Debutants and shock qualifiers Guinea-Bissau stunned hosts Gabon by pulling off a 1-1 draw in the opening match of the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations.
Juary Soares scored the equaliser for the Wild Dogs with a diving header from a free-kick in the 90th minute.
Gabon had taken the lead on 52 minutes when superstar Borussia Dortmund striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang turned in Denis Bouanga’s cross-shot.
Home fans jeered loudly at the end, making their discontent evident.
But the draw was no more than a spirited Guinea-Bissau side deserved as they frustrated their opponents throughout and took their chance to continue what has been a fairytale run in getting to the finals.
Few predicted they would take anything from their group games at the tournament but they arguably looked the more dangerous side in a game that only livened up after half-time.
While Aubaemyang showed his predatory instincts to finish off Bouanga’s ball across the face of the box, the Dortmund striker was less clinical when he volleyed over on 69 minutes.
It would have doubled Gabon’s lead and might have ended Guinea-Bissau’s resistance. Instead, they fought back and began to impose themselves on the game.
A clear chance came on 83 minutes but substitute Frederic Mendy headed straight at goalkeeper Didier Ovono and it seemed they would have to be content with a brave defeat.
But when they won another free-kick, Soares connected brilliantly to send his side into raptures.
In the group’s later game, Burkina Faso drew 1-1 with Cameroon.
After going 1-0 down to the hosts, Guinea-Bissaumight have folded. But the tournament debutants continued to plug away and, if they show the same grit and determination, they may pull off a few more surprises.
They pressed high, snapped into their tackles and former Everton youth player Junior Francisco particularly caught the eye on his first cap, prowling the midfield and breaking up play effectively.
Toni Silva, once at Liverpool, also impressed, showing glimpses of skill and creativity – if he grows in confidence he could be a key figure for the team.
Hosts Gabon must improve
Largely pedestrian, perhaps suffering from nerves, but most definitely below the level of performance the home crowd – and manager Jose Antonio Camacho – expect of them.
Having a world-class striker in Aubemayang will only get Gabon so far. While he was not at his very best, service to him was poor. And Juventus midfielder Mario Lemina was particularly disappointing.
The moment that summed up the Panthers perfectly came when Merlin Tandjigora swiped at a clearance, completely missed the ball and clattered Francisco Junior. So wild and inept it was comical. Gabon need to find their timing and rhythm – fast.
What the managers said
Guinea Bissau coach Baciro Cande: “We are very, very happy. Now we have the motivation to go as far as possible.”
Gabon coach Jose Antonio Camacho: “It’s very difficult to win the first match in these tournaments. For the next match we have to fight tooth and nail.”
By Africafrique and agencies