Gabon play host to Ivory Coast in the 2018 Fifa World Cup qualification, with both teams hoping to rake enough points from the double-header before the final stretch set for October and November.
The 2015 Africa Cup of Nations champions currently top Group C with four points while the Panthers of Gabon have been able to gather two points from the stalemates against Mali and Morocco.
Ivory Coast no longer possess the awesome squad that annexed the 2015 Afcon and have been struggling to refashion a competitive team following the retirement of the likes of the Toure brothers, whose experience and on-and-off the pitch leadership immensely contributed to the team’s success in Equatorial Guinea two years ago.
Former Belgium coach Marc Wilmots, who took over the outfit in April 2017, has brought back some old faces, like Gervinho and Salomon Kalou, and also some fresh talent, in a bid to avoid a chaotic transition while building his ideal future team.
However, despite their current modest form, the Elephants appear to be a better side than Gabon, who are yet to knock over the debacle and public backlash from the 2017 Afcon which they hosted. Gabon did not progress from the group stage.
Ivory Coast, who have been to three Fifa World Cup tournaments (2006, 2010 & 2014), are more confident of landing another participation than Gabon who are yet to taste the competition. That level of determination appears to be a plus for the West Africans, who also boast of more foreign-based players than the Central Africans.
Playing at home could be an advantage, like in the not too distant past when giants Cameroon hardly defeated the Gabonese in Libreville thanks to a huge nationwide support. Things have changed. The Panthers have lost the support of the public, who no longer believe their ‘beloved’ team would any time soon grow to become a continental giant.
Can Wilmots and his charges exploit that, as well as the absence of star player Pierre Emerick Aubameyang and goalkeeper Didier Ovono? Who knows?
Ivory Coast’s objective for the first leg is clear. They don’t want to lose, and that means the worse scenario they could envisage is a draw which is equivalent to one point. And then plot for a huge win in the return leg in Bouake.
Gabon’s coach José Antonio Camacho has not been very upbeat ahead of the meeting, which has been moved from Franceville to Libreville.
The Spanish manager got the cold shoulder from Aubameyang, who bluntly declined the call up for Ivory Coast clash.
Although, the Gabon FA, Fegafoot, claims all is well at camp, the local media is reporting the contrary and claiming that the general psychological atmosphere is not conducive ahead of the game.
Perhaps, things might improve hours before both teams lock horns on Saturday.
The Gabon vs Ivory Coast match will kick off at 17H GMT on Saturday, September 02.
Initially scheduled to hold in Gabon’s second largest city Franceville, the Gabon vs Ivory Coast match will now take place at the Stade de l’amitie in the capital Libreville.
WHAT THEY SAID
Ivory Coast coach Marc Wilmots
“We have not thought of underestimating Gabon because we know they have a very strong and collective team. So we are going to play them like every other top opposition and safeguard our objective of not losing in Libreville.”
Gabon coach José Antonio Camacho
“Ivory Coast have some of the best players in Africa and they are doing very well in European leagues. We had a short preparation and we are missing some good players. However, we will play our game and expect to come up with a satisfactory result.
Despite the Elephants coach Wilmots insisting on ‘not losing’, they will likely push the accelerator all through and hope to snatch a win over a ‘demoralised’ team. However, anything can happen, but our Prediction is:
Gabon 1-2 Ivory Coast