The 2017 Africa Cup of Nations will kick-off on Saturday when the host nation Gabon take on Guinea-Bissau in a Group A match at the Stade de l’Amitié in Libreville.
The match is set to start at 18h00 (CAT).
While reports in the host nation have described the build-up to the showpiece as gloomy and tense, a positive vibe is expected to ignite once the tournament gets underway this weekend.
The Panthers will get the show underway with a clash against AFCON newbies Guinea-Bissau this weekend, with the Central African country playing host to the continental tournament for the second time in five years.
Joint hosts with Equatorial Guinea in 2012, the Gabonese reached the quarter-final stage before being eliminated via a penalty shoot-out by Mali in Libreville.
Gabon will be hoping to go all the way this time around, but will need their fellow countryman to rally behind them if they are to claim an unlikely first AFCON title.
First up is a clash against surprise package Guinea-Bissau. The former Portuguese colony on the West African coast qualified for their first ever tournament by ousting Congo, Kenya and 2012 champions Zambia in a group which they were considered as rank outsiders.
Captain Bocundji Ca revealed in an interview on a local radio station that there is no secret to the Djurtus success, with team unity vital to the country booking their ticket to Gabon.
“We attack and defend together,” said the French-based midfielder.
“I realise that sounds very basic, but our national football squad did not work as a team until recently. Teamwork has transformed us.
“Unwavering solidarity is the greatest factor in our successes and the fantastic support at the national stadium in Bissau has also proved crucial.”
A 3-2 victory over Zambia on home soil will be long remembered by all those who attended with Ca and his teammates to use the win as a morale booster for what they can go on to achieve in their first attempt.
“Why should we feel inferior to our group opponents? If Zambia were in Gabon, they probably would be rated among the title favourites,” Ca continued.
“We are determined to enjoy ourselves and the squad believes there is everything to gain and nothing to lose. Let our opponents do all the worrying.”
In charge of Gabon’s fortunes on home soil is former Spain mentor Jose Antonio Camacho, with the once Real Madrid defensive stalwart appointed as head coach of the Panthers at the start of December 2016.
Little time to settle, Camacho will be counting on the likes of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to inspire the hosts to not only topping Group A, but still being part of the tournament from a playing perspective come February 5.
Key Battle (Mario Lemina vs Bocundji Ca)
While most of the focus will be centered around the attacking threat on both ends of the park, with Aubameyang and Malick Evouna a fearsome attacking combination for the Panthers – Levadiakos duo Zezinho and Toni Silva are set to cause the hosts some problems in defence – it will be in midfield where the key battle takes place.
Juventus midfielder Mario Lemina has accumulated some valuable playing time with the Old Lady this season and sitting alongside Sunderland ace Didier Ndong in midfield – the Gabon pair will be looking to give those in front of them as much go forward ball as possible.
Key to stopping Lemina running the show will be Ca with the experienced midfielder eager to stamp his authority in middle of the park. Boasting dangerous runners in behind the defence themselves, if Ca can get the better of his opposite number; Gabon could well be in for a long night.
Head-to-head as per FIFA.com:
This will be the first official meeting between the two nations
Original post on: mtnfootball.com
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