Africa: A Football Supporter’s Guide to CAN 2017 – Day 7

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Côte d’Ivoire disappoint, Sredojevic puts on his glad rags for Uganda, Ghana’s Grant gets ratty and so does Sarri over in Napoli on Day 7 at CAN 2017.

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1. They do know what they’re doing

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It may not appear like it. But Côte d’Ivoire are in total control of the defence of their title. Pundits and many supporters might think they’ve lost the plot after the two stalemates in their opening games in Group C but really they’re just being superstitious. Back in 2015 the Ivorians drew their first two pool games, won the third and the rest is dancing around a pitch clutching a chunky trophy.

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2. Style-high club

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Milutin Sredojevic was in fine fettle ahead of Uganda’s second game in Group D. When asked why he donned a suit to direct proceedings from the sidelines for the first game against Ghana, the coach, clearly hoping to inspire his players after their 1-0 defeat, stepped up to another level. “I’m proudly a Serbian Orthodox Christian,” he replied. “When we go to church we wear the best that we can. For all the other games in the qualifiers, I wore a track suit as we were just working hard to reach where we are.” As football is his second religion, he says it follows that he should wear his Sunday best for Africa’s premier football competition. I noted a few days ago how Beau Slickovic cut a fine dash on the touchline in a navy blue suit, blue Oxford shirt, red tie and a pair of black derby shoes. The 47-year-old revealed he had brought six suits with him – a new one for each match all the way to the final. The man has belief.

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3. Fever pitch

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The Ghana coach Avram Grant went off on one. It took a while to realise he was riled. He is that laconic. So what was the laxative? A question about the state of the field at Port-Gentil. And my, how it flowed. “This might be a bit political but I want to be honest like I always am,” he murmured. “The Cup of Nations is like the World Cup, it’s like the Euros. All of these competitions are for the supporters. They are the main thing in this. They are sitting in their homes – millions and millions watching the games – and we need to give them the best service that we can.” So far so true. Because the 20,000-capacity stadium at Port-Gentil was barely half full for the first phase of games on 17 January. “The main actors are the players and we need to take care of them. We need to give them the stage to perform well. Are we doing this? Five injuries due to the pitch.” Political? Not so sure.

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4. Who’s Sarri now?

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He is one Maurizio Sarri, the Napoli coach. And as his side – third in Italy’s Serie A – prepared for a heavyweight clash at AC Milan on 21 January, Sarri was seethng about the absence of three of his key players at the Africa Cup of Nations. He really was a man putting the irate into triumvirate. He bristled: “It’s absurd to stage the Africa Cup of Nations in January. We have been deprived of three players, which is monstrous.” Senegal’s central defender Kalidou Koulibaly, Algeria left-back Faouzi Ghoulam and Morocco striker Omar El Kaddouri are the troika concerned. “If I were president of the club, I would fight this in the law courts to stop it.” That’s a courtroom battle, I’d like to see. Although the Cup of Nations runs until 5 February, Algeria and Morocco still need to confirm their places in the last eight. So Sarri might get two of his boys back quite soon. Koulibaly, whose coveted by the English Premier League leaders Chelsea, will be around with Senegal, who have already qualified for the last eight, until at least 28 January. Of course that’s if the pitches don’t knobble them.

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5. This sporting life

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You have to pity the Confederation of African Football (CAF). Here they are with the second oldest continental football tournament and Sarri is having a go over the timing and Grant is fuming because of the spaces. He does not see fields of dreams. At least Grant’s corrosion was channeled within a Corinthian aesthetic. Two of Egypt’s goalkeepers are ailing because of injuries sustained by hurling themselves around the sand dunes masquerading as pitches. Grant has urged the CAF suits to change the rules so that Egypt can bring in replacement keepers. “People in Ghana might be angry with me because we have to play Egypt,” said Grant. “But it will be for me not fair and not sporting if Egypt only have one goalkeeper because the others got injured because of the pitch. We cannot change the pitch now and move the games to other pitches. But we can adjust the rules. Let Egypt bring in other goalkeepers. They can’t stay with one goalkeeper. It is not fair.” The UN beckons.

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