Making their very first appearance in a Men’s Olympic Football Tournament, Gabon recovered from conceding an early penalty against Switzerland on Thursday to begin their London 2012 campaign with a creditable draw. A big reason for that was the sparkling form of Pierre Aubameyang, who picked up where he left off at the end of a productive season by scoring his side’s equaliser.
“It’s thanks to the generosity of Saint-Etienne that I’m in such good shape,” the player, who usually goes by the name of Pierre-Emerick, told FIFA.com. “They let me rest for a little longer than my club-mates, which gave me the chance to recover properly.”
The 23-year-old forward certainly deserved his break at the end of what turned out to be the most accomplished season of his fledgling career. The revelation of the year for Les Verts, he played a big hand in restoring the famous club’s lustre on the domestic scene with a haul of 16 goals. Just for good measure, he also proved an effective spearhead for his national side in the CAF Africa Cup of Nations 2012, where co-hosts Gabon reached the quarter-finals for the first time in 16 years.
Given the hectic few months he has had, it might be unreasonable to expect Aubameyang to produce the goods once more in London. The player is hungry for more success though: “I’m going to do everything I can to be in form here at the Olympics and to be ready for the start of the championship. I’m still young and I’ve got to make the most of that.”
Little wonder, then, that he is excited about the challenge he and his Gabon team-mates are now facing in a competition that means an awful lot to him: “I really wanted to be here. Things like this only come round once in your career, and I’d like to thank my coach Christophe Galtier for understanding that and for sending me messages of support.”
Aubameyang may be young, but along with goalkeeper Didier Ovono he is the only player in the Gabon squad who was born before 1990. He showed his natural leadership qualities against the Swiss, scoring his side’s equaliser on the stroke of half-time.
As demanding with his team-mates as he is with himself, he still managed to find fault with his performance on Thursday: “I’m a bit disappointed because I had two clear-cut chances before scoring the equaliser. I know I’ve got to iron these things out and be a better finisher. We also had the chance to capitalise when they were reduced to ten men.”
Though the Gabonese perhaps have cause to ponder what might have been, the fact is that road to the next round remains wide open for them following the goalless draw between the Mexicans and Korean Republic in the other match in Group B: “I ended up saying to myself that it was a good point because no-one is expecting anything from us here. That means we can keep pursuing our goals and giving it all we’ve got.”
With nothing to lose and everything to gain, Aubameyang is hopeful that Gabon’s promising display in their group opener is just the start of something.
“Personally, I knew that’s how it would work out,” he said. “I’ve never doubted it. We’ve got a lot of potential and we’re gradually becoming aware of that. You have to remember too that it’s just the start of the season and it takes a while to get things rolling. I’m feeling pretty optimistic ahead of our second and third matches.”
With at least two matches still to come, against Mexico in Coventry on Sunday and then Korea Republic at Wembley next Wednesday, Aubameyang knows this is journey well worth making, a journey he is determined to extend for as long as possible.