Gabon: Heaven Knows no Frontiers
Typically expect Gabon to line-up in a 4-4-2 formation with the two central midfielders sitting deep.
Didier Ovono, the experienced Oostende stopper, will start in goal, although his understudy Anthony Mfa Mezui has impressed in Ligue 1 with Metz this season.
Yrondu Musavu-King will partner Bruno Ecuele Manga in the heart of defence. The Cardiff City man is a defender cut from the same cloth as his coach and could be one of the stars of the tournament.
Lloyd Palun of OGC Nice is a proactive option at right-back, while youngster Johann S. Obiang will play at left-back. The Chateauroux man is only 21 and is making his first strides in the international game, having replaced the unfortunate Benjamin Ze Ondo during the qualifying programme.
The central midfield pairing of Andre Poko and Ibrahim N’Dong is one of the team’s key strengths.
The former provides energy and is sturdy in the tackle, and compliments the latter’s tidy style.
At the last minute, Jorge Costa attempted to call-up Olympique Marseille’s Mario Lemina, hoping that the temptation of the Cup of Nations would be an allure enough to secure the efforts of a bright talent.
His absence won’t be a great loss for the Panthers, although it’s intriguing to imagine what might have been had the 21-year-old brought his positional assurance and passing poise to the heart of the park.
The offensive four give Costa three key options.
Option one is to play Charlton Athletic’s Frederic Bulot on the left flank, with Levy Madinda on the right.
Personally, I prefer to see Bulot on the right, where he has begun to develop a good relationship with right-back Palun.
This formation—a 4-4-2—would see those two provide service for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Malick Evouna, the successor to Daniel Cousin.
An alternative would be to switch to a 4-3-3. This would see Madinda shift inside to work more centrally, and would have Bulot and Aubameyang flanking Evouna. This would demand attacking thrust from the full-backs, but their forays forward could be covered by the diligent Ndong and Poko.
Finally, Costa could move to a 4-2-3-1, with Madinda in the hole.
In an ideal world, I would have Bulot and Aubameyang switching flanks. This would allow the Borussia Dortmund man to feature in his club role—on the right side—but also on the left, where he can cut in on his deadly right-foot, to great effect.
Bulot, a versatile operator, is a useful addition to the side, even if Addicks fans haven’t seen the best of him.
Options from the bench include forwards Romaric Rogombe, Bonaventure Sokambi and Johan Lengoualama, as well as Rostov man Guelor Kanga, recently banned for responding aggressively to racist chants from fans in Russia.