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Nothing left but faith on Sunday for Gabon
It wasn’t supposed to be this way. It was meant to be a joyous carriage to the promised land. But Gabon’s footballers take to the training fields on Thursday facing the prospect of elimination from the tournament they are staging.
Five years ago as co-hosts with Equatorial Guinea, Gabon reached the last eight. As sole organisers they were expected to at least emulate that mark.
But following a 1-1 draw with Burkina Faso on Wednesday night at the Stade de l’Amitié and coupled with Cameroon’s 2-1 defeat of Guinea Bissau, Jose Antonio Camacho’s men are staring at the precipice.
But they are not alone in their slough of despond. Because of the results, all four teams can progress to the knockout stages.
Two will be disappointed come Sunday night after Gabon take on Cameroon in Libreville and Guinea Bissau play Burkina Faso in Franceville.
Camacho, 61, put a brave face on the second stalemate. "Cote d’Ivoire won the last Africa Cup of Nations after drawing their opening two games," he recalled. "Maybe it is a good omen. Everything still depends on us. If we beat Cameroon we will qualify."
He has a point but unfortunately for him and the mirth of a nation, his team only has two.
Cameroon, who top Group A with four points, can content themselves with a draw on Sunday following their gritty comeback against Guinea Bissau.
Limp and dull in the first half, they went in at the pause trailing 1-0 following a spectacular solo goal from Piqueti.
The 23-year-old winger picked the ball up just outside his penalty area. And ran. And ran. Four players tried to stop him in his 70 metre dash before the ball flashed past Cameroon goalkeeper Fabrice Ondoa.
Sebastian Siani’s thumping drive from 20 metres levelled matters after 62 minutes as Cameroon’s intensity sapped Guinea Bissau. Michael Ngadeu-Ngadju added the coup de grace 11 minutes from time. It was an impressive comeback.
Gabon tried to pull off a similar feat in the first game at the Stade de l’Amitié. Préjuce Nakoulma – on for the injured Jonathan Pitroipa – showed speed, strength and subtlety after 23 minutes to collect a ball hacked downfield.
He held off the attentions of two defenders in the penalty area and in the melee as goalkeeper Denis Ovono came out, slipped the ball into the net.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang converted a penalty just before the pause - his second goal of the tournament - to set up an explosive second half. But the pyrotechnics did not materialise as Gabon pressed for the salvation of a winner. It didn’t arrive. The Gabon faithful have to pray it will come on Sunday.