Claude Mbourounot's side survived a shaky start to hold Pierluigi Tami's Swiss to a draw after Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang cancelled out Admir Mehmedi's early opener
Switzerland took the lead inside five minutes when Admir Mehmedi converted a penalty won by Innocent Emeghara, but the goalscorer missed an excellent chance to extend the lead after 20 minutes.
Gabon however improved after a poor start as Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang became a clear threat, equalising just before half-time after good work from Alexander N’Doumbou.
The second half saw the Swiss reduced to 10 men as Oliver Buff received a second yellow card for diving, but the European side managed to hold on for a point and remain level with their Group B opponents.
Switzerland had opened much the stronger of the two, and after just two minutes the Nati flooded down the left side of the pitch and combined to thread a ball from the the left wing to Emeghara who was clumsily fouled by Henri Ndong as he ran on to the pass.
Mehmedi stepped up to take the penalty and placed it into the net to the diving keeper Didier Ovono’s right, only for the referee to disallow the kick and order a retake. The Dynamo Kiev striker retained his composure to give his side the lead after just five minutes.
Gabon looked to get the ball forward quickly to their pacey forwards but were unable to maintain possession as Switzerland continued to dominate possession at the start of the first half and showcased their fluid attack.
Ricardo Rodriguez got forward well from left-back and exchanged passes with Mehmedi to put the forward through down the left channel, but the striker's low cross was left unclaimed as it rolled across the box.
After 20 minutes Mehmedi missed a glaring chance as he combined well on the left side of the box with Emeghara to release forward Steven Zuber into space, but was then unable to turn the return pass towards goal.
The Panthers then began to grow into the game, and soon after the reprieve, Aubameyang received the ball down the left channel and fired from an acute angle towards Diego Benaglio who could not contain the shot, but his teammate Jerry Obiang was unable to follow up the effort and struck the bar.
The CAF under-23 champions became increasingly confident, and shortly after the half hour mark Swiss defensive midfielder Oliver Buff let his frustration show as he received a yellow card for a foul on Levy Madinda.
The Panthers' Saint-Etienne forward then had two opportunities when Swiss centre back pair Fabian Schar and Timm Klose failed to deal with through balls. The first span away from him as he tried to control a through-ball deflected off Schar, while Benaglio managed to thwart his effort to round the keeper down the right channel minutes later.
Aubameyang finally capitalised on his side’s renewed confidence just before half time after receiving a looping, deflected cross from the impressive N’Doumbou, who had cut inside from the left wing. The 23-year-old controlled the ball and then calmly slotted the ball into the left corner to put his team level at the break.
The second half got off to an exciting start after Aubameyang called offside within two minutes of the restart, while Zuber and Ahmedi each took shots but missed the target.
Swiss manager Pierluigi Tami made the first change and brought on midfielder Pajtim Kasami for Zuber, and the Fulham midfielder forced a save from Ovono within a minute of coming on with a powerful shot from outside the left edge of the box.
Gabon manager Claude Mbourounot in turn put fresh legs in attack with Axel Meye on for Allen Nono, and as the match progressed Fabien Frei shot narrowly wide after good approach play, and N’Doumbou received curled wide of the right post after receiving the ball on the left side of the box in space and cutting inside onto his right foot.
The match changed sharply after 78 minutes however, as Buff received his second yellow card for diving while attempting to win a penalty from Henri Ndong after running onto a through ball.
The African side looked to capitalise on their advantage before Swiss coach Tami reacted by putting defensive midfielder Amir Abrashi on for forward Emeghara.
Despite a tense finish, the Swiss managed to hold on for draw, to keep all Group B sides level going into the second round.