AFRICA'S premier international tournament is upon us. Mark O’Haire (@MarkOHaire) previews the tournament opener on Saturday between Gabon and Guinea-Bissau.
Gabon v Guinea-Bissau | Saturday 16:00 | Eurosport
The 2017 African Cup of Nations kicks-off on Saturday afternoon in Libreville with hosts Gabon facing off against minnows Guinea-Bissau for the very first time.
Gabon are looking to make amends for their 2012 AFCON exit at the quarter-final stage as co-hosts. Only one spot-kick was missed in the shootout and the culprit was current Panthers captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
The images of a tearful and disconsolate Aubameyang being led from the pitch at the end of the contest by his father were among the more abiding from 2012. But now PEA has a shot at redemption and the Borussia Dortmund hot-shot will be leading the home sides challenge.
Home nation toils
Gabon are aiming aim to end a run of opening-match draws by host nations. Three of the past four tournament-openers have ended all-square with five of nine curtain-raisers this century seeing the first points shared.
And considering the Panthers only played competitively twice in 2016 – failing to score in World Cup qualifying draws with Morocco and Mali – Spanish coach Jose-Antonio Camacho is in understandably apprehensive mood.
Camacho was only installed as Gabon’s boss 50 days ago after underperforming Portuguese Jorge Costa was axed. And the former Real Madrid and Spain gaffer has already been threatened with dismissal after complaining about the composition of his backroom staff.
Nevertheless, the Gabonese arrive having been beaten just once in 20 internationals on home soil since 2012. The Panthers are also fortunate that their tournament bow comes against arguably the weakest of all 16 quailed nations.
Guinea-Bissau had won only four World Cup and AFCON qualifiers in 22 years before the road to Gabon began and the Djurtus were the outsiders alongside Zambia, Kenya and Congo. But Baciro Cande lead the group to their first ever major tournament and the debutants are determined to continue their fairytale run.
However, the underdogs haven’t played competitive football for four months and due to cash-flow problems at the FA, haven’t been able to arrange any friendly fixtures. Players rebelled due to unpaid bonuses and the country’s president was forced to intervene.
It’s far from an ideal situation arguably made worse by the fact that the bulk of their squad of unknowns are strangers to their own team-mates. Francisco Junior is set to be handed a debut having recently switched allegiance whilst fellow former Liverpool youth winger Toni Silva is their talisman alongside set-piece specialist Zezinho.
Other than that, the Djurtus are relatively unknown. They did produce a number of sterling defensive efforts on their travels during qualification – shipping just one goal in games as guests – and I can only presume they’ll adopt a similar strategy in Libreville on Saturday.
Play the percentages
Gabon clearly boast the stronger squad and coupled with home advantage are deserved favourites here but I wouldn’t want to be investing at 4/9 (BetVictor) quotes, nor attacking any sort of Asian Handicap angle.
Instead, I’m going to take a Correct Score approach and have an interest on the Panthers to win 1-0 (9/2 William Hill). In the first round of group games at AFCON tournaments this century, the 0-0, 1-1 or 1-0 correct scores have landed on 39/53 (74%) occasions with 1-0 proving most popular (30%).
That 30% strike-rate implies betting odds of 23/10 so we’re at least snapping up a wee slice of Correct Score value.
It's also worth out while getting involved with 10/11 (188Bet) quotes on Under 2.25 Goals – here, we'll make money should fewer than three goals be scored with a half-stakes profit taken if exactly two goals are netted.
Finally, for those looking to support Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in the goalscorer markets – ignore odds-on Anytime quotes and focus on the 13/5 (Bet365) First Goalscorer odds. In a tight match, there's more opportunity to land that FGS prize at a much improved price.
Gabon v Guinea-Bissau – Gabon to win 1-0 (9/2 William Hill)
Gabon v Guinea-Bissau – Under 2.25 Goals (10/11 188BET)