Lamine Camara scored twice as Senegal kicked off their Africa Cup of Nations title defence with a 3-0 victory over 10-man Gambia in Yamoussoukro on Monday.
Senegal moved top of the early Group C table ahead of Cameroon’s game against Guinea later Monday.
Aliou Cisse’s showed enough quality in the Ivorian heat to suggest they could become the first team to win back-to-back AFCON titles since Egypt reeled off three in a row in 2006, 2008 and 2010.
Senegal’s XI featured just five of the starting team which beat Egypt on penalties in the final two years ago and it was youngster Camara who stole the show.
Gambia already face an uphill task to reach the knockout stage two years after a shock run to the quarter-finals on debut.
The holders wasted little time in piling the pressure on their West African neighbours and took the lead in the fourth minute.
Sadio Mane was left in plenty of space at the back post and his lay-off was swept home left-footed by the unmarked Pape Gueye from inside the area.
Gambia endured a troubled build-up to the tournament, boycotting a training session over an unpaid qualification bonus before their flight to the Ivory Coast was forced to turn around just nine minutes after take-off due to technical problems.
But they grew into the game after the early setback, going close to an equaliser when Musa Barrow curled a free-kick into the side-netting.
Gambia were dealt a blow shortly before half-time though when Cardiff City midfielder Ebou Adams was dismissed for a studs-up challenge.
The underdogs continued to threaten after the restart however, as Senegal goalkeeper Edouard Mendy was forced to dive to his right to palm away Barrow’s long-range drive, with Ali Sowe slicing the rebound wide.
Senegal effectively killed off the game just moments later, though, as a slick passing move ended with 20-year-old Camara collecting Ismailia Sarr’s pass and drilling a low shot into the far corner.
The Lions of Teranga rounded off the scoring with an early contender for goal of the tournament in the 86th minute.
Clever trickery from Iliman Ndiaye took him away from two defenders and his pass was expertly bent into the top corner from the edge of the ‘D’ by Metz midfielder Camara.
Mohamed Badamosi came close to grabbing an injury-time consolation for the Gambians when he headed wide, but they were ultimately outclassed and will now turn their attentions to their second game against Guinea on Friday.
Senegal will likely face a tougher assignment when they face five-time winners Cameroon.
Brave 10-man Guinea hold Cameroon
Guinea joined a growing list of surprise sides at the Africa Cup of Nations by drawing 1-1 against five-time champions Cameroon in Group C on Monday despite playing the second half with 10 men.
Mohamed Bayo gave Guinea the lead before captain Francois Kamano was sent off just before half-time. Frank Magri equalised early in the second half, but a winning goal eluded Cameroon.
The brave Guinean showing on day three followed a string of unexpected results on Sunday with Cape Verde defeating Ghana, Mozambique holding Egypt and Equatorial Guinea drawing with Nigeria.
Earlier on Monday, Lamine Camara scored twice as title-holders Senegal outplayed Gambia 3-0 with the losers also having a player sent off late in the first half.
Cameroon did not include Manchester United goalkeeper Andre Onana in the matchday 23 after he arrived in the Ivorian capital just a few hours before the kick-off.
Onana delayed his arrival so that he could play for United in a 2-2 Premier League draw against Tottenham Hotspur at Old Trafford on Sunday.
Coach Rigobert Song chose Fabrice Ondoa as his starting goalkeeper with two other shot-stoppers, Devis Epassy and Simon Ngapandouetnbu, on the bench.
Cameroon, seeking a sixth title and second in four editions, were also missing star forward and leading 2022 Cup of Nations scorer Vincent Aboubakar, who was ruled out by a thigh injury.
Guinea suffered a huge pre-match blow when Serhou Guirassy, scorer of 17 goals for Stuttgart in the Bundesliga this season, was ruled out by a knee injury.
In the absence of Guirassy, Bayo was the attacking spearhead and he give the Syli National (national elephants) a shock lead on 10 minutes.
His first goal attempt was parried by Ondoa, but Cameroon failed to clear the ball and when it came back to Bayo, he slammed it into the net.
Subsequently, Cameroon won plenty of possession but were unable to seriously trouble Guinea goalkeeper Ibrahima Kone.
In a Guinea counterattack, audacious Sekou Sylla came close to scoring with a long-range shot that had Ondoa frantically back-tracking before it landed on the roof of the net.
Guinea suffered a huge blow in first half added time when Kamano was sent off after the Egyptian referee changed his initial yellow card to a red for a foul on Magri.
The match official altered his decision after going to the touchline VAR monitor and seeing Kamano stamp from behind on the heel of his opponent.
Cameroon applied pressure from the start of the second half and Magri levelled on 51 minutes with a far-post header across Kone after a pin-point cross by Georges-Kevin Nkoudou.
Kone rescued Guinea as the end of regular time approached, first parrying, then grasping the ball after a close-range shot from Karl Toko Ekambi.
There were water breaks in both halves to assist the players, who had to contend with 36 Celsius (97 Fahrenheit) heat when the match kicked off in the central city.
In the second series of group matches on Friday, Cameroon tackle Senegal and Guinea face Gambia in a Yamoussoukro double-header.
Algeria held by Angola in Cup of Nations opener
Algeria were held to a 1-1 draw by Angola in their opening game at the Africa Cup of Nations on Monday, with a second-half Mabululu penalty denying the 2019 champions a winning start.
Baghdad Bounedjah gave Algeria the lead after 18 minutes in Bouake, Ivory Coast’s second city, and the striker then had a stunning second goal disallowed for a tight offside call soon after.
Unable to put the game to bed, Riyad Mahrez’s Algeria were pegged back midway through the second half as substitute Mabululu converted from the spot after he had been brought down inside the area.
Algeria, who also won the AFCON in 1990 but limped out of the last edition in the group stage two years ago, follow Nigeria, Egypt, Ghana and Cameroon among heavyweight nations who have failed to win their opening game at the tournament.
Angola’s Black Antelopes will be pleased with the point, even if the result means they have now failed to win any of their last nine matches at the Cup of Nations, stretching back to 2012.
Djamel Belmadi’s Algeria have a point to prove after they took just one point and scored only one goal in a miserable defence of their title in 2022 in Cameroon.
They got off to a fine start at the Stade de la Paix, with Youcef Belaili providing a superb ball in behind the Angolan defence for Bounedjah to score with a lovely first-time finish with the outside of his right foot.
Prolific forward Bounedjah, who plays his club football in Qatar, thought he had made it 2-0 in the 25th minute when he produced a magnificent piece of skill to control a ball on his chest in the box and score with a thunderous overhead kick.
However, the celebrations were cut short by the offside flag, and the 32-year-old was denied one of the all-time great Cup of Nations goals.
An Algerian team featuring six starters who also lined up in the 2019 final victory over Senegal in Cairo, then saw Angola win a spot-kick in the 65th minute.
Nabil Bentaleb was penalised for bringing down Mabululu, and the Egypt-based striker stepped up to take the penalty, his effort hitting the underside of the bar before bouncing down well over the line.
With former Manchester City star Mahrez failing to have a major impact on the game, Angola held on through seven minutes of stoppage time to secure a draw.
Burkina Faso and Mauritania meet in the same group on Tuesday, also in Bouake.
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