|Flavio, right, celebrates his first goal with defender Rui Marquez [AFP]
The Africa Cup of Nations opened in spectacular fashion as Mali fought back from four goals down against hosts Angola to draw four-all deep into injury time – and provide the first football story of a tournament overshadowed by the deadly attack on the Togo team bus.
As a fireworks display preceded even more explosive events on the pitch at the November 11 stadium in Luanda, the Togo team were preparing to fly home from the northern enclave of Cabinda to bury their two dead colleagues.
Togo may yet return to the contest, and if they do it will be in the hope that the drama confines itself to sporting spheres as it did during Sunday's opening match.
Reeling after seeing his side's comfortable 4-0 lead slip away to nothing in little more than 10 crazy minutes at the end of the game, Angola coach Manuel Jose said he had experienced nothing like it in his preceding 94,500 minutes of football.
"I've been in more than 1,050 games as a coach and am on my way to 1,060 games," said the former Al Ahly Cairo, Sporting Lisbon and Benfica coach.
"This has never happened to me before."
Two goals from striker Flavio and a penalty apiece from Gilberto and Manucho looked to have made Angola the perfect hosts in the opener before a late fightback gave Mali an astonishing draw in the fifth minute of injury time.
"I've been in more than 1,050 games as a coach and am on my way to 1,060 games. This has never happened to me before"
Manuel Jose, Angola head coach
Barcelona midfielder Seydou Keita, on as a first-half substitute, appeared to have scored a mere consolation when he bundled in on 79 minutes following a fumble from Angola keeper Fernandes Carlos on a low cross.
Time was ticking down as the home fans' drums beat out a victory rhythm when Sevilla striker Frederic Kanoute hammered in an effort from the edge of the box to make it 4-2 with two minutes of normal time remaining.
But Keita headed a third with three minutes of added time on the clock and, as a nervous silence descended on the 50,000 capacity stadium, Mustapha Yatabara angled home a drive to send the small contingent of Mali fans into delirium.
Angola's game plan seemed to have been executed to perfection as they translated their first-half dominance into two exquisitely taken goals by Flavio, before drawing Mali into a counter-attacking sucker punch after the interval.
Flavio's 36th-minute opener came after the small but powerful forward had escaped his marker to release former Manchester United reserve hitman Manucho, who drew a foul to win a free kick just outside the area.
Gilberto floated a cross to the far post for Flavio to head past Mahamadou Sidibe in the Mali goal.
Down the middle
Six minutes later it was was 2-0 as Flavio displayed strong and intelligent front play to hold up the ball before releasing Mabina out wide and heading the return cross straight down the middle of the goal.
Mali attacked after the break but Angola soaked up the pressure before releasing counters through livewire substitute Djalma.
First Mamadou Bagayoko brought down Gilberto for a penalty which the left winger dispatched himself, before Gilberto was again brought down by Keita to allow Manucho to get on the scoresheet.
Then came a stroll towards the final whistle and Carlos' handling error which, at 4-0 up, he could have little imagined would cost his side the win.
Malawi or Algeria can go top of Group A when they play on Monday, with Angola and Mali taking home a point each.
All eyes turn to Cabinda again on Monday when Cote d'Ivoire play Burkina Faso – and Ghana are left without opponents after the departure of Togo.
Togolese officials said late on Sunday that they were negotiating with the Confederation of African Football to return late to the contest after seperatist fighters attacked their bus on Friday, killing two staff members and an Angolan driver and wounding two players.
Tournament organisers were yet to state how the tournament will proceed in the light of Togo's departure.
Source: Al Jazeera