Gabon hope for home boost at Nations Cup
Africa Cup of Nations co-hosts Gabon were done no favours in the draw for the 2012 continental showpiece with Gernot Rohr's side facing an uphill struggle to extricate themselves from Group C.
The Panthers, making their fifth Nations Cup appearance, on paper at any rate look destined to be squeezed out of a coveted quarter-final place with previous holders and old foes Tunisia and Morocco favourites to advance.
Gabon made their competition debut in 1994, falling at the first hurdle.
Four years later they finished top of their group only to be denied by Tunisia on penalties in the last eight - their best Cup performance.
They went out in the first round again in 2000, with a decade passing before their next appearance.
In Angola 2010 as luck would have it they crossed swords once again with Tunisia and managed to hold the Carthage Eagles to a goalless stalemate following a superb opening 1-0 win over four-time champions Cameroon with Cousin scoring.
After defeat to Zambia they were edged out of a quarter-final berth on goals scored by Cameroon.
Rohr's men go into battle with encouragement from the Gabon government ringing in their ears.
"We have two objectives," said Laure Olga Gondjout, secretary general to Gabon President Ali Bongo.
"For the people of Gabon to win the 'palme d'or' for organising a successful Africa Cup of Nations and for the senior team to emulate the juniors (the title winning under-23 side) and lift the trophy."
A tall order for a team ranked 77 by FIFA and 16 in Africa.
Gabon's Cup campaign opens with a match-up against surprise qualifiers Niger in the state capital Libreville on January 23, followed by Morocco on January 27 and their 1996 nemesis Tunisia lying in wait in their final group game four days later.
As hosts, Gabon have not played a competitive match since being derailed 2-1 by Zambia in their closing game in Angola two years ago.
A diet of friendly fixtures mostly in France climaxed in November when they took on five-time world champions Brazil to mark the opening of the Chinese-funded Stade de l'Amitie Sino-Gabonasie, the venue for the February 12 final.
"We have been travelling a lot and not had an opportunity to play in front of the Gabonese people," said Rohr before the high profile encounter which ended in a 2-0 defeat for the hosts.
Gabon gave their decorated visitors a run for their money creating a host of chances but ultimately failed to respond to first half goals from Sandro and Hernanes.
This month Gabon were held to a goalless stalemate by Burkina Faso when they were missing some of their regular first team players including French-based attackers Eric Mouloungui and Pierre Emerick Aubameyang.
Another European based Panther, defender Ecuele Manga, had also yet to arrive for national duty.
Le Mans goalkeeper Didier Ovono has inherited the captain's armband from former Rangers and Hull City striker Daniel Cousin.
In Rohr, a former teammate of Franz Beckenbauer at Bayern Munich in the mid-1970s, meanwhile the Gabon Football Federation have picked an experienced tactician who stepped in to replace Alain Giresse after Angola in 2010.
The 58-year-old, continuing a long tradition of foreign coaches put in charge of African sides, has previously been at the helm of French first division outfits Bordeaux, Nice and Nantes.
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