Africa Cup opens in virus shadow, hosts Cameroon wins - Sports1
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Africa Cup opens in virus shadow, hosts Cameroon wins

Cameroon captain Vincent Aboubakar scored two consecutive penalties in a 2-1 win over Burkina Faso’s hosts in their Africa Cup of Nations opener, boosting the backlog amid the coronavirus pandemic atmosphere of the game.

Abubakar took the first penalty to the right and the second to the left in the 40th minute of injury time in the first half. That came as a sigh of relief after a large crowd at the Orembe Stadium in Yaounde waited for two delays lasting three years before the African Cup finally came to their central African nation. Cameroon’s long-serving president, Paul Biya, 88, had the last smile on his face.

Cameroon was disqualified from the 2019 tournament due to preparation problems and postponed the 2021 edition due to the virus.

The wait didn’t seem worth it when Gustavo Sangare volleyed Burkina Faso ahead in the 24th minute. He patted his chest and ran to celebrate. Cameroon fans put their heads in their hands. But Burkina Faso lost the lead in two reckless defences in the final minutes of the first half.

VAR to the rescue

Burkina Faso captain Bertrand Traore broke into Andre-Frank Zambo Anguiza to give Cameroon the first penalty after referee Mustafa Gul Barr’s decision was made after consulting with VAR.

For the first time, VAR has been used in all African Cup matches. It is used in the last game starting from the quarter-finals.

Shortly after, Issoufou Dayo mistakenly tackled Nouhou Tolo for a foul, while Aboubakar remained calm for the second time.

Also read – Everything you need to know about AFCON 2021-22

VAR also played a key role in the second Group A game on the opening day, as Cape Verde also beat Ethiopia 1-0 in Orumbe. Referee Hélder Martins Rodrigues de Carvalho gave Ethiopian defender Yared Bayeh a yellow card for a foul on striker Júlio Tavares but changed it to a red card in the 12th minute after consulting VAR. At half-time, Tavares headed into Cape Verde’s goal.

The match officially kicked off a few hours earlier at the newly rebuilt Orembe Stadium, with a brief opening ceremony featuring colourful dancers in red, green, yellow, white and blue costumes in the center of the venue. Some of them wore colour-matching masks, a reminder that the month-long football show in Africa is continuing amid a global surge in virus cases driven by variants of the omicron.

“The Indomitable Lion”

The ceremony began with a computer-generated image of a giant lion walking across the roof of the stadium in a tribute to the Cameroonian team, dubbed the “Indomitable Lion”. Smoke of red, green and yellow – the colours of the Cameroonian flag – burst from a giant replica of the trophy, ending the celebrations and marking Cameroon’s biggest sporting moment since hosting the Africa Cup of Nations 50 years ago.

Patrice Motsepe (centre right) delivers her opening remarks at the opening ceremony of the Africa Cup of Nations. – AFP

FIFA president Gianni Infantino and Biya, who has been president of Cameroon since 1982, were also present. Biya was not wearing a mask, as were many football supporters.

The 60,000-seat stadium was nearly full for the Cameroon game, even as organisers introduced a last-minute restriction that only fans who had been fully vaccinated and proved to have recently tested negative for the virus could enter the stadium for any of the 52 matches. one. Attendance is also limited to 80% of stadium capacity for games involving the home team and 60% for other games.

Also read – Paris Saint-Germain draw 1-1 with Lyon

Given that many of the 24 teams have had virus cases, it’s still hard to avoid the game being regularly disrupted by infections and outbreaks.

“Today, all of us are here and it shows that we believe in ourselves, we believe in the people of Cameroon, we believe in the people of Africa,” Patrice Motsepe, president of the African Football Confederation, said at the ceremony. He said it would be the best Africa Cup ever.

However, this Africa Cup is more questioned than most. There are rumours it will be delayed again, while European clubs have expressed concern that health protocols will not be enough to protect their African players. CAF rejected the criticism and moved on.

“The people of Cameroon are showing the rest of Africa, the rest of the world, that we can host a successful…” Motsepe said, before cheers from the crowd prevented him from finishing his sentence.


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