13 January 2017

Gabon/Guinea Bissau: Afcon Hosts Face 'Wild Dogs' With a Lot to Prove

Photo: Sunderland AFC
Sunderland midfielder Didier Ndong could help Gabon to a title.

The weight of expectation will weigh heavy on hosts Gabon as they open their 2017 African Nations Cup Group A campaign against minnows Guinea-Bissau at the Stade de l'Amitié in Libreville on Saturday (16h00 GMT).

Gabon's passionate fans will expect at least a quarterfinal place this year on home soil and with much tougher, on paper at least, tasks ahead against Cameroon and Burkina Faso, this is a must-win for Les Panthères.

But Guinea-Bissau have shown in the last 12 months or so that they are no pushovers and their qualification for the finals no fluke either with a host of new names cherry-picked from the leagues of Europe.

Gabon only appointed Spanish coach José Antonio Camacho some 43 days before the start of the tournament in what has been a typically chaotic build-up, not made any easier by the volatile political scene in the country.

Many of their hopes rest on the shoulders of captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who is in the form of his life for German Bundesliga side Borussia Dortmund.

"He's the best player in Africa and one of the best in the world," Camacho told reporters. "But without the team, he can not score goals."

Veteran goalkeeper Didier Ovono, Sunderland midfielder Didier Ndong and Juventus star Mario Lemina are others who can turn the tide in their favour.

The Spanish coach is not too concerned with his limited time leading the side and says he knows how to get the best out of players at major championships. The Nations Cup, he contends, is no different to any other international tournament.

"I have experience as player and coach. I have participated in major competitions like the World Cup or the European Championship, and I have always followed the African Nations Cup," he said.

"Football is universal. Ninety-nine or even 100 percent of the players in Gabon [national side] play in Europe and worldwide. Most players of the other teams are in the same situation. This is no longer African football, it's international football."

Guinea-Bissau will be something of an unknown quantity given how their side has evolved in the past year with so many new players.

They are likely to be competitive but limited as an attacking threat and for Gabon the difficulty may come in breaking them down.

Known as 'Djurtus' [Wild Dogs], the team is made up of journeyman footballers with a lot to prove and captain Bruno Fernandes believes they can spring a surprise against Gabon.

"The pressure is really on them, so why not?" Fernandes says. "It takes the weight off our team's shoulders. If Gabon go a oal down you can only imagine the kind of game it will turn into. Everything feels possible for us right now."

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