Host Cameroon rallies to win African Cup of Nations opener

Cameroon had waited out a three-year delay to host this African Cup

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Host Cameroon came from behind with two penalties in the space of eight minutes at the end of the first half to beat Burkina Faso 2-1 Sunday in the opening game of the African Cup of Nations.

Captain Vincent Aboubakar scored both penalties, calmly slotting the first to the right side of the goal and the second to the left to complete a comeback that left home fans sighing with relief.

Cameroon’s captain Vincent Aboubakar celebrates his second goal of the match, during the African Cup of Nations 2022 group A soccer match between Cameroon and Burkina Faso at the Olembe stadium in Yaounde, Cameroon, Sunday, Jan. 9, 2022. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)

Cameroon had waited out a three-year delay to host this African Cup after being stripped of the 2019 tournament and then seeing its 2021 hosting delayed a year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

It seemed the wait wouldn’t be worth it when Gustavo Sangaré volleyed Burkina Faso into the lead in the 24th minute at Olembe Stadium in Yaounde.

The newly built Olembé stadium in Yaoundé, Cameroon, Saturday, Jan. 8, 2022. The African Cup of Nations takes place in Cameroon and starts on Sunday, Jan. 9. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)

He scored after Burkina Faso had a header cleared off the line and hit the crossbar in the same move.

But Burkina Faso lost the lead with two reckless pieces of defending at the end of the first half.

Bertrand Traoré barged into André-Frank Zambo Anguissa to give Cameroon its first penalty, which was only confirmed after referee Mustapha Ghorbal of Algeria consulted VAR.

VAR is being used in all games at the African Cup for the first time. It was used from the quarterfinals onwards at the last African Cup.

Soon after, Issoufou Dayo mistimed a sliding tackle to foul Nouhou Tolo and Aboubakar scored from the spot again three minutes into first-half injury time.

Cameroon’s Nouhou Tolo, centre is challenged by Burkina Faso’s Issoufou Dayo, during the African Cup of Nations 2022 group A soccer match between Cameroon and Burkina Faso at the Olembe stadium in Yaounde, Cameroon, Sunday, Jan. 9, 2022. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)

VAR was in the spotlight again in the second half when there was a long review to disallow a third goal for Cameroon for offside.

The African Cup officially started with a short opening ceremony a few hours earlier at Olembe Stadium. The continent’s soccer showpiece will be played under the shadow of the coronavirus pandemic and amid a global surge in cases.

Traditional dancers perform during opening ceremony of the African Cup of Nations 2022 group A soccer match between Cameroon and Burkina Faso at the Olembe stadium in Yaounde, Cameroon, Sunday, Jan. 9, 2022. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)
Traditional dancers perform during opening ceremony of the African Cup of Nations 2022 group A soccer match between Cameroon and Burkina Faso at the Olembe stadium in Yaounde, Cameroon, Sunday, Jan. 9, 2022. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)

FIFA president Gianni Infantino attended the opening ceremony, as did 88-year-old Cameroon President Paul Biya, who has led the Central African country since 1982.

Cape Verde plays Ethiopia in the other Group A game on the opening day.

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