Riyad Mahrez scored twice to help spare Algeria's blushes and earn his nation a 2-2 draw against Zimbabwe in Group B at the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations on Sunday.
Leicester City ace Mahrez was the lone positive for a side that failed to make their superior talent count. Algeria's dropped points opened the door for Senegal to lay down a marker in the group.
The Senegalese duly took their chance by comfortably seeing off Tunisia 2-0, with Liverpool's Sadio Mane netting the first before Kara Mbodji added the second.
Here are the scores from Sunday's matches:
|AFCON 2017 Results: Sunday Scores|
|Team A||Score||Team B|
Here's what those scores mean for the standings:
|AFCON 2017 Standings: Group B|
Here's what Monday's schedule looks like:
|AFCON 2017 Schedule: Monday's Fixtures|
|4 p.m.||C||Ivory Coast vs. Togo|
|7 p.m.||C||Congo DR vs. Morocco|
Mahrez was at his best to put Algeria in front. The Foxes winger produced a trademark goal when he cut in from the right on to his left foot before curling in a fine strike.
It seemed like the stage was set for predictable Algerian dominance against perceived group minnows Zimbabwe. Yet things didn't go to plan once Kudakwashe Mahachi drilled a low shot into the bottom corner to equalise.
Clearly rattled, Mahrez and Co. lost their fluency going forward. Their plan was an obvious one designed to play off target man Islam Slimani and work the ball wide to wing wizards Mahrez and Yacine Brahimi.
However, the strategy faltered because Slimani didn't play well enough with his back to goal. It's also true Algeria didn't get midfield runners up fast enough to support the Leicester striker.
Algeria's stumble soon became a fall when Nyasha Mushekwi struck from the spot for an unlikely lead.
A strong response was expected, but Algeria still faltered after the break. In fact, they had goalkeeper Rais M'Bolhi to thank for keeping things close.
The 30-year-old stopper made a particularly outstanding stop deep into the second half. Eurosport UK provided highlights of the splendid save:
Eurosport UK @Eurosport_UK
Take a bow, Rais M'Bolhi 👏 #CAN2017 https://t.co/1haykxTd1v2017-1-15 17:14:20
Les Verts still needed some inspiration in the final third to dig themselves out of trouble. It duly came from Mahrez with around eight minutes remaining.
Again, Zimbabwe were made to pay the price for letting the Leicester star drift inside:
Eurosport UK @Eurosport_UK
Riyad Mahrez strikes again to draw @LesVerts level #CAN2017 https://t.co/dbgSMZLXcB2017-1-15 17:44:59
Mahrez earned his nation a useful point, but Algeria must improve quickly with tougher tests awaiting in the group.
Senegal represent one of those more daunting tests, something they proved by overwhelming Tunisia on the break. The latter played the football, passing it with assurance and class, but Senegal got the goals thanks to some ruthless finishing.
A Senegal side loaded with Premier League stars took control when West Ham United's Cheikhou Kouyate was brought down by burly centre-back Aymen Abdennour. Mane was typically precise with the ensuing penalty.
The Liverpool winger later provided the assist for the second when his corner was met by the head of Mbodji. A two-goal lead after half an hour meant Senegal could play a cagey game. They simply sat deep and waited to strike on the counter.
One of the key figures in Senegal's bid to disrupt play was Everton midfield enforcer Idrissa Gueye. He broke up Tunisia's passing on several occasions and expertly shielded his back four.
Tunisia continued threading passes and moving the ball with verve and imagination. Sadly, some poor finishing wasted a few fine and flowing moves.
Senegal look to have the knowhow and physicality to boss this group. However, Algeria can only get better after a tough first day.