Newly crowned African Footballer of the Year Riyad Mahrez rescued a point for Algeria with two goals as they shared the spoils in a 2-2 draw with Zimbabwe in a thrilling opening Group B encounter at the African Nations Cup on Sunday.
Mahrez handed Algeria a 12th minute lead with a goal befitting his new status but then saw Zimbabwe come from behind to lead with just eight minutes left before the Leicester City attacker salvaged a draw.
A 17th minute goal from Kudakwashe Mahachi and a penalty from Nyasha Mushekwi in the 29th minute gave a Zimbabwe a 2-1 lead as they surprised one of the tournament’s heavyweights with the ferocity of their attacking play.
The match is to be followed later on Sunday at the Stade de Franceville by the seccond Group B meeting between Senegal and Tunisia.
Zimbabwe, whose preparations were disrupted by players striking over money, offered early evidence of their potential as Khama Billiat hit a full volley from well outside the Algerian penalty box that hit the post.
But Algeria casually went ahead on their first attack as Mahrez linked up late on the right wing but then expertly glided into the penalty area before placing the ball superbly with a trademark left foot finish across the face of goal
But the lead did not last long as Mahachi started and finished the move with Danny Phiri and shot across goalkeeper Rais Mboli and into the far corner with Algeria’s goalkeeper far too slow to get down and attempt a diving save.
Zimbabwe were ahead in the 29th minute after Algeria’s fullback Mokhtar Belkhiter was beaten for pace and tugged back on Onismor Bhasera, giving away the spot kick which Mushekwi neatly tucked away
Mboli then kept his side in the game as Billiat teased past two defenders and struck a powerful shot that was parried away by a dramatic one handed stop.
Algeria dominated the second half with Ramy Bensebaini’s flashing header hitting the crossbar before Mahrez made a opening for himself but hit the ball straight at the Zimbabwe goalkeeper.
Islam Slimani was wide from a tight angle in the 79th minute before Zimbabwe could have wrapped up the result with substitute Cuthbert Malajila free on goal two minutes later but was denied by Mboli’s feet.
Algeria went straight down the other ernd with Mahrez picking up possession midway in the opposition half and then bearing down on goal to hit his shot under keeper Tatenda Mkuruva for the equaliser.