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Delayed 2021 AFCON gets off to a vibrant start

January 10, 2022

After a long wait, the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations has finally kicked off in Cameroon after COVID-19 forced the Confederation of African Football (CAF) to postpone the tournament.

Africa Cup of Nations opening ceremony
The 2021 AFCON opening ceremony was a colorful eventImage: Gavin Barker/Sports Inc/empics/picture alliance

The 33rd edition of the Africa Cup of Nations finally took off on Sunday in Yaounde, Cameroon.

The games were supposed to have taken place last year, but organizers decided to postpone the tournament to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

It hasn't been a smooth ride for Cameroon as a host nation, with doubts surrounding the completion of stadiums on time and security concerns in the country's Anglophone regions.

On Sunday, a colorful opening ceremony held at the brand new 80,000-seat Olembe stadium in Yaounde set the tone for the biggest football competition on the continent, which features 24 teams, including host Cameroon.

President of the Confederation of Africa Football (CAF), Patrice Tlhopane Motsepe, told almost 60,000 fans gathered at the Olembe stadium for the opening ceremony that the wait is now over.

"Today, we are here to show the best of Cameroon football and the best of African football," Motsepe said.

Cape Verde and Ethiopian players at the 2021 AFCON tournament in Cameroon.
Cape Verde beat Ethiopia 1:0 despite having key players out due to CovidImage: Alain Guy Suffo/Sports Inc/empics/picture alliance

Fighting the spread of Covid-19

CAF and the Cameroonian government have implemented a filtering system so that a health pass is required to access the stadiums.

Stadiums are not to be filled to their complete capacities to control crowds and the spread of the virus, but the pandemic still overshadows the event.

Several players have tested positive for COVID-19 and will not be available for team selection for at least their opening matches.

Football supporters, however,  are bent on doing their best to protect themselves against the virus while enjoying the games.

"You yourself see, I have my mask on, and we were given the vaccine, and each one has their vaccination record. Long live Cameroon! Long live football, and long live AFCON 2021 in Cameroon," Jules Kadem told DW.

But not everyone is happy with how the tests are being conducted, and there are some doubts about the reliability of the tests.

"You have to have a laboratory or laboratories that are credible and in which everyone has faith.  There is suspicion.  That's a shame," Yves Ouattat told DW.

Comoros players in action.
Comoros is making its first debut at Africa's top football competitionImage: BackpagePix/empics/picture alliance

First AFCON highlights

The competition started with the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon beating Burkina Faso 2-1. 

Ghanaian sports journalist with JOY FM, George Addo Jnr, who traveled from Accra to the games, told DW that the first day's matches got off on a good start.

"Of course, we had a very good game as well, Cameroon, the five-time champions, and host up against the 2013 finalists, Burkina Faso. It was a very good game that gave us everything that we were expecting," Addo Jnr said.

While Cameroonian supporters celebrated their victory, Burkina Faso's fans blamed their team's defeat on the spread of COVID-19 among their players.

Burkinabe supporter Gustave Tayo told DW that "the Covid outbreak was very badly managed, CAF did not listen to us, it must be said that there are flaws in their system.  I think these flaws will have to be corrected so that football can move forward despite the pandemic."

In the second match on Sunday, the Blue Sharks of Cape Verde needed a first-half stoppage-time goal to beat Ethiopia 1-0 in their opener at the Olembe Stadium in Yaounde.

"Cape Verde and Ethiopia also gave us some kind of drama because there was a red card, first in the competition and Cape Verde, who are playing with a lot of Covid-19 cases, also ended up beating Ethiopia," said Addo Jnr.

Egypt national team
Egypt's national team (the Pharaohs) are among the top favorites to clinch the titleImage: Sports Inc/empics/picture alliance

Attacks on journalists

Things progressed smoothly on the field of play, but there were reports of three Algerian journalists violently attacked a few meters from their hotel on Sunday night. 

According to some journalists covering the games, the three journalists were victims of a knife attack.

George Addo Jnr said he "was shocked to hear that this happened in Garoua."

Garoua, a port city and the capital of the North Region of Cameroon, is also hosting some of the games in the competition.

Addo Jnr said security seems tight at most of the venues he had visited, saying so far he "hasn't seen anything that would cause any concern. "So it was a bit of a surprise for me to hear that three journalists have been robbed and attacked and their items taken away."

He expressed hope that this incident was an isolated incident and not the start of any major security breaches at the tournament.

Football expert Christian Emmanuel Bitang said he wants the focus to be on the games.

He said the football on the pitch should spark joy in people despite the several challenges facing the competition's organization.

"AFCON is a major event. It's a great celebration, and the times we are living through, which are times of sadness due to the coronavirus pandemic, it's an opportunity to have more a moment of celebration in a world that has been undermined by major health concerns," Bitang told DW.

Everyone hopes that the tournament will progress peacefully, and that security and organizational hitches can be avoided.

Edited by: Chrispin Mwakideu