Report: Africa Cup of Nations 2015

Opening day at the Africa Cup of Nations: getting into the tournament mindset

Esono of Equatorial Guinea (R) challenges Congo's Moutou during the opening match in Bata
Esono of Equatorial Guinea (R) challenges Congo's Moutou during the opening match in Bata Reuters/Mike Hutchings

Five things we learned from Day 1 at the Africa Cup of Nations.

  • If you build it, they might not come
    Yes, the daily review is back and bristling with perceptive insights and witty observations. We add these phrases to create the correct frame of mind for readers who might be tempted to think the review is not at all what it purports to be. You’re wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Rather like the autovia – that’s Spanish for motorway – linking the country’s largest city with the inland town of Mongomo. This 200-odd kilometre stretch of tarmac cuts through lush vegetation and is a driver’s delight. There is hardly anyone on it. Occasional signposts offer up recommended speeds. But honestly, with 4x4s driving at light speed, these panels are blurs. We saw more pedestrians crossing the carriageways than other cars and trucks. Still, the construction rather undermines one of our favourite lines from the film Field of Dreams: "If you build it, they will come." Probably good to start a tournament with no preconceptions and an open mind.
  • There’s earthy wisdom in the Cantonaesque world of Shakes Mashaba
    In an earlier incarnation, the French actor Eric Cantona was a footballer. Others played, he reconfigured the spheres of le jeu – that’s French for "game". Never more so than when Cantona responded to verbal abuse from a Crystal Palace supporter in 1995 by stepping into the terraces and kicking the startled bigot. Following the subsequent court case, Cantona told a press conference that the British press was like “a flock of seagulls following the trawler”. Ah, oui?

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  • Mashaba’s South Africans are in a tough group comprising Ghana, Algeria and Senegal. The 64-year-old coach says supporters back home must temper their expectations despite some encouraging recent results. Mashaba mused: “It goes without saying … you plough …the flower, it blossoms … now the woman says plant more.”

    The review likes that kind of bucolic beauty. We feel like bursting into hymns from harvest festival time. But no, we’ll spread the good seed on the land another time.

  • There’s also techno concept speak in the Mashabadrome
    Kudos has to be given to Mashaba for speaking to reporters shortly after arriving at the Sotuh Africa team hotel in Mongomo. He didn’t have to do it, especially since they’d been travelling for over 12 hours. The impromptu briefing was instructive. “Experience is the name that we give to yesterday’s mistakes,” suggested the coach. “When we lose, everybody talks that we never had experience in the team. But if you don’t give the junior boys a chance to play, then when are they going to get experience?”

    It’s impossible not to like the cut of this man’s jib. He added: “Experience does have a little bit of a plus … building up the BMT.” That’s Mashaba for big match temperament.

  • BTT must be quickly established
    That’s review speak for Big Tournament Temperament. Of course the review is a gnarled, yet smiling veteran of several events throughout the world. We’ve been to the Cup of Nations in Ghana, Angola, Gabon and South Africa. Claude Leroy, the coach of Congo, has been at the helm of teams at eight Cup of Nations and he’s been livid about arrangements in Equatorial Guinea for his squad. They were stuck on a bus for more than an hour in traffic jams and arrived less than an hour before kick off against the hosts in the opening match. Not surprisingly, the Congolese started poorly, going behind in the 16th minute. Equatorial Guinea had two good chances to double their advantage in the second half. They squandered them both and paid the price for their lack of precision. Congo finished well enough to be worthy of a 1-1 draw – their equaliser coming three minutes from time. Must have been a long journey home for the Equatorial Guinea team.
  • Even if you’ve had only two months to prepare ... an accreditation centre should not be in a small, poorly ventilated room
    The main accreditation centre in Bata was a morass of incompetence, incoherence and loud, sweaty squalor. Hundreds of people were quartered in a room ill-equipped to deal with the task. There weren’t separate queues to cater for the myriad interests. So, essential medical staff such as Ebola prevention and awareness teams had to jostle in the same line as volunteers and international journalists. There were no signs to explain what to do. There wasn’t anyone at the entrance to offer help. The procedure emerged as follows: fight to get into one line to see a man who checked your passport. He then gave you a number and then you had to go and stand in a second queue to wait for the accreditation picture to be taken. After that the accreditation pass was issued. There are simpler ways, but the experience helps build BTT.

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