Opinion / 16 June 2019, 1:00pm / clinton van der berg
Five months’ notice to stage a continental event might be flirting with disaster, but such inconveniences are minor in the African context.
“It’ll be all right on the night,” appears to be the common refrain. Things might fray on the edges, but patience and insouciance are common bedfellows in Africa. They have to be.
The 2019 Africa Cup of Nations looms this week and hosts Egypt are feverishly tending to bone-dry pitches and fitting stadium seats.
“The organising committee works 24/7 to prepare for the tournament and we promise to produce the best ever tournament regarding the organisation, hosting and hospitality,” assured local organising committee boss Hany Abo Rida.
There might be better continental tournaments. But few match the African championship for colour and pageantry and drama. Indeed, the very hosting of the event hasn’t been without jitters, Egypt getting the call after African soccer bosses took one look at original host (and defending champions) Cameroon’s loose organisation and promptly cancelled their rights.
Closer to Cairo, there were near riots when ticket prices were announced. Soccer fans complained bitterly and duly won a mini-battle when organisers dropped prices.
Sales are said to have gone well, no doubt helped by the likelihood of many European-based stars turning out, chiefly because for the first time the tournament will take place in the European summer, so big names like Salah, Riyad Mahrez and Sadio Mané will be free to bring their charms to North Africa.
(The PSL will be well represented, too, with more than 50 players due in Egypt.)
Salah has evidently settled in comfortably, spending his post-championship time sunning himself on a private yacht on the Red Sea, as you do if you’re a local icon.
Salah had an underwhelming World Cup last year, mainly on account of an injured shoulder, but he looks in excellent shape to spearhead the Pharaohs’ ambitions at home. They have won the Cup of Nations more often (seven) than any other nation and were imperious in qualifying unbeaten.
Egypt are in a tame group, with Zimbabwe, the DRC and Uganda, and odds are long on them failing to dominate and progress.
There are concerns around security - more than two dozen South Africans were injured in a bus attack in Cairo last month - but expectations are that safety will be paramount for organisers. Egypt is determined to put on a show to demonstrate its worthiness after several years of political dissent and attacks on tourists. Its military might will be on show.
The country has been disengaged from the continent in recent years, but president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has worked hard on developing relationships with fellow African leaders. The charm offensive will gather pace in coming days.
South Africa have travelled with their usual baggage, not all of it of the Nike variety. There were issues in training camp, a travel mix-up and Rivaldo Coetzee having gone missing in the wake of his mother’s ill health. Game time has been threadbare with yesterday’s match against Ghana and one in the coming days against Angola the sum total of decent match preparation.
So nothing much different then. Soon, however, the inconveniences will be thrown off. Africa knows how to throw a party, and Egypt should be no different.