AFCON 2021: Gabon – Team guide, key players and full fixtures

All you need to know about the Panthers of Gabon ahead of AFCON 2021.

AFCON 2021: Gabon – Team guide, key players and full fixturesGAbon Afcon team guide

If there is a handbook on how not to approach a major tournament, Gabon wrote it this year. Which is a shame because, for quite a few of this generation, this could be their Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) swansong.

The Panthers’ build-up has been beset with issues, ranging from the mundane (monetary obligations) to the critical (a number of key players have tested positive for COVID upon arrival in Cameroon). Their qualifying campaign was considerably less complicated, as they edged out DR Congo with a game to spare in Group D. It was just as well they made the most of their home matches (played three, won three); their away record was almost non-existent, as they not only failed to win on the road, they also only scored once. Gabon won three of their eight matches in 2021, waking up far too late in World Cup qualifying to pose a threat to Egypt.

Gabon are ranked 19th in Africa and 89th in the world according to the latest FIFA rankings released in December 2021.

Gabon’s strongest performance at AFCON came when they hosted the tournament in 2012. They matched their quarter-final finish from their second appearance in 1996, but crucially they won three of four on home soil and were eliminated without tasting defeat in normal or extra time. Aside from those two memorable runs, their four other qualifications have ended in Group Stage exits.

Patrice Neveu is one of the final remnants of that continental trope: the sexagenarian French manager who seems to have spent his entire coaching career bouncing around different African and Asian nations. He has been in the Gabon post since replacing legend Daniel Cousin, who failed to qualify the Panthers for AFCON, in 2019.

Tactically, he lines Gabon up in a 4-4-2, often doubling up with two left-backs on the left side just to balance out the attacking right flank, and with a very flat defensive line that can sometimes be caught out by diagonal runs in behind.

Pierre Emerick Aubameyang has become the latest player to fall foul of the manager’s non-negotiables at Arsenal, and is on the outs. A lot rides on his frame of mind: if he treats this as a shop window, he certainly has the ability still to be the object of terror inside the box that he has been for most of his career.

Internationally, he has tended to get outshone by Saint Etienne winger Denis Bouanga, who has great flair and a strong eye for goal. At the back, Bruno Ecuele Manga remains as influential as ever into his dotage, and will need to mind the shop attentively if Gabon are to not embarrass themselves.

Ulrick Eneme-Ella is part of the Brighton youth system, and is highly thought of. At the moment, he is better known for an inopportune moment caught on video when he was part of the France youth system, but he could well be rubbing defenders up the wrong way in Cameroon. It would be a useful glimpse of the future for a largely ageing squad.

Jean-Noel Amonome; Lloyd Palun, Bruno Ecuele Manga, Sidney Obissa, Johann Obiang; Denis Bouanga, Andre Biyogo Poko, Guelor Kanga, David Sambissa; Pierre Emerick Aubameyang, Aaron Boupendza.

There was at a time some potential of Gabon upsetting a still unformed Ghana side and pinching second spot, but as it stands it is the Panthers who may be prey in this group. With so many distractions swirling around, expect a forgettable Group Stage exit here.

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