Angolans flocked to a stadium in Luanda for the opening game of the African Nations Cup they hope will restore some national pride after a deadly gun attack that overshadowed the start of Africa’s top soccer tournament.
Angola and Mali were due to kick-off at 7pm GMT after an opening ceremony featuring a fireworks display that organisers said would light-up the 50 000-seat stadium built for the event.
South African President Jacob Zuma was to attend the opening game along with other African leaders.
The championship, which ends on January 31, is one of the biggest sporting events in Africa and is watched by millions.
Organisers said there would be a minute of silence for members of the Togo delegation who were killed in Angola’s northern province of Cabinda by gunmen the government said were separatist insurgents.
The Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda (FLEC) has vowed to carry out more attacks but authorities have beefed up security.
“This is a group of people that have little or no coordination. We have increased security to make sure this does not happen again,” Antonio Bento Bembe, an Angolan minister in charge of Cabinda affairs, told Reuters.
Togo will return home and not compete in the tournament, captain Emmanuel Adebayor said on Sunday, although a spokesperson for the squad later said a final decision had not been made.
The organisers held an emergency meeting late on Saturday before finally announcing that the tournament would go ahead.
But the mood among sports fans on Sunday was high, as people made their way through the boiling heat along a 10km stretch of road festooned with flags and banners with slogans reading “Proud to be Angolan” and “Go Angola”.
“This is a day to remember. The whole world is watching and we know the tournament will be a success,” said Landira Silva (22) as she stood at the entrance to the stadium.
“I’m betting Angola beats Mali 3-1,” said Joao Sousa, as he zig-zagged his way through the crowd to the main gate of the stadium. “I’m sure we will win.” – Reuters