Cameroon kick off AFCON with a win; covid controversy lurks; CAF raises prize money

By Samindra Kunti

January 10 – At last, the wait for the host nation is over. Cameroon kicked off the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations, a tournament with more prize money than ever, with a dramatic 2-1 rearguard win over Burkina Faso in an enthralling opening game. 

All-day on Sunday, Yaounde played host to boisterous fans of the Indomitable Lions before a colourful opening ceremony set the scene for an absorbing opening match of the 33rd Africa Cup of Nations between Burkina Faso and the hosts, who last hosted the competition in 1972. Half a century ago, Cameroon failed to claim gold, but at the Olembe Stadium the team of coach Toni Conceição took the first step towards home glory after Vincent Aboubakar’s penalty-spot brace was enough to see off the 2013 finalists.

Midway through the first half, the Burkinabe stunned Cameroon and Paul Biya with Fabrice Sangare’s cool finish at the far post. It was Burkina Faso’s first meaningful attack of the game and the tournament’s first goal, but Cameroon were soon level when Aboubakar converted a penalty following a clumsy challenge from Aston Villa’s Bertrand Traore on Napoli’s Zambo Anguissa inside the box.

Aboubakar has a penchant for scoring important goals for the Indomitable Lions and only his second goal in his eighth Africa Cup of Nations – the other the winning goal in the 2017 final – energized his team. With Cameroon on the front foot, Burkina Faso went into self-destruct mode with more erratic defending and conceded a second penalty on the stroke of half-time, Issoufou Dayo fouling Nouhou Tolo. From the spot, Cameroon’s captain sent Heve Koffi the wrong way again.

After the break Aboubakar had a goal ruled out for marginal offside, but even so, the Stallions didn’t manage to claw their way back. Goalkeeper Andre Onana saved from both Traore and Cyrille Bayala, but the Stallions gradually tired.

Burkina Faso however were without their coach Kamou Malo and five players, who had tested positive for the coronavirus before the curtain-raiser, raising suspicions of foul play by the hosts in the Burkinabe camp.

“Friday a medical team arrived to take tests, but when we checked it with the CAF, they said it didn’t come from them,” said assistant coach Firmin Sanou at a news conference. “That is why we refused to administer the tests. CAF was supposed to come to us in the afternoon but didn’t arrive until 11pm. The 48-hour deadline for the competition was not respected and besides that, it was antigen tests and not real PCR tests. This is unacceptable.”

CAF released new guidelines over Covid-19 that will compel teams to play as long as they have eleven players available, even if that number doesn’t include a goalkeeper.  Without an XI, teams will have to forfeit the game 2-0.

The governing body has also announced increased prize money for the competition. The winners will get $5 million, an increase of $500,000 whereas the runner-ups will receive $2.75 million, an increase of $250,000. In total, CAF has added $1,850000 million to the kitty.

In his address at the Olembe Stadium, the confederation’s boss Patrice Motsepe stressed that “the Government of Cameroon and CAF had to implement strict Covid19 protocols in line with global best practices.”

FIFA president Gianni Infantino, booed by the fans, and Zurich’s secretary-general Fatma Famoura were also in attendance.

In the other Group A game, Cape Verde defeated ten-man Ethiopia 1-0 thanks to a first-half strike from Julio Tavares. On Monday, Group B and C get underway with favourites Senegal taking on Zimbabwe and Morocco facing Ghana in the standout fixtures.

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