JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - Unseasonably cold temperatures, hours of driving rain, uninspiring football and no goals marked a truly dismal opening day at the African Nations Cup on Saturday.
The eagerly-awaited 29th continental tournament, which has grown from humble beginnings in 1957 to an event of global interest, began with a 0-0 draw in a poor game between hosts South Africa hosts and debutants Cape Verde Islands.
The opener at Soccer City was followed by a better match between Morocco and Angola at the same stadium but that also finished goalless.
The only people who appeared genuinely satisfied with the first day, which most would rather quickly forget, were Cape Verde coach Lucio Antunes and his squad.
He was delighted they finished the match with a real belief that they can get good enough results against Morocco and Angola in their remaining Group A matches to avoid an immediate return to their island country at the other end of the continent.
”For me, it was mission accomplished,“ said Antunes. ”The team was excellent, we did the job we came to do and met our objectives and now we can concentrate on our next match against Morocco.
“I am happy, the players are happy and the technical staff are happy. We dignified our country today. It is a small country of 500,000 people, but we made them proud today.”
South Africa coach Gordon Igesund had a totally different perspective after a turgid, error-strewn game played in cold, wintry conditions with rain sweeping around the stadium.
However, the conditions did nothing to reduce the relentless drone of the vuvuzela, the plastic horn that provides an unforgiving, noisy backdrop to matches in South Africa.
“Not too many players came to the party in the first half, and we weren’t much better in the second,” Igesund told a news conference after what was a poor spectacle for an opening match watched live on TV by millions of people around the world.
“Some of the players seemed to freeze when the whistle went they looked nervous. Perhaps for some of them the occasion was a bit too big,” he added.
”We now have to go for it in our next two games against Angola and Morocco. Of course we wanted to win and get a goal and get all three points, but credit to Cape Verde. They are a good, well organised team.
“A lot of their players play in Europe, they defended well, slowed the game right down in the second half and got the point they came looking for.”
They also came closest to winning, almost taking the lead after 13 minutes when Luis Soares, better known as Platini, was guilty of a shocking miss his more famous namesake, former France great Michel Platini, would have converted with ease.
The chance came when Babanco played Platini into space about 15 metres from goal but, with only home goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune to beat, Platini screwed his left-foot shot horribly wide.
The only other clear-cut chance came in the second half when Khune scrambled a header from Heldon away for a corner.
The occasion was in stark contrast to the way South Africa started the World Cup here 2-1/2 years ago.
The opening match then also ended in a draw, with the hosts finishing 1-1 with Mexico, but that game featured a stunning opening strike from Siphiwe Tshabalala who never remotely looked like even creating a chance on Saturday, never mind scoring.
Angola and Morocco also failed to find the net in the second match but at least both sides played some attractive technically good football and their game was far more easy on the eye than the opener.
Morocco served notice, especially in the early stages, that they could make an impact while Angola’s young side, whose average age is only 24, grew in stature as the game went on.
The Angolans could have grabbed all three points if Manucho and Guilherme Afonso had not both gone for the same diving header and got in each others way in the 88th minute.
The tournament continues on Sunday with two Group B games in Port Elizabeth when Ghana play DR Congo at 3 p.m. British Time followed by Mali against Niger at 6 p.m. British Time.
Reporting by Mike Collett; Editing by Ken Ferris