Goal drought marks slow start to Afcon

Unseasonably cold temperatures, hours of
driving rain, uninspiring football and no
goals marked a truly dismal opening day at
the African Nations Cup on Saturday.
The eagerly-awaited 29th continental tournament,
which has grown from humble beginnings in 1957 to
an event of global interest, began with a 0-0 draw in a
poor game between hosts South Africa hosts and
debutants Cape Verde Islands.
The opener at Soccer City was followed by a better
match between Morocco and Angola at the same
stadium but that also finished goalless.
The only people who appeared genuinely satisfied with
the first day, which most would rather quickly forget,
were Cape Verde coach Lucio Antunes and his squad.
He was delighted they finished the match with a real
belief that they can get good enough results against
Morocco and Angola in their remaining Group A
matches to avoid an immediate return to their island
country at the other end of the continent.
“For me, it was mission accomplished,” said Antunes.
“The team was excellent, we did the job we came to do
and met our objectives and now we can concentrate on
our next match against Morocco.
“I am happy, the players are happy and the technical
staff are happy. We dignified our country today. It is a
small country of 500 000 people, but we made them
proud today.”
South Africa coach Gordon Igesund had a totally
different perspective after a turgid, error-strewn game
played in cold, wintry conditions with rain sweeping
around the stadium.
However, the conditions did nothing to reduce the
relentless drone of the vuvuzela, the plastic horn that
provides an unforgiving, noisy backdrop to matches in
South Africa.
“Not too many players came to the party in the first
half, and we weren’t much better in the second,”
Igesund told a news conference after what was a poor
spectacle for an opening match watched live on TV by
millions of people around the world.
“Some of the players seemed to freeze when the
whistle went they looked nervous. Perhaps for some of
them the occasion was a bit too big,” he added.
“We now have to go for it in our next two games
against Angola and Morocco. Of course we wanted to
win and get a goal and get all three points, but credit
to Cape Verde. They are a good, well organised team.
“A lot of their players play in Europe, they defended
well, slowed the game right down in the second half
and got the point they came looking for.”
They also came closest to winning, almost taking the
lead after 13 minutes when Luis Soares, better known
as Platini, was guilty of a shocking miss his more
famous namesake, former France great Michel Platini,
would have converted with ease.
The chance came when Babanco played Platini into
space about 15 metres from goal but, with only home
goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune to beat, Platini screwed
his left-foot shot horribly wide.
The only other clear-cut chance came in the second
half when Khune scrambled a header from Heldon
away for a corner.
The occasion was in stark contrast to the way South
Africa started the World Cup here 2-1/2 years ago.
The opening match then also ended in a draw, with the
hosts finishing 1-1 with Mexico, but that game
featured a stunning opening strike from Siphiwe
Tshabalala who never remotely looked like even
creating a chance on Saturday, never mind scoring.
Angola and Morocco also failed to find the net in the
second match but at least both sides played some
attractive technically good football and their game was
far more easy on the eye than the opener.
Morocco served notice, especially in the early stages,
that they could make an impact while Angola’s young
side, whose average age is only 24, grew in stature as
the game went on.
The Angolans could have grabbed all three points if
Manucho and Guilherme Afonso had not both gone for
the same diving header and got in each others way in
the 88th minute.
The tournament continues on Sunday with two Group
B games in Port Elizabeth when Ghana play DR Congo
followed by Mali against.