The form book was shredded on day two at the Africa Cup of Nations as Algeria crashed to minnows Malawi and favourites Côte d’Ivoire stuttered against Burkina Faso.
Away from the pitch Angolan security forces, who arrested two suspects in connection with Friday’s deadly attack on Togo, sealed off the footballers’ village in Cabinda in a bid to ward off any further attacks.
It was going to be a tall order to follow up Sunday’s sensational curtain raiser when Mali fought back from four goals down to snatch a point against hosts Angola, but little Malawi managed it.
In only their second ever appearance in the competition they inflicted a remarkable 3-0 thrashing of Algeria, who arrived in Angola proudly carrying their ticket to the World Cup.
But the Carthage Eagles looked anything but world class as they were torn apart in the searing heat.
Goals from Russel Mwafulirwa, Ivis Kafoteka and Davie Banda, did it for the Algerians, who now have a mountain to climb if they are to make it into the quarterfinals.
Algeria coach Rabah Saadane put the shock loss down to a cocktail of well organised rivals, the heat, and errors on the part of his players.
“We hope the Confederation of African Football [organisers] can organise matches later because the weather was very hot and we didn’t perform well.
“Our best players did not do their best — it was a difficult time to play.
“They weren’t in their best shape, there was a lot of humidity. We hope to play later next time.”
Midfielder Rafik Saifi tried to put a brave face on the defeat.
“It’s better to lose one match 3-0 than three games 1-0. We still have two more first round matches, and we’ll be doing our best to qualify.”
Malawi coach Kinnah Phiri suggested the result, while unexpected, was not totally out of the blue.
“We came here as underdogs but we’ve been playing well, the signs were there. We drew 1-1 with Egypt, drew 0-0 with Ghana, and beat Mozambique in warm up games.”
The game was held in a near ghostly silence, with all but a couple of hundred of the 11 November stadium’s shiny new 50 000 seats vacant.
The day’s second match took place up in Cabinda where Group B has been reduced to three teams following Togo’s departure after the attack on their coach by separatist rebels killed two and injured nine.
Côte d’Ivoire were odds-on favourites to take the three points but the continental giants, boasting the likes of Didier Drogba and brothers Kolo and Yaya Toure dominated possession but created few clearcut chances and looked far from potential champions.
Burkina Faso set out a defensive stall and contained their opponents with relative comfort to keep alive hopes of finishing among the top two in a mini-league completed by Ghana and qualifying for the quarterfinals.
Players stood silently before the kick-off to honour the dead while police, soldiers and special forces cast a ring of steel around a complex housing the teams.
Drogba reflected: “We came up against a compact side determined not to let in a goal and it was pretty complicated. It was certainly hot but the heat was the same for both sides.
“It makes life difficult for us now.”
Yaya Toure added: “This one point complicates things. We’re a little frustrated. Now we’re obliged to beat Ghana.”
Defending champions Egypt open their title defence on Tuesday in Benguela against Nigeria, with Benin taking on Mozambique in the second Group C fixture. — AFP