Controversy taints Cup of Nations as Ivorians win

Controversy taints Cup of Nations as Ivorians win

BATA, Equatorial Guinea – Agence France-Presse
Controversy taints Cup of Nations as Ivorians win

Ivory Coast players celebrates with the trophy after winning their African Cup of Nations final soccer match against Ghana in Bata, Equatorial Guinea, Sunday, Feb. 8, 2015. AP Photo.

The 2015 Africa Cup of Nations won by Ivory Coast in Equatorial Guinea Feb. 8 was full of controversy with disputed penalties and rioting supporters.

Pictures of a jagged broken mirror used as a missile by a rioter and players attempting to assault a referee in another knockout match involving the host nation were beamed around the world on television.

The incidents did nothing to enhance the reputation of football on the continent, although African Football Confederation (CAF) president Issa Hayatou saw things differently.

Taking exception to the international media coverage, he insisted the western press was “perpetuating colonization” as similar events occurred in Europe without as much uproar.

“When something bad happens in Europe, they say it’s an error. When something happens in Africa, they begin talking about corruption,” said Hayatou.

“The western media are simply here to perpetuate colonization.”

Tunisia refused to apologize to CAF for the behavior of its players and officials after Mauritian referee Rajindraparsad Seechurn awarded a dubious stoppage-time penalty from which Equatorial Guinea equalized before going on to win 2-1 and reach the semifinals.

Unless an apology is received by the end of March, Tunisia will be barred from competing in the 2017 Cup of Nations qualifiers.

The controversy around the 2015 Cup of Nations began when original host Morocco was stripped of the right to stage Africa’s football showpiece after raising concerns over the spread of the deadly Ebola epidemic.

This left late replacement Equatorial Guinea with just two months to prepare for the 16-nation tournament.

Morocco has been barred from both the 2017 and 2019 Cup of Nations tournaments.

Oil-rich central African country Equatorial Guinea co-hosted the tournament with neighboring Gabon three years ago, using capital Malabo and main city Bata.

But to host the 2015 Cup of Nations it had to include eastern towns Mongomo and Ebebiyin, and build new stadiums there.

“We had only 50 days to prepare for this tournament. We worked very hard, day and night, to ensure the competition was played in Africa and not outside,” said proud organizing committee chairman Francisco Pascual Obama Asue.

“This must be a source of pride for us and the whole of Africa.”

Qatar, the 2022 World Cup host, was mentioned as possible host had no African country come forward to take over from Morocco.

Equatorial Guinea brought in Cuban doctors and adopted stringent measures to combat the spread of Ebola virus at entry points and match venues. This ensured the country was safe for both residents and visitors.

“Equatorial Guinea has done very well to host this competition at such short notice, even my country backed out after pressure from many interest groups. They deserved commendation,” said Ghana Football Association (GFA) president Kwesi Nyantakyi, who is also a CAF executive.

“This was nicknamed the ‘Ebola tournament,’ but in the end no one was even talking about this fear anymore because everything was well taken care of.”   

The football on offer showed a great deal of European influence with tighter defenses and more tactical awareness, and this was expected because only three of the teams were led by African coaches.

A total of 68 goals were scored in 32 matches for an average of 2.12 goals per game -- slightly below the 2.15 recorded two years ago in South Africa.

Exciting footballers like Andre Ayew of Ghana, Thievy Bifouma of Congo Brazzaville, Ibrahima Traore of Guinea and Gervinho of Ivory Coast shone.

The group games were full of suspense right up to the last round with the runner-up in Group D decided by a drawing of lots between Guinea and Mali after the sides tied on points, head-to-head, goal difference and goals scored.

The pressure for results meant three coaches have already gone -- Alain Giresse of Senegal, Michel Dussuyer of Guinea and Paul Put of Burkina Faso -- and there are strong indications that Volker Finke of Cameroon will not have his contract extended when it expires in May.

In the absence of defending champion Nigeria and record seven-time winner Egypt, experts predicted a very open tournament, but in the end two of Africa’s powerhouses -- the Ivory Coast and Ghana -- clashed in a decider than went to penalties before the Ivorians emerged 9-8 winners.