Wilfried Zaha makes first AFCON appearance as Ivory Coast beat Equatorial Guinea 1-0

Crystal Palace’s Wilfried Zaha made his first Africa Cup of Nations 2021 appearance on Wednesday night as the Ivory Coast overcame Equatorial Guinea 1-0 to open their campaign.

Wilfried Zaha
Wilfried Zaha

The attacker’s Palace teammates Jordan Ayew and Cheikhou Kouyaté made their first appearance at this year’s tournament earlier in the week. The trio’s sides, Ghana, Senegal and Ivory Coast respectively, are forces in African football, with Senegal favourites to win the competition.

Patrice Beaumelle’s Ivory Coast took the lead against Equatorial Guinea within five minutes when Max Gradel struck well from just outside the box.

Zaha replaced Burnley’s Maxwel Cornet in the 71st-minute, and came close to netting in the 92nd-minute as he stretched to turn home a late cross but struck just wide. Regardless, Les Éléphants’ victory ensures they top Group E with every country now having played once. They next face Sierra Leone on Sunday 16th.

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Kouyaté and the Lions of Teranga kicked-off their campaign in dramatic fashion, with Sadio Mané bagging a 96th-minute penalty to win 1-0 against Zimbabwe. Kouyaté played the full match, which seemed destined to finish level despite a late push from Senegal.

Ayew started for Ghana a while later as the Black Stars lost 1-0 to Morocco. The Palace forward played 86 minutes as his side stood strong against Morocco’s possession and chances to ensure a tight match. However, an 83rd-minute strike from Angers’ Sofiane Boufal undid them in the closing stages.

Ayew and his compatriots will next face Gabon on Friday 14th.