1- It’s not easy playing with pressure
Pity poor Gabon! Sole hosts of the Cup of Nations for the first time and finding themselves facing elimination in their final Group A match against Cameroon. They went into the clash in Libreville knowing that only three other home teams had failed to advance to the knockout stages in the 60 year history of the competition. This knowledge might have informed their hell-for-leather start to the encounter. They went for Cameroon and had a couple of really good chances to open the scoring in the first five or six minutes. They didn’t and Cameroon weathered the storm. But will the Gabon coach Jose Antonio Camacho?
2- It’s not easy being a poster boy and playing with pressure
There was the heavy burden of expectation on the shoulders of Gabon skipper Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. That might explain why the 27-year-old appeared so slow for a couple of 50-50 challenges. It’s all very well and good being the country’s record goal scorer but sometimes the fans want to see players get stuck especially when it is such an important game. That’s what captains are supposed to do. Still, at least he’s in one piece for the flight back to Germany and Borussia Dortmund’s push to secure a spot in next season’s Uefa Champions League. The title there seems to be between Bayern Munich and RB Leipzig.
3- Boys don’t cry
Or that’s what we used to be told. But that was then, in the times when men were men and football had players like Ron “Chopper” Harris, Norman “Bites yer legs” Hunter and Andoni “the Butcher from Bilbao” Goikoetxea. But in this era of the mechanised entertainment complex, defenders like that are obsolete. Now it’s all about taking the ball – rather than the man – out from the back. And we latter-day observers must be content with the leap from those antediluvian days. Now players weep on the field. The Cameroon goalkeeper Fabrice Ondoa was a portrait of emotion after the match against Gabon. With about 60 seconds left Denis Bouanga’s shot had beaten his dive but the ball crashed against the post and fell to Gabon midfielder Ibrahim Ndong who thrashed it back towards the net only to see Ondoa – still on his back – fling his hands up and push the ball over the bar. The final whistle went soon after. The tears flowed. Of joy and despair.
4- What now Guinea Bissau?
The tournament debutants return home after a creditable campaign. They went into the final game of Group A with a chance of reaching the quarter-finals. It never happened. Guinea Bissau’s one and only point came from a draw on the opening day against hosts Gabon. Their only goal of the 2017 came in second-half stoppage time and it was a peach of a header from Juary Soares. It deflated the hosts who never really recovered.
5- What now Uganda?
Uganda last played at the Cup of Nations in 1978 making them effectively debutants – well at least in the tournament’s modern era. I spoke to Uganda coach Milutin Sredojevic at breakfast time on day nine around 10 or so hours after Uganda lost their second game at the tournament in Group D on day eight. He told me the key for his players was consistency. There’s no point, he said, of getting to one Cup of Nations and not qualifying for another. And he reeled off several countries who had featured in one competition and not subsequent tournaments. He didn’t envisage that fate for Uganda. He also hinted it might not be him who is in place to ensure that consistency. Interesting times ahead of Sredojevic and the Ugandan federation.