A last-gasp equaliser from Juary Soares helped debutants Guinea-Bissau to a 1-1 draw with hosts Gabon in their Africa Cup of Nations opener on Saturday.
Gabon appeared to be on their way to victory following a second-half strike from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, but Soares intervened by heading home from close range in the dying seconds.
The home fans all expected the Borussia Dortmund star to make the difference in Libreville following his impressive performances at club level this campaign, having scored 20 goals in 22 appearances in all competitions, with Aubameyang himself suggesting ahead of the tournament that Gabon have a chance to go all the way.
The striker was largely anonymous in the opening 45 minutes, but there was no denying the 27-year-old after the break, as he tapped home from close range following some good work from Denis Bouanga, for the fifth AFCON goal of his career.
Guinea-Bissau never gave up, though, and they were eventually rewarded for their courageous display when Soares salvaged a draw late on.
Saturday’s result means Gabon face a tough task to progress from Group A, with Burkina Faso next up on January 18. Guinea-Bissau meet Cameroon in their second game of the group stages.
Gabon dominated proceedings in the opening stages of the game and Malick Evouna got two chances in quick succession to hand the hosts the lead halfway through the first half.
The winger first failed to properly get his head to a fine cross from Aubameyang, but Mario Lemina did well to keep the ball in play and set up Evouna a second time, the Tianjin Teda man this time aiming high and wide from inside the area.
Guinea-Bissau struggled to create any chances of note in the opening 45 minutes, although they did threaten twice from long range, Zezinho blasting a shot wide at the half-hour mark, before Francisco Junior failed to get his attempt on target minutes later.
Bouanga came close to opening the scoring early in the second half after a sublime individual action, cutting inside from the left, then dancing past Tomas Dabo, before curling a shot toward the top corner that was only just kept out by Guinea-Bissau goalkeeper Jonas Mendes.
Jose Antonio Camacho’s men kept pushing for the opener, however, and they were eventually rewarded in the 52nd minute when Aubameyang found the net. Some poor defending allowed Bouanga the freedom to fire a low cross toward the far post and the Borussia Dortmund star was on hand to slide home for the first goal of the tournament.
Aubameyang nearly struck a second time with 20 minutes left on the clock, volleying just over the top corner after a fine cross from the right from Lemina.
Guinea-Bissau slowly grew into the game from there on and Rudinilson Silva was unfortunate to see his shot after a corner go inches wide, while Frederic Mendy had a header from close range saved by keeper Didier Ovono.
The newcomers eventually got the goal they perhaps deserved in the 90th minute when Soares beat Ovono with a superb header from Zezinho’s free-kick to salvage a draw.