Day 1 of the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations is in the proverbial books. The tournament, which was originally slated for Morocco, kicked off in Bata, Equatorial Guinea in front of a capacity crowd mostly made up of heads of state, security for the heads of state, and excited locals, probably. Notably, most likely due to fear of retribution from Equatorial Guinea’s president, ebola did not make an appearance.
Tournament hosts Equatorial Guinea took on Congo in the day’s first game. The fact that the game even took place, aside from logistic concerns, is astounding. During qualifying, Equatorial Guinea was disqualified for fielding an ineligible player. They were eventually given the clear to participate when the island nation offered to host the tournament upon Morocco’s decision to back out due to slightly irrational ebola fears. Similarly, the hosts’ opponents only qualified for the continental finals after Rwanda was also penalized for fielding an ineligible player. Maybe the saying is true: everyone (except for Rwanda) deserves a second chance.
For much of the first half, Equatorial Guinea surprisingly looked like world beaters. On the back of some industrious running and intelligent touches from Mallorca’s Kike, Middesbrough’s Emilio Nsue, and Valencia’s Ibán Edú. Congo, defensively, looked ill-equipped to handle the spotlight. That, in itself, shouldn’t be too surprising, considering Congo coach Claude Le Roy showed up in Bata with a team with zero Cup of Nations experience, as the Congolese haven’t qualified for the finals in 15 years.
The Equatoguineans took a first half lead after Kike burst through a channel in midfield, dribbling to the edge of the box where he played in his captain, Nsue, who finished from a narrow angle. Nsue had a second goal ruled incorrectly offside, which, it turns out, would have been very useful at the final whistle.
During the last 25 minutes, the Congolese were rampant, ultimately equalizing through the spectacularly named, Spain-based Thievy Bifouma. Minutes later, Congo almost walked away with all three points if someone, anyone would have breathed a little harder on the free kick Thievy whipped in from the right flank. But it wasn’t meant to be.
The day’s second game, also in Bata, saw 2013 Cup of Nations surprise finalists Burkina Faso take on Gabon, who also shocked plenty of people by making it to the quarterfinals of the tournament’s 2012 edition. It was an open game, mostly dictated by the Burkinabe, until Gabonese captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang rudely scored a goal to break up the Burkinabe fun.
Malick Evouna scored the second goal after a lovely little stepover from Charlton’s Frédéric Bulot and then they danced. Because that’s what happens at the Cup of Nations variety show.
So those are the basics. Now here are the noteworthy moments from Day 1:
1. Opening ceremony
CAF had an opening ceremony. They had to, right? All continental tournaments have ceremonies where they pull out all the stops to celebrate the subsequent several-week-long celebration.
Today in Bata, CAF spared no expense, wheeling out global pop icon and African champion Akon in front of a still-trickling-in Estadio de Bata crowd. Well, to be fair, it did spare some expense, as they made the megastar perform sans stage, with a microphone stand, which tends to restrict the breadth of one’s performance. Akon performed in the middle of what looks like an average to above average high school track. Akon, in theory, deserves better.
Here’s the performance if you want to watch. I suggest you don’t and move on.
2. Trouble at the Gates
Equatorial Guinea’s benevolent tyrant President Obiang recently expressed his hope that the stadiums would be filled. Last time Equatorial Guinea hosted, the gate numbers were not impressive. Hoping to remedy the situation the second time around, the local organizing committee vowed to make tickets more affordable, offering tickets to locals for less than a dollar.
Sky News reports that, as kickoff approached for the opening match in Bata, police struggled to keep out fans eager to attend the game gates.
“Although the crowd was peaceful, the process of checking tickets and allowing fans through gates could not cope with the sheer numbers of people trying to get inside an outer perimeter area about 400 metres from the stadium itself.
It appeared at times, as crowds pushed through, that there were people being crushed although the SSN HQ crew witnessed no serious injuries.
Police refrained from using tear gas to disperse crowds, instead opting to let off smoke canisters, throw water or squirt fire extinguishers. It had little effect.”
I mean, the president asked them to show up. What did we expect? This is a president with a record of disappearing people and a not exactly stellar human rights record. When he says show up to the game, you show up to the game and do it enthusiastically.
Sidenote: Do we think it’s a coincidence that they guy with the PSG jersey in the picture got through and is smiling? I’m suspicious.
3. Claude Le Roy hair still needs help
Enough said. Moving on.
4. AFCON hair update
This is science. I didn’t count, but I’ve been watching. For some time.
Tracking the evolution of Cup of Nations hair over the years has become a bit of a hobby. Some people collect stamps, favorite Internet beef tweets, or create scrapbooks of Drake’s photos with various celebrities. I pay attention to hair. Sometimes.
Anyway, just so you know, this is where we are.
Stats don’t lie.
5. Facial hair alert
There’s always at least one. Always. God bless Burkina Faso’s Mohamed Koffi. And God bless the Africa Cup of Nations.
After Day 1:
Zambia vs. the Democratic Republic of Congo (not to be confused with the aforementioned Congo-Brazzaville), followed by Tunisia vs. Cape Verde.
Two things to note:
- Both games tomorrow are in Ebebiyín. That’s in the top-right corner.
- Zambia has the best jerseys in the tournament. Easily. There’s no debate to be had. (Burkina Faso’s Kappa get-up was today’s top outfit, if you must know.)
Will any fans show up to the games tomorrow? I have no idea. But we’ll find out tomorrow.