Gabon have had limited success on the mother continent but
now have a strong chance to progress to the last phase of the African
qualifiers for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa, therefore keeping them within touch of reaching ground they have never traversed before. Three times a finalist at the CAF Africa Cup of Nations, the FIFA World Cup has been but a distant dream for the Gabonese, who are currently riding a wave up the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking.
But with a home game to come against Libya in their final match in the
second phase of qualifying in October, Gabon will believe they could
yet progress from Group Five and move on to as one of the last 20 contenders for the African places at the 2010 finals.
Gabon's 3-0 away win over Lesotho in early September kept them in
contention with both Libya and Ghana, who were the two frontrunners
and pre-tournament favourites in the section.
Coach Alain Giresse has seen his Gabon side steadily develop the confidence and competence needed to compete at the top level and it has almost been with quiet stealth that they have emerged among the leading pack.
The recent results have also seen the Azingo Nationale climb steadily up the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking. On the back of a 1-0 win over high fancied Mali in a friendly played in France last month, Gabon went up 12 places in the latest edition, moving to 62nd in the world.
It edges the side ever closer to the all-time high of 45 which they
reached more than 12 years ago when they competed at the CAF Africa
Cup of Nations.
Since then, the country has hovered in the hugh 90s or low 100s before
making a marked leap over the last 24 months. Gabon's all-time average position in the global standings, since it was first launched 15 years ago is 88th.
Tough tests await
Giresse, a former FIFA World Cup competitor and European Champion with France, will be well aware of the intensity of competition that awaits if Gabon are to make it through to the next round, which is the business end of Africa's qualifiers.
But he has built a solid squad around the likes of captain Paul
Kessany, Eric Mouloungui, Stephane Nguema and striker Roguy Mere.
Recently the coach was able to persuade the British-based striker
Daniel Cousin to return to the squad after a self-imposed exile of
more than two years.
Hull City's Cousin played in the match against Mali but missed out on the win over Lesotho because he forgot to bring his Gabon passport with him to Bloemfontein where Gabon beat Lesotho. French-born Cousin also has an EU passport.
But his absence was not noticed as Gabon ran onto an easy win which is
certain to help them inch close to the top 50 when the next edition of the world ranking is released.