Captain Vincent Aboubakar converted two spot-kicks as hosts Cameroon came from behind to beat Burkina Faso 2-1 in the opening match of the Africa Cup of Nations finals in Yaounde on Sunday.
Burkina Faso, who were without their coach Kamou Malo and six players who tested positive for COVID-19, gave away two clumsy penalties after Gustavo Sangare had silenced the home crowd, estimated at around 45000 fans at the newly-built Olembe Stadium, with the first goal of the game.
Sangare finished with his left foot at the back post in the 24th minute to hand the Burkinabe a surprise lead in the Group A encounter but then their captain Bertrand Traore and defender Issoufou Dayo gave away penalties in quick succession.
Aboubakar, who was part of Cameroon’s winning team at the 2017 Cup of Nations in neighbouring Gabon, tucked away both kicks with aplomb.
Traore lunged clumsily to catch Andre Zambo Anguissa in the 37th minute but it was only given as a penalty after the Algerian referee Mustapha Ghorbal had checked with VAR.
The referee, however, had no hesitation about awarding the second as Dayo’s scything tackle took out the feet of Nouhou Tolo as the first half went into stoppage time.
Burkina Faso’s goal came after a rare error from Cameroon goalkeeper Andre Onana, who recently returned from a nine-month drug ban, as he came out and missed Traore’s cross, allowing Sangare to finish expertly at the back post.
Onana did make up for it with a point-blank stop from Sangare early in the second half before Aboubakar went speeding down the other end on a Cameroon breakaway but strayed marginally offside before the ball deflected off him, and into the net, for a possible hat-trick.
It took two minutes for the VAR to confirm the linesman’s decision.
Aboubakar, who was proving dangerous on the right, had another great opportunity for his hat-trick with 14 minutes left but blazed wildly wide from an angle.
The opening game was preceded by a colourful opening ceremony, against the background of frenzied preparations to get the 24-team tournament ready in time.
The Confederation of African Football had last month considered cancelling the tournament and multiple COVID-19 cases continued to cast a shadow over events.
The Cape Verde Islands and Ethiopia are due to play in the second Group A game later on Sunday at the Olembe Stadium.