Home, sweet home for Gabon as Brazil visit

German Gernot Rohr must wonder sometimes whether he is coaching the national football team of Gabon or France.

A study of the venues where the Gabonese Panthers have played international friendlies this year - Mantes-la-Ville, Moanda, Saint Leu-la-Foret, Nice, Cannes - includes four French and only one in the Central African country.

Gabon has been a land of cranes, concrete mixers and construction crews as the oil-rich nation on the Atlantic coast prepares to co-host the 2012 CAF Africa Cup of Nations from 21 January with Equatorial Guinea.

But the situation for Rohr and his squad changes dramatically this Thursday evening when record five-time world champions Brazil provide the opposition in capital city Libreville.

The friendly marks the opening of the 'Stade de la l'amitie Sino-Gabonasie', which will host numerous Africa Cup of Nations fixtures, including the 12 February final. Rohr is thrilled at the prospect of finally parading his team before local supporters and at the quality of the opposition even if star attraction Kaka has been forced to withdraw owing to a muscular injury.

Ask any football follower from Cairo to Cape Town which national team beyond Africa they would most like to watch and many will respond Brazil ... Brazil ... Brazil.

"We have been travelling a lot and not had an opportunity to play in front of the Gabonese people. This has been the only problem as the authorities are fully behind the squad," Rohr said in a recent interview.

A glance at the FIFA Coca-Cola World Ranking suggest a mismatch with Brazil at number five and Gabon at 68 and a glance at the clubs the South Americans and Africans play for says a lot.

Stars in town
While the withdrawals of Kaka and defender Marcelo means no Real Madrid representation in the squad of coach Mano Menezes, there are stars from Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Benfica, Chelsea, Manchester United and Porto.

Contrast that mouth-watering list with Le Mans, Olympique Beja, Dynamo Minsk, Zalaegerszegi, Stabaek and Churchill Brothers, an Indian club and home to striker Henry Antchouet.

As 2014 FIFA World Cup™ hosts, Brazil are exempted from qualifying so this year they played four Copa America games before a shock quarter-finals exit to Paraguay and 10 friendlies with a 7-5-2 overall record and a 17-9 goal tally.

The losses came in Paris and Stuttgart against France and Germany and Brazil supporters will expect nothing less than victory against Gabon and against fallen African giants Egypt on 14 November in the Qatari capital Doha.

Gabon have been less active with a 3-1-1 record and 6-2 goal tally and the wins came against the Democratic Republic of Congo, Niger and Equatorial Guinea and the surprise loss at home to Gambia in south-east town Moanda.

Roguy Meye, a 25-year-old Hungary-based striker, could threaten the Brazilians as he struck the winner last month against French second-tier club Monaco and fired the first of two goals past the Equatoguineans.

The best known Gabon footballer outside the country is another striker, 34-year-old Daniel Cousin, because of spells with Scottish giants Rangers and Hull City when they were in the English Premier League.

With Rohr insisting that only active footballers will be considered for Cup of Nations Group C clashes with Niger, Morocco and Tunisia, unattached Cousin returned home recently to join the Sapins club.