A day that should have been full of positive messages about African football, as Ghana and Ivory Coast prepared for a potentially thrilling African Cup of Nations final on Sunday, was instead marked by the negativity of disciplinary actions against the actual and intended hosts.
Morocco, whose government withdrew from hosting Afcon 2015 at short notice because of the Ebola outbreak, were banned from the next two tournaments. The Confederation of African Nations (CAF) also fined them £650,000.
CAF was rather more lenient towards Equatorial Guinea, whose offer to step into the breach was marred by rioting during the substitute hosts’ semi-final defeat on Thursday.
There had been trouble at Equatorial Guinea games previously in the competition and the semi-final began to take a disturbing course after Ghana went two up in the first half. Their players were forced to shelter under police riot shields to reach the dressing rooms at the break.
A third goal, late on, triggered horrific scenes and the game was halted for more than 30 minutes while Ghanaian fans sheltered behind one goal after being targeted by missiles including a piece of mirror, a broken plate and bags of urine as well as rocks and bottles. Police used batons, tear gas and even low-flying swoops by a helicopter to quell the rioting, but visiting fans were attacked after the match and 500 had to be escorted to the Ghanaian Embassy, where they spent the night.
CAF fined Equatorial Guinea £65,000, ordered them to pay compensation to injured Ghanaian fans, and to play their next match behind closed doors. However, that sanction was suspended, meaning Saturday’s third place play-off against DR Congo will have spectators.
That immediately prompted concern among their opponents with Gabriel Zakuani, of Peterborough United, tweeting: “If they’re throwing this [rocks and glass] at players, Eq Guinea, you can have 3rd place, I love football but prefer to live”. However, head coach Florent Ibengé said his squad was “serene” and “preparing to play”.
Ghana, meanwhile, are attempting to put the semi-final behind them and prepare for the final against an Ivorian team which will have had an extra 24 hours rest.
Their arrival in the final is an impressive coup for head coach Avram Grant, who only took over in November. Since then he has healed the rancour left by a World Cup campaign so bitter it was followed by an enquiry and the expulsion of Kevin-Prince Boateng and Sulley Muntari.
Michael Essien is also absent from a relatively youthful Ghana team which features former Sunderland striker Asamoah Gyan, Christian Atsu, the Chelsea winger on loan to Everton, and Crystal Palace reserve Kwesi Appiah, currently on loan to Cambridge United.
The man Ivory Coast will watch most closely, however, is probably leading scorer André Ayew, of Marseille.
The Ivorians will hope Manchester City pair Yaya Touré and Wilfreid Bony can lead them to their second crown in a repeat of the 1992 final. Then the Elephants beat Ghana 11-10 on penalties, meaning Ghana have to go back to 1982 for their last success.
That the two countries are West African neighbours adds to the spice around a match which badly needs to be a well-behaved classic to ease, if not eradicate, the memory of Thursday night’s scenes.
Grant is already the first manager to reach both the Champions League final and African Cup of Nations final. He has also taken teams to the FA Cup final and Football League Cup final. He has, however, lost them all so far. The Black Stars will be hoping the Israeli’s luck changes on Sunday.Reuse content