Gabon expects the best from Aubameyang at CAN 2017
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When Gabon skipper Pierre Emerick Aubameyang leads his men out onto the field on Saturday at the Stade de l’Amitié in Libreville to face Guinea Bissau he will be keenly aware of the pressure.
The Borussia Dortmund striker is the poster boy for an Africa Cup of Nations (CAN) tournament in a country that has undergone political turmoil since disputed elections in August 2016.
Incumbent president Ali Bongo was declared the winner of the vote. But his rival, Jean Ping, contested the result.
There were at least three deaths and more than 800 arrests in the aftermath of the poll. Opposition activists have urged the Gabonese people to boycott the tournament while Bongo has called for the Cup of Nations to be a time for "joy, coming together and shared happiness".
The domestic wranglings of Bongo and Ping will be of little concern to the supporters flooding into the Gabonese cities of Port Gentil, Franceville and Oyem to follow their sides.
Gabon never past quarter-finals
The stadium in Libreville – which will also be the venue for the final on 5 February - is likely to be packed for the first match of the 31st edition of the Cup of Nations. The bars and restaurants in the city will be throbbing with life, too. Gabon has never been further than the last eight in five visits to the Cup of Nations.
Aubameyang, 27 and with 21 goals to his credit in 52 appearances, has the responsibility of helping his teammates eclipse those quarter-final highs.
On the eve of the tournament Gabon coach, Jose Antonio Camacho, epitomised the skipper’s importance to the national cause.
"Pierre is one of the best players in the world. Gabon are lucky to have him,” he said. "It will be difficult for Gabon to go far if Aubameyang is not at his best."
Wild Dogs not mutts
The stage then seems set for apotheosis or, perhaps, apocalypse. Gabon’s opponents Guinea-Bissau – nicknamed the Wild Dogs – are feasting on their first qualification for the tournament.
Though Baciro Cande's team have not played a competitive match in four months, they’re not mutts. They emerged from a qualifying group featuring Congo, Zambia and Kenya.
"Guinea-Bissau have nothing to lose and everything to win,” added Camacho. “For us it is the opposite."
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