Gabon outclass Niger
Pierre Emerick Aubameyang (File)
Libreville - Gabon galloped to a 2-0 win over outclassed debutants Niger here on Monday to get their Africa Cup of Nations campaign off to the ideal start.
The 2012 co-hosts took a potentially major step towards a quarter-final berth with first half headers from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Stephane Nguema.
The venue for Monday's Group C double header, Morocco faced Tunisia later, was the brand new L'Amitie stadium.
The 40 000-seater ground was hastily built by the Chinese as 'plan B' after work on restoring Gabon's national stadium, originally intended as the venue for Cup games in Libreville, began too late.
Gabon coach Gernot Rohr elected to start with former captain Daniel Cousin, returning after a lengthy lay-off, on the bench with his attack led instead by French-based duo Aubameyang and Eric Mouloungui.
Gabon, who beat Cameroon in their opening game in 2010 but failed to make the last eight, were quick out of the blocks, winning three corners with the sound of the starting whistle still hanging in the hot and humid equatorial air.
Niger's defence was at sixes and sevens in the face of the onslaught, keeper Kassaly Daouda the busiest man on the field.
Niger, experiencing a baptism of fire on their Cup debut, were having trouble getting a slice of the action, their frustration boiling over in the 22nd minute when Issoufou Alhassane Dante sliced down Charly Moussono, earning him a booking.
Gabon got just reward for their dominance in the 30th minute when the omnipresent Aubameyang rose to head home at a tight angle Nguema's cross from the right wing.
Niger coach Harouna Doula made what looked like a tactical substitution when replacing striker Dante with midfielder Yacouba Ali, but on the stroke of half-time Gabon had doubled their advantage.
Nguema was the man responsible, heading in from close range after Daouda had been unable to hold on to Aubameyang's own header.
Gabon's No 1 fan, President Ali Bongo and his First lady sporting the country's yellow shirt, joined the rest of the crowd in leaping ecstatically out of their seats.
The tempo inevitably descended a few notches after the restart, as conditions began to take their toll, the play becoming disjointed as Gabon took up almost permanent resident right's in Niger's half.
Niger's sole chance came in the final ten minutes when Ouwo Moussa Maazou headed low into Gabon skipper and keeper Didier Ovono's hands.