- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 18, 2017

LIBREVILLE, Gabon (AP) - If Gabon’s leaders were looking for the African Cup of Nations to provide a joyous distraction for a country fractured by violent elections six months ago, it’s not working out that way. And if Cameroon was looking for an easy time against the tournament debutants from Guinea-Bissau, that didn’t happen either.

Host Gabon stuttered to a second straight 1-1 draw at Africa’s soccer championship on Wednesday, and even goals from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, the team’s Germany-based star, aren’t proving to be enough.

Held by Burkina Faso this time after opening with a 1-1 draw against minnow Guinea-Bissau, Gabon’s chances of making the quarterfinals, and maybe the hopes of a successful tournament, hang on its final group game against Cameroon.

Cameroon survived a scare and a wonder goal from Guinea-Bissau for the first victory for any team in Group A in Wednesday’s other match at Gabon’s main Stade de l’Amitie in the Atlantic Ocean capital of Libreville.

Cameroon came from behind to win 2-1, but for 48 minutes Guinea-Bissau was leading and heading for a special result after midfielder Piqueti made a run of blistering speed and wondrous skill to take the ball nearly the length of the field and lash it into the roof of the net.

Piqueti, a player with Portuguese club Braga’s B team, picked up possession just outside his penalty area 13 minutes in. He knocked the ball over one Cameroon player, chested it past another, sped into the Cameroon half leaving his chasers in his dust, then cut inside a third defender and fired home.

Piqueti couldn’t even be caught by his teammates as he sprinted away in celebration and the moment lit up a depressing night for some of the Gabonese fans that stayed behind to watch.

Cameroon spoiled what was shaping up to be one of the great upsets of the Cup of Nations in the second half when Sebastien Siani hit a first-time shot into the bottom left corner in the 61st minute and defender Michael Ngadeu hammered into the other corner for the winner in the 78th.

That left Guinea-Bissau goalkeeper Jonas hunched over the advertising boards behind his goal in disappointment, thinking of what might have been for a team made up mostly of players from Portugal’s second division and which had never been to a major tournament before. For a while, they were beating the four-time African champions and former World Cup quarterfinalists, and were top of their group.

Whatever the result, Piqueti’s goal should now mean the most famous moment in Guinea-Bissau soccer history isn’t the goal to win the European championship last year for Portugal by Eder, a player born in Guinea-Bissau’s capital city.

By the end of Wednesday, Cameroon had taken charge of African Cup Group A, followed by Gabon and Burkina Faso on two points and Guinea-Bissau on one.

For Gabon, the prospects appear more gloomy than the others, though, with a buoyant Cameroon to come and high expectations to meet.

Attendances were not expected to be big at the African Cup, they never really are, but they would likely drop away sharply if the host was eliminated early.

Also, the team’s early elimination might refocus minds in Gabon on the hundreds of millions of dollars spent to pay for this tournament, the second time it has been in this central Africa nation in the space of five years. At the same time as the cash is splurged on more new soccer stadiums, many of Gabon’s people are struggling in dire poverty.

Dissatisfaction emerged in last August’s elections, won by a razor-thin margin by incumbent President Ali Bongo Ondimba and denounced as fraudulous by opposition leader Jean Ping. Clashes and deaths on the streets followed.

The African Cup only seems to underline the gulf in Gabonese society, with the Libreville streets now an endless convoy of VIPs in blacked-out SUVs forcing ordinary Gabonese, under threat from soldiers, to scatter out the way or face serious consequences.

Seeking a morale-boosting first win for the fans, Aubameyang earned and converted a penalty in the 38th minute for Gabon after Burkina Faso led with Prejuce Nakoulma’s breakaway goal in the 23rd. But Gabon couldn’t go on to win despite having the better chances in the second half.

After drilling his spot-kick into the bottom left corner, Aubameyang ran and collected the ball, then pumped his arms up and down to get the home crowd and his teammates going. It didn’t have the desired effect and at times the fans turned on their team, showing their frustration with whistles and groans.


Follow Gerald Imray on Twitter at https://twitter.com/GeraldImrayAP

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