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AFCON 2015 Day 1: Aubameyang inspires Gabon to top Group A
Claude Le Roy’s side managed to snatch a late equaliser through Thievy Bifouma after Emilio Nsue put the hosts in front as the hosts drew 1-1 with Congo in the AFCON 2015 opener.
In the following match, Gabon rocked Burkina Faso to top Group A, with captain Pierre Emerick Aubameyang and Malick Evouna netting the goals.
Equatorial Guinea vs. Congo Brazzaville
Equatorial Guinea: Ovono, Da Graca, Mbele, Iban, Emilio Nsue, Javier Balboa, Enrique Boula, Ivan, Sipo, Ivan Zarandona, Pablo Ganet.
Congo: Mafoumbi, F. Nganga, Mouhibo, Moutou, Oniangue, N’Dinga, Dore, Bifouma, Gandze, Baudry, Babele
The hosts started really well and whilst not many knew what Equatorial Guinea will offer at this tournament, Esteban Beckers side pressured Claude Le Roy’s men early on and managed to go in front through Emilio Nsue. The Middlesbrough forward latched onto Kike’s through ball in the 18th minute and slipped past a helpless Mafoumbi to score the 1432nd goal in African Cup of Nations history. There was a hint of offside, but not many in the stadium cared and Bata erupted; it was a dream start for Equatorial Guinea.
For a Claude Le Roy team, this Congo side look poor defensively, with a very high line leaving a lot of space behind them, which the likes of Balboa and Pablo Ganet continued to exploit. The hosts continued to threaten but Mafoumbi stood strong and the first half of AFCON 2015 ended 1-0.
In the second half, Congo started to see more of the ball and gradually the Congolese started to perform better, however, offered little going forward, and talisman Dore looked lacklustre to say the least. Claude Le Roy had to take action, introducing Douinamana for Dore on the hour mark who straight away looked sharper, forcing a save from Ovono 4 minutes after being introduced.
Equatorial Guinea continued to be wasteful in front of goal when the maestro Javier Balbao had Nsue through on goal, who blasted straight at Mafoumbi. Five minutes later, Nsue had a goal wrongly disallowed after chipping over Mafoumbi, but was flagged for offside.
In the last 10 minutes, the hosts started to look tired and were struggling in physical one-on-one battles. The hosts suddenly looked on the ropes conceding needless free-kicks in their own half. N’Dinga nearly made them pay when his free-kick struck the upright. Three minutes from time however, Thievy Bifouma, who was arguably Congo’s best player, grabbed the equaliser slipping past Ovono. Claude Le Roy was smiling again, Becker distraught and Bata silenced.
Burkina Faso vs. Gabon:
Burkina Faso: Sanou, Koffi, Kone, Bambare, Yago, D.Kone, Kabore, B. Traore, A.Traore, Pitroipa, Zongo.
Gabon: Ovono, Palun, King, Ecuele Manga, Obiang, Poko, Madinda, Ndong, Evouna, Bulot, Aubameyang.
The Gabonese flooded Bata for this encounter. Burkina Faso, who had Zamalek’s Mohamed Koffi starting while Al Ahly’s Moussa Yedan was on the bench, turned out to be the better side in opening exchanges, and the first real chance fell to FC Lorient forward Alain Traore, who sent a stinging shot towards Ovono’s goal, but the keeper saved well.
Gabon looked too open at the back and Jonathan Pitroipa was starting to exploit the space. Despite Burkina Faso’s dominance, it was Gabon who took the lead through Borussia Dortmund’s Pierre Emerick Aubamayeng, after pouncing on a fabulous lofted through ball by Levy Madinda and showed great composure to finish past Sanou at a second attempt.
Burkina Faso continued to be wasteful in front of goal – the Stallions’ finishing was awful to say the least – and most of the chances were falling to AFCON 2015 qualifying goalscorer Pitroipa, who seemed to be obsessed with shooting straight at Gabon keeper Ovono at every attempt.
In the beginning of the second half it was clear both teams decided to tighten up defensively, and the ball was being deployed out wide much more but crosses were being easily dealt with by Bakary Kone for Burkina Faso and Ecule Manga for Gabon. Both managers decided to make substitutions on the hour mark, Jorge Costa taking off N’Dong who was walking a tight rope after being booked early on for Kanga, who could arguably add more steel to the Panthers’ midfield, and Paul Put introduced the largely anticipated Aristide Bance for the non-existent Zongo.
Burkina Faso continued to create chances but lacked the final touch. Again, the Gabonese punished Paul Put’s men. The ball was sent out wide to Frederic Bulot, who skipped past Yago, and with a pin-point cross picked out Malick Evouna, who headed home to double Gabon’s lead.
With 10 minutes to go, it was now or never for Burkina Faso. Aristide Bance tried to reply immediately for the Stallions, but his attempt 25 yards out was just wide of Ovono’s post. Gabon managed to see the game out and top Group A.
Player of the day:
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang: The Burkinabe rearguard struggled all game against the pace of PEA, who was fantastic on the left wing for Gabon. Great performance capped off with a goal of sheer quality and composure.