Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was prevented from playing for Gabon in their Africa Cup of Nations draw with Ghana on Friday after traces of the coronavirus were found in his system, according to head coach Patrice Neveu, who refuted earlier reports from his own federation that the striker was suffering with heart problems.
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Aubameyang was forced to sit out Gabon's opening victory over Comoros after testing positive for coronavirus upon is arrival in Yaounde on January 6, but had been primed to make his comeback against Ghana in their Group C meeting at the Stade Ahmadou Ahidjo on Friday after returning a negative test.
However, the Arsenal striker was omitted from Gabon's starting line-up on the day, with Gabon's Football Federation reporting on Twitter in the hours before the match that the Confederation of African Football's Medical Commission had prevented him and teammates Axel Meye and midfielder Mario Lemina from playing after tests revealed "cardiac lesions."
Neveu sought to set the record straight after Friday's draw.
"In the readings, it's clear that Aubameyang has no cardiac problems," Neveu told ESPN. "He [and Lemina] passed PCR tests and they were negative.
"They then did the second lot of exams, cardiac tests, and it seemed as though the pair of them had problems.
"It appears as though the virus has left residue, it's possible that the illness has left an impact, and two hours before the match, the team doctor and the doctor of CAF were on a phonecall with me, and they told me not to play them."
Neveu also acknowledged that he was in two minds about whether to follow the medical advice, while Aubameyang himself initially refused to accept the appraisal of the medical officials.
"In order to protect my players, I took the decision to not play them," Neveu continued. "It's my responsibility, so we chose not to play them.
"We'll see what happens now, but that was my responsibility," he added. "When we got the news, Pierre-Emerick wanted to play, he left his room with his belongings, but the CAF doctor told me again, so his father had to intervene.
"I know it hurt him."
Without Aubameyang, Gabon still managed to take a point from Ghana during a testy contest, which ended in conflict as the Black Stars accused their rivals of a lack of sportsmanship when the Panthers netted a late equaliser even though their opponents had a player injured.
The draw, coupled with Gabon's 1-0 victory over Comoros in their opener, takes the Central Africans to the brink of the knockout stages, and despite Aubameyang's ongoing medical issues, Neveu, who has himself only just returned from a positive COVID diagnosis, remains hopeful that he can still have a part to play in the tournament.
"It can be possible that the illness has left an impact, but we'll do the MRIs, we'll see what happens and we'll do what's necessary," he noted.
"We'll do the necessary and follow the procotol. "We have four days [until the match against Morocco], and I hope to get them back, because we need them."
Jim Allevinah's 88th-minute equaliser for Gabon cancelled out Andre Ayew's 18th-minute opener for Ghana to leave the latter needing victory over Comoros in their final group game to remain in the hunt for the knockouts.
Benjamin Tetteh saw red for the Black Stars after the full-time whistle for aiming a punch at Aaron Boupendza during a melee prompted by Gabon's exuberant celebrations at the contest's conclusion.