Senegal reinforced its status as one of the favorites to win the Africa Cup of Nations by starting its campaign in Egypt with a 2-0 win over Tanzania on Sunday.
Senegal didn’t miss forward Sadio Mane, who was suspended for the game, as it opened with a solid display in Cairo.
Playing just his second competitive game for his country, Krepin Diatta powered in a shot from outside the penalty area to make it 2-0 midway through the second half. Senegal would have won the Group C game by much more if it had been just a little sharper in front of goal.
Tanzania goalkeeper Aishi Manula also helped keep the score down.
Keita Balde got the first goal in the 28th minute after finishing off an intricate attack – which swept from one side of the field to the other – by driving his shot into the bottom corner.
Mane missed the game with a suspension for two yellow cards he received in qualifying.
Senegal, host Egypt and Nigeria are seen as the strongest contenders for the title, although Senegal has played more African Cups (15) than any other team without winning the championship.
Senegal is the No. 1 team in Africa while Tanzania is the second-lowest ranked team at the tournament. It’s making just its second appearance at the African Cup and first since 1981.
Also in Group C, Riyad Mahrez scored the second goal as Algeria began its campaign with a 2-0 win over Kenya, which qualified for the first time since 2004.
Baghdad Bounedjah slotted a penalty for Algeria after Aissa Mandi cut into the area from the right flank and was sliced down. Mahrez added the second before halftime. His first-time shot from a cross was heading for the bottom right corner of the Kenyan net, deflected off a defender, and ended up in the bottom left.
Content with 2-0, Algeria shut the game down in the second half and had little trouble in holding off the Kenyans.
But meetings with minnows have provided early headaches for some of the other top teams in the first three days of action in Egypt. The home team struggled to break down Zimbabwe, Uganda surprised Congo 2-0 and Nigeria needed a late goal to finally beat tournament debutant Burundi, the lowest-ranked team to make it to Egypt. Guinea was held 2-2 by Madagascar, another team making its first appearance.
The trend continued in Sunday’s first game. Morocco got lucky and escaped with a 1-0 victory over Namibia in Group D when Itamunua Keimune scored an own goal in the 89th minute.
“The first game is always difficult,” Morocco’s M’barak Boussoufa said. “We are happy to win, even by a slim margin.”
Striker Keimune was at the wrong end of the field and trying to clear a free kick from Hakim Ziyech. Apparently uncertain whether to kick or head the ball, all he did was divert it into his own net with a minute to go. Bitterly disappointed, Namibia’s players slumped to the ground at the final whistle and were consoled by members of their coaching staff.
“We deserved a draw,” Namibia coach Ricardo Manetti said.
The Morocco-Namibia group is arguably the toughest at the African Cup, with 2015 champion Ivory Coast and South Africa the other two teams. They meet on Monday.
Morocco plays Ivory Coast in its next game, when Morocco coach Herve Renard comes up against the country he coached to the title in 2015.
“We have to get ready for that,” Renard said.