Thievy Bifouma scored late on for Congo to deny hosts Equatorial Guinea victory in the opening match of the Africa Cup of Nations at a packed Bata Stadium.
Middlesbrough’s Emilio Nsue poked the hosts in front on 16 minutes, despite appearing to be offside.
Francis N’Ganga hit a post as Congo came on strong in the closing stages before former West Brom forward Thievy Bifouma equalised from inside the area.
Congo should have won it but Dominique Malonga of Hibs missed from six yards.
It was an exciting start to a tournament that has been surrounded by concerns about Equatorial Guinea’s readiness to host. The Central African country took on the challenge only in November after Morocco’s plea to postpone the event because of their fears about Ebola was rejected by the Confederation of African Football.
But a decent opening from the home team, and a capacity crowd in Bata, might at least begin to take the focus away from the ongoing problems around facilities and accommodation.
The party atmosphere would nevertheless have been soured had Congo scored a late winner as the host team faded, the lack of football evident in the tired legs of a side that had not qualified for the tournament but were added as hosts.
The National Thunder had begun the game well, making light of their status as the lowest-ranked team in the event at 118th in Fifa’s rankings.
With the first clear chance of the game, they took the lead. Nsue latched on to a ball in the are from Kike and poked the ball through the legs of keeper Henri Maffoumbi for his first international goal – though replays showed he was offside.
Congo responded well and Marvin Baudry had a chance to level but sent his back-post header wide with the keeper stranded.
With possession being squandered by both sides, there were few clear-cut openings in the first half. The hosts’ Iban Edu tried an opportunistic lob from just over half-way, while Congo were guilty of some weak shooting.
After the break, Edu appeared to be fortunate to get away with catching Cesaire Gandze in the face with an elbow.
But if that decision went for the home side, they were soon rueing the referee’s judgment when he disallowed Nsue’s delightful long-range lob, this time ruling the player to be offside when he appeared to be onside.
Earlier, Congo substitute Ladislas Douniama almost made an instant impact but the player’s curling effort was superbly saved by goalkeeper Felipe Ovono.
As the game entered the final 10 minutes, Congo picked up the pace and almost levelled when a whipped set-piece from N’Ganga struck the upright.
The pressure told with three minutes left when Bifouma slotted a finish under Ovono after being played in by Malonga.
There was still time for Bifouma to return the favour but Ovono was unable to apply the same finish, failing to convert from six yards.