Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Ivory Coast March 2009

Post War

Some 3 or 4 years after the civil war ended the Ivory Coast is not thronged with tourists.

But the major hotels in the commercial capital Abidjan are well filled with players and others involved in the African Nations Championships (CHAN)

The competition involves only locally based players and was to be played at two locations - Abidjan and in the former rebel held area of Bouake.

Near the lagoon the Hotel Golf provides an oasis of calm with its views of the city skyline. As well as housing the Ghana team and its some its supporters one floor is occupied by the rebel leaders.

Apart from such people your correspondent noticed American evangelists, one called Lou , a french Benny Hill lookalike (evoking memories of his performance in the Italian Job) accompanied by a local lady and various business types.

At the weekend the central areas of the city are very quiet but during the working week the place is transformed with streets jammed with cars and street vendors.

But for real mayhem and seeing 'real Africa' you need to go to Adjame.

There the route to the bus station is through narrow, unmade roads filled with a seething humanity.

All this in heat of 30 degrees plus.

Lightweight Elephants

Ivory Coast 0 Senegal 0 in the Felix Houphouet-Boigny stadium in Abidjan.

Only around 3000 turned out to see the already eliminated home team play their final group game and they had plenty of room to find some shade.

It was soon evident that these Elephants were distinctly lightweight, especially in attack.

The much taller and stronger Senegalese did just enough, only needing a draw to qualify for the semi finals.

It was only near the end that the Ivory Coast got closer to breaking their duck. But they failed to do so and the locals would transfer their allegiance to Ghana.

Libya feel the heat.

Zimbabwe 0 Libya 0 in Abidjan

Another goalless game in this final Group B match played in very hot conditions before maybe 500 people.

Libya were the better team in the first half but having failed to score ran out of steam in the second. They had the best player in forward Ahmed Osman but even his trickery was blunted after the break.

Most of the action happened in the last few minutes with Zimbabwe's captain Banda missing a great chance to win the game.

The draw meant that both teams went out of the event.

Into the rebel area.

It takes around 4 hours on the bus to get to the Ivory Coast capital of Yamoussoukru.
You pass 3 or 4 police roadblocks and have various stops for refreshments.

Yamoussoukru is much quieter and more relaxed than Abidjan.

It can boast the presidential palace and a magnificant Basilica - claimed to be the largest Christian place of worship in the world.

Some might say the $300m , plus large maintenance costs, could have been better spent on infrastructure and alleviating poverty.

The President hotel offered very comfortable accomodation and the chance to mix with more players.

And in the evening the maquis have outdoor cooking (no cutlery) in pleasant enough surroundings.

An hour and a half further north and into the rebel held area of Bouake.

Somewhat disappointedly there were no 'gun totting' soldiers in evidence.

And the locals did turn out in large numbers to see this first semi final.

Ghana into the final.

Ghana 1 Senegal 1 (Ghana won 7-6 on penalties) in Bouake

Rather surprisingly there were large queues of fans keen to see neighbouring Ghana play the Teranga Lions. It would take until half time before the stadium was filled.

This was a battle between the tall , sturdy Sengalese and the stockier more skilful Ghanaians.

And in particular the talented Ghana forwards and the frugal Senegal defence.

Ghana scored first through striker Antwi but soon after Senegal equalised from a fortunate free-kick deflection. That seemed to deflate Ghana a little.

Into the second half and extra time with no further scoring as the game became more attritional.

Ghana seemed to be happy to go penalties and their confidence and concentration paid off as Senegal 'blinked first' with Djilabodji shooting over.

The crowd dispersed happily enough.

Fifth for Given.

Senegal 1 Zambia 2 in Abidjan

Back in Abidjan for the third place playoff game between the two semi final losers.

A couple of thousand were in the stadium mainly concentrating on finding shade in the heat and humidity.

Senegal gave some squad players an opportunity and it may have cost them the game.

They did score first through Sow from a neat pass by Badiane.

But the Zambian coach, Herve Renard, made a couple of substitutions at the interval and the Chipolopolo forwards did the rest. Event top scorer Given Singuluma scored the second and his fifith of the tournament to seal the win.

Rather incongruously there was a presentation on the pitch to award the Zambians their third place medals.

Heart of Sunshine.

DR Congo 2 Ghana 0 the CHAN final in Abidjan.

So to the final.

Some were queuing from 9am to get the (free) tickets to see the favourites Ghana win the first edition of this event.

They piled off the buses in numbers and endured some light rain showers prior to the 4pm kick off. Security was tighter as the president of the Ivory Coast will be attendance.

We had music, dancing and an entertaining simulated football game (sans ball) before the kick off. Followed by the presidential entourage, complete with various limousines, making an entrance.

The stadium is just about full and expecting Ghana to win.

Ghana do their prolonged huddle (all huddles are getting longer) and DRC their communal prayers.

From the start DRC settled quicker and passed it around. It was not long before the impressive (and best player award winner) Mputu causes danger though the teams go in goalless at half time.

Soon after DRC get the breakthrough as Kaluyituka heads in at the far post. Though Ghana did try to step up the pace they seemed tired and in the end frustrated.

Mbenza's goal settled the game and though DRC did tend to overindulge the tricks the crowd by now had switched allegiance and recognised a worthy winner.

The Leopards, especially goalie Kidiaba, enjoyed their celebrations as captain Gladys Bokese collected the trophy from president Laurent Gbagbo.


Time will tell how this event progresses.

But, in the main, the quality of these five games was good despite lacking many obvious standout forwards. Some of the players are sure to find places in European leagues.

Certainly it meant a lot to DR Congo who had large crowds greet them on their return to Kinshasa.

In 2011 the competition , with 16 teams rather than 8, is scheduled to be in Sudan.

An interesting choice of location given the present political situation.

Time will tell how the event progresses.

for more pics see

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