Liverpool FC forward Sadio Mane and Kara Mbodji scored in the first half as Senegal’s Teranga Lions produced a 2-0 win over 2004 champions Tunisia in Franceville, Gabon.
Senegal became the first team to win a match at the 2017 African Cup of Nations with the previous three games having ended in draws.
Earlier, newly crowned African footballer of the year Riyad Mahrez rescued Algeria’s Desert Foxes from the tournament’s first surprise scoring twice as they earned a 2-2 draw against Zimbabwe’s Warriors.
With the victory over a wasteful Tunisia, Senegal now occupy the apex of Group B.
Mane opened the scoring with an early penalty, sending Tunisian goalkeeper Aymen Mathlouthi the wrong way after Cheikhou Kouyate was brought down in the box by a sliding Aymen Abdennour.
The Senegalese had survived a fast start from the Tunisians who had started strongly with Ahmed Akaichi guilty of missing two great chances.
They were punished later when Mbodji rose highest inside the box to power home a header from Balde Keita corner.
At the start of the second half, Tunisia made changes, the fast paced Wahbi Kazri coming on and he brought some much needed pace in attack.
The Sunderland FC winger almost netted direct from a corner as the North Africans looked to climb back from two goals down. Mbodji nearly turned from hero to villain coming close to an own goal, but he smacked the ball on the upright when he tried to clear the ball inside the box.
Man of the moment
As the game grew on, Senegalese keeper Abdoulaye Diallo was the man of the moment and it was no wonder he was named man of the match. The keeper had to go down well to keep out a Youssef Msakni shot with his feet with quarter of an hour left.
Senegal who have never won the Nations Cup managed to guard their rear well, though nervously at times till the final whistle. In the early kick off, Zimbabwe, rocked with bonus issues pre-tournament were in line to produce the first shock of the tournament but were denied by the magic of Mahrez.
The Leicester City forward gave the Fennecs the lead with a well taken curling effort in the 12th minute that hit the inside of the post before going in.
The Zimbabwe Warriors were however determined dispute their ‘underdog’ tag and Kudakwashe Mahachi quickly equalized five minutes later with a well taken low shot from inside the box.
Mamelodi Sundown’s danger man Khama Billiat came close to making it 2-1 but his well swung volley from 30 yards out came off the upright.
Zimbabwe though went on their rollacoster run and found themselves 2-1 up towards the half hour when Mushekwi scored from the penalty spot after he was fouled in the area by Mokhtar Belkhither.
Billiat came close again but was denied with a crucial save from the Algerian keeper Rais Mbolhi. Zimbabwe looked like they might hold on in the dying minutes of the match just like they did in the 2004 Nations Cup when they beat the Algerians with a 2-1 margin.
Shot from the edge of the area
However, Mahrez pulled one of his old tricks with a fine shot from the edge of the area. Algeria’s equalizer, painfully so had come straight on the counter after Zimbabwe had missed a superb chance to put the game to bed, substitute Cuthbert Malajila shot straight at Mbolhi one on one.
Meanwhile, Cameroonian defender Joel Matip did not feature for his club Liverpool in their match against Manchester United on Sunday due to a row with his national team.
Matip turned down a call to the Indomitable Lions’ squad to AFCON alongside seven other players. However, according to FIFA rules, a national team can bar a player from representing his club for the entirety of a FIFA sanctioned tournament if he turns down a call up.
Liverpool said the player did not play because he lacked international clearance, same as Allan Nyom who failed to play for West Brom on Saturday.
Jurgen Klopp, the Liverpool coach said after the 1-1 draw with Manchester United that according to his knowledge, Matip was retired from international football and hoped the matter would be resolved soon.
At the same time, CAF on Saturday night had to officially apologize after an embarrassing incident pre-match that saw a technical hitch on the sound system fail to play the national anthems.