Port Elizabeth – Ghana and DR Congo more than made up for a goalless first day of the African Cup of Nations with a thrilling 2-2 draw in their Group B opener in Port Elizabeth.
Four-times winners Ghana scored either side of half time to move into a 2-0 lead through Italy-based midfielders Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu and Kwadwo Asamoah.
But Claude LeRoyâ€™s DR Congo â€“ who almost did not play after threatening strike action against a federation which has failed to pay staff expenses â€“ had been more than a match for the Black Stars, and they deservedly levelled through star players Tresor Mputu and Dieumerci Mbokani.
Both sides could have won it late on but a draw was a deserved result, and one which makes for an interesting group that also features restive neighbors Mali and Niger, who play later on Sunday.
There was widespread disappointment when Saturday’s first two matches of these finals both ended goalless, particularly given African football’s reputation for joyous attacking play.
But there was little doubt that one of these two sides would find the net, particularly given the attack-minded formations on show.
With Ghana missing the Ayew brothers and Michael Essien, DR Congo looked the better side in the first half as Lomana LuaLua hit the crossbar, Mputu put over from a good position, and LuaLua again had an effort deflected wide.
But the Black Stars were an occasional threat on the break, Asamoah Gyan putting one gilt-edged opportunity wide after Derek Boateng put him clean through, so when they did score it was not surprising even if against the run of play.
It was a fine strike too. After a cool one-two with Gyan, Juventus midfielder Asamoah – playing at left-back – picked out his former Udinese team-mate Agyemang-Badu for a simple finish.
Ghana had not played as well as in comfortable pre-tournament friendly wins over Egypt and Tunisia, and DR Congo started the second half well enough as they hemmed the Black Stars back.
However, hopes of a comeback appeared to have been put to bed as Asamoah exploited some slack marking to head Mubarak Wakasoâ€™s corner into the roof of the net four minutes into the second half.
The Congolese would not be cowed though and they hit back immediately, and it some style too as Mputu clipped home a cool finish with the outside of his right boot after a delightful through-ball by Dieumerci Mbokani.
It was Mputuâ€™s 14th goal for DR Congo, the 27-year-old choosing to spend his whole career thus far with local club TP Mazembe, despite consistently good performances at the Afcon.
The match had opened up now and Ghana could have extended their lead when a surging John Pantsil run opened up the Congo defence, but Mpeko Issama put in a vital block with his chest.
Ghana sub Mohamed Rabiu then forced a decent save from eccentric Congo keeper Muteba Kidiaba, and seconds later Claude LeRoyâ€™s side were right back in it as defender Jerry Akaminko hauled down Mbokani in the penalty area.
It was a clumsy foul after the Anderlecht striker left him for dead with a smart turn, and Mbokani completed the comeback with a cool finish from the spot.
Ghana had all-but thrown the match away and they responded by piling on the pressure, Kidiaba making a series of saves as high balls and long shots rained into the Congo box.
Both keepers made important late saves, Kidiaba twice denying the profligate Gyan and Fatawu Dauda doing very well to keep out a low finish from West Bromâ€™s Youssouf Mulumbu.
But defeat would have been harsh on both sides, with Mali facing neighbours Niger later on Sunday in a local derby that could see one of the Saharan nations go top of the group.
1-0 40′ E. Agyemang-Badu (assist K. Asamoah)
2-0 49′ K. Asamoah (assist Wakaso)
2-1 53′ M. Mputu
2-2 69′ D. Mbokani (PG)
Ghana: 16-Fatau Dauda; 4-John Pantsil, 13-Jerry Akaminko, 21-John Boye, 20-Kwadwo Asamoah; 8-Emmanuel Agyemang Badu, 9-Derek Boateng(73′ A Annan), 10-Albert Adomah (82′ H Afful), 7-Christian Atsu(56′ M Rabiu); 22-Mubarak Wakaso, 3-Asamoah Gyan
DR Congo: 1-Robert Kidiaba; 2-Mpeko Issama, 5-Larrys Mabiala, 17-Cedric Mongongu (21-Gabriel Zakuani 74), 3-Jean Kasusula; 18-Cedric Makiadi, 7-Youssouf Mulumbu, 4-Patou Kabangu (13-Alain Kaluyituka 68), 8-Tresor Mputu; 9-Dieumerci Mbokani, 15-Lomana Lua Lua (11-Deo Kanda 65)