The final two teams to be seen in the competition seeing out the first round of group games, African heavyweights Cameroon and Mali, today’s evening kick-off match in Malabo. The Indomitable Lions of Cameroon looking to extinguish the horror-show of six months ago at the World Cup in Brazil, captained by Schalke’s Eric Choupa-Moting, still among the favourites to go far in the competition though. The Eagles of Mali have slightly lower expectations but after a third place finish two years ago in AFCoN 2013, they will be hoping to at least emulate that this time around, key players Bakary Sako and the legendary captain Seydou Keita both starting today.
An enthralling well-matched game was to follow, very little between the two sides, but an exciting contest nonetheless. Wolves front-man Sako was the first to register a shot on goal, Fabrice Ondo in the Cameroon goal saving well from a well hit shot after good work from Adama Tamboura down the left flank to create the chance. Although looking good in possession, Cameroon were unable to carve out too many chances, the best of the half coming from a Bennjamin Moukandjo header, inches wide at the back post after good work from Edgar Salli. The first 45 minutes ended with neither side showing themselves to be a clear favourite to take the 3 points.
The second half continued simlilarly, end to end stuff but without clear-cut chances for either side, both defences particularly effective on a humid night. Cameroon, starting to impose themselves in the game were to enjoy a decent spell after the hour mark, carving out some good chances, Moukandjo again in the thick of the action. But a surprise was on the cards, on 70 minutes a lofted Mali free-kick evaded everyone in the Cameroon box, Sambou Yatabare popping up at the back post to calmly control on his chest down to volley home in spectacular fashion. The question now being, could Mali hold on for a famous victory. Sadly for the West Africans the answer would be no as little more than 10 minutes later, the scores were even again a well-taken equaliser coming from New York Red Bulls’ Ambroise Oyongo, with a very timely first goal for his country. Credit too, for Raoul Loe for the well placed ball forward for Oyongo who still had plenty to do, showing impeccable control and composure to net from six yards out, the Malian defenders nowhere near tight enough to their opponents.
The Eagles thought they had won it in injury time when Sambou Yatabare headed home after a free-kick was failed to be held by Goalkeeper Ondoa, but referee Janny Sikazwe correctly adjudged him to have been off-side. Time-up saw another Group end it’s first round of games with everyone equal, amazingly the 5th 1-1 draw of the tournament so far. Afterwards Cameroon manager Volker Finke put the Mali goal down to a lack of concentration in his players but felt they had the better of the game, particularly in the second half. His Mali counterpart Henryk Kasperczak also had positive words for his team, happy with what he described as a “complete performance”. Next up for Mali will be the Ivory Coast, another strong test which will precede Cameroon versus Guinea, after which we hope to find a leader in a group all square so far.