24 January 2017

Africa: Night Gabon Joined Wrong End of History

Photo: Aminah Babirye/Daily Monitor
Gabon’s star man Aubameyang was a disconsolate figure after the hosts failed to progress on Sunday night.

In quick succession Gabonese players fell and landed on their backs, one by one; jaded and spent.

Gutted, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang trudged off, smacking away some stray ball after South African referee Daniel Frazer Bennet signalled for full time following a goalless draw with Cameroon on a warm Sunday night.

The next few minutes saw about 20,000 Gabonese fans, some of whom had started the trek moments earlier, quietly snake out of the magnificent Libreville's Stade de L'Amitie's Stadium - and out of the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations.

"We're all disappointed," said the Borussia Dortmund striker, Aubameyang, "Of course the people are disappointed but in football the players are the first to be disappointed.

"(Preparation) was complicated. We didn't start on the right date, we started later, and we didn't have time to prepare properly."

Aubameyang scored the hosts only two goals in three Group A matches, drawing with Guinea Bissau, Burkina Faso and Cameroon.

The unwanted Group

If failing to beat Cameroon, who progressed to the quarterfinals together with Burkina Faso, Gabon joined the wrong side of Afcon history.

The Panthers became the fourth hosts to fail to progress from the group stage after Tunisia in 1994, Ivory Coast in 1984 and Ethiopia in 1976.

Gabon Spanish coach Jose Antonio Camacho, who joined the Panthers ahead of this tournament, was left stone-faced, pushing aside any discussion about his future and of that of his players.

"Today we are very sad," he said, "We cannot talk about it (his and his players' future)."

The aura around Stade de L'Amitie was one of both expectation and anxiety. Gabon President Ali Bongo was in attendance, and as the stadium quickly emptied to confront the thick traffic jam, he was flying away in his helicopter.

With a few hours to the game, it had seemed like all Gabonese wanted to save them from the pressure was for the match to start. "Too much," said one volunteer, "...the pressure. We want to get started and get done with it."

The air of anxiety was first broken when both captains, Aubameyang of Gabon and Benjamin Moukandjo, had their faces flashed on the stadium giant screens. A mixture of boos and cheers filled the air, with Aubameyang cheers taking the day.

Not that the Borussia Dortmund man had a memorable day! But to be fair to him, he was starved of service. And when Gabon got a chance to win it late, Denis Bouanga's strike in the final seconds crashed back off the post. Cameroon keeper Fabrice Ondoa was on hand to tip away Didier N'Dong's rebound and agonisingly end the hosts run.

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