Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is training in his hotel room in a bid to give himself the best chance possible of making an impact for Gabon at the Africa Cup of Nations, according to head coach Patrice Neveu.
The Arsenal striker missed the Panthers’ opening match at the ongoing continental showpiece — a 1-0 victory over Comoros on Monday — after testing positive for COVID only four days before that match.
Neveu, speaking in the aftermath of that triumph, is optimistic that Aubameyang, who is asymptomatic, will be able to take part in their second group game against Ghana on Friday.
“His morale is ok, and in the face of this virus, we don’t really have a choice,” Neveu told ESPN. “He’s doing exercises in his hotel room, he’s able to work on an exercise bike, he’s doing sessions.
“We have four days [until the Ghana match] so we’re hopeful, he doesn’t have any fever and we’re hoping that he tests negative.”
Aubameyang, OGC Nice midfielder Mario Lemina, and coach Anicet Yala all tested positive upon arrival at Yaounde airport last week, with the players arriving in Cameroon following some leisure time in Dubai.
“His mood is good,” Neveu continued. “This is his Nations Cup, and he really wanted to be here, he wanted to play in that first match. “Mario has already tested negative, so we’re looking forward to getting a strong player back.”
Forward Aaron Boupendza, whose fine strike was enough to defeat Comoros at the Stade Ahmadou Ahidjo, acknowledged that Gabon have been affected by Auba’s absence.
“Our thoughts are with our captain, who’s been affected by COVID,” the Al-Arabi forward told ESPN. “We played this match for him, and we gave everything.
“It impacted us as a team, collectively, and when he joins us again, I think we’ll be stronger and will be able to take on our next matches.”
Axel Meye and Kevin Mayi are also absent for Gabon, with Neveu acknowledging — like many teams at the Nations Cup — he’s having to adapt his strategy and approach on a near-daily basis.
He said: “They’re important players, and while the staff and players prepared for this match well, it’s true that we’ve experienced some difficult moments.
“It’s my job as team manager to protect my players and prepare them well for the games, we know there are going to be some more challenges here and there.”
Gabon resume their Nations Cup campaign against Ghana, who lost their opener 1-0 to Morocco on Monday, before meeting the Atlas Lions next Tuesday in their final group game.
Aubameyang, who heads into the tournament against the backdrop of a troubled time at Arsenal, with Mikel Arteta stripping him of the captaincy following a breach of club rules in December, has struggled to make his mark in previous AFCON tournaments.
Gabon have been eliminated in the group stage in three of his four previous appearances at the tournament — including as hosts in 2017 — with the exception coming in 2012, also on home soil, when it was Auba’s missed penalty in the shootout against Mali that cost the Panthers a place in the semifinals. (ESPN)