GROUP A comes to a conclusion on Sunday night at the 2017 African Cup of Nations. Will host nation Gabon be exiting early? Mark O’Haire (@MarkOHaire) analyses the action.
Cameroon v Gabon | Sunday 19:00 | Eurosport
Gabon must beat Cameroon on Sunday night to guarantee a place in the 2017 African Cup of Nations quarter-finals having opened their account with successive draws against Guinea-Bissau and Burkina Faso.
Jose Antonio Camacho's side were three minutes away from a curtain-raising triumph last Saturday afternoon against Group A outsiders Guinea-Bissau but a late equaliser scuppered their hopes.
The Panthers were then unable to make their pressure pay when on top against Burkina Faso and risk suffering a humbling early exit should they fail to fire in their final group game.
Looking for a lift
The Gabon team had been looking to lift a country hit by violence after last year's contested presidential election, but, amid calls to boycott the tournament in some quarters, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and his team-mates reiterated their determination to succeed this week.
Aubameyang scored his second goal of the competition from the penalty spot last time out, cancelling out Prejuce Nakoulma’s opener. Burkino Faso cat Herve Koffi then denied Denis Bouanga twice as Gabon looked lilikest to pick up a much-needed winner.
Bouanga, Aubameyang and Malick Evouna have been a rare source of encouragement from the hosts – the Panthers’ front three have caused opposition defences plenty of problems but the Gabonese would wanted a better return for their efforts after two fixtures.
There’s undoubted pressure on Camacho’s charges to deliver on Sunday night – the country’s president rocked up to the camp’s training session on the eve of the encounter – but I’m remaining stubborn towards my pre-tournament assumption that Cameroon aren’t anything too specoal.
Play to win
The Indomitable Lions will progress to the last-eight should they avoid defeat but head coach Hugo Broos insists his side won’t play for the draw, suggesting his team would go looking for a victory, “I think the biggest error we could make would be to play for a draw.”
The four-time champions began with an enjoyable 1-1 draw against Burkina Faso – a game in which Cameroon edged superiority. And despite falling behind to Guinea-Bissau last time out, Sebastien Siani’s impressive effort and Michael Ngadeu-Ngadjui’s strike delivered a 2-1 success.
Defender Ngadeu-Ngadjui was the man of the hour – nothing the winner but also making a crucial block beforehand in the defensive third of the pitch. The victory was Cameroon’s first in seven AFCON outings (W1-D4-L2) and puts the table-toppers in pole position to take top spot.
Goals the best route of attack
The Indomitable Lions have been chalked up as favourites to pick up the points here and although they’ve performed above my expectations, I’ve not seen anything to suggest they’re as good as the odds imply.
Both Burkina Faso and Guinea-Bissau troubled the depleted Cameroon defence and so I’d fancy Gabon to grab a goal at the very least as they go searching for that vital victory. With the two teams armed and dangerous in the offensive third but less than impressive at the back, I’m taking a goals approach.
Both Teams To Score is backable at 23/20 (William Hill) and that’s too big to ignore. AFCON competitions are traditionally low-scoring but I spent a large chunk of time analysing the tournament since the turn of the century with a few intriguing findings.
BTTS has banked in 35/71 (49%) of final group-games since 2000 with the average goals per-game in those pool concluders sitting at 2.24. The three most popular correct scores are 2-1 (18%), 1-1 (15%) and 2-0 (15%) with only 7/71 (10%) finishing goalless.
The 2017 edition has been littered with stalemates – 7/16 (44%) but the competition average during the group-stage is 33% dropping ever so slightly to 32% when counting only the final group-games.
Traditionally, this is where international tournaments come to the fore – teams are facing elimination or progression, more risks are taken and games become a little more unscripted. That should play into our hands here, especially with the two nations a little unconvincing in approach and defensive-mode.
Cameroon v Gabon – Both Teams To Score (23/20 William Hill)