Minnows Guinea-Bissau made a memorable start to the Africa Cup of Nations, AFCON, on Saturday as a late Juary Soares equaliser saw them hold hosts Gabon to a 1-1 draw.
According to CAF website reports, Soares headed home for the tournament debutants in the 90th minute of the 16-team championship’s opening game.
His goal cancelled out Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s opener in the Group A game at the Stade de l’Amitie in the Gabonese capital city of Libreville.
The final whistle was greeted with jeers from the home supporters but there was delight for Guinea-Bissau, for whom just being at the tournament is a remarkable achievement.
Four-time winners Cameroon, who have been hit by a raft of withdrawals, were also held to a 1-1 draw by 2013 runners-up Burkina Faso at the same venue.
The result placed all four teams in the group at par with one point each after the opening round of games.
After an opening ceremony in which French rapper Booba was the star turn, Gabonese President Ali Bongo declared the tournament officially open.
Bongo was accompanied by his counterpart from Guinea-Bissau, Jose Vaz, and Issa Hayatou, the President of the Confederation of African Football (CAF), at the 40,000-capacity stadium.
Those who wanted to see the host nation get off to a winning start in the 60th anniversary Cup of Nations were however to be disappointed by the opening match.
After a first half that failed to catch fire, Gabon came to life in the second half and opened the scoring in the 52nd minute.
The Guinea-Bissau defence failed to clear their lines and talented winger Denis Bouanga’s low ball to the back post was converted by Borussia Dortmund star Aubameyang.
However, Gabon began to sit back and Guinea-Bissau had opportunities to equalise towards the end, with Rudinilson Silva and substitute Frederic Mendy both coming close.
They looked to have blown their chance, but they drew level in the final minute, Soares getting in front of Bruno Ecuele Manga to head home Zezinho’s free-kick.
In the other match, team captain Benjamin Mounkandjo gave Cameroon the lead in the first half before Issoufou Dayo levelled for the Burkinabes midway in the second half.
Unlike the opening game between hosts Gabon and debutants Guinea-Bissau, both teams started on a promising note with the pendulum swinging from one end to the other intermittently.
The decision by Cameroon coach, Hugo Broos, to leave seasoned players such as forward Vincent Aboubakar and defender Nicolas Nkoulou on the bench appears to have paid results.
The likes of Ernest Mabouka, Adolphe Teikeu, Michael Ngadeu and especially Christian Bassogog proved that their places in the starting line-up were not out of place.
Bassogog, who plays for Danish side Aalborg, made the first attempt at goal with a shot that missed narrowly.
Few minutes later, Bassogog was with a swift turn which left his marker, Patrick Malo, chasing his shadows, but Burkina Faso goalie Kouakou Koffi saved the situation for his side.
After 35 minutes, Mounkandjo broke the deadlock with a curling shot from a free-kick that went into the far corner of the net, leaving Koffi with no option.
The Indomitable Lions almost doubled the lead just before the break after a long pass found Bassogog, who raced towards goal.
But Koffi this time was up to task as he disposed him of the ball.
Moments into the second half, Clinton Njie should have doubled Cameroon’s lead after Koffi had spilled Jacques Zoua’s long drive his way.
The Olympique Marseille winger shot wide with only Koffi to beat.
Midway, ‘Les Etalons’ began to find their rhythm and their quest for the equaliser was aided by the introduction of Jonathan Zongo.
The equaliser did come on 72 minutes through defender Issoufou Dayo who scrambled home, capitalising on a poor defending by the Cameroonian backline from a resulting free-kick.
The Burkinabes pressed for the winner in the closing stages but the Cameroon backline remained resolute, as the game ended 1-1 for a result which kept the group open.
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