LIBREVILLE — Gabon and Morocco’s second match at the African Nations Cup finals has suddenly turned into a mini-decider for both countries, no longer an indication of their potential, but imperative for any future success.
The Group C meeting today in Libreville could well settle the destiny of both sides.
Co-hosts Gabon got off to the perfect start although a 2-0 win over a weak and thoroughly outclassed, Niger could prove deceptive in terms of their potential of making any impact on the tournament they have invested so much into.
Morocco must win to get back on track and live up to the favourite tag slapped on them by many before the tournament started.
Their coach Eric Gerets says: “This game is practically a final for us.”
Morocco lost 2-1 to Tunisia on Monday in their first Group C game, but will likely still qualify if they beat Gabon and then Niger next week. A draw would be a major crisis and a defeat a catastrophe, almost surely eliminating them.
Given it is likely Tunisia will beat Niger and move onto six points, Morocco must win to stay second with Gabon on three points.
Gabon would then have the more difficult final group match against Tunisia next Tuesday while Morocco would fancy their ability to finish in the top two by beating Niger.
“Of course there is a lot of pressure on us and there is no discussion about the fact we have to put up an extraordinary performance, but we have 23 players and staff to help each other.
“It is our fault we lost the game against Tunisia. We lost concentration and discipline in the second half. It should be a good lesson to the players,” added Gerets.
Morocco will likely make changes after ineffectual displays from the likes of Oussama Aissaidi and Maroune Chamakh with Adel Taarabt and Youssouf El Arabi potential replacements in the starting line-up.
Gabon are well aware of the task ahead of them, according to their coach Gernot Rohr. He missed the defensive services of Moise Brou Apanga, the French Ligue 1 defender who was injured in the final training session before the opening game.
But he is expected to be back for the Morocco clash.
“We know we have difficult matches to come and Morocco for me are one of the best teams at the tournament,” said Rohr.