African Nations Cup Diary: All's well as two best teams line up for final
Saturday 30 January 2010
Read all about riot police breaking up dancing Egyptians and today's African Nations Cup final in the last instalment of Jonathan Wilson's diary
What reward for reaching the quarter-final? In Angola’s case it was a set of plush new benches, longer and discernibly more luxurious than the ones used in the Estadio de 11 Novembro during the group stage. Apparently they would have been in use during the group stage but, like so many things in Angola, were stuck on the docks in Luanda.
Angola became the first hosts to miss out on the semi-finals since Ghana in 2000 as they failed to break down Ghana’s present crop, Manucho missing three fine opportunities. Whatever the cause for the present woe at Manchester United, it’s safe to say it wasn’t letting him leave. The favourites Ivory Coast then crashed out to Algeria, the familiar lack of midfield creativity compounded by some dreadful defending.
The press conferences become ever more farcical. It’s hard to believe any preview of Egypt’s quarter-final against Cameroon did not include the fact that Ahmed Hassan, by moving to 170 international appearances, would break his compatriot Hossam Hassan’s Africa caps record, yet after their 3-1 victory the first question was to ask why he was wearing a T-shirt bearing the number 170.
There followed a series of paeans to the glory of the Egyptian nation before an interruption to present the Samsung Fair Play player of the match award (given to the least bad player on the losing side) provoked Cameroon’s coachPaul le Guen to walk out. Nigeria, who have stumbled from crisis to crisis like Rasputin avoiding assassination, staggered into their fourth semi-final in five tournaments with a penalty shoot-out victory over Zambia.
Still, at least a press conference is an opportunity to talk to players, albeit in badly translated gobbets of about three-and-a-half seconds. That seemed an improbable luxury to journalists manhandled away from Egypt training without explanation by local police. It later transpired that even though we’d been invited by Hamada, the Egyptian press officer, two hours earlier, Hassan Shehata, Egypt’s coach, had decided on a closed session after an Algerian journalist had found his way into the lobby of the team hotel. The police applied his dictat in typical act-aggessively-first-think-up-vaguely-plausible-explanation-later style.
Another day of frustration as Algeria decided they could match Egypt for bolshiness. Well done. CAF, of course, unlike every other confederation, does not insist on mandatory press conferences the day before games. In an unrelated note, a CAF official asked why African football so rarely gets serious coverage in the European media.
If you thought Egypt v Algeria was bad on the pitch, you should have seen the press box. Local organisers had strung four European journalists between the Algerian and Egyptian press like a line of peacekeepers, but it proved an insubstantial barrier. The five Egyptians immediately in front of me – all paunchy fiftysomethings – goaded the Algerians with magnificent childishness, mainly through the medium of slow, arse-wiggling dance.
The ringleader, who boasted a superb waxed moustache, alternated between giving it the full Saturday Night Fever and an ostentatious re-adjustment of his cuffs, which may not sound irritating, but drove the Algerians wild. Inevitably as the final whistle went, the Algerians poured forward, leaving me trying to file my match report while flinging elbows backwards and shouting impotently “Monsieur, s’il vous plait. Je travaille.” In the end it took about a dozen stewards and a couple of riot police to separate them.
Nigeria arrived back in Benguela for their third-and-fourth place game with the future of their coach Shaibu Amodu still in doubt. He was reportedly told he had to reach the semis if he was to keep his job till the World Cup, but did so in such unconvincing style it would be no surprise to see him go as the political wrangling between the Nigerian Football Federation and the Presidential Task Force, set up to oversee the World Cup campaign, goes on.
When he said, wearily, that he “couldn’t be bothered” responding to criticism, you wondered if even he cares any more.
Play-off for third and fourth places, but nobody really cares. However, off the pitch comes the ridiculous decision to ban Togo from the next two Cup of Nations.
It has been a patchy tournament, but at least the final of this Cup of Nations will feature the two best teams as Egypt face Ghana. For the Pharaohs, seeking self-validation after again failing to qualify for the World Cup, this could be an unprecedented third straight Nations Cup, while Shehata, could become only the second coach to lift a third Nations Cup.
The only other manager to achieve that was CK Gyamfi, so it seems fitting that the Black Stars will be defending the record of the man who led them to the title in 1963, 1965 and 1982. Egypt have been the more fluent, rattling in 14 goals to Ghana’s four (althoughthey have played a game more), but Milovan Rajevac’s young side have improved as the tournament has gone on, and have kept three successive clean sheets.
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