|The referee from the Ivory Coast disallowed an early Equatorial Guinea goal for offside [EPA]|
Former Real Madrid striker Javier Balboa scored with only minutes left on the clock to give co-hosts Equatorial Guinea a 1-0 win over Libya on Saturday and a million-dollar bonus as the Africa Cup of Nations began.
He struck three minutes from time in a Group A clash at a packed Estadio De Bata by racing down the middle and clinically finishing a superb Daniel Ekedo pass with a shot over goalkeeper Samir Aboud.
The Equatoguineans, hosts of the biennial African football showcase with neighbours Gabon, were promised the cash by a son of state president plus $20,000 for each goal they scored.
“We played a good match. We hadn’t trained a lot together but nevertheless we still won,” said Equatorial Guinea’s Brazilian coach Gilson Paulao.
“Nothing is decided as far as qualifying for the next round is concerned. This is not the end of our story”
Libya coach Marcos Paqueta
“The team made the most of the tactics. But despite the win, we were still short in some areas and we have to work on that.”
It was a sad start for Libya, who risked their lives to qualify as civil war raged in the north African country, but they only sprang to life after falling behind and Jamal Mohamed was deprived of an equaliser by a superb Danilo save.
Libya coach Marcos Paqueta said he was proud of his team who had struggled to prepare properly as their country descended into war last year.
“Nothing is decided as far as qualifying for the next round is concerned. This is not the end of our story,” he said.
There was drama before the kick-off with furious Libyan officials forcing organisers CAF to remove a Moamer Kadhafi-era green national flag from the tournament website and replace it with the new black, red and green colours.
Libya included former anti-Kadhafi rebel Walid El Khatroushi in midfield and the team was captained by 39-year-old Aboud, voted the best goalkeeper on the continent last year.
Equatorial Guinea coach Gilson Paulao from Brazil, who replaced Frenchman Henri Michel just 16 days before the kick-off, chose six natives of Spain plus naturalised players from Ivory Coast, Brazil, Cameroon and Liberia.
The opening half was full of drama with Equatoguineans coming close to scoring three times against opponents vulnerable on the right side of defence.
Ivan Bolado could not control the ball inside the six-yard box with the north Africans in disarray, Aboud spilled a Balbao shot that was wildly cleared and the home side had a 16th-minute goal disallowed for offside.
The referee’s decision spared the blushes of Aboud, who had allowed a Bolado shot slip between his legs and over the line seconds after a drive from stand-in captain Juvenal Edjogo rebounded off a post.
The pace slackened after half-time with the home team not threatening Aboud until midway through the half when Lawrence Doe had a free kick parried to safety just after the impressive El Khatroushi retired injured.