Unlike their fellow African qualifiers - Egypt and Morocco, who are frequent participants - Gabon are debutants at the Olympics. However, they head to London as champions of the CAF U-23 qualifying tournament, where they shocked the heavily favoured Moroccans in the final after falling a goal behind to the hosts. That surprise success in December of 2011 has continued to fill the Young Panthers with self-belief and ambition. “We are going to play the Olympic Games for the first time after bringing home the first trophy in Gabon history. That makes us very proud, but it is not the end of the story,” said coach Claude-Albert Mbourounot.
The CAF Africa Cup of Nations earlier this year was co-hosted by Gabon, and the event saw some of the youngsters on the U-23 team able to test themselves against the continent’s best. Such was the case for Andre Biyogho Poko, who was a regular starter for senior coach Gernot Rohr, as the team won their three group contests before going out on penalties in the quarter-final. “Having played at the AFCON will help me and the national team a lot at the Olympic Games”, said the 20-year-old Bordeaux midfielder. “Our good results were a major step forward for Gabonese football. We played our first big tournament and gained a lot of experience from it.” Whether one breakout star from the event, 22-year-old striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, will be in the team is a major question mark for the side.
Gabon are taking their place at the head of the African line seriously, and Mbourounot rightly sees the Olympics as a chance for his team to continue their rise up the global ladder. He says that he and his technical staff have worked hard to find new recruits to bolster the side, and that they will be prepared to play together as a unit no matter how difficult the test. “Playing an attractive, lively and spectacular football will be our aim,” he said. “A good result for us would be to go past the first round, to be among the last eight.”
Facts and figures
This is Gabon’s first appearance at the Olympic Games.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Remy Ebanega, Emmanuel Ndong Mba, Allen Nono, Andre Biyogho Poko.
Gabon lost their opening qualifier to Egypt and drew their second to South Africa. But facing elimination at the opening hurdle, they rallied to beat Côte d'Ivoire 3-1 after going behind. They then surprised Group A winners Senegal in the semi-final 1-0 after extra time before taming the expectant Lionceaux in front of their own supporters.
The numbers game
6: The number of players that scored for Gabon, who found the net seven times in their five matches at the CAF U-23 qualifying tournament. Their only multiple goal-getter was Emmanuel Ndong Mba, who tallied a brace against the Ivorians.
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