Politics plays its part at the African Nations Cup

January 17, 2010

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Being in Cabinda for the African Nations Cup should have been fun. At first, it was not, to say the least. The Togo team bus came under fire, with the assistant coach and a press officer being shot to death by a group of separatists as they were on their way to Cabinda from Pointe Noire, Congo.

It was only after long talks and multiple changes of minds that the Sparrowhawks decided to leave the Angolan northern enclave to fly back home and mourn their dead.

We would get calls from players saying they wanted to leave — that was on Saturday. Calls from the same players saying they wanted to stay after all — that was on Sunday.

Eventually, the prime minister got the last word, urging the Togo team to come back home. Until the last minute, some players tried to stay in Angola.

A plane sent by Togo touched down at Cabinda airport but it took off to Lome with the players on board only 10 hours later.

Angolan and Togolese officials locked themselves in a Cabinda airport office for hours as the host nation did all it could to try and persuade Togo to stay.

It failed and as so often in Africa, politics got the better of sport. The attack in itself was evidence of that, as was the situation afterwards.

A few days later, Ivory Coast coach Vahid Halilhodzic, on the eve of his side’s stylish 3-1 win over Ghana in Cabinda, said he had received a letter from the president.

“We know what he is expecting from us,” said the Bosnian, who has never lost a competitive game with the Elephants since he took charge in 2008. “I was under huge pressure, you can’t imagine.”

For those who know him, Halilhodzic is a stubborn character and not exactly the kind of coach you can easily pressure.

Nigeria coach Shaibu Amodu is also already under intense scrutiny after a 3-1 defeat by Egypt in his team’s Nations Cup opener.

He may be expecting a call some time soon.

PHOTO: A security guard stands beside a mural advertising the African Cup of Nation being held in the Angolan city of Lubango, January 15, 2010. Lubango is hosting the African Cup of Nations Group D soccer matches. REUTERS/Finbarr O’Reilly

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