Sadio Mane scored a hat-trick as Senegal made a successful start to the defence of its Africa Cup of Nations crown with a 3-1 home victory over Benin on Saturday in their first qualifier for the next finals in 2023.
Mane, whose club future is in doubt after he suggested to reporters on Friday he might be leaving Liverpool, netted two penalties in his hat-trick as Senegal made light work of the visitors in the Group L encounter.
Mali thrashed Congo 4-0 in Bamako in a winning debut for new coach Eric Sekou Chelle while Algeria, Gambia and Mauritania were also winners on a busy Saturday programme of qualifiers for the next finals in the Ivory Coast.
Algeria won 2-0 at home against Uganda with a fortuitous goal off the chest of fullback Aissa Mandi that was followed by a mazy individual effort from Youcef Belaili for the second.
Mane had teased at the pre-match news conference that he would be leaving Liveroool, added to growing speculation about a move away from Anfield, but put all of that behind him as he led Senegal to a comfortable win, made easier when Benin had Sessi d’Almeida sent off early in the second half.
But the visitor did manage a late consolation from substitute Junior Olaitan.
El Bilal Toure scored twice for Mali, who narrowly missed out on World Cup qualification in March, as they took early command of Group G, joining Gambia on three points.
Belgian-based Abdoulie Jallow scored the game’s only goal as Gambia, a surprise quarter-finalist at the finals in Cameroon earlier this year, beat South Sudan 1-0 in the other group game.
Striker Aboubakar Kamara scored twice for Mauritania as it won 3-0 at home to Sudan in Group I.
Namibia’s Peter Shalulile scored an early goal against Burundi but it gave up a late equaliser in a 1-1 draw while Tanzania took a first-minute lead away against Niger but also ended up sharing the points in a 1-1 draw.