Gabon take their leave of the CAF Africa Cup of Nations stage with their heads held high, manager Gernot Rohr says. The co-hosts may be out but they didn't go quietly.
The Panthers forced Mali to penalties in yesterday's tense quarter-final, with opposing keeper Soumaila Diakite saving Pierre-Emerick Aubemayang's spot kick for a 5-4 win with the two sides deadlocked at 1-1 after extra time. Gabon even had two gilt-edged chances to kill off the match and qualify for their first ever semi-finals, when Aubameyang and Daniel Cousin both hit the post with first half efforts.
For Gabon that was a cruel conclusion to a game they had led when Aubayemang set Eric Mouloungui up to put them in front in the 55th minute, only for Cheick Diabate to level, with extra time failing to split the teams. Rohr commented: "To be drawn back level in the last few minutes is always difficult, but overall I have to congratulate my players, they gave everything, they can leave with their heads held high."
Mouloungui, who converted his penalty - Gabon's third - spoke of his "huge feeling of disappointment". "We played a great tournament, and it's a great satisfaction that we didn't lose a match in regulation time during the entire competition. It's true we had the lead and then they equalised, it's difficult to accept. We went into extra time thinking anything was possible and believed in victory. Penalties are always a 50/50 situation, unfortunately we went out."
Asked at the post match press conference what 'excuse' he would give to the Gabonese people for the defeat Nice striker replied: "We don't need to present our excuses. Before the competition began there was a lot of scepticism about the way we played but we've given the fans' pleasure by our performances. The fans are disappointed like we are, but we've proved that we deserved our place here. The team is young. We slipped up on some little details. Now we're going to continue to work."
Gabon qualified for the last eight with a perfect first round record after wins against former title holders Morocco (3-2) and Tunisia (2-1) and debutants Niger (2-0). And Rohr believes their first round exertions took their toll on his team. "We lacked a little physical freshness, my team gave a lot in every match during the first round, that left a legacy."