Can Gabon separate North African rivals?


Coach Gernot Rohr has included four of Gabons victorious Under-23 team, who won the countrys first continental title last month, in his Nations Cup squad
Group C has drawn tournament co-hosts Gabon against shock qualifiers Niger as well as North African rivals Morocco and Tunisia who contested the 2004 Nations Cup final.

Until the last round of matches, the group will be based in the Gabonese capital Libreville.

Gabon factfile
Nickname: Panthers
Coach: Gernot Rohr
Captain: Didier Ovono
Nations Cup record: Making fifth appearance
Best performance: Quarter-finals (1996)
Fifa ranking: 91

Gabon will enter the most important competition in its football history on a high after the country won its first African title last month.

The Under-23 side won the Confederation of African Footballs inaugural continental championship, qualifying for London 2012 Gabons first Olympic football tournament at the same time.

Four of the team have made coach Gernot Rohrs senior squad for the Nations Cup, with captain Cedric Boussoughou joined by Remy Ebanega, Henri Ndong and Andre Biyogo Poko.

But the Panthers also boast plenty of experience with veteran striker Daniel Cousin (34), up front alongside Nice striker Eric Mouloungui (27), although the attack failed to impress in Gabons last two warm-up games both of which ended goalless.

Niger factfile
Nickname: The Mena
Coach: Harouna Doula
Captain: Idrissa Laouali
Nations Cup record: Tournament debutants
Fifa ranking: 98

Niger were the shock qualifiers for this Nations Cup because few people, if any, expected them to finish above defending champions Egypt, 2010 World Cup hosts South Africa or Sierra Leone in their group.

Despite losing all their matches away from the blistering heat of their home stadium in Niamey, the Mena qualified for their maiden Nations Cup thanks to a 100% home record (and Bafana Bafanas embarrassing inability to understand the rules).

Harouna Doulas side shook up the African football hierarchy in dramatic style when beating Egypt who had won the last three Nations Cups 1-0 at home in October 2010 thanks to a goal from Moussa Maazou.

The Belgium-based striker is very much Nigers dangerman, but a mix of bad luck and a temperamental nature have seen his club career plummet in recent times.

Morocco factfile
Nickname: Atlas Lions
Coach: Eric Gerets
Captain: Houssine Kharja
Nations Cup record: Making 14th appearance
Best performance: Winners (1976)
Fifa ranking: 61

Since contesting and losing the 2004 final to then host nation Tunisia, Moroccos Nations Cup record has been one of major disappointment suffering group stage exits in both 2006 and 2008, before failing to qualify for the 2010 finals altogether.

But like the Senegalese, the Atlas Lions have used their period in the international wilderness to come back as a far stronger unit partly thanks to calling up talented dual nationals from the large Moroccan communities in Europe, such as Youssef El Arabi (France), Oussama Assaidi and Mbark Boussoufa (both Holland).

Belgian Eric Gerets took charge in October 2010 and a coach who has won league titles in three different countries has transformed an Atlas Lions team whose qualification campaign took off when thumping neighbours Algeria 4-0 in June.

And the former Marseille coach is so bullish about his squads strengths that he is targetting what would only be the countrys second Nations Cup title with the first coming way back in 1976.

Tunisia factfile
Nickname: Carthage Eagles
Coach: Sami Trabelsi
Captain: Karim Hagui
Nations Cup record: Making 15th appearance
Best performance: Winners (2004)
Fifa ranking: 59

With a minute left of African qualifying for the 2012 finals, Tunisia were facing an embarrassing exit from the competition but they were reprieved when Chad scored the latest of equalisers to deny Malawi a place in the finals.

While it may not have been wholly convincing, the qualification represented a personal triumph for coach Sami Trabelsi who had taken charge in January 2011 with the team in dire straits and trailing the Malawians by two points.