Gabon on Friday unveiled the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations mascot, a black panther named Samba, before their match with Sierra Leone in Franceville.
The ceremony was well attended by the Gabonese president Ali Bongo Ondimba, Fifa president Gianni Infantino and Caf president Issa Hayatou.
The Mascot sports Gabon’s blue and yellow colours and Samba means hello and welcome in local Bantu language.
Gabon will be hosting the continental tournament for the second time, a competition they previously co-organised with Equatorial Guinea in 2012.
According to the host nation, the black panther is a national symbol of Gabon and demonstrates the Central African nation’s long term commitment to environmental protection, which includes creating a sanctuary for the some of the world’s most fragile species.
Speaking at the ceremony, President Ali Bongo Ondimba said: “I am thrilled today to see the Black Panthers play in this packed stadium where Gabonese from all walks of life are gathered to share their common passion for the game.
“Football, like no other sport, creates a sense of unity, equality and inclusion. All of these are at the heart of my vision for a changing Gabon.
“It is a pleasure to welcome the new president of Fifa, on his first trip to Africa, to see for himself the great welcome our country will give all participants and visitors to next year’s tournament.”
Infantino arrived on Friday in Franceville on the last leg of a three-day Africa trip that took him to South Sudan, Ethiopia and Djibouti.
The Group I match between Gabon and Sierra Leone ended 2-1 to the hosts but it was a friendly and points will not count towards qualification for the 2017 Nations Cup finals.