Not a perfect start, but African Cup up and running
BATA, Equatorial Guinea (AP) — Republic of Congo’s team was stuck in a traffic jam for over an hour on its way to play the opening game of the African Cup of Nations on Saturday. Later, dozens of rowdy fans found their way into a media room at the stadium, knocking over sponsors’ boards and forcing reporters and officials to scatter as they surged through.
It wasn’t a perfect start, but the African Cup is underway in Equatorial Guinea. Three weeks remain for organizers to try and keep the tournament together amid criticism that there hasn’t been enough time for the small Central African nation to properly organize it.
And as for the soccer, the host team drew 1-1 with Republic of Congo to open the traditionally chaotic 16-team, three-week championship at a packed Bata Stadium in the country’s biggest city, temporarily dispelling fears over poor attendances.
Those worries might return in games in smaller remote towns not involving the home team.
In the second game of an opening-night double-header in Bata, Gabon beat Burkina Faso 2-0 to take the early lead in Group A. Forward Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scored one and set up the second to the delight of the drum-banging Gabon fans who traveled from just across the border.
Gabon co-hosted the African Cup with Equatorial Guinea in 2012, but lost in the quarterfinals as Aubameyang, its top player, was the only one to miss in a penalty shootout.
“It’s a new tournament and we start from zero,” Aubameyang said.
The Republic of Congo squad has been hardest hit by some of the teething problems this week in Equatorial Guinea, which only took over as host two months ago when Morocco pulled out over Ebola.
Coach Claude Le Roy has already complained fiercely about their hotel, which he said had no running water and dangerously exposed electric cables. On Saturday, he said his players had to sit on a bus for 65 minutes in the sweltering temperatures and without air conditioning after they were taken through the center of town and became bogged down in the gridlock. Le Roy said that was probably the reason why his team started so slowly against Equatorial Guinea.
“If CAF doesn’t understand they have to protect teams ... then they (CAF) have to change,” Le Roy said, blaming organizers the Confederation of African Football for not ensuring smooth passage for his squad.
The Gabon fans who ended up racing through a room where player interviews take place had apparently been given the wrong directions by stadium staff, some journalists said.
But on the opening day, at least, there was no problem with attendances.
In fact, there were probably more fans than there should have been for the opening game as the red-shirted Equatorial Guinea supporters kept flocking into the stadium even after the seats were full. Many watched from the walkways behind the stands as American R&B singer Akon made a surprise appearance to sing for the crowd, performing in black leather pants and a long coat and standing on a running track next to the soccer field.
Equatorial Guinea captain Emilio Nsue then scored the first goal of the African Cup, sliding an early shot under the Congolese ’keeper to produce an even bigger roar from the crowd than Akon got. Thievy Bifouma equalized for Republic of Congo with three minutes left.
Gerald Imray is on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GeraldImrayAP