Congo deny Equatorial Guinea as Africa Cup of Nations kicks offs

    Story highlights

    • The 30th edition of the Africa Cup of Nations kicks off
    • Hosts Equatorial Guinea are held to a draw by Congo Brazzaville
    • The tournament is being played against a backdrop of controversy

    (CNN)The Africa Cup of Nations kicked off in style Saturday despite a build up hampered by Ebola fears and an enforced relocation.

    It was almost a million dollar start for new hosts Equatorial Guinea -- almost but not quite.
      The squad had shared a seven-figure bonus after winning their first game of the tournament three years ago, but Congo Brazzaville put paid to any hopes of a windfall this time around.
      A late equalizer from Thievy Bifouma canceled out captain Emilio Nsue Lopez's opening goal for the hosts.
      Bifouma, who plays his club football in Spain with UD Almeria, put the ball through goalkeeper Felipe Ovono's legs in the 87th minute to earn Congo a share of the points.
      The Group A match was played in front of a sell-out crowd of 35,000 fans, which included Equatorial Guinea president Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo.
      In the group's later game, Burkina Faso were defeated 2-0 by Gabon.
      The exciting curtain raiser was just the tonic for the 30th edition of the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON), which is being staged against a backdrop of off-field controversy.
      In November, Morocco pulled out as hosts citing fears about the spread of the Ebola epidemic.
      Many footballers, who are representing their countries at AFCON, are determined to put on a united show of solidarity in the fight against the deadly illness.
      The Confederation of African Football banned Morocco from the entering the prestigious event and turned to Equatorial Guinea.
      The tiny, oil rich nation in Central Africa co-hosted AFCON in 2012 with Gabon, which meant it had the facilities in place to handle its short notice call up.
      But choosing Equatorial Guinea as host for one of the world's most important football tournaments was not without its problems.
      "For CAF to give the tournament to Equatorial Guinea was a controversial decision," former professional footballer Lutz Pfannenstiel told CNN.
      "Western officials cite Equatorial Guinea as an example of a resource rich country that is plagued by kleptocracy problems."
      Equatorial Guinea, a country of just 780,000 inhabitants, is known for its extremes of wealth and poverty.
      It may be the third largest oil producer in sub-Saharan Africa and have a GDP to rival many a western nation but more than three-quarters of Equatoguineans live in poverty, says the World Bank.
      Human rights groups also describe the nation as "one of the world's most repressive societies."
      For the 16 teams competing for the AFCON crown, it is hoped the old adage "football is the real winner" will once again ring true at the end of the three week competition.