Malabo - A week after the start of the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations, fears the
tournament in Equatorial Guinea would be a disaster are proving to be a
little wide of the mark.
After the last-minute decision to move the competition from Morocco
to the tiny central African state, there were concerns over how the
threat of Ebola would be handled and how the hosts would ensure full
stadiums when venues were often empty the last time the Cup of Nations
came to town in 2012.
And not everything has gone smoothly, with stories of the Tunisia
team having to eat dinner by candlelight and sleep four to a room after
their hotel in Ebebiyin was flooded.
Others, including Congo Brazzaville coach Claude Le Roy, have
complained of logistical problems, while fans clashed with police before
the meeting between the hosts and Burkina Faso in Bata.
There have been reports of tensions flaring at entrances to venues,
although that has been because of the streams of supporters turning up
for games and having to wait to pass through rigorous health checks as
part of the fight against Ebola.
But once inside, fans have created colourful atmospheres and most matches have been sell-outs.Indeed, so full was the Estadio de Malabo for the Group D game
between Cameroon and Mali that many fans were unable to find seats,
instead being forced to crowd in stairways to watch the action.
"Like everyone who is passionate about football, I watch all the
games and I've quite liked what I've seen in terms of the atmosphere,"
said Ivory Coast coach Herve Renard, whose team are based in Malabo.
There, the stadium sits on the edge of town, on a hillside rising
gradually towards the summit of Pico Basile, shrouded in mist 3 000
metres above sea level.
It has come alive on game day, with fans in the different colours of the competing countries creating a carnival atmosphere.
"The stadium here is lovely and the atmosphere was very, very good in
the first match. That is the charm of the African Cup, seeing all these
supporters walking to the stadium, mixing without trouble, without
insulting each other. It is the charm of Africa and it is magnificent,"
"For the moment I think it's a great success, especially if you look
back and see how things happened to reorganise the competition."
For the Ivory Coast and the other teams based in Malabo, on the island of Bioko, there has been little to complain about.
The accommodation provided in the capital is excellent, with teams
sharing one luxury hotel in the centre opposite the town's delightful
cathedral and another along the coast in Sipopo, complete with its own
Renard admits that his team are "in magnificent surroundings", and
they are certainly a million miles away from those in which most people
live in Equatorial Guinea.
However, the teams get a taste of reality when they arrive to train
at the Estadio La Paz by Malabo's bustling central market or take the
long drive south through the jungle to Bioko's only other adequate
training ground by the Atlantic Ocean at Luba.
And there is a dark side to the images of full stadiums, with claims
that members of the public have effectively been forced into attending
matches in a nation ruled with an iron fist by President Teodoro Obiang.
"Public servants are obliged to go because those who don't will lose
their jobs," claimed Ponciano Mbomio Nvo, a prominent Malabo-based
lawyer known for his fight against the human rights situation in the
"Companies who don't buy tickets for their employees will lose work
contracts with the state. What justifies it? In 2012 there was none of
But there has been little sign of spectators not enjoying themselves
at matches, even when the football has not matched expectations.
The first 14 games delivered only 26 goals, but dramatic late wins
for Tunisia, Senegal and Ghana, and matchwinning performances from
superstars Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Asamoah Gyan, have helped light
up the competition on the field.