Rounding things off for Day 5, Congo versus Gabon, again in the Estadio De Bata. Gabon came into the game as the top team in the group, one of few winners at the Cup of Nations, draws being the order of the day so far. Congo, on one point and definite underdogs in this match were looking for their first win at an Africa Cup of Nations since 1974, but under the stewardship of the legendary Claude Le Roy an upset didn’t see seem out of the question, the veteran of African management taking charge of his 34th game in the AFCoN competition.
It was Gabon though who burst into the game with intent, the Congolese looking shell-shocked after only three minutes. Firstly Andre Poko was cynically hacked down when his pace looed to be taking him through on goal, seconds later Malick Evouna cleverly laid off to Frederic Bulot who’s shot was brilliantly tipped over the bar by keeper Felip Ovono. Things certainly looked ominous for Congo, seemingly unable to deal with the Gabonese attack, set up a 4 man attacking midfield in front of Levy Madinda who would offer protection for the flat back four. Just before the twenty minute mark Malick Evouna came close to scoring an opening goal seeing his deflected effort roll agonisingly wide of an empty net. Wave after wave of Gabonese attack continued, Poko shooting over from 20 yards then Congo defender Boris Ngongo needing to be alert to cut out a clever ball from Frederick Bulot. But the chance of the half fell to Madinda, using his strength and guile to hold off to Congo defenders before volleying wide across the face of the goal from a tight angle. Aubayemang, star of the side and tournament, had been fairly quiet during a first half dominated by the Panthers but forced another great save from Christoffer Mafoumbi in the Congolese goal, from a rasping free-kick effort shortly before referee Victor Gomes blew up for the end of the first period.
Claude Le Roy will have had plenty to say to his Congo side at half-time and whatever was spoken worked wonderfully for the Red Devils, as only two minutes into the second half they took the lead. A woefully defended corner was failed to be dealt with by the Gabon defence, three players unable to clear, allowing Prince Oniangue to take advantage and lift the ball into the net, much to Didier Ovono in the Gabon goal’s disgust. Congo had barely troubled him up until this point and now they were one up, but with the majority of the second half, many would still be wary of betting against a Gabon comeback. The pattern of play from the first-half returned with many chances going begging, Frederic Bulot of Standard Liege the most guilty, shooting wide with an open goal at his mercy. Medinda pushed forward in search of the equaliser and came close in the last ten minutes after a great run into the box, shooting high and wide of the goal. But it was written in the stars for Congo, 31 years in the waiting for a victory at these Championships, the final whistle came amidst even more chances for Gabon, afterwards Le Roy admitting his side rode their luck on occasion. They now top the group with a game remaining against Burkina Faso. Gabon meanwhile will need to pick themselves up before facing hosts Equatorial Guinea who will be all out to win, needing at least a victory to have any chance of making the last eight.