BATA, Equatorial Guinea (Reuters) - African football’s image took another battering after a tumultuous last week in the Nations Cup overshadowed Ivory Coast’s emotional triumph and the remarkable tale of coach Herve Renard and his lucky white shirt.
After Ghana, Nigeria and Cameroon ruined their chances at the last year’s World Cup with internal bickering over bonuses, some unsavoury incidents at the tournament in Equatorial Guinea again put the African football’s leaders under the spotlight.
The sight of the Tunisian team chasing the referee off the pitch after their exit and a helicopter flying dangerously low over the crowd as violence interrupted Thursday’s semi-final are likely to remain longer in the memory than Ivorian title celebrations.
The Confederation of African Football (CAF), which has promised to back incumbent Sepp Blatter at this year’s FIFA presidential election, responded with controversial sanctions which gave the impression they were looking for scapegoats.
Ivory Coast’s 9-8 penalty shootout win over Ghana after a goalless final, where second-choice goalkeeper Boubacar Barry converted the title-winning kick, showed the tournament’s knack for throwing up unlikely heroes.
Barry, only playing because of injury to Sylvain Gbohouo, saved from Ghana goalkeeper Razak Brimah and then, after requiring treatment for an apparent injury, got up to slot home the decisive spot-kick.
In doing so, he ended an agonising run of near-misses for the Elephants, who had waited since 1992 for a second title.
Renard’s tale was even more remarkable.
The flamboyant Frenchman, who led unfancied Zambia to the title in 2012, became the first coach to win the tournament with two different teams, on both occasions wearing his famous shirt.
In between, he endured relegation with Ligue 1 side Sochaux and, before his success, spent 10 years running a cleaning business, which involved removing rubbish from buildings in the small hours of the morning.
But the feel-good stories were overshadowed by all-too-familiar problems.
On the same evening as the final, African football suffered another stadium disaster when 22 people were killed outside an Egyptian ground after security forces barred fans from entering.
The first Nations Cup row erupted when Tunisia were dumped out by Equatorial Guinea in the quarter-finals after the hosts were awarded a contentious stoppage-time penalty to equalise before winning 2-1 in extra-time.
Riot police stepped in to protect the referee from the losing side, yet it was the match official who got a six-month ban while not a single Tunisian player was sanctioned for the attack.
Then, Equatorial Guinea’s semi-final with Ghana was interrupted for 40 minutes as home fans hurled a variety of objects at the Ghana supporters, who fled on to the pitch to escape the trouble.
Equatorial Guinea, who stepped in as hosts at two months’ notice, were fined $100,000 but it was Morocco, not even present at the tournament, who really incurred CAF’s wrath.
Originally scheduled to stage the Nations Cup, Morocco had been stripped of the hosting rights after requesting a postponement due to the fears surrounding the Ebola virus.
Morocco were banned from the next two tournaments, fined $1 million and ordered to pay 8 million euros ($9.1 million) in damages to the CAF and their partners.
At that point, CAF battened down the hatches as president Issa Hayatou accused the media of dramatising.
“The western media are simply here to perpetuate colonisation,” he said.
Ghana’s FA, which had initially described the stadium on Thursday as a “war zone” and the treatment of their fans as “barbaric”, quickly changed tune and their president Kwesi Nyantakyi put his name to a defiant statement issued by CAF’s executive committee.
“The 30th edition of the Africa Cup of Nations could only be held in Equatorial Guinea through interpersonal skills of the CAF President Issa Hayatou, who unfortunately has been subject of a biased derogatory press campaign,” it said.
“(The committee) expresses its sincere gratitude to the CAF president for his ongoing involvement in the development of football in Africa.”
Writing by Brian Homewood in Zurich, editing by Ed Osmond