African Nations Cup underdogs Congo boosted their hopes of reaching the quarter-finals after they beat more fancied Gabon 1-0 to throw Group A wide open on Wednesday.
Victory left Congo top on four points from two games, one more than Gabon and two ahead of hosts Equatorial Guinea, who were held to a 0-0 draw by Burkina Faso (one point) in the afternoon fixture.
Captain Prince Oniangue scored an opportunist 48th minute winner to put the Congolese within touching distance of the knockout stages, a scenario which looked improbable after they were beaten by Rwanda over two legs in the preliminary qualifying rounds.
Congo were reinstated into the competition after their opponents were found to have included an ineligible player.
Tactically superior and more skillful, Gabon took the upper hand from the start and produced a flowing move in the fourth minute when Congo keeper Christoffer Mafoumbi tipped over a fierce shot by forward Frederic Bulot from 20 metres. They continued to press forward and the pacy Malick Evouna missed a great chance midway through the first half, scuffing a weak shot wide of the far post after breaking through the middle.
But with usually influential Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang largely subdued and starved of service, Gabon struggled as the final pass kept going astray. The Borussia Dortmund forward’s best moment in the opening period came on the stroke of halftime, when he unleashed a swerving free kick that was palmed away by Mafoumbi. Having held on in the first half, Congo stunned their west African neighbours when Gabon’s defence failed to clear a corner and Oniangue hooked the ball past keeper Didier Ovono.
The lively midfielder then forced a fine save from Ovono with a rasping volley from 25 metres before Bulot missed a gilt-edged chance at the other end, firing wide from 13 metres with the goal at his mercy. Gabon piled the pressure on in the last 30 minutes but Congo’s resolute defence, marshalled by Mafoumbi, held firm.