In winning their second CAN match of all time, Gabon are now setting the early Group D pace ahead of 2004 African champions Tunisia and Zambia, who sit just behind after drawing 1-1 in the day’s later match.
The Indomitable Lions, who were one of the in-form sides on the continent and CAN runners-up in 2008 and, dominated possession and opportunities against the Panthers, but the Gabonese showed why they are quickly earning a reputation as a stubborn side to break down.
Goal of the day
Cameroon 0-1 Gabon, Daniel Cousin (17’)
Having lost twice to Cameroon in qualifying just four months ago, Gabon looked prepared for revenge right from the start of the match, and their aggressive opening strategy paid off when Alexandre Ndoumbou out-battled Nicolas N'Koulou to win a long cross at the top of the area. He somehow managed to slide the ball perfectly into the path of Cousin, who was rushing through the centre of the box. The Hull City player, who also played in Gabon’s last African finals 10 years ago, made no mistake with the opportunity, hooking the ball confidently past vulnerable goalkeeper Carlos Kameni while defender Rigobert Song - playing in his record eighth Nations Cup - could only look on. Once in front, the underdogs retreated into a more defensive strategy and protected the single goal.
A hero emerges in net
Despite a few shaky hands and erratic moments, Gabon goalkeeper Didier Ovono held his nerve to deny wave after wave of Cameroonian attacks with a variety of methods. In the opening minutes, he dove to his right to touch Achille Emana’s curling shot onto the post, and at the start of the second half he two-fisted away Pierre Webo’s flashed header. As the match grew more intense and the chances multiplied, he then saved with his feet from Emana in the 73rd minute before getting down well to smother Eto’o’s shot just after. He saved his best for last however when he tipped Geremi’s wickedly dipping free-kick over the bar in the 88th minute to preserve the three points.
Chipolopolo’s cheeky opener
In a tournament that has so far been characterised by shocks as well as goals (22 so far through the first seven matches), Zambia’s opener against Tunisia in the 19th minute served both sides. James Chamanga started the move when he stormed down the middle, drawing three defenders to him. He deftly timed his lay-off pass to the streaking Jacob Mulenga, who placed the ball beyond reach of Tunisian keeper Aymen Mathlouthi. It was a moment which took the Tunisians by surprise and set the tone for the game.
Emana’s shooting boots
With Eto’o lacking sharpness after an injury layoff, the almost constant Cameroonian attacks often flowed through the potent feet of forward Emana, and he showed off the power of his shot early and often. In just the 8th minute, he beat two players before pinging the post from Ovono’s fingertips from 20 yards out on the right. He had a shot from a similar spot but a further 10 yards out in the 53rd minute, but that blast fizzed just past the far post this time. Emana’s accuracy failed him on the hour mark though when he badly shanked a quickly taken free-kick from Eto’o that had set him up all alone on the goalkeeper.
Le Guen tastes defeat with Cameroon
Coach Paul Le Guen is credited with reviving Cameroon’s fortunes, and in fact, the 45-year-old former defender for France had not seen a loss as Lions boss since taking over from Otto Pfister last summer. However the stress of suffering a big upset in the first match at a major tournament was written across his typically stony face during and after the contest. The pressure may have been more pronounced given that his rival coach on Wednesday night was none other than his compatriot Alain Giresse, who was also a widely heralded French international in his day. Samuel Eto’o called Le Guen ‘a great psychologist’ earlier in the week, and the Frenchman will have a chance to prove him right as his team try to recover from a first defeat with the coach.
1 – The number of points won as well as the number of goals scored in four contests by FIFA World Cup-bound African nations in the first round of matches at the CAF Africa Cup of Nations. Along with Cameroon’s 1-0 loss, Algeria were shocked 3-0 by Malawi, Nigeria fell to Egypt 3-1 and Côte d'Ivoire were held to a scoreless draw by Burkina Faso. The other qualified team, Ghana, did not play because their match with Togo was cancelled.
What they said
“We are very pleased to win the first game. It is not a revenge for me as it does not erase the past. It is a celebration of the present and the future, and I congratulate the players.” Gabon coach Alain Giresse.
Mali - Algeria (14 Jan. 16:00 GMT)
Angola - Malawi (14 Jan. 18:30 GMT)
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