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Goal.com ranks the the top surprises from the first round of group matches at the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon

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By Rami Ayari

The 2012 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) is well under way with all teams having taken part in their group match openers. Not a single game finished scoreless but all the of them were tight, with only Gabon managing to register a win by a two-goal margin.

Now that we have seen a first account of every team, let’s rank some of the surprises of the tournament thus far.

5) LIBYA'S LACK OF IMAGINATION


Group A: Equatorial Guinea 1-0 Libya


Having only taken two true centre-forwards to the Afcon, it was always a possibility that Marcos Paqueta’s side would struggle to put away opportunities, but the Libyans surprised onlookers by hardly creating any. Despite controlling the opening stages of both halves against co-hosts Equatorial Guinea, the Mediterranean Knights lacked the trickery and incisiveness to make clear chances.

Walid Al Khatroushi was their sole source of creativity and the north Africans looked their most dangerous only after the Nzalang Nacional had taken a 1-0 lead in the 86th minute. Striker Ahmed Zuway has been punishing Tunisian league sides with CA Bizertin on a regular basis but his team-mates need to offer him better service so that he can put his height and imposing physique to good use in the penalty area.

4) NIGER'S DISMAL PERFORMANCE


Group B: Gabon 2-0 Niger

It is perhaps a little harsh to put the Mena on this list considering their 2-0 loss came in their maiden Afcon encounter against co-hosts Gabon at a packed Angondje stadium. Playing well under such circumstances would be difficult, even for sides with experience at this level.

However, Niger’s performances during qualifying left us expecting much more from them. A team who knocked out defending champions Egypt were always going to have special attention paid to them.

Harouna Doula Gabde’s men looked clueless on Monday and one wonders whether Roland Courbis’ addition to the technical staff has upset dressing room harmony. Gabde was selected as the Confederation of African Football’s (Caf) coach of 2011. Did he really need extra help?

3) SENEGAL'S LACKLUSTRE START


Group A: Zambia 2-1 Senegal

Zambia can take a great deal of credit for an outstanding beginning to their 2012 Afcon campaign against the Teranga Lions, and continue their tradition of silencing those who doubt them. Nevertheless, one can’t ignore that Senegal were completely unrecognisable in the first half on Saturday.

Where was the team who dominated qualifying and were proclaimed as a favourite for the trophy? Despite having a huge amount of attacking talent at his disposal, Amara Traore could not find the winning formula against the southern Africans and bizarrely decided to play Mamadou Niang in a position that is not his own.

Second-half substitutions quelled the tide of Zambian attacks but it was already too late. It is no surprise that Traore has promised changes for the next match against Equatorial Guinea.

2) SUDAN'S SHOWING AGAINST COTE D'IVOIRE


Group B: Cote d'Ivoire 1-0 Sudan

Coach Mohamed Abdalla Mazda came into the tournament under heavy criticism from some sections of the Sudanese press for his inability to find a functional attacking strategy, but the Falcons of Jediane surprised everyone, including their opponents, with the stubborn resistance they put up against a much fancied Cote d’Ivoire.

Not only did they effectively resist many Ivorian attacks, they put a great deal of pressure on the Elephants and could have found on equaliser had their finishing been a little more precise.

After the Sudanese were thoroughly dominated by Tunisia in a pre-tournament friendly, it appeared the west Africans would make easy work of them but that was far from the case.

1) ERIC GERETS' STARTING XI


Group C: Tunisia 2-1 Morocco

Few will argue that the resurgent Atlas Lions have improved immensely under the guidance of Eric Gerets during the past year, but plenty of Moroccans will be taking issue with the starting line-up he picked in the 2-1 loss to north African rivals Tunisia.

The Belgian tactician stubbornly selected two players who are fresh off injuries in Oussama Assaidi and Ahmed Kantari. Though immensely talented, the former had little to offer and the latter evidently has not received enough game time with Brest since returning.

Kantari was especially exposed on the second Carthage Eagles goal when Youssef Msakni blew past him. In retrospect, starting two of Adel Taarabt, Abdelhamid El Kaouatari and Abdelfettah Boukhriss would have been more prudent. Meanwhile, some Atlas Lions fans have also asserted that Youssouf Hadji should have received the nod too considering his continental experience and the hat-trick he scored against Grasshopper a week ago.

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