Malabo: Goals and fans were thin on the ground at the Nations Cup as Ghana and Mali kicked off their campaigns with single-goal wins in a depressingly empty stadium in Franceville.
Captain John Mensah scored but was sent off for Ghana, beaten finalists two years ago, as the World Cup quarter-finalists laboured to a 1-0 win over debutants Botswana deep in Gabon`s forested interior.
A long-range effort from Bakaye Traore gave Mali the points against neighbours Guinea in a duel of two French coaches.
The rows of empty seats have been a recurring feature at the 16-team tournament being co-hosted by Gabon and Equatorial Guinea.
So far, neither country seems to have got excited about the competition which is missing Nigeria, Cameroon and defending champions Egypt after they all failed to qualify.
In Equatorial Guinea`s island capital Malabo, there is barely a hint that the tournament is taking place except when one of the team`s buses travels through the streets accompanied by a huge convoy of police vehicles with wailing sirens.
Similarly, Gabon`s 2-0 win over Niger on Monday failed to inspire the street invasions by enthusiastic residents that have frequently characterised their home wins in other major footballing competitions.
Apart from a few billboards and advertisements directly relating to the tournament, there is little evidence to suggest Gabon is hosting Africa`s showpiece sporting event.
Four-times winners Ghana went ahead when Mensah, who has played just one league game since returning to Olympique Lyon in France this season, bundled home the ball from close range following a corner after 25 minutes.
Mensah then received the first red card of the tournament in the 66th minute when he knocked over Botswana striker Jerome Ramatlhakwana in a chase for the ball on the counter attack.
Botswana, one of several surprise qualifiers alongside Niger and Sudan, could have equalised but Moemedi Moatlhaping`s header was spectacularly hooked off the line by John Paintsil
In the second game of the double bill, Guinea, coached by Michael Dussuyer, created numerous chances against Alain Giresse`s side but lost out to a strike from French-born midfielder Traore.
The 29th-minute goal came after a strong run from Modibo Maiga who cut the ball back for Traore to blast home as Seydou Keita scampered out of the way.
Substitute Ousmane Barry missed a header in front of goal and former captain Pascal Feindouno twice shot narrowly wide as Guinea dominated the second half.
Stalwart midfielder Feindouno was one of six players signed by Sion during the European summer when the Swiss club was subject to a FIFA transfer ban.
FIFA at one stage threatened to suspend the Swiss FA after Sion defied the ban and took their case to a civil court.
Senegal, who went down to a shock 2-1 defeat to Zambia in their opener on Saturday, face a decisive game against Equatorial Guinea, who stunned Libya 1-0 in the opening game, in Bata on Wednesday.
Zambia play Libya in the other match.