Gabon are facing a number of questions just over a month before the reception of the DR Congo, on June 18 in Franceville, as part of the 5th day of qualifying for the AFCON 2023. One of them is the return of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to the national team and the situation of Didier Ndong at Dijon.
The loss in Sudan (0-1, 27 March) did not affect Gabon’s chances of playing in the next Africa Cup of Nations, in January and February 2024 in Côte d’Ivoire, but it requires them to win one of their next two matches, on 18 June in Franceville against DR Congo, or in September in Mauritania. The Gabonese are still leading Group I with seven points, ahead of Sudan (6), Mauritania (5) and the DRC (4), and could welcome back Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who turns 34 on 18 June.
The Chelsea (England) striker, who announced his international retirement in May 2022 after having played for Gabon 73 times and scored 30 goals, will be called up by Patrice Neveu to face the Leopards, barring a huge surprise. The French coach of Gabon had never closed the door to a return of Aubameyang, with whom he has a good relationship. The contact between the two men, without being daily, has always existed. But Neveu was able to count on the decisive intervention of Ali Bongo, the head of state, who received the striker, accompanied by his father Pierre Aubame, at the Presidential Palace on 8 May. The details of the conversation between the three men have not leaked, but it seems clear that the president of the Republic asked PEA to reconsider his position and return to play for his country and help it qualify for the Ivorian CAN.
Aubameyang received by Ali Bongo
Aubameyang should logically be included in the list that Neveu will soon communicate, but nothing seems to indicate that this will also be the case for Mario Lemina (29 years, 23 caps, 3 goals. The Wolverhampton midfielder, who is close to Aubameyang and has also been out of the international games since May 2022, has not spoken about a possible return to the Panthers, even though Neveu has repeatedly said that “the doors to the national team are open”. The latter must also deal with the situation of Didier Ndong, who is in difficulty at Dijon (France, Ligue 2).
Dijon, Ndong only plays in N3
The 28-year-old midfielder (42 caps) has not played for the French team since 20 March against Pau (0-1). After playing twice against Sudan (1-0 on 23 March, 0-0 on 27 March), Ndong joined his club a few days late, citing family reasons. His president, Olivier Delcourt, with whom relations have been complicated for several months, sanctioned him by sending him to train with the reserve team. The decision coincided with the sacking of Omar Daf, the Senegalese coach who trusted Ndong in a central defensive role, and the appointment of Pascal Dupraz in early April.
The latter has dealt with the penalty imposed on the player by Delcourt, and relies for over a month on Zargo Toure-Daniel Congre, with positive results allowing the DFCO to consider a maintenance. At the end of April, Neveu went to Dijon to meet Ndong and Emmanuel Desplats, the club’s general manager. “Didier is training and playing with the B team of Dijon (National 3). He is competitive, even if the level is not that of Ligue 2. There was a sanction, a new coach arrived and he has results with a central defence,” the French coach summarised. The chances of seeing Ndong play again in Ligue 2 by the end of the season seem minimal. It remains to be seen whether the Panther coach will call him up to face the DRC on 18 June. The latest news is that the trend is rather favourable…