Gabon defeat threatens to leave African Cup looking half-empty

 

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The Independent Football

Co-hosts Gabon shrugged off their African Cup of Nations exit with an indifference that threatens to be mirrored by empty seats as interest in the latter stages of the tournament wanes. Gabon surpassed expectations by reaching the quarter-finals and after defeat by Mali on penalties on Sunday they chose to look on the bright side rather than dwell on disappointment.

"The team gave a lot physically in the pool matches and many of the players were not used to that kind of intensity in games against such quality opposition," said their coach, Gernot Rohr. "My team gave everything they had."

Locals, who took until half-time to fill the stadium for their team's big game, have shown even less interest in matches not involving Gabon to raise questions over the attendance for tomorrow's semi-final and Sunday's final in Libreville.

Once they were in the stands at their Chinese-built 45,000-capacity stadium, Gabonese provided a boisterous atmosphere for the later stages of a game that Mali won 5-4 on penalties after a 1-1 draw.

Fans hardly seemed disconsolate despite the visible grief of striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, the only player to miss in the shootout, and the mood was echoed by much of the team. Goalscorer Eric Mouloungui pointed out that three wins in the group games, including a thrilling 3-2 triumph over Morocco, had brought the country's small population much pleasure.

"Unfortunately it is now over but we have the satisfaction of not having lost in regular time in any of our matches at the tournament," the Nice winger said. "We don't have to make any excuses to anyone, we had a young team and young players who made a big step up."

The next game in Gabon is tomorrow's semi-final between Ivory Coast and Mali and organisers will be keen to avoid the empty stands that have been a feature of games not involving the hosts. Crowds have long been a Nations Cup problem with few travelling fans as travel costs in Africa are exorbitant and accommodation and other facilities minimal.

The other co-hosts,Equatorial Guinea, who like Gabon have played to packed stadiums while other games in the country attracted few spectators, provided a huge upset by beating Senegal in the group stage but were beaten 3-0 by Ivory Coast in their quarter-final on Saturday.

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