Gabon ex­pects its star to shine

But Aube­meyang needs more than crowd back­ing to lead hosts to glory

The Star Early Edition - - SPORT - NJAB­ULO NGIDI

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.

City: Li­bre­ville

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.

PIC­TURE: EPA

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.

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