In its opening match, Egypt brushed aside Nigeria 3-1 in its quest for a third consecutive Africa Cup of Nations, Abeer Anwar
Trying to repair some of the damage caused by its failure to qualify for the Word Cup, Egypt began the long road to recovery by coming from behind to beat Nigeria 3-1 in the opening Group C match of the Africa Cup of Nations in Angola.
Chinedu Obasi opened the score for Nigeria in the 12th minute from long range that left Egypt's goalkeeper Essam El-Hadari helpless.
However, Egypt's Emad Meteb took advantage of a goalkeeping error to fire the ball into an empty net and level the score. It was an impressive comeback for Meteb after many months of injury and goal fasting. It was his first goal for the team in four years. The last time the 25-year-old striker scored for the Pharaohs was against Congo at the 2006 ACN in Egypt.
It was 1-1 at half time. By the second half, the Pharaohs had gained confidence and full possession of the ball. Nine minutes into the second half, team captain Ahmed Hassan received the ball from the energetic Mohamed Zidan and scored thanks to a wicked deflection to give Egypt a 2-1 lead.
The 34-year-old Hassan was selected man of the match and dedicated his award to the Egyptian team. Hassan, dubbed the 'Egyptian Hawk' is playing in his eighth ACN, a journey which began in 1996 and has helped Egypt garner three titles, in 1998, 2006 and 2008. In 2006, he was named the tournament's best player. And though he failed to score in 2008, he was the key player behind Egypt's success. The game against Nigeria was Hassan's 167th cap.
Overall, Hassan has scored five goals in his eight ACN appearances.
A fantastic 25-metre blast from substitute Mohamed 'Gedo' Nagi with only minutes to go in the match confirmed Egypt's victory as they moved to the top of Group C. The 26-year-old of Ittihad of Alexandria joined the national team for the first time. He scored against Mali in a friendly in Dubai a week before the tournament.
Beating Nigeria, a two-time winner of the tournament, was seen as key to Egypt reaching the quarter-finals. It was Egypt's first victory over Nigeria in 48 years. The win was even more impressive in the absence of key players Mohamed Abu Treika, Amr Zaki, Mohamed Barakat, Mido and Mohamed Shawki.
Egypt is trying to win a record third consecutive Africa cup title.
Nigeria will be going to the 2010 World Cup, their fourth appearance on the grand stage.
The Egyptian team celebrated the victory on the bus on their way to their hotel, singing and dancing. Egyptian Football Association President Samir Zaher cried, calling it "tears of joy."
Before the match Hassan had called the game "the most important so we have to win to be able to continue. It differs a lot when you start a winner and not a loser especially that your first match is in front of one of the strongest teams in the African continent whose players are all world stars and professional in international clubs."
Each player on the Nigerian team was promised $10,000 for every match they win in the ACN and $75,000 for each player if Nigeria returns home with the cup.
"The Egyptian players were up to the challenge and did their best to win," head of Egypt's National Sports Council Hassan Sakr said. "I am very satisfied with their performance. I think we will be able to win the third consecutive title."
In the other Group C match played the same day Tuesday, Mozambique and Benin fought to a 2-2 draw. Both team started the match with an unpleasant record of having not won any of their previous matches in the ACN, but again, they each failed to make a difference.
The first half ended 2-1 in favour of Benin.
After one game, Egypt stands alone at the top of Group C with three points. Mozambique and Benin have a point apiece and Nigeria has nothing.
In the opening game of the tournament, Mali produced one of the biggest comebacks in African football history by coming back from four goals down to draw 4-4 with hosts Angola on Sunday.
The hosts were four goals up thanks to a first half brace from Saudi Arabia-based striker Flavio Amado and second half efforts from Gilberto and Manucho, before the Maliansa produced some great piece of football artistry in the last 12 minutes to draw equal.
The hosts, cheered by an expectant crowd at the 50,000 capacity newly built November 11 Stadium in Luanda, including President Jose Eduardo dos Santos, started on a high note with a performance that sparkled their ambitions to go farthest in the competition.
Flavio set the stadium on fire with the opener on 35 minutes with a diving header from Gilberto's free kick before doubling the score four minutes from half time with another header from Mabinda's cross from the right, as the hosts managed a two-goal lead at half time.
Mali resumed more purposeful with captain Mahamadou Diarra and Frederic Kanoute being rewarded with scoring opportunities in the opening minutes. But having failed to make the most of the opportunities, their plight was further worsened moments later as the hosts scored two goals from the spot after left winger Gilberto was fouled on both occasions.
The Egyptian-based defender, who played under coach Manuel Jose, as did compatriot Flavio during the Portuguese's tenure at Cairo giants Ahli, made it three on 64 minutes after Mamadou Bagayoko fouled him in the penalty area.
Ten minutes on, Manucho scored the fourth goal also from the spot after Malian midfielder Seydou Keita was adjudged to have fouled Gilberto in the area.
At this point, the points appeared destined for the Angolans, only for a spirited comeback from the West African Eagles to change the complexion of the game completely.
Keita gave his side some glimmer of hope with his 79th minute effort from a goalmouth scramble before towering striker Frederic Kanoute made it 4-2 with a superb header from Adama Tamboura's cross from the left three minutes from time.
Kanoute's strike appeared late but Keita connected home beautifully two minutes into added time of four minutes restored some hope before substitute Moustapha Yattabare close range effort completed the spirited and unbelievable comeback.
Also in Group A, the Flames of Malawi sounded a note of warning as they pummeled one of the favourites and World Cup qualifiers Algeria by three unanswered goals. The game was watched with much interest by Egyptians still upset over Egypt's loss to Algeria in a playoff qualifier for the World Cup.
Under the scorching heat of Luanda, common sense dictated that the players know how to last for 90 minutes. The Algerians came out first in the fourth minute as Ghezzal's strike called Malawian goalkeeper Swadick Sanudi to action. Thereafter, the match continued in ding dong easy fashion with the Malawians slightly on edge with good ball control and short and precise passes.
In the 17th minute, an aerial ball saw Algerian goalkeeper Chaouch miss kick the ball to the chest of Esau Kanyenda who in turn glided to the left and laid it for Mwafurliwa to open the score from a difficult angle. Unbelievable but true, 10 minutes later, Rafik Saifi nearly brought the match level only to see his lob beat the Malawian goalkeeper but go wide.
The Malawians added the second in the 35th minute when Elvis Kafotera's header gave Chaouchi in the Algerian goal no chance whatsoever.
With the drama of the opening match between Angola and Mali still in their minds, the Malawians retired humbly, kept their cool and returned in the second half to hit the third through Davi Banda. Thereafter it was the Flames all the way and they nearly added the fourth but Chiukepo Msowoya failed to capitalise on a blunder by Chaouchi.
There was plenty of action even before the championship began when Togo pulled out of the tournament after a gun attack on their team bus left three people dead.
The Togo team flew home from Angola on Sunday after Friday's gun attack.
There had been conflicting reports concerning Togo's participation in the event, where they were in a group with Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso and Ghana.
Togo had been due to open their campaign against Ghana on Monday.
Earlier, Togo's Prime Minister Gilbert Huongbo had denied the country had wanted to re-enter the tournament.
Huongbo admitted there was confusion but said there was no chance of Togo fulfilling the match against Ghana or any other games in the tournament.
Huongbo's assertion came despite claims from Togo's Sports Minister Christophe Tchao that a formal request had been made to return after a three-day period of mourning.
That request was turned down by the Confederation of African Football (CAF), who said that Togo would be disqualified if they failed to play Monday's group match against Ghana.
And indeed Togo was officially disqualified from the ACN, according to tournament organisers.
"They are disqualified. This Group (B) is a three-team tournament," said the CAF.
According to Huongbo, the game against Ghana in Cabinda, the scene of Friday's tragic attack, would not happen.
"The information that has been circulated on some websites saying the players are just back for three days' mourning and will then go back playing is quite wrong," he told BBC Radio 5 live.
"We withdrew our team on the basis they have been the victim of a terrorist attack."
Huongbo also hit out at the way Togo had been treated by CAF.
Huongbo insisted the decision to withdraw was not made in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy, but after support from CAF proved not forthcoming.
"Management did not give us enough assurance," he said. "We would leave our team being exposed to similar risks. Therefore we decided to pull our team out of the competition against our will.
"We would have hoped that one can have serene discussions with the host country, with the confederation, to assess what has happened, assess what one has to do.
"We received no co-operation from the confederation in terms of any kind of assessment.
"Our analysis is that they want it (the shooting) to be seen as a non-event and the show must go on as planned. There mustn't be an official change and Togo is causing problems to the festival."
"It is not my pleasure we withdraw. We don't want to play into the hands of the terrorists, but we have a responsibility to protect our people."
The CAF did condemn the attack against the Togolese delegation convoy heading to Cabinda from Congo.
"The Confederation of African Football is terribly saddened by this event and express its total support as well as sympathy to the entire Togolese delegation," a statement said.
Angolan police announced on Monday they had arrested two people in connection with the attack, which killed an assistant coach, press officer and bus driver. The reserve goalkeeper, injured and flown to South Africa for emergency surgery, is reported in serious but stable condition.
Before the attack, Angola had promised a glitzy opening ceremony to officially kick off the 2010 Africa Cup of Nations and it certainly did not disappoint.
Luanda's 11 November Stadium was lit up by a colourful show of fireworks and music, which accompanied displays of traditional and contemporary dancing performed by people in elaborate costumes.
The Angolan singer, Felipe Mukenga, sang the tournament's official anthem, Pais de Futuro (Country of the Future).
He danced next to the pitch, waving the national team's scarf above his head to rows of cheering fans, many wearing red, black and gold wigs and body paint.
Six heads of state from around the region attended the opening ceremony, including Jacob Zuma of South Africa and Joseph Kabila of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
During a short speech to the 50,000-strong crowd, Angolan President Jose Eduardo dos Santos condemned the attack on the Togo team by separatist rebels in Cabinda.
"Despite the terrorist attack, Cabinda will remain a hosting city," he said. "There is no need to be afraid."
A perfectly-observed minute's silence was held prior to kick off to remember the victims of the shooting, which has left a dark cloud over what was supposed to be Angola's re- launch, following the end of its long civil war in 2002.