Gabon defender Didier Ndong: We are broken after Nations Cup exit
LIBREVILLE, Gabon -- Gabon defender Didier Ndong says that he and his teammates are "broken" after they were eliminated from the African Nations Cup.
Needing a win against Cameroon, a 0-0 draw on Sunday night saw hosts Gabon suffer the ignominy of becoming the first home nation knocked out of their own tournament in the first round for 23 years, despite the best efforts of the Sunderland defender.
"We are absolutely disappointed, really broken, but sometimes in football, as hard as you try, things just don't run for you," he told ESPN FC. "But overall, and I think all the players will agree with me, when we gave up that goal against Guinea-Bissau in our first match [a 1-1 draw in the opener], it meant it was an uphill battle for us."
Gabon opened the tournament with what looked a routine assignment against the Nations Cup newcomers but were nervy before Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang gave them the lead. Then, as the clock struck 90 minutes, they conceded from a set-piece as the minnows grabbed an unlikely draw.
The hosts had chances against Burkina Faso in their second game, which also ended in a draw.
And they could have won against Cameroon, with Aubameyang squandering an easy tap-in early on and Denis Bouanga hitting the post in stoppage time before Ndong saw his effort saved well by goalkeeper Fabrice Ondoa.
"There is not much to say about the game," Ndong said. "I think every player gave his maximum, I think you saw in the match that they could give no more."
But the 22-year-old did hint at frustration about the preparations and the change of coach. Gabon did not have a formal warm-up during their fortnight of pretournament training and a change of coach in December -- with Jose Antonio Camacho replacing former Portugal international Jorge Costa -- did not help either.
"It wasn't easy," Ndong said. "The change of staff before a competition like this meant when we arrived there was a new coach who didn't know the group and therefore he began his preparations a lot later any other teams.
"Conditions were not ideal but despite that, as I said earlier, every player gave everything he could and that is a positive we can take out of it."
With five points, Burkina Faso finished top of Group A, edging Cameroon on goal difference. Burkina Faso will return to play in the first quarterfinal in Libreville and Cameroon head to Franceville to take on Senegal.
Mark Gleeson covers African football for ESPN FC.