Gabon expects its star to shine
But Aubemeyang needs more than crowd backing to lead hosts to glory
THE IMAGE of Gabon’s First Lady, Sylvia Bongo Ondimba, wearing Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s No. 9 jersey is among the iconic moments of the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) that Gabon co-hosted with Equatorial Guinea. The First Lady wildly cheered for them, next to her husband President Ali Bongo Ondimba, who hardly showed any emotion with his cold stare. She wasn’t the only one caught in the Aubameyang fever, his face was all over the country including stalls that sold underwear with “Aubameyang” written on them.
Unlike those underwear, whose job is to only protect one member, the Panthers’ biggest challenge in this tournament will be to prove they aren’t a one-man team. With a coach like Jose Antonio Camacho, who isn’t exactly the most tactically astute, that could be a problem – especially since Gabon have all to lose against a Cameroon that assembled their squad in shambles and debutants Guinea-Bissau.
The Panthers have a squad good enough to show they are more than Aubameyang, with former Al-Ahly striker Malick Evouna among those they can rely on. Whether the players will be given enough freedom to show that is another story.
But for the Indomitable Lions, it might be a blessing in disguise that they don’t have a star player who is on the level of the Borussia Dortmund forward. Germany-based Eric Choupo-Moting could have been that player but he retired from international football on the eve of this tournament. He joined seven other players – Joel Matip, Andre Onana, Guy Ndy Asembe, Allan Nyom, Maxime Poundje, Andre Zambo and Ibrahim Amadou – who snubbed the Indomitable Lions.
This will see Cameroon play more as a team with less egos. That hasn’t been the case in the past with bust-ups that caused divisions. At one point, Samuel Eto’o led a group of experienced players while Alex Song was on the side of upcoming players who felt they were looked down and mistreated by their seniors. Such incidents have hurt the once powerful nation that has gone 12 years without being Africa champions.
The Stallions of Burkina Faso and Djurtus (African wild hog) of Guinea-Bissau have never been called African champions in their history. It’s unlikely that will change in this edition. But they will look at Zambia’s unexpected 2012 success for inspiration. But the two countries will have to show grit to go far. The Stallions have the talent, experience and drive to reach the knockout stage. They will battle with Cameroon on who will join the hosts there.
Libreville, which is French for Freetown, owes it’s name to the act that took place there in 1864. A slave ship en-route to Brazil was captured in the city and those slaves were freed. In it’s current state, Libreville is one of the most affluent cities in the continent with expensive taste. It serves as Gabon’s capital. President Ali Bongo Ondimba resides there.
Stadium: Stade de l’Amitie – 40 000 capacity
Stade de l’Amitie, which translates to Friendship Stadium, is part of China’s “Stadium Policy” where China builds stadium in Africa for “free”. In return they get favours from the government. It’s commonly known as Stade d’Angondje as it shares it’s name with another Stade de l’Amitie in Benin. It hosted the final of the 2012 Afcon and will do so once again in this edition.
HOT-SHOT: Borussia Dortmund’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is expected to lead hosts Gabon’s charge for a better Afcon performance than the quarterfinal in 2012.