Debutants Madagascar produced the first shock of the African Nations Championship (CHAN) in Algeria by defeating two-time runners-up Ghana 2-1 in chilly Constantine on Sunday.
Goals by Solomampionona Razafindranaivo and Tokinantenaina Randriatsiferana after 10 and 61 minutes gave the Indian Ocean nation a two-goal advantage.
Augustine Agyapong halved the deficit on 67 minutes, but persistent late pressure from the west Africans failed to deliver an equaliser in the Group C opener.
Ghana were awarded a penalty just after the first Malagasy goal and Daniel Afriyie was about to take it when the referee opted to check the VAR touchline monitor, then reversed his decision.
Morocco were due to play Sudan in the first match of a double-header, but withdrew from the tournament after being refused permission to fly directly to Constantine.
Algeria closed its airspace to all Moroccan flights in September 2021, a month after severing diplomatic ties, accusing its neighbour of “hostile acts”.
Morocco won the last two editions, hammering Nigeria 4-0 in Casablanca in 2018 and defeating Mali 2-0 in Yaounde two years ago to become the first back-to-back CHAN champions.
Monday will see the opening matches in two sections with Mali meeting Angola in Group D before Cameroon face Congo Brazzaville in Group E. Both matches are in Oran.
While the CHAN is restricted to footballers playing in their country of birth, matches carry full international status and results count toward the world rankings.