BATA, January 17 – Gabon seized control of Group A after the opening round of matches at the Africa Cup of Nations on Saturday, beating Burkina Faso 2-0 while hosts Equatorial Guinea drew with Congo Brazzaville.
Jorge Costa’s Panthers triumphed in Bata thanks to a goal in each half, with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s opener after 19 minutes being followed by a Malick Evouna strike on 72 minutes.
Aubameyang, the Gabon captain who plays his club football in Germany for Borussia Dortmund, kept his cool to finish after initially being denied by Burkina Faso goalkeeper Germain Sanou.
That goal came on the break, with the Stallions dominating the game, and the 2013 Cup of Nations runners-up were then denied an equaliser in the second half when Didier Ovono saved from Bertrand Traore.
Soon after, Evouna clinched the win for Gabon to leave Paul Put’s Burkina Faso already up against it in their bid to reach the last eight.
Earlier, the hosts’ dream of starting their campaign with a win were cruelly spoiled as a late Thievy Bifouma strike earned Congo Brazzaville a 1-1 draw.
Bifouma, of Spanish top-flight side Almeria, slid the ball under Equatorial Guinea goalkeeper Felipe Ovono three minutes from time to cancel out captain Emilio Nsue’s 16th-minute strike to ensure that the tournament’s opening game ended all square.
It was a pulsating encounter, played in front of a sell-out crowd of 35,000 in Bata, in the best possible start for a competition which was moved to Equatorial Guinea at the last minute following Morocco’s withdrawal over Ebola fears.
The stadium in Bata was already an impressive sea of bright red as thousands of passionate home fans enjoyed the tournament’s opening ceremony, which was attended by Teodoro Obiang Nguema, the president of the tiny, oil-rich country.
He would have been delighted when Nsue, the Spanish-born skipper of the Nzalang Nacional, who plays for English side Middlesbrough, slid the ball under Congo goalkeeper Christoffer Mafoumbi following fine build-up play by Kike Eboula early on.
Exciting youngster Iban Edu almost raised the roof with an attempt from fully 50 yards shortly before half-time, and both Javier Balboa and Nsue had further chances for the hosts in the second half.
Nsue was then denied what surely would have been a killer second goal when a superb lob over the outrushing Mafoumbi found the net but was harshly disallowed for offside.
That proved to be a turning point, as Claude Le Roy’s Congo hung in the game.
When substitute Ladislas Douniama somehow headed against the post with the goal gaping, it looked as if their chance had gone, but Bifouma made no mistake when his opportunity arose, his low finish silencing the home fans.
The second round of Group A games will be played in Bata on Wednesday, with the hosts taking on Burkina Faso before Gabon meet Congo.