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Francois Mori, Associated Press
Cameroonian soccer striker Samuel Eto'o smile as he attends a press conference for the CAN SANS SIDA foundation of Gabon First Lady Sylivia Bongo Oudimba prior to the African Cup of Nations Group C soccer match at Stade De L'Amitie Stadium in Libreville, Gabon, Monday, Jan. 23, 2012. The CAN SANS SIDA 3-0 foundation means "CAN Without AIDS, Zero Transmission, Zero Death, Zero Discrimination".

LIBREVILLE, Gabon — Samuel Eto'o helped Gabon open its half of the African Cup of Nations on Monday as thousands of red and white balloons were released over the new Stade de l'Amitie after a countdown from the Cameroon striker.

Eto'o stood next to Gabon's first lady, Sylvia Bongo, in a brief ceremony ahead of the first matches in the country.

Gabon's "Panthers" play Niger in the first Group C game at the Libreville stadium. Morocco and Tunisia meet in a North African derby afterward.

Earlier, Eto'o was seen smiling and waving to the crowd from a VIP section in the 40,000-seat stadium alongside Gabon's football-mad president Ali Bongo.

African football confederation President Issa Hayatou shook hands with the Gabon and Niger players before kickoff.

Eto'o's Cameroon did not qualify for the tournament.