Cameroon v Gabon, African Cup of Nations, January 13, 2010
So far the African Cup of Nations has been anything but predictable, so Gabon, who twice lost to Cameroon during the 2010 World Cup qualifiers, will be looking to do a Burkina Faso and stifle one of the tournament’s favoured nations in their opening game of the competition.
Gabon have steadily improved over the past few years under the watchful eye of former French international Alain Giresse as the national team coach. Giresse has generally been credited for knocking Gabon into shape, with victories over the likes of Ghana, Morocco (both home and away) and Togo in the last 18 months showing that the central Africans are capable of mixing it with the continent’s big boys.
Those victories, though, were balanced out by a series of less impressive results, including a disappointing 1-nil defeat away at lowly Libya at the start of the 2010 qualification process. All in all then Gabon are undoubtedly an African nation on the up, but they are still a way off proving themselves a leading nation who can consistently prove hard to beat. (Draw/Cameroon is 100/30)
Captain of the side and a veteran of Gabonâ€™s last appearance at the ACN back in 2000, Daniel Cousin will have a vital role to play if his team are to succeed in pulling off a shock. RecentlyÂ linked with a loanÂ move to QPR after failing to find his best form at Hull, on his day Cousin can be not only an outstanding leader of the attack but also a lethal goalscorer. (Cameroon are 10/11 to keep a clean sheet)
Elsewhere, Gabon will be hopeful that their second striker, Turkish based forward Bruno Zita, will also find his goalscoring form in Angola after the forward has struggled somewhat to get into the groove in the Superliga. Zita moved from Dinamo Minsk to Sivasspor over the summer, but with his side experiencing a horrific slump in form this season, Zita has only managed one goal in nine appearances this term.
With both their main strikers slightly off form then, all eyes will be focused on the so-called future of Gabon football, 20-year-old forward Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (pictured). With just two caps for the Black Panthers, Aubameyang is highly inexperienced at this level of competitive football, but having scored on his debut against Morocco, hype is furious that the former AC Milan youth teamer, currently with Lille, can prove himself as the real-deal. (EVS that both teams will score)
While Gabon dream of proving themselves as a dark horse, Cameroon face the more daunting task of living up to the expectations game as the Indomitable Lions seek to prove that they are a worthy favourite for the title.
Under the management of Paul Le Guen, Cameroon have reimposed themselves as a major African force in the past six months having won five and drawn one of their last six matches, during which time they qualified for South Africa with relative ease. Whilst the long-term goal remains success at the World Cup, the ACN represents an outstanding chance for Le Guen to fine tune his team.
It is impossible to think of Cameroon without flagging up their talisman, Samuel Eto’o. Although not on top form since joining Inter last summer, Eto’o nevertheless has managed to chalk up eight goals in 16 league matches since arriving in Milan as he continues to show himself as one of the best strikers in world football. Real Mallorca forward Pierre Webo will likely partner Eto’o in attack. (Gabon are 6/1 to keep a clean sheet)
Yet, unlike many other African teams, Cameroon excel at the back as well as up-top. In goal, experienced Espanyol shot-stopper Carlos Kameni will don the gloves, while in front of him he will be protected by an experienced rearguard including Rigobert Song, and English-based duo Geremi (Newcastle) andÂ Andre Bikey (Burnley).
Arsenal holding midfielder Alex Song offers yet another defensive jewel in the Cameroon crown, but perhaps the star of the Cameroon midfield will be Schalke’s hugely promising teenager Joel Matip. An elegant central midfielder, the 18-year-old has received rave reviews in his first season in the Bundesliga where he has already broken his goalscoring duck.
On the surface, Cameroon look like clear favourites to progress as group winners as a victory against Gabon shouldn’t prove too taxing. But then again, a tournament which has so far been one big surprise, would hardly be shocked if Gabon managed to pull the rabbit out the hat.
101predicts: Cameroon 3 – Gabon 0 (11/1)
Full match odds here.