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No goals on opening day of African Cup of Nations

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Associated Press
1/19/2013 7:27:20 PM
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JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- The African Cup of Nations couldn't provide a goal in two indifferent matches on the opening day on Saturday -- and Cape Verde coach Lucio Antunes didn't mind one bit.

Antunes saw his inexperienced team of second-leaguers from the tiny island nation hold host South Africa to 0-0 in front of around 80,000 frustrated home fans at Soccer City in a resilient debut at the tournament.

"Today, I can hold my head up high," Antunes said as the Cape Verdeans earned their first point in their first appearance at a major tournament.

Morocco and Angola also couldn't score in the second of back-to-back games in Group A at the 2010 World Cup final venue, but by then most of South Africa's dispirited fans had trudged off -- vuvuzelas dragging behind them -- having sat through persistent rain to have their hopes dampened by a discouraging display from the host.

A nervous South African team was awful in the first half and little better in the second to underline worries that Bafana Bafana may make even less of an impact at the African Cup than they did at their World Cup nearly three years ago.

"The first half was a complete waste of 45 minutes," South Africa coach Gordon Igesund said. "We got a point. I don't think we deserve too much more than that, to be honest."

While South Africa struggled to create any openings, Cape Verde defended resolutely to celebrate the draw like a victory.

"It'll make Cape Verde's 500,000 people happy," Antunes said.

Morocco and Angola provided more chances and better football, and Angolan captain Manucho should have stolen victory when he glanced a diving header wide with two minutes to go.

Africa's top tournament had opened with a vibrant and noisy opening ceremony as South Africa's vuvuzelas blared again in the stands of Soccer City. It was followed by a muted 180 minutes of football.

Hours before, Confederation of African Football president Issa Hayatou briefly visited recent calls from within African football for the continent to be given more places at the World Cup.

Hayatou said there was "not a single African that will not wish for us to have an extra team representing our continent at the World Cup."

Going on what Saturday served up, few outside Africa would feel the continent deserved any more.

Still, Antunes -- who counts Real Madrid's Jose Mourinho as a close friend -- was delighted and didn't agree with criticism of a relatively poor opening game.

"I have a different opinion," he said.

He would, because both results raise Cape Verde's hopes of a quarterfinal place.

The little known Cape Verde team had better chances against a South African lineup suffering from severe stage fright at the start of its second big football production in three years.

Helson Ramos screwed a shot wide of the right post when clear in the area early on and forced South African goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune into a scrambling save with his diving header in the 72nd minute that nearly brought a far worse result for the home team.

"I've never seen them like this," Igesund said of his shrinking team, adding some players "may have been hiding."

Morocco dominated much of the first 45 against Angola, then rode a late surge of energy from the Angolans when Manucho twice went close.

"We were well motivated but we lacked efficiency," Morocco coach Rachid Taoussi said.

Sunday is another, hopefully better, day for the African Cup. Title contender Ghana opens its campaign in Group B against Congo in Port Elizabeth and Mali plays Niger.

South Africa moves on to Durban, a game against Angola and, it hopes, a vastly improved performance.

Around 80,000 fans came out in the rain to watch the first game but they may drift away if South Africa doesn't improve drastically, possibly pushing the cup toward the half-empty stadiums that often blight what organizers call world football's third biggest event.

Fernando Varela Lehlohonolo Majoro (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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