LIBREVILLE – Two of Africa’s top talents, Riyad Mahrez and Sadio Mane, both found the back of the net at the African Nations Cup on Sunday although only Mane was on the winning side as Senegal beat Tunisia.
Mahrez, named African Footballer of the Year earlier this month, scored twice for Algeria but his team had to settle for a 2-2 draw with rank outsiders Zimbabwe in the opening match of a Group B double bill in Franceville.
Mane, voted the continent’s third-best player, converted an early penalty to set Senegal on their way to a 2-0 win in the later game, although the continent’s top ranked nation were far from convincing.
Senegal’s win was as much down to the wastefulness of their opponents as anything else as Tunisia squandered chance after chance in a dominant second half performance.
“We were strong in the first half but let it slip a little after the break,” said Senegal coach Aliou Cisse, whose team were among the pre-tournament favourites.
Mane’s 10th minute spot kick was followed by a powerful header from Kara Mbodji that doubled the score on the half hour mark, leaving Tunisia as the first team to suffer defeat at the tournament after the first three games were drawn.
Zimbabwe were just eight minutes away from a famous win on their return to the finals after an 11-year absence before Mahrez snatched an equaliser.
The Leicester City attacker had scored first, after 12 minutes, with a trademark left foot shot across the face of goal and into the far corner.
But Zimbabwe provided exciting attacking play and equalised within five minutes through Kudakwashe Mahachi and then went ahead when Nyasha Mushekwi converted a 29th minute penalty.
“You asked me who was the favourite and I answered Zimbabwe,” coach Callisto Pasuwa told reporters afterwards.
“You all laughed. But in this group, there is no small team. I hope that this point against Algeria will motivate my players to do better against the next game against Senegal.”
The next sequence of Group B games are at the Stade Franceville on Thursday.
On Tuesday, holders Ivory Coast open the defence of their title in Group C at a new stadium in Oyem against Togo. The seco