Undoubtedly the strongest two members in group C, the two matches that form the double-header over the coming weeks will surely decide which team qualifies top of the group, and presumably gain some sort of advantage for the African Cup of Nations itself in Morocco in January.
Barring some Angola pulling up their socks or Lesotho putting in some miraculous performances between now and the end of November, the current state of play suggests Les Stallions would be the ones to top of the group, but Gabon very much have the opportunity to change that this weekend when they play them at home in Libreville.
Taking place at the stadium where the final of AFCON 2012 took place, it was not so long ago that these two found themselves in the same group for qualifying, having also played eachother during the qualification process for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
Burkina Faso, of course, finished on top of the group on that occasion, only to lose to Algeria in the playoff on away goals (*sobs*), but the games points the home side came out on top on both occasions when they played each other. A Remy Embanega goal was the difference that day in Libreville, as Gabon will be looking to use their home advantage once again.
Whilst squad lists are naturally difficult to come by, Gabon’s first job will be to overcome the disappointing 1-1 draw with Lesotho in Maseru, as they have the landlocked nation their first point of qualification. Containing a good mix of talent based in Europe and Africa, Burkina Faso represent a tough task for the Gabonese, but the previous home win only a couple of years ago will undoubtedly play in their mind.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is yet to quite get going for Dortmund this season, as the German side continue their stuttering start, but the prominence he has in his national team means he’ll undoubtedly play a more important role.
Often played through the middle rather than on the wing as he often is for his club, the relatively slow nature of the Burkinabe defence may be something he’s able to exploit. Bruno Ecuele-Manga will also no doubt be involved, having gained plenty of game time for Cardiff in the Championship this season after his move from Lorient.
The African-based contingent are also worth a mention, forming an important part of this team. Ibrahima N’Dong will likely anchor the midfield, as he continues his impressive form for CS Sfaxien, while Benjamin Ze Ondo will no doubt be marshalling one of the wings from left-back. Having recently reached the final of the African Champions league with ES Setif, his confidence will hopefully effuse to the rest of the team as they strive for a result.
As for Les Stallions, maintenance of their 100% record is what’s on offer for them, as they look to secure nine points from nine after three games. With Alain Traore having missed the last couple of games for Lorient, it is not clear whether he will make it or not, after starting Burkina Faso’s first two games against Lesotho and Angola. Jonathan Zongo has been a fairly regular starter for Almeria this season, however, so looks like he could well continue in his wide role against Gabon.
You would expect Djakaridja Kone and Charles Kabore to continue at the base of the midfield, but the position in front of them remains up for grabs in Traore’s absence, with the possibility that Bertrand Traore could replace the Lorient man, while Jonathan Pitroipa could be shifted into the centre. The Al-Jazira man has been in lethal form in the qualifiers so far, scoring three goals in two games, and although the UAE league season has now kicked off, you’d expect him to continue in the vain that he always does for his country.
A difficult one to call this, but with Gabon’s excellent home record you would imagine that these two will share the points, and maybe somewhat of a cagey affair. Whilst Burkina Faso thrive on the attack-focused way of operating, they will be very much aware of the threat that the Gabonese can have – especially on the counter – so may not try too hard to win this one.
A draw would probably be a good result for both sides in the context, with this double-header of games between the two sides that are leading the group meaning that they are aware of the advantage they hold, with victories in their remaining two games over Lesotho and Angola resulting in both of them qualifying for the tournament.