Former African best footballer, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, carries a huge burden of expectation as he leads Gabon to play Guinea-Bissau at the Stade De L’Amitié Sino in Libreville tomorrow afternoon in the opening fixture of the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations tournament.
Opening matches have never been easy for host teams who are always under pressure to get their campaign off to a flying start. And tomorrow’s clash with the Nations Cup debutantes will not be a walk in the park for the Gabonese who start as favourites.
However, for Ghana’s Black Stars, this month’s tourney will be another campaign to end a 35-year drought, as well as overcome the heartache of losing three finals in succession, including the last tournament in Equatorial Guinea where they lost to Cote d’Ivoire via penalty shootout.
Guinea-Bissau, who booked their ticket as surprise group winners from a pool which included Congo and 2012 winners Zambia, will certainly enjoy their long-awaited moment in the sun, but are hardly expected to emulate South Africa’s record in 1996 as the first timers to win the flagship competition.
Later tomorrow evening, four-time champions Cameroun take on Burkina Faso, runners-up in 2013, in another Group A encounter in Libreville.
Ghana’s quest for a fifth AFCON title begins on Tuesday as Asamoah Gyan and his talented teammates face a big test against Uganda, who return to the Nations Cup after 39 years in the wilderness.
The Cranes held the Ghanaians to a goalless draw in a World Cup group qualifier at the Tamale stadium three months ago, but Tuesday’s clash in Port Gentil will be played with a spirit of vengeance by Avram Grant’s charges who are expected to qualify from Group D which includes Mali and seven-time winners, Egypt.
Gyan is playing his sixth and, probably, last Nations Cup tourney and will be hoping to bow out to the loudest cheer after captaining the team to lose the final in 2010 and 2015.
The January 14 to February 5 tournament will feature the continent’s leading players such as reigning African Footballer of the Year, Riyad Mahrez of English Premiership champions, Leicester City, who will be expected to put up an inspired performance for Algeria, champions in 1990; Senegal and Liverpool striker Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah of Egypt and Ghana’s Andre Ayew who competes in his fifth AFCON since making his debut in 2008.
It will also be a record-breaking tournament for French tactician and Togo coach, Claude Le Roy, who will be participating in the AFCON for the ninth time with six different countries, having handled Cameroun (1986 & 1988), Senegal (1990 & 1992), DR Congo (2006 & 2013), Ghana (2008) and Congo (2015).