Co-hosts Gabon beat debutants Niger in Group C opener

By Piers EdwardsBBC Sport
Stephane Nguema (left) and Niger's Boubacar Talatou
Stephane Nguema (left) scored Gabon's second goal against Niger

Africa Cup of Nations co-hosts Gabon made a perfect start to Group C when beating Niger 2-0 in Libreville.

The Gabonese made a blistering start, subjecting the debutants' goal to intense pressure, but had to wait until the half-hour before breaking through.

Local star Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang latched on to Stephane Nguema's cross to head home from a tight angle.

Nguema doubled the lead on the stroke of half-time to allow the Panthers to stroll home in the second period.

After fellow co-hosts Equatorial Guinea had won their opener, beating Libya 1-0 on Saturday night, the Gabonese must have felt under pressure to make a similar impact.

Facing a Niger side who had never contested a match at the Nations Cup before, the Panthers had the perfect first opponents - especially with tougher battles set to come against Morocco and Tunisia.

Buoyed by a full house of 40,000 fans inside the Stade de l'Amitie, the Libreville arena which will host the Nations Cup final itself on 12 February, Gabon threatened from the opening minutes.

Levy Madinda had a shot well-blocked and Cedric Moubamba had sliced wide before Aubameyang had the best opening of the game, forcing Niger keeper Kassaly Douada into a smart save.

But the St Etienne star soon found a way through as he guided a close-range header into the narrowest of gaps after Nguema's deep cross looped beyond the despairing Douada after half an hour.

The goal brought Niger out of their shells and just as the Mena were enjoying their best moment of the game, forcing a handful of corners, Gabon put the game beyond Harouna Doula's side.

Eric Mouloungui superbly won possession high up the pitch and played in full back Charly Moussonou, whose left-wing cross was headed at goal by Aubameyang only to be well-blocked by Douada.

However, the parry fell invitingly for Nguema who showed more hunger than his marker to pounce on the loose ball and guide into an empty net from close range.

The lead was no less than the hosts deserved and with youngster Andre Biyogo impressing in midfield and Aubameyang always dangerous, the Panthers forced the play in the second half as well.

Up front for Niger, Moussa Maazou cut an isolated figure and he only managed to test Didier Ovono late on as the Belgium-based striker steered a header too close to the Gabon goalkeeper.

In the final minutes, Aubameyang, whose father captained Gabon upon their 1994 Nations Cup debut, whistled a 25-yarder wide before earning rapturous applause as he was substituted by Daniel Cousin.

After failing to make the starting line-up, the former Hull City striker was keen to impress Gabon coach Gernot Rohr as he almost set up Mouloungui before curling over from the edge of the box.

Niger played the last 15 minutes with 10 men after Moutari Amadou was carried off on a stretcher, with Niger having already made their three substitutions.

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