Debutants Gambia kicked off their first-ever showing at the Africa Cup of Nations with a 1-0 win oMauritania at the Limbe Stadium on Wednesday.
Ablie Jallow scored the only goal of the game in the 10th minute to get Tom Saintfiet’s side off to a winning start in Group F to share top spot with Mali.
The Scorpions looked more composed on the ball in the first half, although Mauritania grew into the game and started to apply more pressure in the closing stages.
The Lions of Chinguetti resorted to shooting from long range early on, with Pape Ibnou Ba scuffing an attempt well wide of the left post in the third minute before a speculative effort from Guessouma Fofana lacked the power and accuracy to trouble Modou Jobe in the opposition goal on six minutes.
But it was the West Africans who went on to break the deadlock four minutes later when Modou Barrow received a throw-in on the left and turned his marker before squaring the ball for Jallow, who took one touch and curled a shot into the top-right corner of the net from the edge of the D.
Assan Ceesay looked to get into the action shortly afterwards with a strike from range that drew a save out of Babacar Diop.
Didier Gomes Da Rosa’s troops had offered very little in attack initially, but they began to step it up midway through the half and Aboubakar Kamara wasted a good chance to restore parity on 25 minutes as he blazed over from an angle on the right after being picked out in space inside the box.
Ba attempted a cheeky effort from an acute angle on the left that cleared the crossbar on 31 minutes after he challenged Jobe for an aerial ball and won it.
The Le Havre striker then saw his looping header tipped over by the Gambia keeper five minutes later following a cross to the back post from Guessouma Fofana on the right.
Kamara should have done better when a loose ball dropped into his path inside the box on 38 minutes, but the Aris striker snatched at his shot and it sliced well wide of the left post.
The final chance of the first half fell to El Hassen Houeibib on 40 minutes following a weak punch by Jobe, although the Al-Zawraa defender’s shot on the turn flew high over the target.
Omar Colley looked odds-on to double the Gambians’ lead on 52 minutes after a free-kick from the right found him unmarked at the back post, but the Sampdoria defender steered his header wide with Diop beaten.
Ebrima Colley then squandered another golden opportunity six minutes later when he fired high and wide from inside the area after being played into space on the right.
Kamara did well to fashion space for himself as he cut inside from the left and tested Jobe with a fierce strike from outside the area, while Ba was unable to steer his header on target in the 65th minute, having got in between two defenders to meet a deep cross from the right.
The quality dropped off in the final 20 minutes as both teams looked to get fresh legs onto the pitch, but it didn’t have the desired effect, with the Scorpions holding on for their first-ever victory at the showpiece event.