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A football supporter's guide to CAN 2017: Day 17
An airport gets a lick of paint, Gyan met Mboma, Oyem's residents failed to turn out en masse for the Ghana-DRC quarter-final and they missed a belter on Day 17 of CAN 2017.
1- They are prepared
The tiny airport at Oyem, planted about 15 kilometres outside the town, is approached on a road scything through lush vegetation. Its commercial potential is yet to be properly exploited. There is no café and janitors have not yet been employed. The building housing the check-in desks for airlines operating out of the venue is low, compact but not at all stuffy. There is air flowing through. Just as well really as it can help dilute the odours from the new coats of paint. Passengers booked on a, say, 12.30pm flight, can while away the hours waiting for the plane looking for signs of activity. Workmen are somewhere adding the finishing touches so that the site can be ready for the Africa Cup of Nations in 2017.
2- Footballer goes groupie
It’s a hard lark, this sporting life. You run around, get chopped down or knacker yourself on a sand-strewn pitch. There’s the money and accolades too. People want to take their picture with you. You smile. You score. On and on it goes. So it was refreshing to see the Ghana skipper Asamoah Gyan gush when he bumped into former player Patrick Mboma. The one-time Cameroon international is now working for the TV station Canal Plus Afrique and Mboma was in Oyem to follow Ghana’s game against Democratic Republic of Congo. Gyan stepped back from the selfies and demanded a picture with Mboma who duly obliged. It’s good to keep the fans happy.
3- Oyez oyez Oyem
There’s a welcoming line at Oyem airport. It consists of half a dozen or so smiling volunteers. They all happen to be young women who are, I must say, quite aesthetically pleasing. Do they want people to go to the football match? I noticed the concept on the way to Oyem stadium on day 16 and because of the atrociously long delays, I had occasions – amid all my epistolary scribblings for this esteemed blog - to glance on day 17. Sadly, I didn’t get much time to view the ins and outs of Oyem. A shame really. I can only assume that the place must be full of attractive men and women. They must have all been sitting at home looking at each other because only 10,000 of the city’s 60,000 souls turned out to see the quarter-final between Ghana and Democratic Republic of Congo on day 16. What could they have been doing?
4- Missed chances.
Had more of Oyem’s benighted beauties gone to the actual match at the city’s spankingly shiny stadium, they would have seen a belter. A game of two halves. Squandered opportunities galore, some great goals as well as tears of joy and sadness. The Ghana v Democratic Republic of Congo match was the last Cup of Nations fixture at the venue. It hosted seven games and will probably from now onwards be known as the place where they played games at the Africa Cup of Nations.
No, it’s not the name of a player from the Egypt squad. I’m sure I’ve used that quip before. But if Sting can use the same lines in different songs, then why can’t I employ the same poor jokes? During a stroll outside Oyem airport on day 17, the silence of the jungle was gradually broken by the approach of sirens. First, a couple of tasty looking 4x4s screeched to a halt. Several men, square of jaw and clenched of fist, thrust themselves out of the doors and stood still. Sporting tough guy sunglasses – you can’t buy these in the shops – they formed a perimeter. A coach arrived. Out came the Ghana squad. Cue pictures, cheers, music and hustle and bustle. As it’s a personal command policy to stand far, far away from security men who look mean, I was near a blue car. Out stepped Kwesi Nyantakyi, the president of the Ghana FA. He smiled, held out his hand and said: “Long time no see.” He asked me how I was doing. “You’re looking younger and younger,” I said. “What are you taking?” Nyantakyi beamed some more, told me this and that about the team and eventually went on his way. Me and Kwesi go way back. At the 2006 World Cup in Germnay – Ghana’s first appearance at the tournament, the Black Stars lost their first game 2-0 against Italy. The players came through the mixed zone – the place where the players talk to reporters - disconsolate that their first-ever game at the competition had been such an anticlimax. Nyantakyi stopped and told me that the world would see the true face of Ghanaian football in the next game. I thought to myself: “The man is mad.” That clash just happened to be against a rampaging Czech Republic team led by former European footballer of the year Pavel Nedved with Tomas Rosicky pulling the strings in midfield. But it was a triumph of the will in Nuremberg. Ghana skipper Stephen Appiah played them off the park. Ghana won 2-0. In the mixed zone afterwards, a smiling Nyantakyi said: “I told you … I told you.” He really hasn’t aged.