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A football supporter's guide to CAN 2017: Day 20
1- The interest in the Cup of Nations is waning
Here we are at the business end of the biennial football fest and would you know it? Franceville stadium – capacity 22,000 - was just about half full. Are there really that many better things to do in Franceville on a Thursday night?
2- Talent can go to waste
There were no goals in the first half of the semi-final between Ghana and Cameroon in Franceville. Referee Bakary Papa Gassama blew the whistle for the pause. The Cameroon players trudged off and the Ghana team did their habitual centre circle love-in huddle. Once they’d all unclamped, out came Samba – the Gabon 2017 mascot.
He was flanked on each side by seven dancers. They were lithe. They were lissome. They were lambently lovely. It was the best bit of action I’d seen in the game. But woe, it wasn’t really for the likes of me in the press stand. Samba and co were positioned on the other side of the field slap bang in front of the presidential tribune. Sadly for the showgirls and boys, all the bigwigs had left for the air con suites to tuck into the tasties inside. Scandalous misuse of talent.
3- Ghana have to convince themselves they aren’t a one trick pony
Ghana are a generally considered to be a thoroughbred team. They were appearing in their sixth consecutive Cup of Nations semi-final. But they were undone by a bunch of neophytes. Cameroon hadn’t been to the semi-finals in nine years. Indeed 14 of the Cameroon squad had never played in a Cup of Nations finals before Gabon. But, ah, the innocence of youth.
You wouldn’t have known if from the way Cameroon set about Ghana in the opening stages of the semi-final. And Cameroon got their bit of luck when a mix-up between keeper Razak Brimah and defender John Boye left Michael Ngadeu-Ngadjui free to control and stab home mid way through the second half. Ghana coach Avram Grant brought on skipper and star striker Asamoah Gyan to help them rescue the game.
And their play did improve with his injection of impetus. However Gyan wasn’t his usual all action self. He was still carrying an adductor injury sustained on the sand-dune of a pitch in Port-Gentil on 25 January against Egypt. Ghana played and won the quarter-final without Gyan. It would have helped their development if they’d claimed a place in the final without him too.
4- And then there were two
After the 30th game of the 2017 competition, the line up for the final has been decided. Cameroon will take on Egypt at the Stade de L’Amitié in Libreville on day 23 of what has been an intriguing extravaganza. They aren’t the teams that many would have foreseen. But then again who would have predicted Venus and Serena Williams contesting the women’s singles final at the Australian Open last weekend or Roger Federer beating Rafael Nadal in the men’s final? It keeps you on your toes.
5- It’s official: Broos Brothers continue their mission
Hugo Broos, the Cameroon coach, confirmed for me what I had quipped about on day 19. They really are the Broos Brothers. I asked the coach after the match what had impressed him about his squad. He looked at me intently and said: “Maybe you will be surprised by my answer …” Moi? Surprised. Quite likely. He continued: “I’ve been a coach for 29 years and I’ve never had a group like this. This is a group of 23 friends. I never saw this in a football team. There is usually competition between each other, often quite a lot. But here they are just 23 friends who like to play football and who are doing everything to win the game.”
The 64-year-old Belgian added of his brood: “So for me it is very easy as a coach. I can count on them because we have a group of friends. If you have players who don’t like each other, you have problems when one is on the bench. This is not an issue for me. All they want to do is win.”
Well, this kind of stuff is pure gold. And yes, I was surprised. But ever sceptical, I buttonholed defender Ambroise Oyongo on the subject. Same old same old. “You know when you have a group like this where you are all friends, like family it is very important,” said the 25-year-old who turns out for Impact FC in Canada. “There are no problems in the team. It is really good. We live like we are coming from the same mother. In the game we play together and we are focused. It is great.” You see, the Broos Brothers.