Four goals finally get the Afcon party started

Posted by Firdose Moonda

Thank goodness for Group B. Within 53 minutes, Ghana and the Democratic Republic of Congo made sure there was an average of a goal a game and the dour first day could be forgotten. By the end, they had not managed to deliver a decisive result, leaving the tournament without its first winner after a 2-2 draw, but they provided entertainment to indicate the event had actually begun.

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The match was open and hotly contested. Each of the four goals, and the owners, deserve a little nod of appreciation for their efforts.

Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu was the competition's first goal scorer. He finished off a one-two with Kwadwo Asamoah and slid his shot in under goalkeeper Robert Kidiaba, whose pole of a ponytail will put him in contention for the best hairdo in the competition.

Agyemang-Badu has been a player to watch since he scored the decisive penalty in the under-20 World Cup four years ago. Then, his spot kick made the Black Satellites the first African team to win the event and they beat Brazil to boot. He signed with Udinese later in 2009 and has since been called "the vital cog in their engine room."

His skill lies in his boundless energy and his ability to charge up and down the park without tiring. But he is also accurate, can shoot from distance and close range and is able to control the game from the midfield. As a product of Ghana's youth system (three of the players who shone in that under-20 World Cup are part of the current African Nations Cup squad), Agyemang-Badu is proof that the development program works and is a player Ghana will rely on more in the future.

The provider of the first goal proved the hero of the second as Kwadwo netted at the far post from Mubarak Wakaso's corner. Kwadwo plays his club football for Juventus where he was asked to move from the midfield to left-back. He made the transition seamlessly and was asked then required to do the same in international colours.

The switch was frowned upon by those in the know, with the argument being that in playing him in a defensive role, Ghana would lose one of its best midfielders and for many, the only real playmaker in the side. Still, he was used in that role in the friendly against Egypt and provided the assist for the third goal. It's proving to be a task he enjoys because it gives him both responsibility and creativity, although the jury is still out on whether it is serving Ghana well.

With Kwadwo's goal, Ghana may have felt fairly cushioned but Tresor Mputu changed that with the goal of the match. He delicately played the ball past Fatau Dauda after receiving a superb through ball in a manner that would have caught the eye of the European scouts the TP Mazembe is hoping to attract.

The 27-year old has been linked with overseas clubs many times but none of it has ever materialised. Instead, he has had to be content with captaining his local team to back to back CAF Champions League titles and finishing top scorer of the tournament. He has been called "the next Samuel Eto'o," by the veteran coach Claude Le Roy who also said the national team "cannot do without him."

Dieumerci Mbokani sent the 'keeper the wrong way to score the penalty that put the DRC on level terms. His was coolly taken strike and it may prove pivotal later on in the competition, but special mention must be made of the DRC goalkeeper Kidiaba.

Because of his save, minutes after the equaliser, DRC remained in the game. Asamoah Gyan, who had been disappointingly off the boil for most of the match shot from inside the area and Kidiaba pounced. He also stopped a freekick from sneaking in, almost injuring himself in the process, and while Fatau pulled off a good stop himself, Kidiaba is one of the standout reasons, DRC are still in contention for the quarter-finals.

All the teams Claude Le Roy has brought to the continental competition have advanced out of the first round and DRC show signs of doing the same. They came out of the contest with the same number of goals as Ghana but more respect and that will be crucial later on.

For 84 minutes, the DRC would have believed they could easily match both other sides in the group as Mali and Niger looked set for a stalemate. But Seydou Keita, who had a chance earlier, finally made it onto the scoresheet in the 84th minute when he finished a messy move with an accurate shot to make it 1-0 to Mali.

Niger had defended well throughout and would have been disappointed to lose another game at African Nations Cup. After making their maiden run in 2012, Niger have lost all their fixtures in this tournament to date. But Mali, captained by the talismanic former Barcelona man, now lead the group and are the first victors of this edition of the competition.

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