AFCON Group A- Stalemate sees hosts Gabon crash out

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Gabon and Cameroon played out a 0-0 draw in Libreville in the final round of Group A matches. Hosts Gabon flattered to deceive after a bright start and bow out of their own tournament after drawing all their matches. Cameroon were delighted the result as it saw them earn the runners-up spot in the group, a bonus after such a poor build-up.  

The game got off to a frantic start as Gabon dominated the play and were left wondering how they didn’t take the lead.

Gabon went on the attack straight from kick-off and were gifted an opportunity when Fabrice Ondoa, in the Cameroon goal, inexplicably dropped the ball at the feet of Aubameyang, he managed to get the ball back to Malick Evouna but the ball just wouldn’t fall for him to get a shot away. Just seconds later, Evouna was again involved, he broke down the wing and had Aubameyang in acres of space in the box but unfortunately for the hosts, he put his cross too close to Ondoa and the opening was wasted.

The third chance was by far the most clear-cut. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang missed an open goal to the astonishment of the home crowd and all that were watching. Good work from Bouanaga down the wing allowed him to get the ball across to Aubameyang, just yards out and facing an unguarded goal, he poked wide, a simply unbelievable miss. To complete the ridiculous opening four minutes, Bouanga cut inside and shot just over the crossbar.

The game then calmed down but Gabon still held the initiative and nearly broke the deadlock when Bouanga’s looping free kick deceived everyone, including Ondoa, who managed just to tip it over the bar right at the last second.

Cameroon offered nothing in the first half and were very tentative in their play. It seemed they responded to Gabon’s early onslaught by retreating into their shell and settling for the point that would see them through and the hosts out, thanks to Burkina Faso leading Guinea-Bissau 1-0 in the group’s other game.

The teams went in at half-time tied at 0-0 but the Leopards had given their partisan crowd plenty to cheer about with their performance. Aubameyang should have put his nation into the lead but the hosts looked like the only team who were going to score in the game, Cameroon were employing a very dangerous tactic. However, Gabon knew they needed to make their dominance count.

Neither manager opted for changes at half-time but Cameroon started the brighter in the second half and came close when Benjamin Moukandjo laid a free-kick off to Ambroise Oyongo; he hit a venomous shot towards the bottom right-hand corner of the goal that was well saved with his fingertips by Didier Ovono in the Gabon goal. Sebastien Siani went close again for Cameroon moments later as his shot flew just wide of the post. Clearly, Hugo Broos got into his team at half-time and ensured his team would not sit back and invite pressure for the remainder of the match.

Having seen enough, Jose Camacho made the first change of the game by bringing left back Benjamin Ze Ondo off in favour of the more attack-minded Yoann Wachter. Seconds later, news filtered through that Bertrand Traore had put Burkina Faso 2-0 up against Guinea-Bissau, realistically the draw went out of the equation for the hosts, they would have to beat Cameroon.

They set about the task well and almost immediately switched on for the first time in the second half. Bouanga again testing Ondoa with a curling free-kick towards the top corner. However, this time, the save was more routine for Ondoa. Still though, the urgency and quality the hosts had in the first half had disappeared and the game had descended into a low-quality affair.

As the game ticked into the 72nd minute, Gabon looked more and more desperate and threw on forward Serge Kevan for Lloyd Palun, the second full-back to be removed for an attacking option. Cameroon’s response was also to throw on a striker, Jacques Zoua replacing Edgar Salli. In the 76th minute, Jose Camacho used his last throw of the dice as Samson Mbingui came on for Malick Evouna upfront.

The changes were much needed as both sides looked bereft of ideas and Gabon particularly, looked disorganised and lacking a clear game plan. Even Gabon’s talisman and captain Aubameayang was growing particularly frustrated and was failing to influence the game or encourage his side to push on in search of the winner.

With Cameroon seeming to be holding on well, they made the interesting decision to make a double change in the 81st minute, Beşiktaş forward Vincent Aboubakar and Karl Toko Ekambi joined the action in place of the impressive Christian Bassogog and Robert Tambe. Both managers had shown their hand, it was up to their players to produce something to liven up this dull game and drag their sides through to the knockout stages.

The game ticked towards the end of the 90 minutes without any moments of note and four additional minutes were announced. This seemed to trigger Gabon into life, in the 92nd minute, Bounaga was nudged off the ball in the box which drew penalty shouts which the ref perhaps correctly waved away.

However, the game was to be settled in Cameroon’s favour with just 30 seconds left on the clock. The ever-lively Bounaga ran into the box, beat one man and unleashed a shot, Ondoa couldn’t reach the effort but it agonisingly hit the post and came back out to Didier Ndong who managed to turn it back goalwards, he looked to have scored but while still on the floor, Ondoa launched himself towards the ball and tipped it over the bar. An incredible save from Ondoa, more than making up for his first-minute error as it sent his side through and the hosts out of this year’s Africa Cup of Nations.

The final whistle blew seconds later and the Gabonese fell to their knees. Their Cup of Nations is over, the 0-0, their third consecutive draw, was not good enough thanks to Burkina Faso’s 2-0 win over Guinea-Bissau in the group’s other match, a massive disappointment for the hosts. They never settled in the tournament and lacked cohesion and tactical awareness throughout. Their big star, Aubameyang, failed to shine and it is he who must take responsibility for this result, his dreadful miss could have completely changed the tide of this game had he managed to do the simple thing and convert it.

As for Cameroon, they progress as runners-up in group, a surprise considering the mass walkout of players that has weakened their squad so terribly. However, they have work to do in preparation the quarter-finals, they were far from impressive tonight and will need to find more of a goal threat if they are to progress to the semi-finals. Barring a defeat, plus a victory for Tunisia and a five goal swing, Senegal will be their opponents. A side that have already put in two very impressive performances against Tunisia and Zimbabwe.

That’s it for Group A, this final day promised so much but the drama only materialised with seconds left on the clock. Gabon leave their own tournament with a whimper while Cameroon march on. They will be joined in the quarter-finals by group winners Burkina Faso and we also say goodbye to Guinea-Bissau, who will be very happy with their point they earned against the hosts in the first match and will leave their first ever international tournament with their heads held high

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