Co-hosts Gabon handed Niger a baptismal of fire at the flagship African Cup of Nations football tournament by beating them 2-0 in their Group C opener on Monday at the Stade de l’Amitie in Libreville.
First half goals from fans’ favourite, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Stephane Nguema sealed victory for the Panthers at the expense of the debutants, Mena of Niger.
Cheered on by an ecstatic crowd at the 40,000 capacity stadium, including President Ali Bongo Ondimba and his wife, the Gabonese had no option other to deliver the three points and they did that in grand style.
The Panthers threatened from the opening minutes with Levy Madinda having his shot at goal blocked by Niger goalie Daouda Kassaly and Aubameyang also minutes later forced a spectacular save from keeper Kassaly.
On 31 minutes, Aubemayang scored the opener heading in narrowly from Nguema’s cross with the ball beyond Kassaly’s reach.
On the stroke of full time, Nguema connected in a rebound after Kassaly had parried Aubameyang’s header from a Charly Moussouno cross unto his path for the second goal.
St. Etienne forward, Aubamenyang and Andre Biyigo created a lot of panic in the Niger defence anytime they had possession of the ball.
The best chance for Niger came on 78 minutes, but Maazou headed feebly into the waiting hands of Gabon goalie Didier Ovono from close range.
Six minutes from time, veteran Gabon forward, Daniel Cousin was brought on and made his presence felt with a lone range effort which missed target narrowly as his side cruised to a sweet victory in the opener.
In the second match of the Group, Tunisia edged Morocco in the North African derby with a 2-1 victory.
Midfielder Khaled Korbi gave the Tunisians the lead on 36 minutes from a well taken free-kick before substitute Youssef Msakni doubled the lead on 76 minutes.
Morocco captain Houssine Kharja grabbed a consolation for his side with a close range effort four minutes from time but that was not enough to give them the three maximum points and to split the points.[Kofi Addae, GNA Special Correspondent in Libreville, Gabon, Courtesy CAF]