BATA, Equatorial Guinea (AP) -- Republic of Congo snatched a late 1-1 draw against host Equatorial Guinea in the opening game of the African Cup of Nations on Saturday, muting a packed stadium of red-shirted home fans who thought they were on their way to a surprise win.
Equatorial Guinea captain Emilio Nsue scored in the 16th minute to kick off the soccer celebrations at Bata Stadium after the crowd had already been treated to a performance by American singer Akon during the opening ceremony. But Thievy Bifouma equalized with three minutes to go, sliding a low shot in from a tough angle to spoil the host's opening night.
Worries over attendances at this African Cup were temporarily pushed aside as the supporters crowded in. Equatorial Guinea stepped in to stage the tournament at the last minute in place of Morocco.
Its team had also initially been disqualified for fielding an ineligible player in qualifying, but was allowed back in after stepping in as host late last year.
Nsue rewarded the rowdy fans early on when he slipped his shot under Congolese goalkeeper Christoffer Mafoumbi from close range following a slick run and pass from winger Kike Boula. Nsue sprinted toward one section of supporters, punching his chest and shouting out in celebration, and some fans spilled out onto the running track on the edge of the field to join him.
Higher-ranked Republic of Congo under veteran French coach Claude Le Roy was expected to win the opening game in Group A, but it didn't find any rhythm in the first half as the home team fed off its noisy support.
Goalkeeper Felipe Ovono saved Equatorial Guinea in the second half when he dived and pushed away a shot by Ladislas Douniama that looked certain to be the equalizer. A late free kick from Republic of Congo also rebounded off the post.
The equalizing blow did come for the home fans in the 87th minute when Bifouma made the late pressure from Republic of Congo pay.
Organizers expected a capacity crowd of over 35,000 for the opener, but it was probably more. With all the seats taken, fans appeared to be still flocking in. Many crammed together to watch from the walkways behind the seats. The president of the country, Teodoro Obiang Nguema, also attended to officially open the 16-team, three-week African soccer championship.
The crowd had cheered and danced, waving bright orange inflatable hands as Akon performed on the running track wearing a long black coat in the sweltering Equatorial Guinea heat. They roared even louder when Nsue scored.
Equatorial Guinea had chances to stretch its lead, with Iban Edu sending a swerving shot from 40 yards out that Mafoumbi scrambled to stop late in the first half. Javier Balboa had a golden chance to make it 2-0 in the 61st as he broke clear of the defense, then hit a low shot straight at Mafoumbi.
Nsue also missed when one-on-one with the 'keeper and had a goal disallowed in the 73rd.