Gabon shrugs off exit as empty seats beckon

Gabon shrugs off exit as empty seats beckon

Gabon shrugs off exit as empty seats beckon

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Gabon’s top player in the cup, is dejected after missing his penalty during the shootout. AFP photo

Co-hosts Gabon shrugged off their African Nations Cup exit with an indifference that threatens to be mirrored by empty seats as public interest in the latter stages of the tournament wanes.

A team more used to being on the losing end in major matches had surpassed expectations by reaching the quarterfinals and after defeat by Mali on penalties on Feb. 5 it chose to look on the bright side rather than dwell on disappointment.

“The team gave a lot physically in the pool matches and many of the players were not used to that kind of intensity in games against such quality opposition,” coach Gernot Rohr told reporters. “My team gave everything they had.”

Locals, who took until halftime to fill the stadium for their team’s big game, have shown even less interest in matches not involving Gabon to raise questions over the attendance for tomorrows semifinal and the weekend’s final in Libreville.

Once they were in the stands at their Chinese-built 45,000-capacity stadium, Gabonese provided a rollicking atmosphere for the later stages of a game that Mali won 5-4 on penalties. But fans hardly seemed disconsolate afterwards despite the visible grief of striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, the only player to miss in the shootout, and the mood was echoed by much of the team.

The next game in Gabon is tomorrow’s semifinal between Ivory Coast and Mali and organizers will be keen to avoid the empty stands that have been a feature of games not involving the hosts.

Crowds have long been a Nations Cup problem with few travelling fans attending due to travel costs and lack of accommodation.

Other co-host, Equatorial Guinea, who has also played to packed stadiums while other games in the country attracted few spectators.