Congo spoiled 2015 Africa Cup of Nations hosts Equatorial Guinea’s party by fighting back to claim a 1-1 draw in the tournament opener in Bata on Saturday evening.
Nzalang Nacional looked on course for all three points after Emilio Nsue’s first half goal, but Thievy Bifouma earned the Red Devils a share of the spoils will a late equaliser.
Equatorial Guinea started the game strongly, with Kike Boula, Javier Balboa, Iban Edu and Emilio Nsue putting on a display of skill and speed in the final third.
Kike’s superb footwork down the right flank created the opening goal in the 16th minute, with the winger skipping past a defender before playing a perfectly weighted through ball that allowed Nsue to fire a low shot past goalkeeper Chris Mafoumbi.
Congo created chances of their own, most notably when Thievy Bafouma had a low shot from a tight angle that forced a good save from Felipe Ovono, while the hosts’ goalkeeper also missed a floated cross from a free kick but was lucky to see Marvin Baudry head into the side netting.
The Red Devils enjoyed plenty of ball possession as the first half wore on, but they lacked the pace and penetration to really trouble Nzalang Nacional’s defence, which was marshalled by the excellent Rui da Garcia.
The pattern of play continued into the second half and Equatorial Guinea should have doubled their advantage just past the hour mark when Nsue put Balboa in on goal, but the midfielder’s low shot was smothered by Mafoumbi.
Congo substitute Ladislas Douniama almost brought his side level with a curling shot from the edge of the box midway through the second half, but Ovono produced an excellent finger-tip save to turn the ball around the post for a corner.
Equatorial Guinea thought they had wrapped up the game when Balboa’s ball over the defence allowed Nsue to lob the on-rushing goalkeeper and find the back of the net, but the attacker was incorrectly flagged offside by the referee’s assistant.
They were nearly punished in the 83rd minute when Francis N’Gonga’s free kick came back off the upright, and on 87 minutes Congo’s relentless pressure was finally rewarded when Bifouma finished off a through ball from substitute Dominique Malonga to make it 1-1.
The same pair combined in the final minute of regulation time to set up Malonga with a chance to win the match for Claude Le Roy’s team, but Ovono scrambled across his line to make a vital save.
Equatorial Guinea next face Burkina Faso, while Congo will take on Gabon. The second round matches will be played in Bata on January 21.