The stage is almost set for the Gabonese Republic to host the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations. Tickets for the group matches went on sale ahead of Christmas among concerns about delays in the preparations of one stadium and protests against the national government. Despite these potential problems, the national squads from across Africa are getting ready for the Cup, and local football fans are excited at the prospect of seeing their beloved Panthers in action. The opening ceremony of the championship will take place on January 14 at the Friendship Stadium in Libreville, Gabon’s capital city by the sea. After the fanfare, the opening match will pit the Panthers against Guinea-Bissau. This stadium will also host the final match three weeks later, and Gabonese fans are hoping to return to watch their national team accept the trophy Cup.
Since Africa is becoming a strong contributor of football talent to the top European leagues, expectations were high about seeing stellar lineups; alas, national teams such as Cameroon are running into trouble getting their stars together for the Cup. According to a report by Eurosport before Christmas, up to seven Cameroonian players have declined to participate. The issue of professional players shunning national team duties is something that has developed in recent years, and it is a troubling aspect of the sport. When football stars who play in top clubs put their personal interests ahead of their patriotic duties, the beautiful game suffers. One of the problems in this regard is that players are being shipped to the top clubs at a very young age, and thus they perhaps do not learn to love the national jersey.
In the era of King Pelé there was no higher honor than to kit up with the national colors; however, it is important to remember that Pelé mostly played for Brazilian clubs during his sensational career. Could it be that young footballers such as the Cameroonians who play abroad are just not identifying as closely with their home countries? Thankfully for Gabonese fans, the Cameroon situation is not being felt. The squad is ready, and 19 players are coming from clubs in Europe, Northern Africa and even China. The Panthers were the first national team to announce their lineup, which includes Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang from Borussia Dortmund, Didier Ndong from Sunderland, Junior Lemina from Juventus, and others who are more than ready to play for their country.
Bookmakers are favoring the Panthers for the opening match, and the diminished Cameroonian team will give them an edge in the group stage, but their odds of reaching the final against stronger squads such as Senegal and Ivory Coast are not the best ahead of the inauguration. If Gabon prevails against Guinea-Bissau and Cameroon, the team will coast to the next round.