Namibia produced the biggest shock so far in an Africa Cup of Nations full of upsets in the Ivory Coast by snatching a 1-0 triumph over former champions Tunisia on Tuesday.
It was a historic first victory in the flagship African tournament for the Brave Warriors, who defeated and drew with another top team, Cameroon, in qualifiers for the 2024 edition.
Deon Hotto headed the only goal of the opening match in Group E with two minutes of regular time remaining to raise the number of surprise results to six from 10 matches after only four days.
Before Namibia made a mockery of the world rankings in the northern city of Korhogo, five other former title-holders failed to win their opening matches.
The rush of unexpected results began on Sunday when Equatorial Guinea held Nigeria, then Egypt needed an added-time penalty from Mohamed Salah to snatch a draw against Mozambique.
Cape Verde scored in added time to defeat Ghana, the third most successful country in the African showpiece with four titles.
On Monday, 10-man Guinea held five-time champions Cameroon before Angola recovered from a poor first-half showing to draw 1-1 with Algeria, who have conquered Africa twice.
Tunisia are currently ranked third of 54 African football nations, behind only 2022 World Cup semi-finalists Morocco and Cup of Nations defending champions Senegal.
They are also 87 places above Namibia in the world rankings, making them hot favourites to get their group campaign off to a winning start.
While Tunisia qualified comfortably for the Ivory Coast, Namibia had to overcome a number of off-field obstacles before securing a place.
Sub-standard stadiums in the largely desert southern Africa country meant playing home qualifiers against Burundi and Cameroon in Soweto on the outskirts of Johannesburg.
Coach Collin Benjamin also had to contend with several “rusty” players because a dispute between national association and league officials halted competitions in Namibia for several seasons.
But a team captained by forward Peter Shalulile, who plays for South African giants Mamelodi Sundowns, defied the odds, with a 2-1 ‘home’ win over Cameroon the highlight.
Namibia next face neighbours South Africa in Korhogo on Sunday followed by Mali the following Wednesday in the southwestern port of San Pedro.
Even one point from the two fixtures would almost certainly secure the Brave Warriors a last-16 place, either as top-two finishers or as one of the four best third-placed teams.
Namibia lie second with three points behind Mali, who overcame disappointing South Africa 2-0 in the second match of a double-header to top the table on goal difference.
Appearing in the Cup of Nations for only the fourth time in eight editions, Bafana Bafana missed a first-half penalty when Percy Tau blazed over.
Mali won through two goals within six minutes early in the second half. Hamari Traore pushed home a rebound after a free-kick rebounded off the bar and Lassine Sinayoko got the second.
Out-of-favour Aston Villa forward Bertrand Traore came off the bench to convert an added-time penalty and give Burkina Faso a dramatic 1-0 Group D win over Mauritania in central city Bouake.
It was an emotional victory for French coach Hubert Velud, finally making his debut at a Cup of Nations tournament 14 years after expecting to do so.
Velud was in charge of the Togo squad forced to withdraw from the 2010 finals after gunmen attacked the team bus in host nation Angola and killed three occupants.
He was foiled again when he qualified Sudan for the 2022 Cup of Nations only to be fired before the tournament.
Burkina Faso top Group D with three points, Angola and Algeria have one each and Mauritania none.
On Wednesday, the final two opening-round group matches will be staged with Morocco taking on outsiders Tanzania before the Democratic Republic of Congo face fellow former champions Zambia.
Stay informed with The Namibian – your source for credible journalism. Get in-depth reporting and opinions for only N$85 a month. Invest in journalism, invest in democracy –