(Reuters) - Pre-tournament favourites Morocco and Senegal both needed late goals to make winning starts to their Africa Cup of Nations campaigns while Gabon and Guinea were also victors on the second day of the tournament in Cameroon on Monday.
Sadio Mane converted a stoppage time penalty as Senegal grabbed a unconvincing 1-0 win over Zimbabwe in Group B while Morocco also left it late to edge Ghana by the same score in the opening Group C match.
It was hardly a statement of intent from either heavyweight contender, who were the two form teams going into the tournament.
Morocco had won all six World Cup qualifiers they played between September and November while Senegal had five wins out of six in their group, and went top of the continent’s rankings.
But while they dominated Zimbabwe in Bafoussam, it was a largely tepid performance from Senegal, who had only 18 players available because of the novel coronavirus and injury.
Zimbabwe defender Kelvin Madzongwe was penalised for blocking a shot with his hand extended away from his body in the penalty area in a heartbreaking turn of events for his side at the start of Group B action.
Mane slammed home the resultant spot kick seven minutes into stoppage time.
Senegal share top place with Guinea, whose left-back Issiaga Sylla scored a first-half goal to steer his side to a fortunate 1-0 victory over depleted Malawi in the second Group B clash at the Kouekong Stadium.
Malawi had 13 members of their squad unavailable following a COVID-19 outbreak in their camp, which meant they could only name four players on the bench that included two goalkeepers.
Morocco's Sofiane Boufal seized on a loose ball to score seven minutes from time to ensure his side’s success and a share of top place in Group C with Gabon.
Boufal hammered home from close range after a mazy run into the penalty area from Zakaria Aboukhlal.
The goal came from a rare chance in a game in Yaounde, where both sides showed defensive prowess but did little to impress in attack.
There was to be no dream debut for the tiny Comoros Islands in the second Group C clash at the Ahmadu Ahidjo Stadium but they produced a spirited display, going down to Gabon, who were missing talisman Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang due to a COVID-19 infection.
Aaron Boupendza’s 16th minute strike from a tight angle was the only goal of the game.
On Tuesday the clash between Egypt and Nigeria in Garoua headlines a trio of matches at the tournament with defending champions Algeria taking on Sierra Leone and Guinea Bissau facing Sudan.
(Editing by Pritha Sarkar)