Eq. Guinea, Rep. of Congo draw 1-1 in African Cup opener
Jan. 17, 2015
BATA, Equatorial Guinea (AP) — Republic of Congo snatched a late 1-1 draw against host Equatorial Guinea in the opening game of the African Cup of Nations on Saturday, muting a packed stadium of lively red-shirted home fans who thought they were on their way to a surprise win.
Equatorial Guinea captain Emilio Nsue scored in the 16th minute to kick off the soccer celebrations at Bata Stadium after the crowd had already been treated to a performance by American singer Akon during the opening ceremony. But Thievy Bifouma equalized with three minutes to go, sliding a low shot in from a tough angle to spoil the host's opening night.
Equatorial Guinea had missed a series of good chances in the second half to stretch its lead before the Congolese hit back.
"I'm happy that the team left a good impression, but obviously there were moments to win it," said new Equatorial Guinea coach Esteban Becker.
Worries over attendances at this African Cup were temporarily pushed aside as the supporters crowded in. Equatorial Guinea stepped in to stage the tournament at the last minute in place of Morocco. Its team had also initially been disqualified for fielding an ineligible player in qualifying, but was allowed back in as the new host.
Nsue rewarded the fans early on when he hit his shot under Congolese goalkeeper Christoffer Mafoumbi from close range following a slick run and pass from winger Kike Boula. Nsue sprinted toward one section of supporters, punching his chest and shouting out in celebration, and some fans spilled out onto the running track on the edge of the field to join him.
Higher-ranked Republic of Congo under veteran French coach Claude Le Roy was expected to win the opening game in Group A, but it didn't find any rhythm in the first half as the home team fed off its noisy support.
Young goalkeeper Felipe Ovono saved Equatorial Guinea in the second half when he dived and pushed away a shot by Ladislas Douniama that looked certain to be the equalizer. A late free kick from Republic of Congo also rebounded off the post.
Equatorial Guinea also had chances, with Iban Edu sending a swerving shot from 40 yards (meters) out that Mafoumbi scrambled to stop late in the first half. Javier Balboa had a golden chance to make it 2-0 in the 61st as he broke clear of the defense, then hit a low shot straight at Mafoumbi.
Nsue also missed when one-on-one with the 'keeper and had a goal disallowed in the 73rd.
The equalizing blow came for the home fans in the 87th minute when Bifouma made the late pressure from Republic of Congo pay.
"The players fought until the end and we drew. It's not so bad," said coach Le Roy.
Le Roy did complain about the 65-minute drive he says his squad had to make to get to the stadium in sweltering equatorial heat and without air conditioning in its bus.
"It's not possible to disrespect players like that," Le Roy said, telling organizing body the Confederation of African Football to sort it out.
The organizers are under pressure after the tournament was only switched to the small Central African nation two months before kickoff, and there have been teething problems.
They had also expected a capacity crowd of over 35,000 for the opener, but it was probably more. With all the seats taken, fans appeared to be still flocking in. Many crammed together to stand and watch from the walkways behind the seats. They had roared and danced, waving bright orange inflatable hands as Akon performed on the running track wearing a long black coat in the 30-plus Celsius (86 Fahrenheit) temperatures.
The president of the country, Teodoro Obiang Nguema, also attended to officially open the 16-team, three-week African soccer championship.