All to play for at Nations Cup

The deluge of goals in the first week at the Africa Cup of Nations has been matched only by the flood of scandals and dramas off the pitch.

Ahead of the decisive round of opening round games starting in Accra on Monday, Didier Drogba’s Côte d’Ivoire are the only one of the 16 teams to have secured their place in the quarterfinals.

Benin are the only team so far definitely heading for the airport after the group stages.

With a goal tally which climbed to 54 after Sunday’s games from Tamale (compared to 33 at this stage in 2006) this has the makings of a vintage tournament.

It’s certainly been a vintage edition away from the fields of play.

Things got off on the wrong foot in Ghana with chaotic accreditation arrangements with the local organising committee buckling under the weight of interest generated by this biennial competition from the world’s media.

No sooner had the LOC got its act together when the shadow of match-fixing emerged.

Benin coach Reinhard Fabisch claimed he’d been appproached by a man representing an Asian betting syndicate interested in fixing Benin’s opening Group B game with Mali.

Barely had the Confederation of African Football had time to digest this bombshell than the Namibia players announced they’d been offered $30 000 a man to throw their Group A game with Guinea on Monday.

Reacting to the rigging claims CAF official Soulemine Hubouba said: “We are launching an investigation into both cases.

“We’re following this with great concern.”

He added that despite these two cases “match-fixing was not rampant in Africa”.

Over at the Ghana camp the hosts have not been spared their own drama with the near walkout of star striker Asamoah Gyan after the torrent of abuse he received for his lacklustre display against Namibia on Thursday.

Coach Claude Le Roy reported the 22-year-old Udinese forward and his older brother Baffour had decided to quit the squad, but were persuaded to stay after lengthy talks with him and federation officials.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Le Roy.

“It was more than just unfair criticism. He was threatened, his mother was threatened, his father was threatened. It’s the stupidity of the world that we live in.”

How quickly people forget.

Gyan was the hero of this West African nation when he scored the fastest goal at the 2006 World Cup, his 68-second strike earning the Black Stars a 2-0 win over the Czech Republic in Cologne.

Over in Kumasi it has not been all plain sailing for defending champions Egypt, who reportedly changed hotels three times before finding suitable accommodation.

Then midfielder Mohamed Aboutrika picked up a booking and a warning from CAF for displaying a slogan in support of Palestinians.

Aboutrika lifted his jersey to reveal a t-shirt with “Sympathy with Gaza” written on it after he’d scored in Egypt’s 3-0 win over Sudan on Saturday.

CAF said Aboutrika had been warned after the incident that the display of political slogans was against football regulations.

Group C rivals and Nile neighbours Sudan have had their own problems after some of their players came to blows with an Egyptian television crew.

One coach at this African Nations Cup who has always had a prickly relationship with the media is Roger Lemerre, the former France coach who guided Tunisia to the 2004 Africa Cup of Nations title on home turf.

The Frenchman stormed out of one press conference after being angered by Senegalese reporters, then on Friday he confiscated a tripod belonging to a Tunisian television crew.

He said he’d return it if they hand him video footage of a training session.

The Zambia camp meanwhile have had to publically deny that there players staged a protest before their game against Cameroon on Saturday over bonuses.

They claimed they’d been promised $3 000 but had only received $2 500.
- Sapa-AFP

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