Florent Ibenge, the DR Congo coach kick started his campaign byleading Les Leopards to a 1-0 win over Morocco, coached by 2015 African Cup of Nations winner Herve Renard on Monday night in Gabon.
Ibenge led the Congolese to the African Nations Championship (CHAN) title in Rwanda last year and picked three vital points in his first match on a much bigger stage.
DR Congo were reduced to 10 men with eight minutes remaining after left back Joyce Lomalisa who had come on as a substitute was shown a second yellow card.
It was a disappointing evening for the CHAN winner as he picked his first yellow for time wasting and a second for a needless, reckless challenge.
Ibenge endured a frustrating final bend to the match with his captain Gabriel Zakuani limping off injured after they had exhausted their quota of substitutes.
The Northampton FC defender hobbled back onto the pitch after his side sustained pressure with nine men for close to four minutes.
Congo struck against the run of play in the 55th minute after a goalkeeping error.
Morocco had a tactical plan for the match, choosing to remain compact and read out the Congolese style of play. They should have been ahead as early as the second minute but midfielder M'bark Boussoufa saw his effort rattle the crossbar with goalkeeper Ley Matampi left rooted to his spot.
The Congolese who finished third at the last tournament were subdued and their closest chances came from Cedric Bakambu whose shot was well handled by the Moroccan keeper while Chancel Mbemba’s went wide.
In the second half, Congo started more on the front foot and were rewarded when Junior Kabananga pounced on a goalkeeping error to volley home from the edge of the six yard box.
Renard, who won the title with Zambia in Gabon in 2012 cut a frustrated figure on the touchline as he urged his Atlas Lions forward.
They kept dumping balls inside the Congolese area, but were unsuccessful against a solid DRC defense. The closest they came was in the dying minutes when Matampi pulled off a great save to deny Youssef El Arabi from a point blank header.
In an earlier kick off in Oyem, reigning champions Ivory Coast who were Renard’s employers during the last edition in 2015 failed to sparkle after being held to a dull draw by Togo.
Michael Dussuyer, the Ivory Coast tactician who succeeded Renard after his 2015 win was disappointed with the result and hopes his side can recover in the remaining two group matches.
“There are still two matches left. We expect more from ourselves. We did not manage to put intensity into our game. We played at 1700 local time and it was very hot. We did not know how to destabilize Togo. In the end, it was a pale copy of what we can do. We are all aware of this, me more so than anyone,” Dussuyer said in the post-match press conference.
Aston Villa forward Jonathan Kodija had the game’s earliest chance but could not connect to a well worked out cross by Solomon Kalou. Crystal Palace winger Wilfried Zaha was making his competitive debut for the Elephants having committed his international future to the country of his birth.
Zaha had an option to represent England having played for them in the junior levels, but chose the Ivorian way. He was a constant threat for the defending champions and he came close with a well worked out shot from inside the box which went over.
As the game wore on, Dussuyer sought to change his tact and pulled out the debutant Zaha for Stoke City forward Wilfried Bony to spice up the attack.
Not even the introduction of the forward could spark a goal for the holders as Togo, coached by the ‘African witch doctor’ Claude Le Roy tactically held on for the point.