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Football's African Cup of Nations Offers Surprises


The first round of the African Cup of Nations soccer tournament has reached the halfway stage in Tunisia. There have been several surprises in the first week of competition.

The biggest upset was Nigeria's 1-0 loss to Morocco in their opening group match Tuesday. The heavily favored Nigerians must now win their next game against South Africa, which is on top of group D after beating the newcomers from Benin 2-0. But three of Nigeria's key players have been sent home for lack of discipline. This might make the victory against South Africa more difficult.

All four teams in the group have so far played one game each.

In group C, defending champions and favorites to retain the cup, Cameroon, failed to translate its superiority on the playing field into goals and managed only a 1-all draw with Algeria.

But the Cameroonians turned on the power in the next game with Zimbabwe, winning the match five goals to three. Zimbabwe managed to score first, but failed to defend its lead. Patrick Mboma of Cameroon scored a hat-trick (three goals in a row), while Zimbabwean captain, Peter Ndlovu, scored twice.

Cameroon now has to either draw or win in the last group match against Egypt to advance to the quarterfinals. Egypt defeated Zimbabwe in its opening match and winning against Cameroon would get it into the quarterfinals.

Algeria also needs to beat Zimbabwe to ensure its advance without depending on results in the other match.

Senegal, the other big guns in this tournament, failed to perform to expectations and managed only a scoreless draw against Burkina Faso in the opening match. But the Senegalese scored three goals on Friday against the group's big losers, Kenya. The Kenyans are going home after losing both matches they played. Mali, which beat Kenya in the opening match, plays Burkina Faso Friday.

Host nation Tunisia is the first, and so far, the only team to make it through to the quarterfinals after winning both of its games against Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Brazilian Leilton Silva dos Santos, now a naturalized Tunisian, played a prominent role in both matches, scoring one goal in the first and two in the second. Also in the same group is Guinea, which drew 1-1 with Rwanda and will have to beat the Democratic Republic of Congo to keep its hope of advancing alive.

Rwanda, also a novice in the African Cup, has a chance of advancing, if it beats the Democratic Republic of Congo and Guinea loses to Tunisia.

Packing to go home, in addition to Kenya, are the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Zimbabwe.

The field of 16 starters in the African Cup of Nations finals will be whittled down to eight in the next five days.

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