LUANDA - The African Nations Cup kicked off on Sunday in dramatic style with eight goals scored in the tournament's opening match and Togo flying home.
Angola, reeling from the shock of the gun attack on the Togo team bus in Cabinda on Friday, were denied a winning start when they squandered a four-goal lead to draw 4-4 with Mali at Luanda's brand-new November 11 stadium.
The eight goals fell just one short of the 47-year-old record for the most in a single match at the Nations Cup finals.
Angola were coasting to a seemingly comfortable victory with just 11 minutes left before Mali put together a thrilling comeback, including two goals from Barcelona's Seydou Keita and a rocket-like header from former African Footballer of the Year Frederic Kanoute.
"In modern football you always have to believe and you have to be mentally strong," Mali captain Mahamadou Diarra told reporters.
"Our world was upside down in the second half but with our kind of experience we kept our cool and got back into the game."
As the tournament was being launched in a colourful, carnival-like opening ceremony, Togo were departing from Cabinda for home, where three days of mourning has been declared following the death of two of their delegation members.
The bodies of assistant coach Amelete Abalo and press officer Stanislas Ocloo, killed when Cabinda separatists opened fire on their bus after the squad crossed into the Angolan enclave on Friday, accompanied the players on a jet sent from Togo to collect them.
Officials spent most of the day locked in talks before Togo's squad departed, with several players telling reporters they wished to stay and play on but Togo's government officials announcing their withdrawal from the tournament.
There were also suggestions Togo, scheduled to begin their campaign against Ghana on Monday, might return for their remaining group games but it is likely Group B will go ahead in Cabinda with just three teams.
Burkina Faso and the Ivory Coast play the first match at the Chazi stadium on Monday when World Cup finalists Algeria take on Malawi in Group A in Luanda.comments