Senegal needed a last-gasp penalty to defeat Zimbabwe 1-0 at the Kouekong Stadium in Bafoussam as Sadio Mané netted his 27th international goal.
The ‘Lions of Teranga’ were without nine players due to a number of positive coronavirus tests, including Chelsea goalkeeper Édouard Mendy and captain Kalidou Koulibaly. However, they were still expected to be too strong for their opening opponents, who hadn’t won a match at the tournament since 2006. Senegal started the better and could have scored inside the first minute, with Bouna Sarr’s drive flashing just wide. Mané was clearly the player Senegal revolved their attacks around in an otherwise poor-quality game, and he created chances for Keita Baldé and Bouna Sarr, but neither could find the target. The Liverpool winger had arguably the best opening when released by stand-in stopper Seny Dieng’s clearance, and he should have done better than stroke the ball straight into Petros Mhari’s grateful hands.
Norman Mapeza’s men grew in confidence, with Kendai Benyu having a shot blocked and Knowledge Musona forcing Dieng into a save, but the 2019 runners-up should have again broken the deadlock just before half-time when Mané squared for Idrissa Gueye, only for the Paris Saint-Germain midfielder to take a heavy touch in the box and squander the opportunity. Aliou Cissé’s side came within a whisker of making it 1-0 just a couple of minutes into the second period, with Pape Abou Cissé holding his head in his hands after nodding wide from a corner with Mhari in no man’s land. Another header from Abdou Diallo sailed off target with around 20 minutes left.
Habib Diallo’s cross intended for Mané was then cut out by Mhari, before Teenage Habede almost secured a shock result late on. However, the centre-back couldn’t get a clean connection on Musona’s set-piece. That proved costly as referee Mario Escobar awarded a last-gasp spot-kick when Pape Gueye’s shot hit Kelvin Madzongwe’s arm in the box and, after VAR backed up the official’s decision, Mané stepped up to break Zimbabwe hearts in the 97th minute. Malawi are next up for the ‘Warriors’ on 14 January, while Senegal face Guinea earlier the same day.