BATA, Equatorial Guinea, January 22 – Former Real Madrid striker Javier Balboa scored late to give co-hosts Equatorial Guinea a 1-0 win over Libya Saturday and a million-dollar bonus as the Africa Cup of Nations began.
He struck three minutes from time in a Group A clash at a packed Estadio De Bata by racing down the middle and clinically finishing a superb Daniel Ekedo pass with a shot over goalkeeper Samir Aboud.
The Equatoguineans, hosts of the biennial African football showcase with neighbours Gabon, were pomised the cash by a son of state president plus 20,000 for each goal they scored.
It was a sad start for Libya, who risked their lives to qualify as civil war raged in the north African country, but they only sprang to life after falling behind and Jamal Mohamed was deprived of an equaliser by a superb Danilo save.
There was drama before the kick-off with furious Libyan officials forcing organisers CAF to remove a Moamer Kadhafi-era green national flag from the tournament website and replace it with the new black, red and green colours.
Libya included former anti-Kadhafi rebel Walid El Khatroushi in midfield and the team was captained by 39-year-old Aboud, voted the best goalkeeper on the continent last year.
Equatorial Guinea coach Gilson Paulao from Brazil, who replaced Frenchman Henri Michel just 16 days before the kick-off, chose six natives of Spain plus naturalised players from Ivory Coast, Brazil, Cameroon and Liberia.
The opening half drama was squeezed into three early minutes as the slow-settling Equatoguineans came close to scoring three times against opponents vulnerable on the right side of defence.
Ivan Bolado could not control the ball inside the six-yard box with the north Africans in disarray, Aboud spilled a Balbao shot that was wildly cleared and the home side had a 16th-minute goal disallowed for offside.
Amid much anger in the 35,000-seat stadium, big-screen replays suggested the Ivory Coast referee who is ranked number one on the continent made the right call.
His decision spared the blushes of Aboud, who allowed a Bolado shot slip between his legs and over the line seconds after a drive from stand-in captain Juvenal Edjogo rebounded off a post.
The pace slackened after half-time with the home team not threatening Aboud until midway through the half when Lawrence Doe had a free kick parried to safety just after the impressive El Khatroushi retired injured.