Bata, Equatorial Guinea – When the Africa Cup of Nations came to Equatorial Guinea in 2012, it appeared to be a once-in-a-generation event.
Here was a country with minimal footballing history yet hosting the continent’s flagship sporting spectacle.
But just three years on, here we are again – a tiny country taking on a huge responsibility and doing it all with just two months’ notice.
The big difference in 2015 is that Equatorial Guinea now finds itself standing alone. The 2012 Cup of Nations saw them share hosting duties with Gabon and just two venues were required in each country.
In Equatorial Guinea, games were played in new stadiums in the capital Malabo and the country’s biggest city Bata.
This time around, however, two more venues are needed. It means some of Africa’s finest players will be appearing in a couple of football’s most unlikely outposts.
Little is known about the towns of Ebebiyin and Mongomo. What is known is that they are not used to hosting international football tournaments.
With small stadiums, limited infrastructure and little in the way of hotels, there are obvious question marks about their suitability.
Sponsorship forces play
The Confederation of African Football is taking a huge risk by bringing the Cup of Nations back here. But as far as they are concerned, the risk is worth taking. Morocco was meant to be this tournament’s home in 2015 but their request for it to be postponed for a year because of Ebola was one CAF could never seriously consider.
Lucrative sponsorship contracts and television deals would have been jeopardised for an event that is African football’s prime source of revenue. There is also the question of pride. The event has close to six decades of history, more than can be said of the European championships.
During that time, it has never been postponed or cancelled and CAF was not about to start getting into that habit now.
Inevitably, final preparations do appear to be a little chaotic.
We caught up with the Congo team at a training session in Bata and they seemed to be suffering more than most. Some of the squad’s support staff told us they were having to share beds at their hotel while coach Claude Le Roy claimed he was struggling to even find running water.
But the overall mood, despite the problems, was that it was important for the reputation of African football for the event to be going ahead as scheduled.
Any country given only a matter of weeks to host this event is likely to face serious difficulties. But even that period of time would be considered a luxury as far as the national coach is concerned.
The new man in that job is Esteban Becker. The Argentine has been given just 11 days to prepare a team to take on Africa’s best.
When it comes to football, it seems Equatorial Guinea is not a country that likes to make life easy for itself.
Source: Al Jazeera