Relaxation the key for co-hosts Gabon's progress

By John BennettBBC Sport, Libreville
Gabon striker Pierre Aubameyang
Gabon striker Pierre Aubameyang is one of the Panthers' outstanding players of the tournament

On the streets of Libreville it is almost impossible to escape the excitement surrounding the Africa Cup of Nations.

The roads are covered in posters featuring the star players with flags hanging from nearly every shop or home.

And no conversation is ever far from debating whether the home team can win the trophy - especially after the Panthers managed to top their group, with three wins from three.

But at the centre of this football frenzy, there is one place that appears to be an oasis of calm.

It may be next to one of the busiest roads in the city and two large supermarkets but this place always seems serene, relaxed and clam.

And it just happens to be the home of the footballers who should be under more pressure than anyone at this year's tournament - the Gabon squad.

I've visited the team hotel a number of times during this Cup of Nations and I've been impressed at how - behind the huge gates which lead to the entrance - the head coach Gernot Rohr is managing to protect his players from the national team's passionate supporters.

In fact, Rohr told me staying relaxed has been one of the key reasons why Gabon have been able to perfrom at their best, notably in their extraordinary 3-2 win over Morocco.

"Even before the first game we had this relaxed atmosphere and no nervous spirit," Rohr said.

"We need our energy for the games and for physical and technical efforts so we cannot have stress here where we are living."

But unlike other coaches at this tournament, the German has been keen to allow his players a bit of freedom.

For example, the day after the Morocco win, the squad was allowed to leave the hotel to be with freinds and family, as long as they were all back by 11pm.

All the players returned early or on time.

Rohr admits that there is a balance to be reached between allowing his players to mix with the public during the tournament and shielding them from the pressure that it inevitably brings.

"I want to protect them because when they go out everyone will tell them, 'you will be champions!'

"I need a team, who is motivated, quiet and humble.

"We must stay humble, it's very important. When you listen to the people it's difficult to stay humble."

And the players seem to buy into Rohr's approach.

One of the most experienced is former English Premier League striker Daniel Cousin.

He agrees that staying relaxed is crucial for the co-hosts.

"There are a lot of young players, I think the players like me with experience need to speak to the young players to help them to stay relaxed," Cousin said.

"And sometimes I need to help them to think about something else other than football. It's very good for the mind."

Meanwhile, outside the hotel gates, the home fans seem to be responding well to the personality of the team and the way they have conducted themselves during this tournament.

Local journalist Ludovic Aubin Nono says the supporters feel very connected to the squad.

"There is very good contact with the public," Nono explains.

"Before the beginning of the Africa Cup of Nations the atmosphere was very bad because of the scores in friendly games.

"Right now, everyone is really behind them and the way they play.

"We expect them to reach the final. The people trust in them and know they play very fine football.

"It's one of the reasons they're free in their mind.

"You can see the positive atmosphere."

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