As Gabon, Burkina Fasso, Cameroon and Guinea Bissau lock horns in the opening round of fixtures at this year’s Afcon, New African provides you with the key details, which players to keep an eye on (Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is so fast, you may not be able to) and what the teams’ previous outings in the tournament have been like.
Player to watch: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
Aubameyang, currently Africa’s top player, has a record in the German Bundesliga that is second to none. But he has a heavy burden to shoulder. His father and brother also played for Gabon but Aubameyang was at first a French junior international before throwing his lot in with the Panthers.
Didier Ovono – Lloyd Palun, Aaron Appindangoyé, Bruno Ecuele Manga, Johann Obiang – André Biyogo Poko, Didier Ndong, Lévy Madinda,
Mario Lemina – Malick Evouna, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
Coach: José Antonio Garrido
The former Benfica player took over from compatriot Jorge Costa, who was abruptly dismissed with just weeks before the start of the
tournament. Fortunately, Garrido has decent knowledge of the set-up, as he has been in the country since mid-year, as the technical director of the federation.
Nations Cup record
Gabon co-hosted the 2012 finals with Equatorial Guinea but lost in the quarter-finals, after a heartbreaking penalty shoot-out. They first qualified in 1994 and went to the 1996, 2000 and 2010 editions, as well as the last one in 2015 where they crashed out in the first round. They qualified for the 2017 event as hosts.
Player to watch: Bertrand Traoré
Just 21, he has been on the books of Chelsea since the age of 14. Although he got some games while Guus Hiddink was in charge, Traoré has
subsequently gone out on loan to Holland’s Ajax, establishing himself as their lead striker.
He competed at the 2012 Nations Cup at the tender age of 16 and was part of the squad that won the silver medal in South Africa in 2013, along with his elder brother Alain.
Daouda Diakite – Steeve Yago, Bakary Kone, Issoufou Dayo, Patrick Malo – Charles Kabore, Abdou Razak Traore, Jonathan Pitroipa, Prejuce Nakoulma – Alain Traoré, Bertrand Traoré.
Coach: Paolo Duarte
The Portuguese Duarte is in his second stint as Burkina Faso coach, having taken them to the 2010 and 2012 Nations Cup finals, before going to
work with Gabon. The 47-year-old played at União de Leiria in Portugal for most of his career and
then became their coach in 2006. Two years later, he was appointed coach of Burkina Faso and in 2009 tried to combine it with the job of coaching Le Mans. But after six months, and with the French Ligue 1 club struggling to stay out of the relegation zone, he was given an ultimatum to choose between the two and stuck with Burkina Faso. He returned to his old stomping ground in January.
Nations Cup record
The Stallions were surprise runners-up in South Africa four years ago and are bringing back a fair chunk of that squad to Gabon. This is the 11th time the Burkinabés appear at the finals, since their first appearance in 1978. They’ve missed just two of the last 11 tournaments but besides the heroics of 2013, when they were runners-up, they have only got past the group stage on one other occasion – in 1998, as the hosts.
Player to watch: Nicolas Nkoulou
One of Africa’s best defenders for several years now, Nkoulou enjoys little of the profile enjoyed by his predecessors like Stephen Tataw, Emmanuel Kundé and Rigobert Song, did.
Injury has stymied his career at crucial junctures but knee problems are supposedly a thing of the past now. A fresh start at Olympique Lyonnais, where he moved from Marseille in the off-season, holds the promise of a bigger profile.
Joseph Ondoa – Allan Nyom, Nicolas Nkoulou, Aurelin Chedjou, Henri Bedimo – Sebastien Siani, Edgar Salli, Clinton Njie, Benjamin Moukandjo – Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting, Vincent Aboubakar.
Coach: Hugo Broos
“Hugo who?” was the question asked when Cameroon named him to the post in February. Broos took Club Brugge and Anderlecht to Belgian
league titles and has been named Belgium’s Coach of the Year on four separate occasions. Broos was a Belgian international who played 350 games in 13 years at Anderlecht, making him something of an institution in his home country.
Nations Cup record
Cameroon will be playing at the Nations Cup for the 19th time but won the last of their four titles back in 2002 in Mali and were last in a final in 2008, when they lost to Egypt in Accra. The first of their four titles came in 1984, inspired by the goals of Roger Milla, and they won again in 1988 in a violence-filled tournament in Morocco. Their success in 2000, over hosts Nigeria, was in a controversial post-match penalty shootout.
Player to watch: José Luís Mendes Lopes
Better known as Zézinho, the attacking midfielder plays his club football in Greece. A regular and experienced player, he proved the key component in their successful qualifying campaign, when they unexpectedly snatched a qualifying spot ahead of Zambia and Congo – who both went to the last finals. Zézinho came up through the fabled Sporting Lisbon academy before moving to Greece three years ago.
Jonas Mendy – Emmanuel Mendy, Eridson, Rudinilson, Mamadu – Bocundji Ca, Cafu, Idrissa Camara, Zézinho – Cicero, Frederic Mendy.
Coach: Baciro Candé
The unknown 49-year-old has had two spells in charge of ‘Djurtus’ – the first until 2008, after which he went to Portugal to coach lower league Oeiras.
Candé returned to work at Sporting Bissau and when Portuguese Paulo Torres left the Guinea Bissau job after a CAF ban, Candé stepped up to steer the team to unlikely qualification, taking charge of the last four matches of their campaign.
Nations Cup record
Guinea Bissau were a Leicester City-like long shot when the 2017 qualifiers began, having only previously won four matches in Nations Cup and World Cup qualification, since entering international competition 22 years ago. Their motley collection of players, from lower league clubs in Portugal and Guinea Bissau’s own league, were given no chance in Group E. But after three victories in their five group games, including a first away triumph in Nairobi in March, they qualified with one game in hand