MONGOMO, Equatorial Guinea (AP) — Tournament favorite Algeria came from behind to beat South Africa 3-1 at the African Cup of Nations on Monday, avoiding a big upset at the start of its campaign in Equatorial Guinea.
Faouzi Ghoulam and Islam Slimani scored to completely turn things around for Africa's top team after it fell behind and survived a missed penalty by South Africa.
The South Africans led the Group C game through Thuso Phala's 51st-minute goal, and won their penalty two minutes later. However, Tokelo Rantie's spot kick rebounded off the crossbar and over.
That crucial miss appeared to lift the Algerians, who equalized through an own-goal in the 67th when South Africa's Thulani Hlatshwayo mis-directed a header over his own goalkeeper.
"It was an intense game," relieved Algeria coach Christian Gourcuff said, calling the penalty the clear "turning point."
Algeria found its game after that.
Following Hlatshwayo's error, Ghoulam slipped his marker on the left flank and smashed in a powerful shot in the 71st. Slimani made certain of victory at Mongomo Stadium with eight minutes to go, taking Algeria top of Group C.
Algeria ensured it didn't go the way of Ghana in the group's first game earlier Monday in Mongomo, when the West Africans let slip a 1-0 lead in a last-minute surprise 2-1 loss to Senegal.
"We said that the first match is very important for us," Algeria's Rafik Halliche said. "We must correct our errors in this match."
Algeria was sluggish in the first half and South Africa worried the North Africans by keeping the ball on the ground and attacking with short, sharp passes. The Algerians had rare chances at the other end.
But the game burst into life with Phala's opening goal. There were just 18 frenzied minutes between South Africa going ahead, missing a penalty, and Algeria scoring twice to suddenly lead and wrestle control.
"Let me start off by saying the best team lost the game," South Africa coach Ephraim Mashaba said. "When we missed that penalty, everything went wrong. Algeria, they were lucky tonight."
But unlike South Africa, Algeria did take their chances late on.
Phala's goal was of high quality as strikers Sibusiso Vilakazi and Rantie combined to create the space.
Algeria surged forward after that and Ghoulam's powerful shot and Slimani's slick finish capped a dominant Algerian display in the final 20 minutes.