He is currently out on his own at the top of the Bundesliga scoring chart but Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was unable to add to his 16-goal tally when Borussia Dortmund travelled to SV Werder Bremen on Matchday 17 – for a very good reason.
The Gabon international was instead doing all he could to help the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations hosts try to pull off what would have been an upset success of major proportions, but it was to be in vain. For while Aubameyang himself is now a star of world standing, the rest of his national team colleagues are altogether less familiar names at the top end of the game, and despite the BVB sharpshooter's upbeat spirits heading into the tournament, they fell agonisingly short without losing a single game: three draws were not enough to take the hosts beyond the group stage.
Back in the heart of the Ruhr district, his employers were monitoring his progress with mixed feelings. On the one hand, Dortmund coach Thomas Tuchel pointed out, “There could be nothing better for his self-confidence than enjoying success there.” At the same time, however, “I'm sweating it a bit and keeping my fingers crossed above all that he returns fit and healthy.”
Understandably so, given Aubameyang's indispensability to a Black-and-Yellows side lagging behind their own high expectations and desperate to get off to a flying restart in the bid to improve on their current sixth place in the standings. Had Gabon progressed all the way to the AFCON 2017 final, BVB would have had to do without Africa's 2015 Player of the Year for their opening three league games of the new year.
As it stands, though, they will be getting him back prior to their opening game of the second half of the season at 1. FSV Mainz 05, since Gabon's three draws against Guinea-Bissau, Burkina Faso and Cameroon - with Aubameyang netting both of the hosts' goals - were not enough to earn them a quarter-final berth.
Aubameyang is the man who can make the difference, as many a Bundesliga defender will testify – and in Dortmund, there was perhaps a good dose of relief at the final whistle in Libreville's Stade de l'Amitié - to know their star striker is on his way back early.