World Cup Qualifiers: Ndong opts out of Gabon squad to support arrested ex-internationals

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Didier Ndong Gabon
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A day before a crucial fixture against Libya, the 27-year-old made a late decision to leave the Panthers' camp in solidarity with a protest

Yeni Malatyaspor midfielder Didier Ndong has withdrawn from the Gabon squad ahead of their 2022 Fifa World Cup qualifiers because of the arrest of former footballers in the country.

Ndong decided not to join Patrice Neveu's team for their trip to Franceville where they will battle Libya in a must-win game on Friday evening.

He revealed that his decision is a sign of solidarity with the arrest of ex-Rennes winger Stephane Nguema and four former internationals who protested for the return of the Gabonese leagues that have been on hold since March 2020 due to coronavirus pandemic.

The quintet represented the National Association of Professional Footballers of Gabon (ANFPG) but they were taken into custody on Wednesday evening and released a day later.

Despite them regaining their freedom, Ndong condemned the initial arrest of the former players as ‘unacceptable’.

“The notion of solidarity is the one that inhabits me the most. Far from being a hypocrite, I would not be in Franceville for the simple reason that in any case, I do not tolerate the arrests of Stephane Nguema and other former international players,” the 27-year-old wrote on Instagram.

“For having campaigned for the return of the local championship, Stephane Nguema was cowardly arrested. But they did not stop there, on top of that, they kept him all night in a Haut-Ogooué gendarmerie post.

“For me it is unacceptable, Stephane carried the colours of Gabon high, he is an example for me, better a national pride. He has my full support.

“To show this support, I refused to get on the plane to Franceville. I am like that, I am whole, I am Ibrahim Ndong and I support Stephane Nguema and the resumption of the National Championship.”

Gabon occupy the third spot in their World Cup qualifying group with four points after four matches and they must beat second-placed Libya to keep their hopes of playing in Qatar alive.

The Panthers captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, however, sees the protest as a distraction ahead of a crucial match on home ground but he also called for the resumption of domestic leagues.

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"We are not at all in indifference to this situation. We all hope that the Gabonese championship resumes, we are sad about that,” Aubameyang said.

“Afterwards, as far as the former teammates are concerned, they have been players, they know very well how important it is to prepare well. We often had problems in the past years before matches.

“They made this trip, they could have waited until the end of the match when we know how important this meeting is for qualifying. I don't like to argue, I just hope the situation gets sorted out.”