African Cup of Nations - Eye on Africa: Angola antics no surprise

Tue, 31 Jan 11:15:00 2012

Last night in Equatorial Guinea, reporters were prevented from speaking to Angola's players in the mixed zone after a 2-0 defeat to Ivory Coast ended their interest in the 2012 African Cup of Nations.

2012 Angola African Cup of Nations - 0

The likes of Manucho wanted to address their country's press, to explain and one would assume apologise for a limp performance that - coupled with Sudan's surprise victory over Burkina Faso - saw them crash out at the group stage.

They were prevented from doing so by an aggressive and threatening 'police escort' - but it wasn't Equatoguinean.

No, it was a specially-assigned Angolan unit, present at the Cup of Nations, apparently with permission of CAF and Equatorial Guinea.

The use of foreign policing in major international tournaments - or even one-off matches - is anything but unusual. We see it time and time again with British teams as domestic police units accompany fans abroad, in part to prevent hooligans from infiltrating peaceful support groups, in part to stop certain fans of certain teams singing certain songs, and in part to ensure there is reliable witness to any random acts of riot police brutality that are alas still frequent in some European countries.

But what happened in Malabo last night was entirely out of the ordinary. It appears the official role of these spooks was to protect the team - perhaps keeping in mind a tragic and fatal gun attack in their own country two years ago - but, following their embarrassing exit, they elected to prevent Angolan media from broadcasting the nation's shame, as if that wasn't apparent to the millions who watched the match on TVs and computer screens in homes, bars and coffee shops all over their country, a match in which their heroes barely turned up against Ivory Coast's second string.

And the claim that they were 'protecting' players from angry journalists can be refuted: Manucho was prevented from speaking when he appeared happy to face the music, while coach Lito Vidigal's fury at the output of his federation's translator was clear.

Indeed, a threat was made to an Angolan reporter that if they even broadcast footage of the incident they would be "punished" when they got home. That threat was made in full view of his international colleagues, some of whom happen to speak Portuguese, and was immediately Tweeted for the world to see.

Now I'm sure I won't have to remind you of the security issues that faced teams at the 2010 African Cup of Nations - in Angola, ironically enough. Togo's police escort was somewhat thinner than the group 'accompanying' Angola back to the dressing room on Monday night, and while it would be unfair to draw comparisons - the Angolan federation insist they advised all teams not to travel through the anarchic country's border regions by coach, and Equatorial Guinea's police are notoriously flaky - it does hint that the federation does not have its priorities right.

It smacks of the bullying antics that many African autocracies have historically used to gag the press - and these dictatorships' utter ignorance of the impact of social media, which has essentially taken the censors' brush, dabbed it in tar and drawn a moustache on the president's face.

Did they really think none of the foreign press would mention the incident? The representatives from global agencies such as Reuters, AFP, the BBC and of course Eurosport, who are the main broadcasters of the tournament?

And did they really not understand that, even if their own press agreed to their demands, that angry Angolans would not take to the web's variety of social media platforms to vent their anger at their team's display, only to find reports from several credible sources that a gang of heavies had intimidated both players and reporters into whitewashing the defeat?

Probably. Or maybe they just didn't care, and wanted to express their own fury at events in Malabo.

Either way the complacency that Angola showed on the pitch was shocking - although again perhaps not so surprising.

After a superb qualifying campaign and with a host of in-form Europe-based players, I had tipped Senegal to be pre-tournament favourites: they were nothing short of useless against significantly weaker opposition.

This was different though - Angola's side, while not short of talent, do not have as much top-level experience, and on this occasion they appeared to freeze more than anything else.

Not initially as such: they knew they only needed a draw, and would have taken into account that the Ivorians had dropped pretty much everyone apart from Kolo Toure, who needs every game he can get at the moment.

But they should have known that a second-string Ivory Coast XI is still entirely based in Europe's stronger leagues, and - unlike the likes of Yaya Toure, Didier Drogba, Gervinho and Salomon Kalou, who know they will never be dropped for a big game - that young, hungry pros such as Wilfried Bony and Max Gradel have a point to prove and a place to win should a star player miss out through injury and suspension, and when Drogba and co. finally hang up their orange boots.

Palancas Negras should also have been fully aware of Sudan's threat: they may not have won a game at the African Cup of Nations prior to this year's finals, but they have been steadily improving and the performances in a 2-2 draw against Angola and even in defeat to a full-strength Elephants side hinted that defeat of Burkina Faso was not outside the realms of possibility.

But there you have it - another day in Africa and another shock. And another relative minnow in Sudan join co-hosts Gabon and Equatorial Guinea in what will be a new-look quarter-finals which, remember, have been shorn of the likes of Nigeria, Cameroon and Egypt.

In terms of future shocks, there's not much more likely to happen at this stage.

In Group C, Morocco have already been shown the door after contriving to lose games they dominated against Gabon and Tunisia, who have already qualifying and do battle to see who avoids Ghana in the quarters.

And in Group D Ghana are through while, due to the head-to-head rule coming into effect ahead of goal difference, Guinea - who face the Black Stars - have to better Mali's result against whipping boys Botswana. An outside chance at best, but the two Francophone sides are equals at this level, unlike Angola and Sudan yesterday.

Reda Maher - on Twitter @Reda_Maher / Eurosport

Not already a Yahoo! user ? to get a free Yahoo! Account