Again only named as a substitute by Mexico coach Luis Fernando Tena, the Tottenham Hotspur forward turned the game in his team’s favour following an even first half and vastly improved the CONCACAF side’s chances of reaching the quarter-finals.
Both teams began the match on the front foot with the knowledge that a win could prove vital after all four sides in the section drew on the opening day.
On six minutes, Mexico had the first clear sights of goal. First Marco Fabian struck a shot from outside the box which was saved smartly by Gabon ‘keeper Didier Ovono. Shortly after, the Chivas forward crossed for Miguel Ponce, who failed to find the target from close range.
El Tri were perhaps dominating possession but the Africans posed an obvious threat on the counter-attack, with Pierre Aubameyang a particular focal point for their breaks out of defence.
Ovono was again called into action at the half-hour mark to stop an Oribe Peralta header before counterpart Jose Corona saved a dangerous shot from Gabon midfielder Jerry Obiang two minutes later.
Franck Engonga made inroads through the Mexican defence but was eventually repelled by Hiram Mier, and Peralta sent another headed effort wide as the teams entered the half-time break goalless.
Tena introduced Dos Santos for the second period and there was an increased attacking emphasis in Mexico’s play almost instantly. Ovono produced a stunning fingertip save to deny Peralta on 51 minutes but the breakthrough goal arrived just after the hour mark.
Strong hold-up play by Peralta created space for Dos Santos, who took a touch to compose himself and curled a shot around Ovono and into the back of the net.
Gabon rallied, with Aubameyang twice going close to an equaliser before substitute Allen Nono missed a clear opportunity with five minutes left on the clock, his weak shot at the far post easy for Corona to gather.
The Africans paid for their profligacy in stoppage time. Henry Ndong received a second yellow card for manhandling Peralta in the penalty area and Dos Santos converted the spot-kick to send Mexico top of Group B.