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David L. Smith
01 Feb 2015 22:59
Residents sitting at a cafe in Malabo watch the 2015 African Cup of Nations group A match between Equatorial Guinea and Gabon, taking in place in Bata. (AFP)
The match between the two Congos was the one I
really wanted to see, but it was being played on the mainland in Bata and I’m
in Malabo, on Bioko Island, a 45-minute flight separating the country’s two
The next best thing to do is find a local bar
and enjoy the ambience as Equatoguineans enjoy a Saturday night basking in the
Step number one on the road to sharing
football happiness is getting out of my hotel. The accommodation is good but
most of the other guests are American oil workers who don’t seem to be aware
that the Afcon is happening around them.
The receptionist understands what I want and
directs me to the Elefante Bar, just down the road, where she assures me
there’ll be a local crowd watching the game.
I’m very excited at this point.
The Elefante looks promising from a distance –
a Maponya Mall-sized ceramic elephant in the parking lot promises, well,
Inside a couple of old guys are watching Nollywood movies.
The Paraiso Bar & Restaurant has a mirror
ball, disco lights, Mariano, a Beninois bartender and Ursulla, the Sierra
Leonian patron, who are both watching a Nigerian preacher on the widescreen TV.
That’s it, that’s all. The quarter finals are about to start and nobody in
Malabo appears to be interested.
She offers to switch to Supersport and
promises me the place will fill up soon. I felt sorry for her and decided to
order a beer, and wait to see what happens.
Meanwhile in Bata, the stadium looked barely a
tenth full at opening kick off, and the few fans who were there, dressed in
Equatorial Guinea colours, were obviously there waiting for the later game, which
pits their national team against Tunisia.
Congo-Brazzaville coach Claude LeRoy’s hair
was probably the most exciting thing to watch during the first half. Ursulla
picked up on my fading interest and told me, in great detail, about her
husband’s recent illness, adding, for topical interest, that he had helped
build the stadium in Bata.
At half time, Ursulla started snoring. She
wouldn’t regain consciousness until the game had ended, and what a game it
turned out to be.
I have sound reasons for supporting the DR
Congo and it wasn’t looking good early on in the second half with Congo-B
taking a two-nil lead. The Supersport commentators had repeated many times that
“these two teams don’t score many goals against each other.” Half an
hour later it looked like it was sure victory for my guys, Congo-Kinshasa was
ahead 4 to 2.
The excitement wasn’t enough to either wake up
Ursulla or convince Mariano to stick around – he went off into the dining room
to watch Disney’s Chipmunks movie on another TV.
And then another customer walked in – Peter, a
Scottish oil worker, greeted me with a warm smile and announced that Manchester
City were playing Chelsea, so could we change channels? I sincerely do not
believe he registered that I was watching a football match at the time.
Fortunately, for me in any case, I convinced Peter that what was on the screen
was worth taking a look at.
He checked his phone while DRC goalkeeper
Kidiaba bounced around the pitch on his bum celebrating one of the most
remarkable turnaround victories ever in the history of the national team.
Can we put on Man City now?
Time to change venues. It’s dark now and
Malabo is not the best place to walk around at night – it’s the security forces
one watches out for. Back at the hotel, the bar TV is tuned to the local
channel that will be covering the match between EG and Tunisia, and there’s one
local bravely attempting to follow the commentary while a gaggle of oil workers
speak loudly into their cell phones – their main worry, it seems, that the
continued drop in the price of crude means they’ll be out of work soon.
It’s too depressing. Time for another venue
change. As I wrap this up, I’ve found a Lebanese pizzeria where locals have
gathered, in modest numbers, to see their team play.
The next round of quarter final games happens
here at Malabo stadium. I’ll be there. And later in the week I’ll head to Bata
to support the Congolese Leopards in person, when they take on either Côte
d’Ivoire or Algeria in the semi-finals.
David L. Smith is in Equatorial Guinea
checking out the atmosphere around Afcon and meeting interesting locals.
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