DR Congo beat 10-man Mauritania 1-0 in a scrappy Group D opener in Polokwane.
The 2009 champions failed to stamp their authority in poor first half that only came to life after the half hour mark.
DR Congo had a chance to take the lead from the penalty spot denied by referee Mohamed Benouza after Cedric Mavuangaâ€™s cross was handled in the box in the 20th minute.
Shortly thereafter, coach Santos Mutubile was sent-off for protesting the decision.
Four minutes later, Mauritania striker Ely Voullany too had a fine chance to put his side in the lead against the run of play but was unfortunate to see his Â 24th minute shot from the edge of the area Â fly over the horizontal.
Mauritania then had the post to thank in the 38th minute when DR Congo midfielder Guy Lusadisu thumped the ball onto the woodwork.
The debutants too were unlucky not to have taken the lead with a late chance in the 42nd minute of the first half when Voullanyâ€™s shot was cleared off the line by Jean Kasusula.
Relief for DR Congo came in the 49th minute when Mauritania defender Mohamed Wade brought down midfielder Firmin Mubele in the area and Benouza pointed to the spot.
Eddy Emomo then sent Mauritania goalkeeper Brahim Souleymane the wrong way to earn the three points for DR Congo.
However, Mauritania went on to suffer a further setback in the 75th minute when Captain Moussa Baghayoko was sent off for crude two-footed tackle on defender Eric Nkulukuta.
Congo, on three points, now turn their attention to Gabon onÂ January 18Â at the same venue while Mauritania face-off against fellow debutants Burundi in the late kickoff on the same date.