Another Angola collapse and crowds could plummet
African Nations Cup organisers will be bundle of nerves over the next 24 hours, contemplating the fate of host nation in the tournament.
Angola blew a phenomenal four goal lead in Sunday’s opening match against Mali and now look vulnerable to the prospect of early elimination if they fail to beat Malawi on Thursday (1830 GMT).
The 50,000 spectators at the new November 11 Stadium were stunned by the capitulation of their team, seemingly coasting home to the most positive of starts with just over 10 minutes to go before collapsing like a deck of cards and handing Mali an improbable point in a 4-4 draw.
Classic watching for the neutrals but heartbreak for the locals, and real concern for the organisers.
Angola are not given much chance of winning this Nations Cup but it was hoped that they would certainly be competitive, thereby energising a real fervour around the event.
Poor host teams seem plentiful these days. Little is expected of South Africa in six months’ time at the World Cup and both Austria and Switzerland departed Euro 2008 early.
That had little bearing on the tournament as crowds still flocked to the squares in Berne, Basel, Vienna and Zurich. For example, proximity made it possible to have an estimated 100,000 Dutchmen, all clad in Orange, invading the Swiss serenity.
But that is unheard of in Africa where distance and economic reality make travelling fans a rarity. There are a handful in Angola for the Nations Cup but barely visible or vocal and so it is up to the home team to ratchet up the intensity.
Angola drew a full house on Sunday but will they be able to fill the stadium on Thursday when they play their second Group A game? If they fail, will this be yet another Nations Cup characterised by empty seats and stadiums that echo with the shouts of the players?
There are certainly many examples from previous editions but only Tunisia in 1994 attempted a solution. After Tunisia’s side prematurely exited the competition, the organisers filled the stadiums with army recruits. The only problem was they were all dressed in the same brown fatigues and sat inanimate in the stands.
Hopefully Angola’s army will stay in their barracks a little bit longer.
PHOTO: Mali fans try to catch the jersey of El Hadj Mahamane Traore after the opening match against Angola at the African Nations Cup soccer tournament in Luanda Jan. 10, 2010. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh