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Senegal off to winning start at 2023/4 Africa Cup of Nations

Jackson & Édou & K2!

FBL-CAN-2024-SEN-GAM Photo by ISSOUF SANOGO/AFP via Getty Images

Lamine Camara is the name on everyone’s lips after Senegal’s opening match of the 2023 (well, 2024) Africa Cup of Nations (CAN), with his brace in the 3-0 win against The Gambia earlier today. His first, Senegal’s second was certainly a precisely taken strike, but it was his second, late on in the game, that is already a candidate for goal of the tournament: a picture-perfect curling strike from outside the box.

The 20-year-old Camara was a breakout star for Senegal at last year’s Africa Nations Championship (CHAN), which is like the CAN, but with only local players. Camara, a box-to-box midfielder supposedly in the mold of N’Golo Kanté but with the set piece ability of James Ward-Prowse, led Senegal to their first ever title in that competition, getting named in the Team of the Tournament as well.

Camara currently plies his trade at newly promoted Metz in Ligue 1, but his profile might outgrow them pretty quickly as well.

In any case, ex-Chelsea heroes Édouard Mendy and (captain) Kalidou Koulibaly started the match, while current Chelsea hero in the making Nicolas Jackson came on for the last 30 minutes. Jackson saw a well taken effort saved by the goalkeeper, after doing so well to control a ball over the top with his chest and smash it on target with his left.

The Gambia did better than expected in the first half, and only a couple good saves from Mendy allowed Senegal, who took the lead in the fourth minute, to still take that same advantage into the break. But Cardiff City’s Ebou Adams was sent off at the end of first-half stoppage time for a ridiculous challenge off the ball, and The Gambia could not hang with the defending champions in the second 45.

Today is the second full day of this tournament. Yesterday, Nigeria had to settle for a 1-1 draw against Equatorial Guinea (yes, Victor Osimhen scored the Super Eagles’ goal), while Eqypt were held 2-2 by Mozambique (and needed a stoppage penalty from Mo Salah to equalize) — though still better than the shock 2-1 defeat for Ghana by Cabo Verde. At least Côte d’Ivoire, featuring former Chelsea prospect Jérémie Boga, lived up to their billing with a 2-0 win over Guinea-Bissau in the opener on Friday night.

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