, with eight offences each.
6. Mahrez v Mane
This should have been a battle of Mahrez v Mane, domestic treble winner v European champion. In the end, there wasn’t really a contest.
The odd dart at the Algerian defence and a strong final 10 minutes aside, Mane was simply unable to get into the game and ended it with just one shot, although he really should have had a penalty when he became the meat in an Algerian sandwich in the final quarter of the game.
— Gaz (@Geerilla_) June 27, 2019
On the other hand, Mahrez recovered from his drab first-half display and really started to influence things after the break, working some brilliant triangles with his teammates and giving the Senegal defence plenty of headaches. The Man City wideman came close to scoring in the 70th minute, fizzing a shot just wide of the post, and generally outperformed his Liverpool counterpart.
The final scoreline reflected this individual dominance and it’ll be interesting to see how these two perform as the tournament progresses.
7. Job done for Algeria, nervous times for Senegal
Algeria’s win over Senegal leaves them top of the group with six points from two games and while Kenya could still match that with a win over Senegal, that seems doubtful. Either way, Djamel Belmadi knows now that their job of reaching the knockout rounds is done.
Senegal, on the other hand, now have a much tougher task on their hands. With Kenya to come in their final group game, you would still have them as big favourites to go through but a slip up in that match could be disastrous. The likes of Mane, Keita Balde and M’Baye Niang simply cannot afford to be as wasteful or lacklustre as they have been in these opening two games if they are to make sure of their place in the knockout rounds.
8. Goals, goals, goals
After two tight, tense affairs earlier in the day, it was a nice change of pace to see Kenya and Tanzania go at each other hammer and tongs.
Happygod Msuvan and Mbwana Samatta goals either side of a Michael Olunga overhead kick had Tanzania 2-1 up at half time but they were unable to hold onto their lead after the break, going down to a strike from Johanna Omolo and another from Olunga, who capped off a superb individual performance.
Michael Olunga's game by numbers vs. Tanzania:
5 aerial duels won
4 shots on target
2 chances created
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) June 27, 2019
The late game featured 26 shots between the two sides – the highest number of any of Thursday’s matches – and was an all-round entertaining affair as both teams desperately fought to stay in the tournament.
9. Tanzania head home
They gave it a good go against Kenya in what is effectively a local derby, but Tanzania just didn’t quite have enough and the minnows will head home after their final group game against Algeria on Monday.
In what is one of the groups of death at this tournament, they’ve more than held their own, keeping Senegal honest in a 2-0 defeat and managing to score twice against Kenya.
They’ve also left a literal mark on proceedings, committing 45 fouls across the two games – the fourth-highest number at the tournament so far.
But the quality in the ranks of their more illustrious opponents has taken its toll and they can now only watch on as Senegal and Kenya battle it out for second place in Group C.