Gabon seal qualification
Top goalscorer Aubameyang books passage to next round
Last Updated: 31/01/12 10:36pm
Aubameyang: Red-hot hitman
Gabon qualified for the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations quarter-finals with a historic win over Tunisia in their Group C encounter in Franceville on Tuesday evening.
Tournament joint top-scorer Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang's 62nd minute strike sealed the victory and top spot in the group for the competition co-hosts against a spirited Tunisian outfit.
Les Panthères' triumph saw them progress to the knockout stages of the continental showpiece for only the second time after their 1996 appearance against the Carthage Eagles.
The win on Tuesday over the eventual Group C second-place finishers Tunisia was especially sweet for the Black Panthers, who were eliminated by the Eagles 16 years ago.
It is also the first time the Gabonese have completed the group stages with a 100% winning record following their 2-0 and 3-2 victories over Niger and Morocco respectively.
Tunisia started the match at Stade De Franceville the livelier of the two teams with Wissem Ben Yahia, Saber Khalifa, and Youssef Msakni prominent in several attacking phases.
But the Panthers weathered the frenetic opening 25 minutes to edge their way back into the match and found the Eagles' weak spot in the form of goalkeeper Rami Jridi.
Several crosses and free-kicks into the Tunisians' 18-yard area had the Eagles shot-stopper flapping around and looking rather unconvincing, with Roguy Meye's header on one occasion having beaten the 'keeper but bouncing past the goal.
Panthers skipper Daniel Cousin dominated the aerial exchanges when getting to long balls sent upfield with Meye's runs off his captain also intuitive and well-timed.
A notable bit-part player in Gabon's attacking forays was Aubameyang, but after an almost invisible first 45 minutes the striker surged down the right flank just past the stroke of half-time to whip in a pass into the area.
The delivery resulted in a goalmouth scramble between the jittery Jridi, Meye and Edmond Mouele, with the Eagles gloveman getting the benefit of the doubt under the Gabonese men's strong presence to get a free-kick in his favour.
The start of the second half began in much the same vein as the first with the Carthage Eagles having the rub of the green going forward while the home side sat back and absorbed the pressure.
The Panthers, though, caught the Tunisians napping down the right with Mouele taking off down the flank and then cutting in to drill in a shot on the angle which was deflected out for a corner.
Moments later, and the Gabonese had Jridi clutching at air yet again, as replacement winger Levy Madinda's ball in from the right drew a Lloyd Palun header wide of the target.
But there was no problem for Aubameyang in finding the back of the net when the Panthers hitman fired his side into the lead with a right-footed finish at the end of a quick-fire team breakout upfield.
The Gabonese then turned up the heat on their opponents as they looked to maintain their lead with a relentless attacking barrage down the flanks and up the middle via long balls.
Having initially wilted under the pressure, the Eagles tried to rally a late fight back but it was all a little too late and the game ended with the Panthers the worthy victors.
Gabon will now face the second-placed finisher in the tightly contested Group D, while Tunisia are most likely to face AFCON favourites Ghana in the last eight.
Africa Cup of Nations Group A
Africa Cup of Nations Group B
Africa Cup of Nations Group C
Africa Cup of Nations Group D