CAIRO, Nov. 9 (Xinhua) -- Cote d'Ivoire toppled holders Nigeria 1-0 while South Africa played Zambia scoreless in Group B to kick off their U-23 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) Egypt 2019 campaign here on Saturday.
Silas Gnaka scored for Cote d'Ivoire from the spot, the lone goal at the Al Salam Stadium in the 68th minute, when Ilisa Ndah was red booked and Nigeria were reduced to 10 men.
After the first half with no clear chances for either side, Nigeria missed a chance to break the deadlock in 64th minute as Taiwo Iwonyi header rebounded from the crossbar.
Four minutes later, Ndah committed a foul against Youssouf Dao inside the area for his second book. Gnaka's penalty shot found the hand of Nigerian goalkeeper Adamu Abubakar, and the referee ruled it to pass the goal line.
Nigeria tried hard but failed for the equalizer as the holders suffered their first defeat.
"It was very important for us to win today. Nigeria is a strong and respectable team. I thank my players for their efforts and we will continue to fight. I think our team deserves victory today," Soualiho Haidara, coach of Cote d'Ivoire, was quoted as saying by CAF Online, the official website of the Confederation of African Football (CAF).
Imama Amapakabo, coach of Nigeria, said it was a difficult match for both teams, noting that "first games are usually tough."
"We lost today but we still have a lot to play for. Football is about small details and that's what made difference today," he added.
Later, Salma Mukasanga of Rwanda became the first female referee in the history of U-23 Africa Cup of Nations, assisted by Fathia Jermoumi from Morocco, to officiate a game between South Africa and Zambia.
It was the second time in CAF history that a female referee whistle for a men's match after the 2019 U-17 AFCON.
For the barren draw, David Notoane, coach of South Africa, said both sides know each other well which affected the game.
"I salute Zambia on their good performance. Everything is still open in the group. Today's referee is a qualified one and I think she did a great job. I believe this is a fantastic decision from CAF and we have to promote and support such initiative," Notoane was quoted as by CAF Online.
Cote d'Ivoire lead Group B with three points, Zambia and South Africa tied for one point each, and Nigeria tail in the group with zero point.