ALUANDA, January 15 – Algeria became the first World Cup qualifiers to win at the 2010 Africa Cup of Nations Thursday while hosts Angola also took maximum points.
Nigeria lost to defending champions Egypt, Cameroon were shocked by Gabon and Ivory Coast could only draw with Burkina Faso as South Africa-bound teams found the going tough this week.
A 1-0 victory for Algeria over Mali in the first half of a Luanda double-header was followed by a 2-0 success for Angola against Malawi to set up an intriguing Group A climax next Monday.
All four countries can still finish among the top two on the final mini-league standings and reach the quarter-finals in the biennial African football showpiece.
Angola host Algeria at the 50,000-seat November 11 Stadium in the Angolan capital while Malawi and Mali fly north to the restive enclave of Cabinda where the Togo squad was ambushed last Friday for a Chiazi Stadium showdown.
The host nation finished the second series of group matches on top with four points, Malawi (plus one goal difference) and Algeria (minus two) have three points each and Mali one.
"This win has given the perfect answer to all our critics. We played like a team today and got the result we wanted," said veteran Algeria coach Rabah Saadane as his team recovered from a three-goal drubbing by Malawi.
"It takes a long time to build a team of excellent players and I did not put any pressure on them today. I just told them to go out, enjoy themselves and defeat Mali.
"We started off this match on the wrong foot but managed to increase our confidence and the goal came at the perfect time," said the coach who will guide Algeria at a third World Cup in South Africa this June.
Algeria will be in the same group as England, the United States and Slovenia and few outside the North African country give the ‘Desert Foxes’ a chance of making the second round.
Portugal-based defender Rafik Halliche starred against Mali, nodding in a free kick two minutes before half-time for the lone goal of a match that never caught fire.
Early second-half goals from Flavio Amado and Mateus ‘Manucho’ Alberto brought victory to Angola before a capacity 50,000 crowd that included President Jose Eduardo dos Santos.
Diminutive Flavio once more demonstrated his remarkable heading prowess by steering in a Djalma Campos cross on 48 minutes while slapstick Malawi defending gifted the second goal to Manucho soon after.
This time the Palancas Negras (Black Antelopes) defence stood firm to ensure no repeat of the remarkable collapse last Sunday when they surrendered a four-goal lead against Mali after 79 minutes and had to settle for a draw.
Malawi, lowest ranked of the 15 title contenders, stroked the ball about impressively in the first half and created a few half chances, but were starved of possession after the break.