YAOUNDE, Jan. 16 (Xinhua) — Hosts Cameroon started their African Nations Championship (CHAN) 2021 campaign on Saturday with a 1-0 victory over Zimbabwe at the Ahmadou Ahidjo Stadium in the capital, Yaounde.
The Indomitable Lion’s striker, 25-year-old Salomon Banga netted a beautiful goal in the second half of the game to secure three points for the hosts, putting them on top of Group A. Roared on by vociferous home fans at the stadium, the Lions could have won by a bigger margin if they had used all the chances that came their way.
Cameroon dominated much of the first half but Zimbabwe’s goalkeeper Ariel Sibanda denied all the scoring opportunities despite efforts by the experienced Jacques Zoua who left Europe to join the Lions as captain. Zimbabwe had a rare chance just before half-time but Shadreck Nyahwa shot wide.
When the two teams returned for the second half, it was Cameroon who continued to miss chances prompting frantic reactions from fans.In the 71st minute, Sibanda tried to save a free-kick but the ball fell on the right leg of Banga who acrobatically hit it with his back facing the net. That secured the first and only goal for the hosts.
The victory rekindled confidence in the team that had failed to convince fans during a four-nation pre-CHAN tournament. “I am satisfied with the three points acquired during this first day because this is important for the start of each tournament. We will study Mali, our next opponent,” Cameroon’s head coach Martin Ndtoungou Mpile told reporters after the match.
“We played against a good team which will certainly have a say in this CHAN. We will play two more games and we have every chance of securing a place in the quarterfinals,” said Zdravko Logarusic, Zimbabwe’s head coach.
The inaugural match was preceded by the opening ceremony of CHAN, a colorful display heavily laden with Cameroonian culture, tradition, and fireworks to the viewing pleasure of FIFA President Gianni Infantino, Cameroon Prime Minister Joseph Ngute, and interim CAF President Constant Omari who attended the ceremony.
Ngute gave the green light for the championship, welcoming the African football teams and fans.”It is a beautiful feast that has started. CHAN has started very well with all the COVID-19 barrier measures. We hope that it will continue this way,” Ngute told reporters after the inaugural match.
Sixteen African countries are competing in the championship that fields only players who ply their trade in their respective nations’ local leagues.The race to dethrone defending champions Morocco is officially open and the final of the tournament will be held on Feb. 7 at the Ahmadou Ahidjo Stadium in Yaounde.