African Cup of Nations 2017, Gabon


In the middle of the planet, 16 nations from Africa gathered in the French-speaking country of Gabon for 3 weeks from 14 January to 5 February for the 31st African Cup of Nations. Indeed two of the four venues are north of the equator (Libreville, capital of Gabon, along with Oyem) while the other two lie a few miles south of the equator (Franceville and Port Gentil).

Africa is the continent with the most countries in the world but it now has fewer members of FIFA than Europe (54 v 55), as UEFA has recently overtaken CAF with the additions of new members Kosovo and Gibraltar in May 2016. CAF along with CONCACAF host their national football tournaments every 2 years rather than 4 in UEFA, AFC, CONMEBOL & OFC.

There was some doubt only a few months ago about whether the tournament would still actually go ahead in Gabon, as there was significant political unrest in August 2016 following a very close election result, with claims of corruption in the voting. However following several violent protests, a number of arrests, a suspension of social media and an investigation by the Gabonese Supreme Court that confirmed the re-election of the president Ali Bongo by 11,000 votes, things had generally settled down and the tournament was able to proceed as planned in mid January.

In a country with a small population of only 1.7 million people, it was always going to be difficult to attract significant crowds to all the matches, especially after the host nation narrowly exited the tournament at the group stages having hit the post in the last minute of their last group game against Cameroon, which would have taken them through to the quarter finals at the expense of the eventual winners! Despite the generally half-full attendances, the stadiums used for the tournament were pretty impressive – two new 20,000 capacity stadiums built in 2015/16 in Oyem and Port Gentil along with a renovated 20,000 stadium in Franceville and the 38,000 capacity national stadium in the capital. Indeed the fans that did attend the matches were full of the usual passion, noise and colour that we have become accustomed to seeing at the World Cups in recent years.

After 3 weeks of intriguing football (quality wasn’t always the best!) it came down to a battle between the two nations who have had the most success in the tournament in the 21st century, namely Cameroon and Egypt. The Pharaohs took the lead through Arsenal’s Elneny in the 22ndminute which was then cancelled out by the Lions’ Lyon’s Nkoulou in the 2nd half, before a dramatic winner in the 88th minute for Cameroon by Beşiktaş’ Aboubakar. Cameroon have the perfect opportunity to defend their title in two years’ time when they host the next African Cup of Nations in 2019.



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