Gabon works hard for 2012 Cup of Nations

Gabon works hard for 2012 Cup of Nations

ÇETİN CEM YILMAZ LIBREVILLE, Gabon - Hürriyet Daily News
Gabon works hard for 2012 Cup of Nations

The 45,000-seat Stade de l’Amitié, or the Stadium of Friendship, in the Gabonese capital, Libreville, will host the final game of the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations in February.

Hosting international events can be a daunting task and that is no exception for Gabon. The tiny 1.5 million-person West African country has spent more than 500 million dollars as it prepares to welcome its continental rivals for next year’s Africa Cup of Nations.

Gabon, co-hosting the tournament with neighbor Equatorial Guinea, is working around the clock to finish preparations before the kickoff on Jan. 21 next year. The tournament will start with the opening game between Equatorial Guinea and Libya at the co-host’s Stadium of Bata, but will end with the final match at the Stade de l’Amitié, or the Stadium of Friendship, in the Gabonese capital, Libreville.

The 45,000-seat stadium was inaugurated with a friendly match between Gabon and Brazil on Nov. 10. The match provided a great spectacle even though a highly-rotated Brazilian side was too good for the Gabonese, running out 2-0 winners. It was not enough to faze the famously passionate African supporters, whose love for the game was well-documented during last year’s FIFA World Cup in South Africa.

Despite this, there were empty seats at the Brazil match, raising questions about whether the Gabonese fans will keep filling the terraces even though their country may be knocked out of the tournament in the early stages. Tickets were priced between 3,000 and 20,000 Central African francs (about six to 40 U.S. dollars) and will “be kept similarly affordable during the Cup of Nations,” said the stadium’s project director, Thierry Boussillon.

With the games becoming all the more competitive, it will draw more attention to the country, a senior member of the Cup of Nations Organization Committee (COCAN) said.

“Gabon will have Tunisia and Morocco, along with Niger in the group; it will be competitive and worth watching,” said Louis Claude Moundzieoud Koumba, the tournament’s marketing and communication commissioner.

Group D, the other quartet that will play its round-robin matches in Gabon, mostly in Franceville, will also attract attention with its lineup of Ghana, Mali, Guinea and Botswana, the commissioner said.

“It will be a mini-West African Cup of Nations going on there and they are passionate about football. I believe they will come,” Mounzieoud Koumba said. Around 50,000 to 60,000 supporters are expected in the country during the competition.

One needs to take about a one-hour flight from Libreville to Franceville, whose stadium now hosts around 40,000 people following renovations. The two cities were chosen to host the tournament because they are the centers of the country’s biggest provinces, according to officials.

The organizing committee hopes the competition will add value to the country – and not just during the Africa Cup of Nations.

Henri Ohayon, the general director of the National Agency for Major Projects in Gabon (ANGT), the institution behind many of the construction projects for the cup, said the nation would profit from the tournament.

“There were several projects of investments before but there was not enough maintenance,” Ohayon said, adding that the event was just a small part of a major national renovation project costing more than $10 billion.

“With housing projects, roads, hospitals, hotels and schools to be built around the stadiums, the nation will continue to benefit from the values of the tournament in the future,” he said.