Equatorial Guinea and Libya brought the curtain up on this year’s African Cup of Nations, after a delayed kick-off, and two national anthems never before heard on this stage, with the brand new Libyan anthem preceding debutante nation and co-hosts Equatorial Guinea’s own anthem, met in full voice by the crowd on their own turf. And against the odds it was the co-hosts who came away with the spoils thanks to a late goal by former Real Madrid player and key squad member Javier Balboa, despite Libya’s greater possession.
It was the Libyans who enjoyed the first major chance, some ten minutes into the game, after a good spell of early dominance with Walid Al Khatroushi being denied by a last ditch tackle by Fousseiny Kamisoko, but the first half of the game was a largely unspectacular affair, with events on the pitch failing to match up to the vibrant atmosphere in the stands. Only a cruelly disallowed goal for Equatorial Guinea punctuated a tentative 45 minutes as the two sides sized one another up without really threatening too much in the final thirds.
It was the Nzalang Nacional who enjoyed the best of the first half with the disallowed effort from Thierry Fidjeu just one of eight attempts on goal in the first period, as the Libyans struggled to cope with their opponents.
The second half began in much the same fashion as the first, though the feeling-out stage subsided to make way for an all too brief period of higher tempo attacking exchanges, before settling back into a plodding pace. The longer the game progressed it was the Libyans who began to look the most composed, with their tournament experience showing, but the spirited Equatorial Guinea team refused to give up with the best chance of the game coming to defender Lawrence Sokota whose free kick in the 72nd minutes was well saved by Libyan goalkeeper Samir Aboud.
With the game heading towards the final minute and the teams still locked in a stalemate, a draw looked the most likely outcome before the Beira-Mar striker sprung the offside trap, running onto substitute Ekedo Chigozirin’s slide-rule defence splitting pass to hit a wonderful shot past Aboud into the top corner to send the stadium into raptures. Ekedo had only been on the pitch a matter of minutes before supplying the killer through ball, and thanks to a promised million dollar match bonus from the son of President Obiang Nguema, it was something of a golden touch.
And the home nation almost added a second in the dying minutes, Ekanga hitting the bar with the goalkeeper stranded, before the referee blew the whistle on the opening game. First blood to the hosts.
Equatorial Guinea: Danilo, Alvarez, Da Gracia, Doe, Kamissoko, Juvenal, Balboa, Konate, Fidjeu-Tazemeta, Bolado, Randy. Subs: Ekanga, Bodipo, Ekedo.
Libya: Abboud, Belraysh, Achtiba, Salama, Al Shibani, Esnany, Mhadeb, Mabrouk, Djamal, Al Abidi, Osman. Subs: Albosefe, Al Sharif.
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