Gabon were primed to celebrate a winning start to their home tournament until defender Juary Soares headed home Guinea-Bissau’s equaliser from a free kick just as the clock hit 90 minutes, meaning the rank outsiders earned a dramatic point from their first ever game at a major tournament.
“We are very, very happy,” Guinea-Bissau coach Baciro Cande said. “Now we have the motivation to go as far as possible.”
The late bombshell from Guinea-Bissau at Libreville’s Stade de l’Amitie silenced a Gabonese home crowd that began the game with thunderous applause for a president who was supposed to be unpopular. Gabon’s star man, Borussia Dortmund’s coveted striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, lifted the noise level even higher with a goal early in the second half to put the hosts on course for an opening-day victory.
Soares’ goal came from a free kick by Guinea-Bissau’s own star, Zezinho. As Soares’ header sneaked into the corner of the net, he whirled away to celebrate, pursued by his exuberant teammates, and Gabon’s fans fell deathly silent.
In the opening day’s second game at the same stadium, Cameroon had a reckless start before establishing their dominance to take the early lead over Burkina Faso.
New captain Benjamin Moukandjo sent a free kick flying into the top left corner for the lead in the 35th minute, a lead Cameroon richly deserved after pouring forward for the second part of the first 45 minutes.
Cameroon, with Hearts midfielder Arnaud Djoum on the bench, paid for missing chances when Issoufou Dayo forced a header home for 1-1 in the 75th. Defender Dayo, like Guinea-Bissau’s Soares, roamed forward for a set-piece to claim the equaliser.
Earlier in the day, Congo’s sports minister led a delegation of 100 officials to the tournament to try to resolve a players’ strike ahead of the team’s first game.
Sports minister Willy Bakonga was called into action after Congo’s squad, which includes England-based players Youssouf Mulumbu and Dieudonne Mbokani, boycotted a training session on Friday in a dispute over unpaid bonuses.
Bakonga told Congolese radio before he flew to Gabon that he had time to solve the problems, with the team’s first game against Morocco tomorrow. “We have all the time possible,” Bakonga said. “When we arrive we will talk with them [the players], we will be together. So there is no problem since the bonuses are already there. We’ll give them to them.”
The money to pay the 23 players had been provided by the government, Bakonga said.
Mulumbu, the team captain, suggested on Twitter that the players were unhappy but would still play on Monday.
“Some situations are deplorable [but] this said on January 16 we will proudly defend our flag,” Mulumbu wrote in French on his official Twitter page.
A video also was posted on social media showing the squad standing together in a group and expressing their unhappiness.