By Paul Bassey
The countdown has begun to the thirtieth Africa Cup of Nations, since the competition started in Khartoum, Sudan in 1957.
In less than six days, the attention of the sporting world is expected to be focused on what has come to be established as the third biggest soccer fiesta in the universe outside the FIFA World Cup and the European Championship.
In less than six days, the world will stop wondering whether “….it is possible” because in less than six days, CAF will literally perform a miracle by hosting a competition of such magnitude with less than three months of preparation!
Needless going back to the story of how we got here. What is important at this stage is the story of a small country of less than eight hundred thousand people agreeing at short notice to host a competition that ordinarily needs not less than four years of rigorous preparation given the massive infrastructure, human and material capital needed to see it off.
That this Nations Cup is holding is a positive testimony of CAF’s resolve and tenacity and a confirmation of the can do spirit of Africa.
Yes in the year 2012 Gabon and Equatorial Guinea came together to host the Nations Cup. Co hosting as the name implies requires just fifty percent of effort in nearly all ramifications including physical infrastructure and this was the story of Equatorial Guinea with two solid stadiums in Bata and Malabo.
To now host the Nations Cup means Equatorial Guinea must produce two other venues and Mongomo and Ebebiyin were proposed, venues without standard facilities and herein lies the challenge. Option B, the fall back plan of using only Bata and Malabo was logistically tasking, given the need for adequate training pitches as an example.
This is where President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo and the good people of Equatorial Guinea will come in for special mention by CAF when the final match is played at the 35,000 seater Estadi De Bata on February 8 2015.
It took less than one month to import and plant grasses in Mongomo and Ebebiyin. The renovation of training pitches, modernization of hotels…….just name it, the people of Equatorial Guinea have taken the challenge and CAF has provided a solid backing by deploying what the Director of the tournament, the young and energetic Amr Fahmy called “……..the best assemblage of CAF personnel ever for the challenge ahead”
Yes, it may not be easy, but the will and determination exhibited by all concerned has seen so many battles conquered already and by February 8 the war would have been won.
The acceptance by Equatorial Guinea to host this competition at so short a notice is a direct gain of the Hayatou administration’s policy of not only taking football round Africa, but using it as a medium of development and social emancipation.
In days past, you could count on the fingers of one hand, countries that could bid and host the Nations Cup successfully, big countries, financially stable, economically sound and with rich football culture ……
Thanks to the Hayatou gospel, countries like Burkina Faso, Mali, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea can now bid and hope to win.
For the 2017/ 2019 event, Guinea and Zambia staked claims and were not afraid to challenge the Algerias, Camerouns and Cote D’Ivoires of African football history.
I ask myself, if Equatorial Guinea was not given the chance to host in 2012, would they have had the courage to decide to go it all alone in 2015? The answer is definitely “no”.
For Equatorial Guinea, the stakes are really high, but never in my long and intimidating history of Nations Cup participation ( My first Nations Cup as a member of CAF delegation was as a young media officer in Bloomfontein in South Africa in 1996) have I seen such enthusiasm, determination and unity of purpose by all concerned as in the current event.
Whatever the challenge, whatever the effort, in less than six days, the stress will disappear as the focus shifts to the field of play where fantastic matches are on the cards.
Let us start with Mongomo, the so called Group of death, where only two countries, of course, will survive from the incredible trio of Ghana, Algeria and Senegal…….yes, throw in giant killers South Africa, who with a new coach, new mentality and new crop of players are ready to shock Africa. Ask Nigeria.
What about the traditional rivalries, call it derbies that will play out in Malabo, with Cameroun, Cote D’Ivoire, Mali and Guinea? “somebody go die here” goes a popular Nigerian exclamation.
Elsewhere in Bata, host Equatorial Guinea are up against neighbours Gabon with Pitroipa’s Burkina Faso and DR Congo thrown in for good effect.
Yes the duels would have been more pronounced and exciting with defending champions Nigeria’s Super Eagles and The Pharaohs of Egypt in attendance, yet by the time the competition starts, all that will be history as the world awaits a new king of African football….
Let the Matches begin……