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Gabon, Tunisia, soar in openers

LIBREVILLE, Gabon, January 24 – Gabon gave debutants Niger a baptism of fire and Tunisia inflicted more misery on Morocco on day three at the Africa Cup of Nations.

The continental showpiece moved across the border to the Gabonese capital for the first time to dish up a Group C double header with Gabon galloping to a 2-0 win over Niger and Tunisia taking the Maghreb derby 2-1.

It is Gabon though, on goal difference, and not the 2004 winners, who find themselves top of the table after first half headers from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Stephane Nguema proved the undoing of Niger.

Gabon’s sterling performance came 48 hours after their fellow co-hosts Equatorial Guinea had opened their Cup campaign in similarly positive style with a defeat of Libya in Bata.

With Gabon President Ali Bongo and the First Lady among the 40,000 crowd at Libreville’s L’Amitie stadium Gernot Rohr’s side gleefully waved goodbye to a two year diet of friendlies to take a major step towards the quarter-finals.

“We won, we played well, but more difficult teams than Niger lie ahead,” said Rohr.

The German added: “I hope we can continue on this path. I’m pleased as we didn’t concede a goal, didn’t pick up any injuries, and only got one booking.”

His Niger counterpart Harouna Doula commented: “We knew this first match was going to be difficult because Gabon have been developing and they are the co-hosts.

“We became a little unbalanced, had lots of problems, but now we are going to forget this match and concentrate on the next two.”

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Gabon, who beat Cameroon in their opening game in 2010 but failed to make the last eight, were all over Niger from the off, taking up almost permanent residence in their half.

Just reward for their dominance came in the 30th minute when the omnipresent Aubameyang rose to head home at a tight angle Nguema’s cross from the right wing.

On the stroke of half time Nguema added Gabon’s second when heading in from close range after Kassaly Daouda had been unable to hold on to Aubameyang’s own header.

Tunisia later made Morocco suffer for the third time in major competitions having defeated them to take the title in 2004 and then closed the door on them in qualification for the 2006 World Cup.

The Carthage Eagles prevailed with goals in either half from Khaled Korbi and Youssef Msakni, with Houssine Kharja getting a dubious late consolation for Morocco.

Tunisia coach Sami Trabelsi said: “This was a precious victory that will help us. We played well as a team..but the competition is long, this is just one victory, we have lots of matches in front of us, I hope we can progress.

“We were better in defence than – when you look at the quality of players we have available – in midfield and in attack.”

Captain Karim Haggui added: “We deserved to win, I hope our new generation of players will write their own history now.”

Morocco coach Eric Gerets commented: “This is the Nations Cup, it’s full of surprises, that’s life. Our second match against Gabon is an all or nothing situation.”

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Moroccan skipper Kharja said: “We still have two matches to qualify, I think we can do it, we just have to use our heads.”

Tunisia will be odds on favourites to sweep aside Niger in their next run out while Morocco have the unenviable task of trying to derail Gabon – both matches are back at the L’Amitie Stadium on Friday.

Tuesday’s fare sees Group D enter the picture with 2010 finalists Ghana facing Botswana and Mali up against Guinea in Franceville.

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