Gabon vs Congo | Wednesday 21 January | Bata | 21:00
Group A leaders Gabon will face Congo next and are priced up as favourites to maintain top spot against their opponents, who need a victory after drawing their opener with the hosts. Gabon came out 2-0 victors over Burkina Faso in their opening game, exhibiting exceptional attacking play while relying on their quality goalkeeper Didier Ovono to keep out the Stallions.
To Win (90mins)
Borussia Dortmund striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang opened the scoring against Burkina Faso just before the break with a finish into the roof of the net after the goalkeeper rebounded his first effort. Burkina Faso were dangerous throughout, but Malick Evouna sealed the win with a 72nd-minute header. The match will be remembered for the heroics of Gabon keeper Ovono who stood tall against Burkina Faso's feared attacking players and was rewarded with the Man of the Match award. Ovono played in France for several years but now plies his trade at KV Oostende in Belgium. Aubameyang proved to be Burkina Faso’s nightmare as he also netted a brace against them during qualifying for the tournament. Although his club Dortmund have struggled in the Bundesliga this season, Aubameyang has still maintained a good scoring record with eleven goals in all competitions. In their last AFCON appearance in 2012, Gabon co-hosted the tournament with Equatorial Guinea and reached the quarter-finals, their best performance. After some inconsistent results, Portuguese manager Jorge Costa took over the team last July and has done well, qualifying Gabon for the Nations Cup by going unbeaten in their six qualifying games. The Panthers play with an attacking 4-3-3 formation with Bordeaux’s Andre Biyogo-Poko anchoring the midfield and relying on the pace of wingers Aubameyang and Charlton Athletic’s Frederic Bulot.
Thievy Bifouma scored late on for Congo to deny hosts Equatorial Guinea victory in the opening match of the AFCON at a packed Bata Stadium. Congo could have gone on to win the match but Hibernian’s Dominique Malonga missed from six yards. Bifouma proved Congo’s most important player in qualifying and the Almeria striker will be looking to continue his goalscoring form against the group leaders. Congo are lucky to be at this year’s showpiece as they were originally defeated by Rwanda in the play-off phase of qualifying, losing in a penalty shootout after winning 2-0 at home and losing 2-0 away. Rwanda were later disqualified after fielding a player with two identities and Congo took their place in a group consisting of African champions Nigeria, South Africa and Sudan. Not many people gave them a chance to qualify from that group but Congo gave some good performances to finish above Nigeria and qualify for the Nations Cup with Bafana Bafana. Heavily experienced as an African coach, Claude Le Roy proved himself by getting Congo to this tournament and he is also trusted by his inexperienced squad to take them to the knockout stages. Le Roy was fuming in his post match interview, implying that Equatorial Guinea used dirty tactics on his team by making a twelve minute drive to the game last one hour in a bus with no air conditioning or adequate air supply.
VERDICT: Gabon 9/10
Congo’s defence looked unsure against Equatorial Guinea and they will need to improve heavily if they are to keep out Aubameyang and Co. Gabon are tipped to build on their victory against Burkina Faso and claim another three points.