Expectation is building in
Gabon as the country continues its preparations for co-hosting the 2012 CAF African Cup of Nations. Through his monthly progress reports, Gabonese Football Association President Placide Engandzas has been keeping the fans appraised of developments, though the fact is they can barely wait for next January, when the big event finally gets under way.
Coached by Gernot Rohr, who took over from French legend Alain Giresse in February last year, the Black Panthers have six warm-up matches ahead of them, including a date this Friday with joint-hosts Equatorial Guinea in Cannes, and appetising run-outs against Brazil and Morocco next month.
The Franco-German tactician claims he is 80% of the way to putting his squad together, though with the continental finals only a matter of weeks away and the team still going through a transitional phase, question marks remain about Gabon’s ability to mix it with Africa’s finest.
One man hoping to calm the fraying nerves of the home fans is striker Eric Mouloungui. “It’s a new team with a lot of young and inexperienced players,” said the Nice forward in conversation with Tidesports source “Obviously there’s uncertainty, but I don’t see any point in creating unnecessary pressure.”
That pressure has grown since the Black Panthers made a frustrating first-round exit at the 2010 African Cup of Nations in Angola, with a recent 1-0 win over Niger doing little to silence the doubters in the run-up to next year’s date with destiny.
“That tournament is the only one some of us have played in, which needs to be remembered,” said Mouloungui by way of mitigation. “We’ve got many new players who don’t have any international experience at all, and they’re not used to playing qualifying games or big competitions. No one knows how they’re going to react.
“There’s uncertainty there, and with the changes the new coach has made we’ve had to learn things all over again,” continued the 25-year-old, whose place in the Gabonese front line is undisputed. “Obviously the coach is expecting more from the boys who play in Europe, me more than anyone, and I’ve got to lead the way.”
Rohr’s squad for this week’s game against Henri Michel’s Nzalang Nacional contains four men who play their club football in France’s Ligue 1, with a further nine running out in the Gabonese championship, which kicks off this very weekend. Missing from the list, however, is former Hull City and Glasgow Rangers forward Daniel Cousin, who is currently unattached and has subsequently been discarded by Rohr.
“Players like Daniel or Stephane Nguema still have the chance to come back home, play for a couple of months, and get themselves back in the frame for the African Cup of Nations,” said Rohr. “It goes without saying that it’s a big shop window for African internationals. Daniel’s taking his time to think it over.”
A hard taskmaster, Rohr has also dispensed with the services of national team captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, the star striker’s punishment for skipping the last get-together.
President Engandzas has been talking about “making progress” in his monthly bulletins, a process Mouloungui believes his side can continue when the time for talking stops.
“Expectation among the fans is high, and we’re going to tap into that passion when the tournament starts,” he said. “The first objective is to get through the first round and build our confidence. Then, with the fans behind us, anything is possible in the knockout rounds. There have been some surprises in the qualifiers and we’ve seen a few big teams fall by the wayside. That gives us hope.”
The Black Panthers will need to make a solid start at next year’s finals if they are to push into the last eight and beyond. “That’s essential if we want to stop negative pressure from building,” acknowledged Mouloungui. “If we get off on the wrong foot, the mood will change. And with the team we’ve got we need to avoid that.
“We have to fight as one for the same objective and with everyone doing their bit,” he concluded, setting out the Gabonese battleplan. The older players will bring their experience to the table, and the younger ones their enthusiasm.”
RSG Restates Commitment To Youth Dev Via Sports
The Special Assistant to the Rivers State Governor on School Sports, Chief Aribitonye Okiri, has said that the state government-led by Chief Nyesom Wike, is committed to develop youths in the State through sports.
He stated that it is not in doubt that the State has hidden talents at the grassroots that are yet to be discovered.
Chief Okiri, said this at the finals of the National School Sports Competition held at Adokiye Amiesimaka Sports Complex in Port Harcourt, on Wednesday.
According to him, Governor Wike is poised to reach out to young ones in all the local government areas, in the state and engage them with sporting activities in a bid to discover hidden talents.
“As I speak, the governor has reiterated his desire to reach out to the children in all parts of the state and unearth their talents through engagement in sports, believing that all Rivers children are talented” Chief Okiri said.
Also speaking, the second Vice President of Nigeria School Sports Federation (NSSF), Pastor Emmanuel Ebong, thanked Governor Wike, for proving a worthy partner of NSSF and appeal to other corporate organisations to emulate Nigeria Breweries Ltd in partnering NSSF in sports development.
At the end of the final competition, Community Secondary School, Okochiri in Okrika Local Government Area, dominated the medal table.
24 States Set For Lagos Athletics Championship
The Lagos State Athletics Association has confirmed the entry of 24 states and some clubs for its lucrative Athletics Meet fixed for Thursday, at the Teslim Balogun Stadium.
Yussuf Alli who is the Meet Director for the Lagos Open Athletics Championship made the disclosure at the weekend even as he hinted a few other states may still join the already confirmed 24 states and clubs.
He said: “Yes, we are very much on track for the Lagos Open Athletics Championship which will be coming up this Thursday.
“Right now, we already have 24 states and some top racing clubs that have confirmed their participation, a few more may join before we close the window.”
The Lagos Open Athletics Championship is a one-day meet simultaneously serving as another qualifying window for the Tokyo Olympics as well as a preparatory event for athletes that have already qualified for the sporting showpiece.
In the past days, Lagos has been a beehive of activities with the National trials at the Yaba College of Technology Sporting complex and now the train is moving to the heart of the city in Surulere as the build-up to the Tokyo Olympics continues to gather momentum.
The list of events to be competed for at the Lagos Open Athletics Championship includes the 5,000 meters, 400 meters hurdles, 100 meters, 800 meters, 400 meters, and 100 meters.
There would also be top-quality action across the relay events including; the 4×100 meters open, 4×100 meters open and 4×400 meters mixed relay.
Long jump, High jump, Triple jump, Shot put as well as 4×100 secondary schools relay and 4×100 secondary schools relay have all been penciled down for the maiden Lagos Open Athletics Championship.
Already, the top three finishers across all the events have been assured mouthwatering prizes by the organisers.
Okagbare Sets New Record At Olympic Trials
Blessing Okagbare will be heading to Tokyo Olympics in the best form of her life after running the second fastest time in the world this season.
The 32-year-old ran 10.63 seconds to win the Athletics Federation of Nigeria Olympic Trials at the Sports Complex of Yaba College of Technology in Lagos on Thursday.
The 10.63 seconds time saw her tie with Jamaican Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce’ best time in 2021 ahead of the delayed 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.
Okagbare ran 10.99 seconds in the semifinal of the event to set a new championship record , and before clocking 10.63 seconds in the final to set a new record. The scorching 10.63 time is also a new African record. Only Florence Griffith Joyner who holds the world record at 10.49 seconds has run faster. The Nigerian has now emerged one of the favourites for the 100m gold at the Tokyo Olympics alongside Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce who first ran 10.63 seconds this season.
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