Cote d’Ivoire shock Nigeria in Group B U-23 AFCON opener

Cote d’Ivoire surprised Nigeria with a 1-0 in Cairo on Saturday in the Group B opener at the U-23 Africa Cup of Nations – the continent’s qualifying tournament for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.

Later, South Africa – who came to Egypt with a severely depleted squad – drew 0-0 with Zambia in the second Group B match.

The tournament got underway on Friday with hosts Egypt beating Mali 1-0 and Cameroon and Ghana drawing 1-1 in Group A.

Ivory Coast’s Silas Gnaka converted a penalty after Olisa Ndah committed a foul that resulted in him being sent off, leaving Nigeria to play the final 20 minutes a man short.

Nigeria lacked Captain Azubuike Okechukwu and Taiwo Awoniyi after their Turkish and German clubs refused to release them before the international window.

Many European clubs did agree to free players for the tournament, even though it started and will finish outside the window.

Meanwhile, South Africa and Zambia provided plenty of free-flowing football only to be let down by poor finishing.

South Africa arrived in Egypt with just 12 players, and lacked six of the 21-man squad when they faced Zambia due to some domestic clubs taking a hard line on releasing players.

The eventual finalists and the winners of the third-place play-off will represent Africa at the 16-nation Tokyo Olympics football tournament.

A goal from Mostafa Mohamed gave hosts Egypt a 1-0 win over Mali.

Franck Evina, who is on the books of Germany’s Bayern Munich, put Cameroon ahead after 59 minutes and substitute Mohammed Habib leveled three minutes from time.

Egypt is desperate to secure a top-three finish and a passport to Tokyo 2020 after the senior national team went out early from the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations – a tournament they also hosted.

Egypt’s Mostafa Mohamed, who has been earning rave reviews for his performances with Egyptian club Zamalek, made an immediate impact in the tournament as he got the U-23 host country off to a perfect start against Mali.

Mohamed struck on 29 minutes, powerfully heading an Ahmed Abo Elfetouh cross past Mali goalkeeper Youssouf Koita into the corner of the net.

Fellow Egypt forward Nasser Maher was forced to retire early in the second half with a shoulder injury, but his team-mates comfortably contained Mali to go top of the table. –BBC

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