Gambia’s Ablie Jallow scored early as they made an impressive debut at the Africa Cup of Nations finals by beating Mauritania 1-0 in their opening Group F encounter at Limbe Stadium on Wednesday.
Jallow struck with a left-footed effort from the edge of the penalty area to put Gambia ahead after 10 minutes in their first game at the finals. There were also good second-half chances for the west African country, one of two debutants in the 24-team field for the tournament in Cameroon.
Gambia are joined at the top of the group standings by Mali, who edged Tunisia 1-0 in Limbe earlier on Wednesday in a controversy-filled encounter. Jallow was set up by a swiftly-taken setpiece from Musa Barrow, catching out the Mauritania defence and giving the new boys a perfect start.
With much tougher group games to come against Mali and Tunisia, Wednesday’s outcome was always going to be important for both Gambia and Mauritania’s hopes of advancing. The top two teams in each of the six groups, plus the four best third-placed finishers, advance to the round of 16.
After the break, Sulayman Marreh and Sampdoria defender Omar Colley both failed to score with good headed chances from set pieces with Marreh missing from in front of goal and Colley powering his effort inches wide of the post. In the final minutes, Mauritania goalkeeper Babacar Diop made two key saves, first denying Dembo Darboe and then Barrow. Mauritania appealed for a penalty with some 15 minutes left but it was turned down by VAR.
Gambia’s next game is against Mali in Limbe on Sunday, followed by Mauritania against Tunisia in the same stadium.
Meanwhile, Max-Alain Gradel’s early goal was enough to secure the Ivory Coast a 1-0 win over Equatorial Guinea but the minnows proved no pushovers in the Group E encounter.
Gradel, captaining a strong Ivorian team that had Crystal Palace’s Wilfried Zaha on the bench, struck home a powerful effort from the edge of the penalty area in the sixth minute as they made a rapid start to the clash at the Japoma Stadium.
But while Ibrahim Sangaré had two chances to double the lead before half-time, Equatorial Guinea, one of Africa’s smallest countries, proved more than a match. The minnows had several good chances as they showed little fear of their opponents with their captain Emilio Nsue failing to convert the best of them.