Hosts Côte d'Ivoire slumped to a shock 3-0 defeat to Zambia in Abidjan as the first CAF African Nations Championship got off to a dramatic start yesterday. The striker who destroyed Ivorian dreams of a winning start in Group A before a packed 35,000 crowd at the Felix Houphouet-Boigny Stadium almost missed the competition for African footballers playing in their land of birth.
Hat-trick hero Given Singuluma only returned to Zambia in midweek from Finland where he had successful trials with FC Haka, who he is set to join following the two-week tournament. The Finnish offer of a three-year contract comes after Singuluma was forced to rejoin Zambian club Zanaco, having been freed by South African Premiership strugglers Bay United. Singuluma put Zambia ahead after 35 minutes in the Ivorian commercial capital, added a crucial second early in the second half and completed the rout four minutes from full-time.
Had the Zambians not squandered several clearcut chances, the winning margin would have been even wider before a crowd that included heads of state from Côte d'Ivoire, Benin, Burkina Faso and Togo. Defeat was a stunning early blow for Côte d'Ivoire - joint top seeds with Group B favourites Ghana - whose coach Georges Kouadio boasted that home support would steer them all the way to the title. Now he must speedily revive his squad for a match with Tanzania or face a humiliating opening round exit from the first major football event staged by Côte d'Ivoire since the 1984 CAF African Nations Cup.
France-born Zambia coach Herve Renard ignored the pre-tournament war of words as he cursed his luck at having to face Côte d'Ivoire without captain and defensive rock Elijah Tana. The oldest member of the Zambian squad turns 34 next Saturday and, instead of flying to west Africa with the national team, he went to Angola and signed for a club there. Renard also had to do without the youngest footballer among the 23 he chose, 15-year-old defender Emmanuel Mbola, who was finalising a deal with Armenian club Pyunik Yerevan.
Senegal edged Tanzania 1-0 at the same venue in the second part of a double-header and they face Zambia in a top-of-the-table battle at the same stadium on Wednesday.