Gabon's Didier Ovono On Being Captain Fantastic, Cup of Nations Hosts and The Rivals He Fears Most

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In the first part of our interview with Le Mans' Didier Ovono, the Gabon goalkeeper talks about his dream of captaining the co-hosts to glory at the Africa Cup of Nations. Ovono also runs the rule over the Panthers' group opponents and explains why dark horses Niger are causing him more sleepless nights than Morocco.

Gabon are hosting the Nations Cup for the first time. How are you feeling personally?

I am going to have the opportunity to captain my country at a Nations Cup. And what’s more we are going to be playing in front of our own fans. To play for the hosts in a competition like this, and to wear the armband, is truly a great honour. I’ll give everything I have got to make the people happy and proud of the team.

Gabon haven’t made it past the first round at a Nations Cup since 1996. Is it about time to buck that trend?

I think so. The supporters are starting to believe we could do something really special. The last time Gabon got past the first round we made it to the quarter-finals. This time we are at home, we’ll be playing in full stadiums. So why not try to go even further than that this time and give our people some real joy?

Can we say that reaching the semi-finals is your objective?

No. When you are the host nation you have to set out with the aim of going all the way to the final. You organise a competition to win it. Of course, there are some teams competing who are ranked higher than us by FIFA. We are not the favourites, but the host nation always has an outside chance. It’s going to be like playing with 12 men because the supporters will gives us wings. There’s no reason why we can’t dream of being in the last four. Then we’ll see. It’s a knockout competition from the quarter-finals onwards, so anything can happen. There can be surprises.

Gernot Rohr has included four of the players that won the African Under-23 Championship in December. What will the youngsters bring to the table?

We have some excellent young players. It’s an advantage for us to have the kids that won the Under-23 tournament with us. They have quality but they also have the experience of winning a pan-African competition. They finished as African champions, beating the likes of Egypt and Morocco. They know what it takes to win. They have the winning mentality that is maybe the one thing the rest of us lack. With those younger players joining what was already a strong group, I’m very confident in this squad.

You’ve been pooled with Niger, Morocco and Tunisia. What do you think of the draw and which opponent are you most wary of?

This may be surprising but I’d say I’m most wary of Niger because they really don’t have anything to lose. They have a cavalier approach and always try to score goals. We beat them 1-0 in a friendly but it won’t be easy to contain them. Don’t forget they knocked out Egypt in qualifying so they are a good side. In a way I’m more concerned about them than Morocco and Tunisia. We know what the North African sides are like. They play good technical passing football. But we can also get the ball down and pass.

Morocco look strong on paper. Are they the group favourites?

Morocco is a great footballing nation. We beat them home and away in the (2010) World Cup qualifying campaign but that was before Eric Gerets became their manager. They are becoming a top nation once more under Gerets. They’re definitely stronger now than two years ago, but we haven’t got any weaker either. We have an excellent generation of players who are reaching maturity together.

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