Gabon coach regrets Aubameyang’s loss after AFCON vertrek departure

Gabon coach Patrice Neveu admitted his team struggled to make up for losing star man Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang after being knocked out of the Africa Cup of Nations by Burkina Faso on Sunday in the last 16.

Arsenal striker Aubameyang and influential midfielder Mario Lemina of France’s Nice both left Cameroon on Monday to return to their clubs, with Neveu saying at the time it would allow both players to continue their recovery from Covid-19 infections.

Neither played a minute into the tournament, but Gabon came through their group anyway, taking Burkina Faso into extra time and then penalties, despite being reduced to 10 men in Limbe midway through the second half.

“If you take out two top international class players, one of whom has been the top scorer in Germany, England and France, you inevitably lose assets,” said veteran Frenchman Neveu.

Aubameyang and Lemina tested positive just four days before Gabon’s opening game against the Comoros, then tested negative for the 1-1 draw with Ghana in their second game, but were again excluded from the team after some residue from their infection was discovered .

They were released to return to their clubs for the Panthers’ final group match against Morocco.

Both are said to be in good health after rejoining their clubs, and French newspaper L’Equipe reported on Sunday that the duo had been allowed to leave the squad after deciding to leave their isolation for a night out in Yaounde.

“It was an extremely complicated situation. They had to stay in their rooms because they had a heart infection but then they go back to their clubs and there’s nothing,” Neveu added.

“What do you want me to say? We tried to make up for the loss, but you can’t just replace international class players like that.”

Gabon, who lost 7-6 in the penalty shootout after Sunday’s game ended 1-1, has never won a knockout draw at the Cup of Nations.

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