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AFCON Begins as Curacao Steal Gold Cup Headlines

Egypt win opener in front of 75,000, Curacao shock Honduras in Gold Cup.

Hero of a nation. No shortage of adulation for Mo Salah as the 32nd African Cup of Nations kicks-off in Cairo.

Seventy-five thousand fans crammed into Cairo International Stadium last night to watch hosts Egypt, as expected, open the largest-ever AFCON finals tournament with a 1-0 victory over Zimbabwe.

Despite a frenzied opening approach which saw Sibanda in the Zimbabwe goal forced into action twice in as many minutes, the Pharaohs only had Mahmoud Trezeguet’s 41st minute strike to show for their dominance.

The Warriors entered the game under the cloud of a threatened boycott due to unpaid monies, however their performance was unaffected by the discord. They refused to be overawed by the huge home support, and had their moments, but Egypt always looked in control, although not dominant throughout a scoreless second-half.

UEFA u21’s
Pre-tournament fancies, England exited the UEFA u21 Championship after losing 2-4 to Romania. All the scoring came after the 75th minute, when Everton right-back, Jonjoe Kenny conceded a penalty, converted by George Puscas.

That begun a flurry of goals, abetted by crass English defensive errors, which cost them dear. The Three Lions managed to draw level twice, and looked the most likely winner when Sheffield United ‘keeper Dean Henderson, let an effort from Coman squirm through hands and body and trickle over the line.

Ianis Hagi, son of the great Gheorghe, had scored Romania’s second.

England v Romania: Group C - 2019 UEFA U-21 Championship
Chip off the old block, Ianis Hagi scores Romania u21’s second goal v England u21’s in Cesena, Italy
Photo by Giuseppe Bellini/Getty Images

France, who benefitted from some English folly during their opening game defeated Croatia 1-0 to confirm early exits for both England and Croatia. Only the Group winners progress. Lyon’s Moussa Dembele claimed the all-important goal in the 8th minute.

This sets up a mouth-watering decider between France and Romania in Cesena on Monday. A draw will see Romania progress to the semi-finals and qualify for the Olympics. France however, must win.

Gold Cup
There was a major surprise in the Gold Cup’s second game of the day when Curacao defeated Honduras in Houston. Curacao as a nation have been showing significant improvement in recent years, however this victory over one of the region’s powerhouses will be seen as a major scalp.

Cardiff City’s Leandro Bacuna scored the only goal in the 40th minute, Curacao’s first-ever in Gold Cup Finals play. It is also the first time in five finals matches the island nation has avoided defeat. Eloy Room, a back-up ‘keeper with PSV Eindhoven in the Dutch Eredivisie was another hero making 13 saves on the night.

Honduras v Curacao: Group C - 2019 CONCACAF Gold Cup
Magic moment! Leandro Bacuna wheels away after scoring Curacao’s first-ever Gold Cup finals goal, and the one that defeated Honduras, last night.
Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

In the preceding game, Jamaica, including former Montreal Impact player Shaun Francis at left back, and El Salvador played out a drab scoreless draw, leaving the two countries locked at the top of the group on 4 points each. Francis, now with Louisville City, had the game’s first shot on target in the 76th minute, but was foiled by Henry Hernandez in goal for El Salvador.

Copa America
Which leaves Copa America. Only one game played yesterday in which favoured Chile defeated experimental Ecuador 2-1, advancing Chile to the quarter-finals and leaving Ecuador with the prospect of an early boat home.

Manchester United misfit, Alexis Sanchez was the match-winner with his second goal of the tournament and his 43rd overall for his country. He scored in the 51st minute. Ecuador’s Enner Valencia’s spot-kick had earlier cancelled out Jose Pedro Fuenzalida’s early opener for Chile.

Chile, aiming for a hat-trick of Copa successes now travel to the Maracana for a showdown with Uruguay on Monday. The winner of that game takes the group and enjoys significant rest time before playing in the last quarter-final in Salvador. A draw however will be enough for Chile, two points clear of La Celeste, to win Group C.