OYEM, Gabon, Jan 16 – Junior Kabananga pounced on a goalkeeping error to give the Democratic Republic of Congo a 1-0 win over Morocco in an Africa Cup of Nations upset on Monday in Gabon.
Success came two days after the central Africans refused to train over a bonuses row and a red card and an injury meant they were briefly reduced to nine men in the closing stages.
Victory took the “Congolese Leopards” to the top of Group C after the opening round as defending champions the Ivory Coast were held 0-0 by Togo in the first half of a double-header.
Kazakhstan-based midfielder Kabananga profited from a mistake by Munir Mohamedi in the Morocco goal to score from close range 10 minutes into the second half.
Defeat was a major blow for France-born Morocco coach Herve Renard, winner of the competition with Zambia in 2012 and the Ivory Coast in 2015, who has set a last-eight place as his minimum target.
After the disappointment of watching the Ivorians and the Togolese draw 0-0 in a dour duel, the small crowd in Oyem were hoping for more excitement in the second match.
They almost saw a goal in the second minute as Morocco midfielder M’bark Boussoufa rattled the crossbar with goalkeeper Ley Matampi well beaten.
It was a sign of things to come as the “Atlas Lions” from north Africa stamped their authority on the early exchanges only to be let down by poor finishing.
The Congolese, third at the last Cup of Nations behind the Ivory Coast and Ghana, were reduced to hopeful long-range shots during the opening half.
Striker Cedric Bakambu tried his luck from well outside the box and the effort was comfortably held by Mohamedi.
Defender Chancel Mbemba was equally ambitious with his shot on goal that flew wide.
The opening half ended with Morocco, whose lone Cup of Nations title came in 1976, on top territorially but with nothing to show for it.
And the frustrations of Renard turned to disappointment when his team fell behind 10 minutes into the second half largely due to a blunder by Mohamedi.
The Spain-based goalkeeper failed to grasp a routine cross and when the ball broke loose, Kabananga nipped in to score with a left-foot shot.
Renard made several substitutions as the match entered the closing stages, but the lack of goals that afflicted Morocco in recent World Cup qualifiers continued.
The Congolese were reduced to 10 men with eight minutes left when a wild challenge from Joyce Lomalisa earned a second yellow card.
DR Congo were temporarily reduced to nine men when injured captain Gabriel Zakuani had to leave the field for treatment.
He returned to see Matampi pull off a great save from a Youssef El Arabi header to keep the two-time African champions in front.