Africa Cup of Nations: Football Tournament Joy Between Blows and

YAOUNDÉ, Cameroon – He had secretly watched some games, the volume was turned down so no one would report him. He had seen the threats and knew he could be kidnapped or killed for watching an African football tournament hosted by his country Cameroon.

But Cameroon was tired of suppressing her excitement every time she scored, so on Wednesday, Ruth, who lives in a war zone where separatist rebels have banned watching matches, sneaked to the capital, Yaoundé, to personally support her team. .

“I would love to scream if I could,” he said on Thursday, after safely reaching Yaoundé in preparation for the big game. “I’ve decided to take the risk.”

African football is nearing the end of what everyone agrees, it’s been an amazing month. The 52 matches in this year’s much-delayed African Cup of Nations tournament brought some respite to the transitioning countries. great political upheaval or those who have overcome the disruptions and difficulties created by war and Covid.

For a time, it was the year of the oppressed. Smaller countries like Comoros and Gambia beat normally strong teams like Ghana and Tunisia, and a goalkeeper named Jesus became an instant hero in Equatorial Guinea when he saved them twice in a penalty shootout against much larger Mali.

Then there was a fight between the larger dogs – the last four countries were Egypt, Cameroon, Senegal and Burkina Faso. But even as nations diverged, fans have shifted their allegiance to other countries, referring to a culture of brotherhood that transcends borders.

Across the continent, in packed bars, airports and village clearings, and city sidewalks, every time there is a match, clusters of spectators open beers and make strong, sweet teacups, pull up plastic chairs and hardwood benches, and settle in. For 90 minutes of nail-biting fun.

When their team won the day after the match Coup in Burkina Faso last weekWhen the Burkinabé soldiers returned home, they danced happily. When Senegal later beat Burkina Faso in the semifinals on Wednesday night, Dakar’s streets were filled with cars honking their horns and waving flags. Online, thousands of people flock to Twitter Spaces after every game to check out what’s going on together.

The bitterly divided countries have come together, but briefly, and the solidarity – from person to person, group to group, region to region – is tangible. Even in Cameroon, where a deadly conflict has raged since the end of 2016, football has brought people together.

The crisis there began when teachers and lawyers in an English-speaking area in the west went on strike to protest the use of French in the courts and classrooms. The repressive, mostly francophone government replied: hard pressure. human rights violations It helped fuel a full-fledged armed struggle against their prospective state by English-speaking warriors, known by the military as Ambazonia after Ambazonia.

The separatists warned people there not to watch Afcon, as the football tournament is known, and certainly not to support Cameroon. However, many anglophones, like Ruth, a government employee who wanted to be known only by her first name to protect herself from punishment, took the risk and traveled to many Francophone cities to attend matches.

“We may not be a very united nation, but I think that one thing brings us together,” Ruth said, adding that Amba warriors watched the tournament even as they threatened, kidnapped and tortured other spectators. their camps.

afcon is special. Players who are not well known outside their home countries play alongside multimillionaire stars from some of the world’s most elite teams, who are allowed to represent their country in the middle of the European season.

It’s worth it, Egypt’s star player Mohamed Salah said at his team’s press conference last week before they faced and tied Ivory Coast.

“This trophy would be completely different for me than any other trophy I’ve won,” said Mr Salah, a player who has won both the Premier League and the Champions League with his other team, Liverpool Football Club. “She would be the closest to my heart.”

Burkina Faso is one of the countries that managed to focus on football despite a major crisis in the country. As Burkinabe players and fans are about to reach the quarter-finals, the army overthrew his government.

“It wasn’t easy,” said Sambo Diallo, a fan at a Yaoundé hotel brimming with fans from Burkina Faso as a friend painted his entire head, face and torso with his country’s flag. “We weren’t happy, but we had to be brave.”

Despite their concerns about their families at home, Burkina Faso players won the quarterfinals. Still high, a green bus filled with cheering Burkina Faso fans following their team across the country entered Yaoundé Wednesday afternoon. Their team would face Senegal in the semi-finals.

Football had obviously brought the Senegalese team together, the jewel in its crown is Sadio Mané, one of the continent’s biggest stars who also plays for Liverpool.

But it also put together another team of seven young men who traveled with the players wherever they went. Each match, each member paints their chest with a letter that spells SENEGAL when standing next to each other.

These are men of very different fortunes than actors: builders, clerks, and street vendors who earn little in their lives at home but drop everything when they have to take on their country’s body paint.

And they support each other. While they were in Cameroon, one of them, the first E, missed the birth of his son on the day Senegal beat Cape Verde. But others stepped in to pay for the baptismal party in Dakar, which took place on the day of the Senegal-Burkina Faso game. And a few years ago, A lost his wife and sometimes he goes to cry a little by himself. But the others are on the case – all trying to find him a new girlfriend to cheer him up.

Matching the red, yellow, and green hats and trousers, the seven letters swept the crowd on Wednesday, “Senegal – Rek!” warmed by his calls and answers. — “Senegal only” in Wolof.

“Two-zero!” shouted Babacar Sylla, who has been N since 2004. This was the score he wanted. Hopes were high on both sides.

Aminatou Nougtara, who is Burkinabe but lives in Cameroon, shouted “If we win, I will bring the trophy back to Burkina Faso” and came to support the team with her daughter Soukaina.

Burkina Faso supporter Abdou Moumini stated that the score was 0-0 in the first half and said, “Along with the coup, terror and other things, this will give people a little bit of relief at home.” But in the end, Senegal won 3-1 and will face Egypt in the final on Sunday.

Ghejung Awunti, regional commissioner for the English-speaking northwest region, chatted with two colleagues over a beer at Chez Tonton Andre, located on a busy Yaoundé intersection. They had taken a big risk for Yaoundé to watch the Cameroon game – the vice-president of the regional council where they worked was kidnapped in December.

But “Football is beyond politics,” he said.

Ruth managed to get tickets to watch Cameroon play in Thursday’s semi-finals at the new, multicolored Olembe Stadium built for the tournament, and on January 24 in Egypt. 8 people died in the stampede. However, it was stuck in heavy traffic on the road and could not reach the starting time. So he went into a bar and watched the game there.

Cameroon lost 3-1 in penalty shootout. “It was still worth it because I was able to watch it with excited fans,” he said.

And he shouted and shouted a lot.

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