Long wait finally over as AFCON begins in Egypt
By Isaac Swila in Cairo
The months have rolled into days and it’s now a matter of hours before the much awaited Africa Cup of Nations kicks off tonight here in Cairo, Egypt.
Host Egypt open the campaign against Zimbabwe from 11pm (EAT) which is 10pm here at the Cairo International Stadium as they bid to win an eighth title.
Though the Confederation of Africa Football has pulled all stops to ensure that the tourney is a success there is still logistical nightmare and organizational hitches at match venues even as Egypt aims to host the entire continent for the next one month.
With all the 24 teams having arrived in Egypt, the big guns namely Senegal, Algeria, Ghana, Nigeria and Ivory Coast will be eyeing the prize though underdogs such as Kenya, Zimbabwe, newbies Burundi and even Tanzania will be hoping to unsettle the equation with a fairytale run.
But as mother Africa prepare for the football fiesta there is political tension following the untimely demise of Mohamed Morsy, the ousted President of Egypt who collapsed and died in a Cairo court on Monday.
Tension is palpable with unconfirmed reports claiming that some lobby groups plan to stage a protest today to coincide with the kick off though CAF officials have maintained a studious silence on the matter.
At the same time, over 1,700 hundred journalists have been accredited to cover the tourney though only 445 are expected to get tickets to watch the opening match between hosts Egypt and Zimbabwe.
Today’s opening math will set the stage for action galore that will be staged in six stadia across four cities – Cairo, Suez, Ismailia and Alexandria.
Tomorrow will witness some riveting action too as DRC, whom Harambee Stars held to a one-all- draw in their last friendly match played in Spain before the team landed here clash with Uganda from 5pm as Nigeria confront Burundi at 8pm.
Guinea and Madagascar will close the tomorrow’s programme with a late kick off contest from 11pm.
Sunday will be the ultimate day for Kenya’s Harambee Stars when they cross swords with Algeria from 10pm. This matches will be preceded by Morocco versus Namibia (5pm) and Senegal against Tanzania (11pm).
Kenya and her group C opponents have pitched camp in Cairo with all the teams – Senegal, Algeria and Tanzania staying at hotels located within a 1km radius from 30 June Stadium, the venue of their group stage matches.
With some Sh450million awaiting the winners of the showpiece, it’s a battle royal and each plots their successe.
The Stars camp has in the meantime been boosted following a pep talk by former Prime Minister Raila Odinga who visited the team here yesterday and rallied them to do well in the competition, promising solid government support.
“I have come to show my support to Harambee Stars as they represent us at AFCON after 15 years. We want them to give a good account of themselves and show that Kenyan football has come of age.
“Our message was to give them (Harambee Stars) morale, to tell them that the entire nation is behind them and we want them to carry the flag very high.
“I am very happy with the preparations that have been done. I see that morale is very high. We want Kenyans back home to continue sending messages of goodwill and our hope is that the team will go far,” the former Prime Minister said.
Skipper Victor Wanyama, who will be relied upon to inspire his team mates has in the meantime exuded confidence that they’ll be up to scratch.
“We have had adequate preparations for the tournament and we are confident that we will replicate this support with positive results on the pitch,” he said
Egypt v Zimbabwe- 11pm
DRC v Uganda- 5pm
Nigeria v Burundi- 8pm
Guinea v Madagascar -11pm