THE support of Gabon’s national team on the streets of the capital city feels more like a thing that they ought to do, like paying your taxes, instead of something that they enjoy doing. There are the predictable small flags on most of the cars, bigger ones on the walls and buildings, while the face of Samba – the mascot, a black panther – is all over this city.
The support seems forced rather than something that comes naturally. That’s how Gabon played in their opening match of the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) against debutants Guinea-Bissau. Their game plan felt forced, without much creativity but constantly looking for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang,
who was tightly marked. When they ditched the “pass to Aubameyang” strategy, they looked lively on the wings.
Spanish coach Jose Antonio Camacho will look to build on that tomorrow (6pm) at Stade de l’Amitie when the hosts take on Burkina Faso in the second round of Group A matches.
A win there will see Gabon put one foot into the quarterfinals after the first two matches ended in 1-1 draws which sees the four nations equal on everything.
But Gabon aren’t equal with the Stallions in everything. Despite boasting the deadly Aubameyang up front and the experienced Didier Ovono in goal, Gabon’s squad can’t match that of Burkina Faso pound-for-pound.
Then there is Paulo Duarte, who will be sitting on the Stallions’ bench. The Portuguese coach knows Gabon well, having spent 18 months managing the Panthers in between his two stints with the Burkina Faso.
Duarte was fired for failing to take Gabon to the 2014 Fifa World Cup, ironically finishing behind Burkina Faso and Congo in the qualifying group. The outspoken coach will look to deny Gabon passage to the last eight with victory tomorrow in a group where the Stallions and Cameroon are now favourites to go through.
“We have a good group of players and there is a good balance of the team,” Duarte said. “The only thing that I need to do is do the job with the players that I have. If our wingers worked well, we could have won against Cameroon. That’s an aspect of our game that we need to work on. We have many players injured. Burkina Faso has another problem in the sense that we don’t have players who are playing in big leagues in Europe. We have to manage with the least players that we have.”
The Panthers need a win to not only keep their Afcon dreams alive but also to lift the subdued atmosphere in the capital. It’s mostly foreign fans, from Senegal and Cameroon, who are excited about this tournament on the streets. But if Gabon can register a convincing win, they can win over their fans to back them before they take on the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon in their last Group A match on Sunday. If the hosts get a positive result, the fans will support them out of love rather than duty.