Liverpool star Sadio Mane converted a penalty deep in added time to snatch a fortunate 1-0 win for Senegal over Zimbabwe in the Africa Cup of Nations Group B opener on Monday in Bafoussam.
Disaster struck the gallant underdogs when a shot hit the right arm of Kelvin Madzongwe and Mane sent goalkeeper Petros Mhari the wrong way with the resulting penalty on 97 minutes to settle a lacklustre affair.
While Senegal, one of the favourites to win a competition delayed twice by Covid-19, dominated possession, they rarely threatened to break down a well-organised Zimbabwe defence.
Group B continues later on Monday when Guinea will be slight favourites to overcome Malawi and join Senegal at the top of the table.
Senegal lacked Chelsea goalkeeper Edouard Mendy and Napoli centre-back Kalidou Koulibaly, who are recovering in Cameroon after testing positive for the coronavirus.
Zimbabwe travelled to central Africa without a couple of their top players, Marvelous Nakamba from Aston Villa and fellow midfielder Marshall Munetsi from French Ligue 1 outfit Reims, due to injuries.
With reigning African Footballer of the Year Mane and Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Idrissa Gueye in the starting line-up, Senegal were expected to secure maximum points without undue difficulty.
The opening 20 minutes were controlled by the Teranga Lions, who camped in the Zimbabwe half and passed the ball casually while their opponents did a lot of chasing at a sparsely populated Stade de Kouekong.
Senegal issued a declaration of their intentions within 45 seconds of the kick-off in 30 degrees celsius (86 fahrenheit) heat when Bouna Sarr fired narrowly wide from just outside the box.
Sarr from German and European giants Bayern Munich went even closer midway through the opening half with a shot across the goal that was just off target.
After a quiet start, Mane burst between two defenders on 24 minutes only to see his low shot, aimed at the far corner of the net, blocked by goalkeeper Petros Mhari.
As the half progressed Zimbabwe began to move into Senegalese territory and should have done better from a free-kick inside the D with 30 minutes gone.
Captain Knowledge Musona took the set-piece and should have at least found the target instead of watching his tame attempt go harmlessly wide.
As half-time approached in the western highlands of Cameroon, Mane turned provider, setting up unmarked Gueye, who was let down by his first touch as he was poised to shoot at goal.
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A goalless opening half ended with Senegal back on the attack and Fode Ballo Toure firing into the side netting.
The second half followed a similar pattern to the first as Senegal dominated possession without seriously threatening to take the lead.
Mhari rescued Zimbabwe 16 minutes from time when he dived to cut off a cross destined for Mane at the far post.
Senegal survived a scare as full-time loomed with a Zimbabwe free-kick creating a half chance before the ball was grasped by goalkeeper Seny Dieng.
Germany wing-back Gosens joins Inter Milan from Atalanta
Inter Milan have completed the signing of Germany international Robin Gosens from Atalanta on a deal until 2026, the Italian champions announced on Thursday.
Gosens has signed a four and a half year contract in Milan and moves on loan with an obligation to buy.
The 27-year-old becomes the Serie A leaders’ first signing of the January transfer window and will compete with Ivan Perisic for the left wing-back spot in Simone Inzaghi’s side.
“I’m so proud to have joined one of the biggest clubs in Europe,” Gosens said. “I’m thrilled to be here and can’t wait to get started.
“It wasn’t a difficult decision for me. I didn’t need any convincing because I also know it’s a huge club.
“Some incredible German players have made history at this club. I hope to be part of that myself. That’s my ambition.”
Inter’s statement did not mention a fee, but Sky Italia reported that the buyout clause is set at 25 million euros ($27.87 million) plus three million euros in bonuses.
Gosens played a key role at Atalanta achieving three consecutive third-place finishes in Serie A, and started every match for Germany at Euro 2020 last year.
However, this season the left wing-back has been sidelined since September with a hamstring injury and is not expected to return for at least another month.
Read Also: Mane and Salah on track for AFCON final showdown
Gosens joined Atalanta from Dutch club Heracles in June 2017 and became one of the best wing-backs in Serie A.
The German’s threat going forward flourished in Gian Piero Gasperini’s attack-minded side and Gosens has scored 20 goals and provided 14 assists over the last two seasons.
He has been limited to eight appearances in all competitions this term, scoring twice, before suffering injury in a Champions League group match against Young Boys.
The Nerazzurri are four points clear in Serie A, with a game in hand over Napoli and AC Milan below them.
They face their local rivals in the Milan derby on February 5 in a key moment for the title race.
AFCON: Injury blow for AC Milan and Senegal’s Ballo-Toure
Bad news continues to arrive from the African Cup of Nations because AC Milan will be without Fode Ballo-Toure for some time.
The Milan defender suffered an adductor injury in the round of 16 game he played with Senegal at AFCON earlier this week. He came on inside the final quarter of the game but was unable to finish it, coming off in pain during the fifth minute of added time at the end of the 90.
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According to Calciomercato.com – who cite an announcement from the Senegalese Football Association – Ballo-Toure’s tournament is over and he will play no further part in his country’s run.
The statement from them explains that the injury will keep the defender out for three weeks, which is a worry for the Rossoneri given that Theo Hernandez is one yellow card away from reaching the threshold for a one-game ban, with no natural back-up aside from Ballo-Toure.
Mane and Salah on track for AFCON final showdown
Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah have helped Liverpool conquer England and Europe, now both crave Africa Cup of Nations winners’ medals.
Both sharpshooters will be in quarter-finals action on Sunday in Cameroon with Mane-inspired Senegal tackling surprise packets Equatorial Guinea while Salah and his Egypt teammates confront Morocco.
Mane says he would “swap all the medals he has won for a Cup of Nations gold gong” while Salah talks of the “desperation of the Egyptian people for another title” after last being champions in 2010.
If they continue winning, twice runners-up Senegal and record seven-time champions Egypt will meet in the February 6 final of the marquee African sporting event.
Here, supersport.com looks ahead to the quarterfinals with Tunisia, Cameroon, Egypt and Senegal favoured, but shocks are almost inevitable in a tournament where the form book has constantly been mocked.
BURKINA FASO V TUNISIA
One of the biggest shocks came last weekend when struggling Tunisia took the lead over previously impressive Nigeria through veteran Youssef Msakni and held on for a 1-0 last-16 triumph.
The Carthage Eagles should be stronger on Saturday as they welcome back head coach Mondher Kebaier and several stars, including captain and forward Wahbi Khazri, who have recovered from coronavirus.
Tunisia have been unpredictable and are the only quarterfinalists to lose twice in Cameroon, but Burkina Faso have been equally hard to judge when winning once, drawing twice and losing once.
The countries have met twice at the last-eight stage with the Stallions winning both and hopes of a ‘hat-trick’ will hinge heavily on how well captain and Aston Villa forward Bertrand Traore performs.
CAMEROON V GAMBIA
Five-time champions Cameroon have scored nine goals in four outings — the most of any contender — but the Indomitable Lions are also the only one of the quarter-finalists to concede in every match.
Six of the goals have come from captain and tournament chart-topper Vincent Aboubakar and fellow forward Karl Toko Ekambi has netted the other three, so Gambia know where the main threats will come from.
Debutants Gambia have been the surprise team among the 24 qualifiers, defying being ranked 150th in the world to remain unbeaten and conceding only once, from a penalty.
Musa Barrow from Italian Serie A club Bologna has become an overnight star in Cameroon and Ablie Jallow is another Gambian Cameroon need to shackle.
EGYPT V MOROCCO
This showdown between north African giants stands out as the highlight of the four quarter-finals with Morocco holding a 3-2 lead from previous Cup of Nations tournament clashes.
Egypt showed the defensive solidity the country is famed for when holding a star-studded Ivory Coast attack goalless in the round of 16 before winning on penalties.
Salah works tirelessly but has scored only once in Cameroon — the winner against Guinea-Bissau — and the extra shooting practice ordered by coach Carlos Queiroz has yet to deliver dividends.
Morocco boast potential match-winners in forwards Youssef En-Nesyri and Sofiane Boufal while last-16 victims Malawi will attest to the free-kick expertise of Paris Saint-Germain full-back Achraf Hakimi.
EQUATORIAL GUINEA V SENEGAL
Mane says he is “very well” and “what does not kill you makes you stronger” amid concerns that he may have been concussed in a collision with Cape Verde goalkeeper Vozinha in a laboured last-16 win.
Read Also: AFCON: Egypt quarterfinal clash with Morocco moved forward by CAF
Only when the Cape Verdeans were reduced to nine men by two red cards did Senegal score, and they have failed to find the net in two of four matches.
But a defence marshalled by Napoli centre-back Kalidou Koulibaly with Chelsea goalkeeper Edouard Mendy behind him has not conceded a goal — they are the only quarter-finalists to achieve four clean sheets.
Having ended the 35-match unbeaten run of Algeria and upset Mali after a shoot-out, the Equatoguineans will look to outstanding central defenders Saul Coco and Esteban Obiang to contain Mane.
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