Congo take surprise lead in Cup of Nations’ Group A

AP, BATA, Equatorial Guinea

Fri, Jan 23, 2015 - Page 19

Unfancied Republic of the Congo went top of Group A at the Africa Cup of Nations with a surprise 1-0 win over Gabon on Wednesday after hosts Equatorial Guinea and Burkina Faso played out a 0-0 draw.

The Congo ground out a victory — their first at the tournament in more than 20 years — that will re-energize their campaign, with Prince Oniangue poking in from close range early in the second half and against the run of play.

The result was unfair, Gabon coach Jorge Costa said, as his team did most of the attacking and could not find a finishing touch to follow up their impressive win over Burkina Faso in the first round of games.

“Football is like this... When you make mistakes, you lose games,” Costa said.

The loss dropped Gabon to second in the group, with Equatorial Guinea third and Burkina Faso, finalists in 2013, last. However, just three points separate the top team from the bottom team ahead of the final round of games.

Still, Congo are in a good position to make the quarter-finals after qualifying for the Africa Cup for the first time in 15 years. Their last appearance in the quarters was in 1992. They won the title in 1972.

Having missed out on seven successive Africa Cups before this year, Congo only need a draw against Burkina Faso in their last group game to make the last eight.

Goalscorers had problems in the day’s first match at Estadio de Bata, too, as Equatorial Guinea and Burkina Faso wasted chance after chance in their stalemate.

That left the home fans frustrated after Equatorial Guinea survived waves of pressure from Burkina Faso in the first half — when Alain Traore hit the post twice — and emerged the better team in the second.

Javier Balboa set up two clear chances for his teammates, but both were wasted. Equatorial Guinea now have a tough assignment against Gabon in the last round of matches to try and claim a place in the quarters at their home tournament.

It was a bad day all round for local fans, with some of them clashing with riot police outside the stadium at about the time Equatorial Guinea’s game was kicking off.

Equatorial Guinea’s preparations for the Africa Cup have come under scrutiny after the nation had just two months to organize the tournament following Morocco’s late withdrawal as hosts. The tournament had been going fine, but some fans tried to force their way into Wednesday’s game, according to witnesses, when they clashed with police near a gate at the outer perimeter of the stadium complex.

Ticket control at the main stadium — where the final is to be held on Feb. 8 — appeared to be slack, with ticket machines closer to the stadium not functioning and fans able to wander in and out of them without tickets being checked.