BOTH opening Group A games ended 1-1 leaving the pool wide open as we enter the second round of group-games at the African Cup of Nations. Mark O’Haire (@MarkOHaire) previews Wednesday's clash between Gabon and Burkina Faso.
Gabon v Burkina Faso | Saturday 16:00 | Eurosport
It is all to play for in Group A at the African Cup of Nations after the opening set of pool matches involving Gabon, Guinea-Bissau, Burkina Faso and Cameroon ended in 1-1 draws in Libreville.
Hosts Gabon paid the price for a pedestrian performance in a tepid tournament curtain-raiser, leaking a stoppage-time equaliser against debutants and shock qualifiers Guinea-Bissau.
The Panthers had taken the lead on 52 minutes when superstar Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang turned in Denis Bouanga's cross-shot but the Dortmund striker was less clinical when volleying over on 69 minutes, an opportunity that would have doubled Gabon's lead and might have ended Guinea-Bissau's resistance.
Jeers and fears
But the underdogs made life difficult for the host nation, limiting opportunities and taking their chance to continue what has been a fairytale run in getting to the finals. It was a deserved point and saw home fans greet the final whistle with audible jeers.
Aubameyang suggested the pressure of the occasion got to Gabon on Saturday and the skipper is confident is team have learned from their mistakes. Manager Jose Antonio Camacho also hinted his team would show a different face on Wednesday afternoon but I’m completely convinced.
Having a world-class striker in Aubemayang will only get Gabon so far. While he was not at his very best, service to him was poor. And Juventus midfielder Mario Lemina was particularly disappointing in the hole behind.
The Panthers lacked rhythm and looked understandably disjoined considering Camacho was only appointed 50 days before the Guinea-Bissau fixture. Nevertheless, the Gabonese have now been beaten just once in 21 internationals on home soil since 2012 and surely can’t perform any worse.
Revenge on Duarte’s mind?
Gabon beat Burkina Faso 2-0 in the group stage in 2015 – Aubameyang opened the scoring – and revenge could be on the mind of Stallions coach Paulo Duarte. Duarte was sacked by Gabon after failing to qualify for the 2013 AFCON and the 2014 World Cup.
Duarte is taking charge of Burkina Faso at a third AFCON but the Portugeuse boss is yet to win any of his six games at the tournament with the Stallions (W0-D2-L4) whilst the Burkinabe pitch up with a sole success in 21 AFCON group games to their name of late (W1-D8-L12).
The Stallions showed plenty of spirit to claw back a 1-1 draw after falling behind in the first-half against Cameroon in their first fixture. Duarte claimed his charges took time adjusting to Cameroon’s pre-match switch of formation but he’ll have been pleased with the second-half showing.
Both sides created good chances, with one of the clearest falling to Cameroon’s Clinton N'Jie before opposition cat Fabrice Ondoa could only parry a free-kick, allowing Issoufou Dayo to nod in the leveller for Burkina Faso.
The Burkinabe had sounded numerous warnings – particularly from set-pieces – but Burkina Faso’s best opportunities fell to centre-back Bakary Kone. Still, the Stallions were happy to stand and trade blows, even though at times they left themselves open to a knockout punch on the counter-attack.
Alain Traore created five chances for his team-mates and was Duarte’s leading light as star man Bertrand Traore endured a sloppy outing, giving the ball away and failing to assert himself. Jonathan Pitroipa also failed to impress in the final third and Burkina Faso will need both firing here to pick up a positive result.
The betting angles
Gabon have been chalked up as even-money favourites at selected bookmakers but Burkina Faso should sense an opportunity here to further frustrate an expectant home support and the outsiders look a little too big at generous 31/10 (Marathon) quotes.
But the safety-first nature this encounter could be played at due the first round results means I’m going to err on the side of caution and support Burkina Faso with a +0.50 start on the Asian Handicap line at 4/5 (888) – we’ll be paid out should the Stallions avoid defeat.
Elsewhere, Aubameyang fans may be keen to learn the Gabon captain has been directly involved in eight of the last 11 AFCON goals recorded by Gabon (scoring five). He’s a 7/5 (BetVictor) shot to grab a goal or an intriguing 7/2 (BetVictor) to open the scoring for the second successive match.
Burkina Faso are a side armed to attack and having faced 14 shots from Cameroon in their curtain-raiser, may struggle to contain the continent’s hottest attacking property. I’ll add the selection in for interest at a nice price.