Ivory Coast, Morocco, Mali win African Cup openers

January 21, 2008

ACCRA, Ghana -- Ivory Coast began play in the African Cup of Nations on Monday by beating Nigeria 1-0 on Salomon Kalou's goal in the 66th minute. Morocco and Mali also won opening games.

Morocco scored twice in the opening five minutes en route to a 5-1 rout of Namibia in Group A, with Soufiane Alloudi scoring three goals in the first half.

"I am very disappointed with the way we played in the first five minutes," Namibia coach Arie Schans said. "At halftime, I told my players we behaved like school kids against professional players."

Sevilla striker Freddie Kanoute converted a penalty kick early in the second half of Mali's 1-0 win over Benin. Benin defender Alain Gaspoz fouled Dramane Traore, and Kanoute sent goalkeeper Rachad Chitou the wrong way.

Mali and Ivory Coast are tied atop Group B in the 16-team tournament. Mali meets Nigeria on Friday, with Ivory Coast facing Benin the same day. Ghana opened the 26th edition of the African Cup with a 2-1 home win over Guinea on Sunday.

In Sekondi, Kalou beat three Nigerian defenders before sending a low shot from close range past goalkeeper Austin Ejide. The game was a rematch of the 2006 semifinals, which Ivory Coast won on Didier Drogba's lone second-half goal.

Kanoute is optimistic Mali can reach the quarterfinals.

"We are going to play two very good teams, Nigeria and Ivory Coast," he said. "If we play seriously like today then we can win."


Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press