Cape Verde won an AFCON finals match for the first time in nine years, dispatching ten-man Ethiopia to take full points in Yaoundé and deny their opponents a maiden 21st-century victory in the tournament proper.
Ethiopia also entered this clash winless in eight competitive games played away from their native country, and their desperation manifested itself in ugly fashion after just eight minutes, with Yared Bayeh cutting down a fast-breaking Júlio Tavares on the edge of the box. Garry Rodrigues smashed the dead ball directly into the net, but the goal didn’t stand, as a VAR review for a possible red card was called. Replays showed that Bayeh had been the last man back, and he received the mandatory dismissal to make Ethiopia’s opening-night task much more difficult.
Nothing came of Rodrigues’ retake, which hit the wall. Yet, he continued to be influential, and played a huge part in the opening goal, with a cross from the left finding him at the far post in first-half stoppage time. The Olympiakos man controlled exquisitely, crossing to find the lurking Tavares who headed home past Teklemariam Shanko from point-blank range.
The 1-0 HT scoreline did not reflect Cape Verde’s superiority, and after the interval, they continued to play with the confidence of a side with goals in nine straight competitive internationals. Kenny Rocha Santos took just four post-HT minutes to force Shanko into another save, with a low shot on the half volley forcing the custodian to dive desperately and parry away. In response, Ethiopia went on the front foot, but managed only a handful of half-chances and shots that flew comfortably clear of the grossly under-tested Márcio Rosa’s net.
Though they could not quite emulate their bombastic first-half performance, Cape Verde were deserved winners, and will approach matchday two with confidence, knowing that a win over Burkina Faso will almost certainly seal progression with a group game to spare. As for Ethiopia, life gets no easier – looming up next are hosts and five-time AFCON winners Cameroon.
Man of the Match: Garry Rodrigues (Cape Verde)