Africa Cup of Nations: How family ties fuel Africa's deadliest striker

    Story highlights

    • Aubameyang speaks to CNN ahead of Africa Cup of Nations, the continent's biggest football competition.
    • Cites father Pierre "Yaya" Aubameyang as key influence

    (CNN)Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and his father are not only bound by blood ties. Father and son have history when it comes to the two defining moments in Gabon's football past.

    Twice "Les Panthères" have made the quarterfinals of the Africa Cup of Nations. Twice they have played out 1-1 draws before going out on penalties.
      Both times, the team representing this African nation of around 1.8 million people starred a man named Aubameyang.
      "He was captain, now I'm captain, and I'm proud to lead this national team," Borussia Dortmund striker Aubameyang tells CNN, 16 years after his father's team lost to Tunisia.
      The 27-year-old knows plenty about carrying the weight of a nation's expectations.
      Gabon's only other appearance in the last eight of the AFCON came when it co-hosted the competition with neighbor Equatorial Guinea in 2012.
      While it was a success on a personal level for Aubameyang -- he scored three goals during the tournament -- it was ultimately his miss in the penalty shootout against Mali that meant his team fell short once again.

      End of the season 🇪🇸🇪🇸🇪🇸💚💛💙👪🙏

      A photo posted by Aubameyang (@aubameyang97) on

      He walked back to the halfway line before collapsing to the turf in tears and, as the stadium emptied, father and son were left to reflect upon another opportunity lost.
      This year's tournament offers a chance of redemption.
      Gabon might only be 110th in the FIFA world rankings -- below the likes of Swaziland, Rwanda and Sierra Leone -- but in star man Aubameyang, it boasts one of the world's deadliest strikers.
      And, with Real Madrid legend José Antonio Camacho coaching the team, the 2017 AFCON host nation has real cause for hope.
      "I think it's a really important challenge," says Aubameyang. "We have a good team ... Why not win this trophy for the first time?"
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      Like father, like son

      Born in France and invited to play for Italy's Under-19s following a spell at AC Milan, Aubameyang might never have represented Gabon at all, had it not been for the influence of his father, known during his playing days as Pierre "Yaya" Aubame.
      "It's my culture," shrugs the Dortmund star, reflecting on their close relationship. "He taught me so many things about this country as captain of the national team. I lived all the time in France but it's like I was born in Gabon.
      "For me, this choice was easy because my father was my first favorite player. I was in the stadium watching him for the first time when I was maybe three years old, and straight away I knew I wanted to do it like him. That's it."
      Like his father, Aubameyang spent his formative years in French football -- cutting his teeth at Dijon, Lille, Monaco and eventually Saint-Etienne in a succession of loan deals from parent club AC Milan.
      But while the career of his Dad would eventually fade into relative obscurity -- comprising stints at Colombian club Atlético Junior and a season back home in his native Gabon -- the same cannot be said of the Dortmund forward.
      When he broke Ivory Coast midfielder Yaya Toure's four-year hold on the award in 2016, Aubameyang became the first ever Gabonese player to be named African Player of the Year.
      His peers in Germany football voted him the Players' Player of the Year last season after he scored 25 Bundesliga goals.
      And, with 16 league goals in 15 appearances so far this campaign, he's leading the charge for the European Golden Shoe, previously won by football greats such as Gerd Muller, Marco van Basten and Cristiano Ronaldo.
      If Aubameyang succeeds, he will become the first ever African winner.
      Already his nation's top goalscorer and a 2016 Ballon d'Or nominee, he's even challenged Usain Bolt to a race.
      It's enough to make any father proud.
      "He told me already that he wants me to continue the way I'm going," smiles Aubameyang, the youngest of three brothers who have all spent time on the books of AC Milan, but the only one to break into the big time.
      "I think he's happy but every time he tells me 'You can do it better, you can do it better' and so that's the way."

      The way forward

      If Aubameyang has gone from strength to strength, can Gabon go toe-to-toe with Africa's football powerhouses?
      First up, the hosts need to navigate a group that comprises Burkina Faso and Cameroon as well as Saturday's opponents Guinea-Bissau.
      "Every time, we get the best teams," laments Aubameyang. "It's crazy!
      "Cameroon are big and it will be a hard game for sure. But we did well against Burkina Faso last year so I think we have our chances.
      "It's another year but like I said before we have a good team -- young players, but talented players, so for sure we have to advance past the first round."
      His father will be watching on hoping he does just that.