Monday, January 23, 2017

A week in Gabon for Afcon 2017

I have been here in Gabon for 14 games of the Africa Cup of Nations 2017 now, but it seems like just over a week. I have managed to make my way around the country. Not by the different modes of transport I intended but by flights that I have found that were not available to book before I came.

A week in Gabon for Afcon 2017.

We have completed the second round of matches and the games have gone from Libreville to Franceville, Oyem and then Port Gentil. So have I. But I have had to go back to Libreville, the capital, every time in order to make the next destination.

When I last wrote I had lost the two Germans I met earlier as they failed to make their scheduled flight back to Libreville.

No worries. Thirty minutes after I got back to our apartment they turned up. They had got a lift and arrived at the other airport terminal.

Instead of walking 50 metres to the terminal that they arrived from, they caught a different plane which departed after mine.

The next morning the heavens opened and the rainy season has shown itself for the first time in Libreville. We tried to wait for a gap in the weather but there didn't seem to be one.

Outside the stadium we met a group of Burkina Faso supporters. One was keen to practice his English. He was a big man with body paint depicting his country's flag. (I have a picture somewhere but am struggling to download photos at present.) His opening words: "I am from Burkina Faso."

A week in Gabon for Afcon 2017.


At the end of the match I heard a shout in English, I turned round to see it was him. He was delighted with his team's performance and gave me a big hug. I looked at my arm and saw red. His body paint had rubbed off on me.

My trip to Franceville was uneventful, although this time I went with Sebastiane.

We agreed to meet at the end of the second match to catch the shuttle back to the airport. With 10 minutes to go, a shout went out that all journalists for Libreville should go to get their bus now.

There was no sign of Sebastiane (from DRC), so I waited in the stadium and watched the game while looking for him. He sauntered over towards us slowly after the final whistle. Unaware that we had nearly gone without him.

I can't lose anyone else, can I?

The next day the football moved to Oyem and this time I received confirmation for the Oyem flight, returning the next day. So no helicopter, that was for CAF officials.

Before leaving the Tropicana, where I was staying I advised them that my room would not be used and they could sell it again if they wanted.

Went for my breakfast at the airport, croque monsieur, and then to Afrijet terminal about 11.00. Plane wasn't due to depart until 13.30.

A week in Gabon for Afcon 2017.


Sebastiane was there, but had some bad news. There was a problem with the helicopter and the CAF delegation were now going to join us on our flight.

At this stage we weren't sure of the implications, but an hour later they advised us that no journalists would travel.

So Sebastiane and I went to the airport terminal to try and book a flight to Oyem.

All the flights for Oyem had left, there were no more today.

We were offered a taxi who guaranteed he could get us to Oyem in time for kick off. With less than five hours to go. We declined, and went back to Afrijet.

I was in the throes of sending an email to a travelling companion who was in Libreville to ask him where he was and where he would be watching tonight's games. I didn't finish the email.

We heard that a request had been put to the CAF president to pay for a flight for the journalists. But it is not that simple, how do you get a plane that is ready to fly immediately from your point of departure.

The media scrum followed the person in charge round the room. Eventually an announcement was made, the gist was there were eight places available to journalists from the competing nations. I had already been enlisted to help Sebastiane at the RDC press conference. Does that make me a Congolese journalist?

Unfortunately there was a girl with a Congo shirt on, who just happened to be from Rwanda. Maybe I could get away with being Congolese if I borrowed one of Sebastiane's shirts.

I said that if this tournament is anything to go by it is most likely to be a draw, and so we should go straight to a penalty shootout. I later found out that Joseph Antonine-Bell, the former Cameroon World Cup keeper had said the same and offered to go in goal.

Sebastiane got his boarding pass, and I was left with Ed Dove, who thought we had no chance.

Now that all the passes had been handed out I started to work. There was no one waiting around the boarding desk so I spoke to the two gentlemen there, suggesting there ought to be some neutral coverage of the game. I then found out that there were 45 CAF delegates, but that if any didn't show there would be a place. Unfortunately the Rwandan woman was around and she was first on the waiting list. She asked to check this and was told there was no list, but just stay close. I put myself forward for second, as Ed who had no chance sat down at the back of the room.

I waited patiently as the numbers in the room dwindled, but stayed close to the boarding desk.

The woman was handed a boarding pass, others now surrounded us as her details were recorded for the flight, and I boldly held out my accreditation, Thierry who handed out the passes looked at it but seemed to blank me before taking it from my hand a presenting me with one of the last boarding passes.

Ed realised and came forward to the desk presenting his pass.

I saw him on the plane later.

We landed at a clearing that looked like it had recently been carved out of the surrounding forest and of course there were no lights.

The ground also has been carved out of the forest and with the nearest football team, Union Sportive de Bitam being 75 km away I suspect the forest may take the ground back very soon.

Two good football matches later and we sampled the nightlife in Oyem.

I decided to reserve the same accommodation for next week when I intend to return for two nights.

Leaving Oyem from the half-started open-plan airport, there was a sign for the cafeteria, where workmen were painting the walls and old fashioned weighing scales were lifted from one check-in table to the other.

The security scanning machine didn't work and so they had a casual inspection of the luggage before allowing us through.

The plane eventually set off and arrived at 12.30pm. I hadn't received confirmation of a place on today's flight to Port Gentil, but as I was at the airport I thought I would check to see if there was any possibility of travelling.

The flight was full, and due to fly at 13.00 and my name was not on the list. Never mind, by now you will have learnt that all you need is patience. Sure enough 30 minutes later and I was on my way to Port Gentil again.

This time we have been advised the shuttle to the airport will leave twenty minutes before the end of the match. I spoke to the media operations manager and she simply said "They don't understand".

Towards the end of the evening I asked again. I was told someone had asked to leave 20 minutes after the match. I immediately said that was not possible, but perhaps we could leave at the end of the match. Agreed.

Egypt, scored a late winner to ruin the report I had already before the final whistle.

We got to the shuttle and the driver wasn't there. The crowd started to stream out the ground in a large single line. Queues were forming for transport home. The problem in Port Gentil, and all the other stadiums is that there is only one road that leads to it.

We saw the convoy of CAF cars starting to move with a police escort. We were in pole position, to latch on behind them. Then we pulled over to the roadside. Three more journalists got in but we had lost the convoy.

There was a roadblock ahead and we were denied access and had to turn off. I presume this driver has not driven the press before. Didn't he know all he had to do was put his hazard lights on and drive as fast as possible, while the journalists on board would shout "Press", waving their accreditation at anyone that got in the way.

There was another convoy and we latched on it but he was not allowed past the next roadblock.

Now he started to speed up and drive in the middle of a road, which appeared only just wide enough for two large cars and with ditches at the side of the road.

I adopted the brace position on my seat waiting for the inevitable. We managed to arrive in one piece and on time for the 35 minute flight back to Libreville.

Following the same routine brought back memories of four days ago, when clearing security, Sebastiane accidentally picked up my accreditation and put it round his neck. As I was looking in my tray for it I saw Sebastiane pass.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Africa Cup of Nations 2017 Images

Enjoy these images of the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations in Gabon.

Check back as we add more each day. Click on the image to enlarge it.

Ghana fan at Afcon 2017.
Ghana fans enjoy Afcon 2017

Uganda fan at Afcon 2017.
Uganda fan

Gabon fans at Afcon 2017.
Gabon fans

Stade de l'Amitié, Libreville, Gabon.
Stade de l'Amitié, Libreville, Gabon
Mali fans at Afcon 2017.
Mali fans at Afcon 2017
Stade de Franceville (capacity 22,000) in Franceville.
Stade de Franceville (capacity 22,000) in Franceville



Gabon mascot & dancing girls.
Gabon mascot & dancing girls

Ghana fans give their team a big hand.
Ghana fans give their team a big hand

Mali man.
Mali man

Stade de Port-Gentil (capacity 20,000) in Port-Gentil.
Stade de Port-Gentil (capacity 20,000) in Port-Gentil

A week in Gabon for Afcon 2017.
Burkina Faso Fans

A week in Gabon for Afcon 2017.
Ivory Coast Fans

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Fifa World Rankings January 2017

FIFA World Fifa Rankings
Fifa's World Rankings for January 2017 were published on January 12 at FIFA HQ in Zurich, Switzerland. These are the first rankings of the year.

The Fifa World Rankings are now published on Thursday and not Wednesday as before.

The full top ten is the same as last month: Argentina, Brazil, Germany, Chile, Belgium, Colombia, beaten Euro 2016 finalists, France, Euro 2016 winners Portugal, Uruguay and Spain.

England are 13th, behind Euro 2016 semi-finalists Wales in 12th.

Senegal are the top African team in 33rd place, no change from last month.

Asian Cup winners Australia are in 44th place; Japan are in 46th spot. Near neighbors South Korea are in 37th place.

The USA are in 28th. Wales are 12th. Scotland are in 67th position. The Republic of Ireland in 23rd place, Northern Ireland are in 32nd position.

1 Argentina
2 Brazil
3 Germany
4 Chile
5 Belgium
6 Colombia
7 France
8 Portugal
9 Uruguay
10 Spain
11 Switzerland
12 Wales
13 England
14 Croatia
15 Poland
16 Italy
17 Costa Rica
18 Mexico
19 Peru
20 Ecuador

Full world rankings

Previous Fifa World Rankings

Bet with Bet 365

Soccer betting tips

Soccer Books & DVDs

Afcon Three Down

Four days of the Afcon 2017 tournament and I am now three down.

On the eve of the opening game we had been assured by the local volunteers that no tickets were available for the opening game and that the ground would be full.

Africa Cup of Nations 2017.


On the day of the game you would not have believed that as the opening ceremony began with only a few thousand in attendance. People kept coming even after Gabon kicked off the competition. There was a healthy attendance, but it was not full.

Keyboard warriors have been busy opposing the tournament and have allegedly been organising peaceful protests and asked people to stay away from the tournament. There have been no sign of any protests so far, although I have spotted police wagons loaded with police positioned in strategic places, but at ease.

Although nothing happened in the first 45 minutes, the football fayre improved considerably over the next 135 with the group ending up level and every team in with a chance of the next round after two draws.

The next day I went to the airport in the hope of sorting out my travel arrangements for later in the week. Instead of doing that I just got a plane to Franceville to watch that day's games. I was assured I would also be able to return that night.

Africa Cup of Nations 2017.


I met Maher an Algerian as I went in to the departure lounge, he was stopped before we entered and they took his bag, to put it in the plane.

There were people waiting to go to Port Gentil as well as Franceville and Maher then started to wonder where his bag was going. They hadn't asked; he hadn't told them.

Anyway, we boarded after checking with a porter who thought he remembered seeing a brown bag.

The stewardess asked which team we were, "FC Bohemia" I replied.

Trying to sort out a schedule is proving impossible, so I was talking to others, about future days.

Planes seem to be added to schedules at a moments notice.

The conversation went along the lines of

"What time should you be at the airport?" One hour before the flight?

"What time is the flight?"

I don't know.

"So what time do you have to be at the airport."

So you will gather that I still have no firm plans.

Africa Cup of Nations 2017.


During the day I booked the hotel that I had stayed at the previous two nights online.
The stadium was about 20 kilometres from the airport, and the windy country roads were decorated with game for sale.... tortoise, fish, ape and others!

During the second game I made enquiries about how I would get back to the airport. I was told there would be a shuttle after the match and just to come to the reception.

Sure enough I went to the reception, and asked. Now I got a quizzical look. There no longer seemed to be one.

An official was called over and he said he would arrange it. I was told to follow a volunteer and led outside and across the road.

I waited as he went down to a car park and returned 10 minutes later with a mini bus. For me.
We waited as convoy of CAF officials left with a police convoy, and joined the end of it hastily making our way to the airport. I had noticed on the journey there that the cars have a tendency to drive in the middle of the road and put their hazard lights on.

As we climbed windy roads the convoy could be seen for some way into the distance.
I presented myself at check in, and they checked the list for my name. They double checked, triple checked and still couldn't find it.

They questioned how I had got to Franceville and luckily I found the boarding card I had been given earlier in the day.

With this they added my name to the list and I was on the plane eventually landing after one in the morning.

Staying at the same place meant getting a taxi and directing them was no problem.
I eventually arrived at the hotel at 1.45 and presented my email confirmation of my booking - one night for the equivalent of €100 or £100 using fairly recent exchange rates. (If you thought that was bad when I first landed I tried to change £'s and for Euros they offered 25% more!!!).

Mali fans, Africa Cup of Nations 2017.


The surly night porter checked and once again my details could not be found. There was no room available. Faced with the prospects of walking the streets all night looking for somewhere to stay I asked if I could sleep on the sofa in reception. He grudgingly nodded. Now when they sent me an email to ask for my opinion of the hotel, you may have guessed they scored zero, but I did have to give them the highest resting for value for money as I didn't pay anything.

The next day I set off, rather tired, hoping to make it to Oyem, but as I was unable to confirm that I could make it back, I gave up on the idea. Sorted travel to Port Gentil and back and concentrated on finding somewhere cheaper to stay.

I had heard of a place by the beach, not far from the airport - The Tropicana. So I went there they were full. I decided that the location was so good that it would be worth staying there, so asked which date they did have a room free. Today was Monday 16th.

"Do you have a room free tomorrow?"
No.
"Do you have one free the day after tomorrow?"
No.
"When do you have a room free?"
Dix-huit.
"The 18th?"
Yes.
"So you do have a room free tomorrow."
No.

We got there eventually and a room was secured from dix-huit, the day after tomorrow.

Two Germans I encountered had met someone that worked for Puma and sorted a room for two nights, of course when we got there, the price agreed had changed.

I hope that you can begin to see that every step you take there is a problem, that had to be overcome, and as soon as you think everything is running smoothly an obstacle will be put in your way.
At night it was difficult to sleep as it was hot, when you put the air conditioning on the temperature was fine but the noise kept you awake.

The trip to Port Gentil was just 35 minutes but as we approached the plane seemed to dive bomb down to the runway and then do a wheelie on the tarmac.

We got a shuttle to the stadium and made our way along the thin strip of land. We encountered a roadblock and the police didn't want to let us through.

Shouts from the bus of journalist, got louder and they let us through. Thank goodness for that. It was 30 minutes before kick off and we were still battling through traffic. Then the engine gave out a loud grinding noise and we came to a halt.

Immediately we flagged down a bus that was with us and transferred to it making it in time to the stadium for kick off.

The games were not the best but the Mali fans were entertaining.

We had asked (repeatedly) what time the shuttle would leave and had been assured that it would be at the end of the game. I had spoken to a number of people who were also travelling back so that we could look out for each other.

Ten minutes before the end, someone beckoned for me to leave, I told Max And Helge but they wouldn't leave before the end of the match.

I departed and hoped they would catch up. By leaving early we managed to beat the traffic and arrived at the airport 25 minutes later. There we waited, our plane wasn't due to depart till 11.30 so they had over an hour to make it. The plane departed a few minutes late, but there was no sign of the two Germans.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

One down and we haven't kicked off!

One down and we haven't kicked off!
Three of my favourite books Catch-22 by Joseph Heller, The Trial by Franz Kafka and Rates of Exchange by Malcolm Bradbury. Imagine if you merged these three and moved the setting to Central Africa. I wonder what would happen? Of course they are all works of fiction but This is Africa.

My journey took a familiar path starting with playing football the evening before, calling into the pub afterwards and walking into town to catch the 23.30 bus to Heathrow.

The weather forecast is currently grim and snow is expected. News reached me earlier in the day that 80 flights from Heathrow had already been cancelled.

As the coach was leaving Milton Keynes a passenger shouted to the driver. "The luggage side door is still open." He quickly stopped and closed the door.

Spent the journey waiting for us to hit the bad weather. On the M1 after Milton Keynes the gritters were out, but I could see by the signs saying 18 miles in 18 minutes that traffic was flowing.

We made it to Heathrow on schedule with no sign of any bad weather whatsoever.

I was the only passenger getting off at Terminal 4. The bus driver had a perplexed looked as he searched for my luggage. "You don't think I'd put anything in there do you?" I said.

At Heathrow as we were about to board I was asked for my visa, which I duly provided and was allowed to proceed.

I mentioned the visa process earlier and had advised a friend what to do. He chose to ignore me after he had booked his flight and received an accreditation to act as a photographer at the tournament. He wasn't allowed to board his plane and won't be coming.

Changed planes in Paris, no one asked to see my visa. This is France.

We waited over an hour on the runway as the plane was de-iced.

Upon arrival in Libreville the plane seemed to take a swerve that Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang would have been proud of. But we emerged unscathed ready for the next challenge to collect the visa.

We were ushered from one queue to another and eventually a hand took my passport along with my paper confirmation of my evisa.

I could see a pile of passports on a desk the other side of the glass and photocopies being taken. We all waited, impatiently as time passed. It was 90 minutes after we landed before we were reunited.

The next day I met a German friend who had arrived that morning after missing his connection in Paris, by seconds - I didn't make it worse and tell him about the de-icing. He had been rerouted via Morocco and arrived at 4am. He applied for his visa at the airport!

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Africa Cup of Nations 2017 Managers

Africa Cup of Nations 2017 Managers.
A list of the coaches of the participating teams at the Africa Cup of Nations 2017.

Black managers have a hard job getting a look-in at clubs in England, they also have a struggle to manage their own national sides. Only 4 teams at the Africa Cup of Nations 2017 have native African coaches: DR Congo, Guinea-Bissau, Senegal and Zimbabwe.

France provides the most managers with four followed by Belgium with two.

The coaches most known to an international audience include Hector Cuper who had spells with Valencia and Inter and Avram Grant who managed Chelsea, Portsmouth and West Ham in the Premier League.

Ex-Spain coach Jose Antonio Camacho has managed Real Madrid (twice), Benfica (twice), Espanyol (twice) and the China national team. He is remembered for having very sweaty armpits during the 2002 World Cup in Korea/Japan. Camacho, who has one only trophy in his career as manager, a Portuguese Cup with Benfica in 2004, might find the weather in Gabon a challenge for his shirts.

Frenchmen Herve Renard and Claude Le Roy both have connections with Cambridge United back in 2004. Renard has won the trophy twice with Zambia in 2012 and Ivory Coast in 2015.

Group A

Gabon - Jose Antonio Camacho (Spain)
Burkina-Faso - Paulo Duarte (Portugal)
Cameroon - Hugo Broos (Belgium)
Guinea-Bissau - Baciro Cande (Guinea-Bissau)

Group B

Algeria - Georges Leekens (Belgium)
Senegal - Allou Cisse (Senegal)
Tunisia - Henryk Kasperczak (Poland)
Zimbabwe - Callisto Pasuwa (Zimbabwe)

Group C

Ivory Coast - Michel Dussuyer (France)
DR Congo - Florent Ibenge (DR Congo)
Morocco - Herve Renard (France)
Togo - Claude Le Roy (France)

Group D

Egypt - Hector Cuper (Argentina)
Ghana - Avram Grant (Israel)
Mali - Alain Giresse (France)
Uganda - Milutin Sredojevic (Serbia)

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Gabon hosts Africa Cup of Nations 2017

Africa Cup of Nations 2017
So, who would have thought it. Gabon will host the African continent's biggest tournament for the second time in 5 years (Yes, that's right they also hosted in 2012, when they shared hosting with Equatorial Guinea).

The bidding process for these things started back in 2010 when Botswana, Cameroon, DR Congo, Guinea, Morocco, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe first expressed an interest. In the end only three countries put in bids - DR Congo, Morocco and South Africa. 2017 was awarded to South Africa.

Now just to complicate things further in 2011, due to the Libyan Civil War, South Africa agreed to host the 2013 competition, which was due to be held in Libya that year, with Libya hosting in 2017.

Now unfortunately the Libyan Civil War has lasted longer than we hoped and in 2014 Libya was withdrawn as the venue. There was interest from Ethiopia, Mali, Tanzania and Kenya discussed a joint bid with Rwanda and Uganda. In the end seven countries submitted bids: Algeria, Egypt, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya (alone), Sudan and Zimbabwe.

In April 2015 Gabon were named as hosts.

So when bidding began in 2010 there were 53 African countries and 20 of them have expressed an interest in hosting this tournament. There are of course now 54 African countries with South Sudan being the newest formed in July 2011.

This tournament was originally going to be held in South Africa, then Libya and now Gabon - although CAF  (Confederation of African Football) were forced to issue a statement on 25 November 2016 denying the fact that the venue was to be changed again.

So, with Gabon having hosted in 2012 the infrastructure will be there to hold another successful Championship.

The first obstacle to overcome will be to get into the country - for which you need a visa. To make this easy Gabon announced the introduction of an electronic visa from January 2015. However to complete the visa you need details of your accommodation and of a contact in Gabon.

So I duly went out and bought the only guide book there is on Gabon. I went through the whole book and took note of all the email addresses and sent an email introducing myself and that I was looking for help with my trip.

Gabon hosts Africa Cup of Nations 2017.
Yes, those are the replies I got above...over 30 of them. You might think this was strange. Well let me tell you a little more. Last August there was a Presidential election where incumbent President Ali Bongo Ondimba ran for re-election against the former Minister for Foreign Affairs Jean Ping.

The election is decided in a single round by plurality that is, the person with the most votes wins regardless of whether they have secured an overall majority.

On the day after the elections Ping (whose supporters had collected results showing him winning by 59% to 38%) said that "he was waiting for the outgoing president to congratulate me."

The result were delayed a day and Ali Bongo was announced the winner with 49.80% against Jean Ping's 48.2%.

Results from Haut-Ogooue, Bongo's heartland showed that he had secured 95.5% of the votes in a 99.9% turnout.

As you can imagine chaos ensued. As a result a media blackout was introduced. I believe that may be the cause for my returned emails.

Now to get this visa a contact in Gabon would be really useful. But if I haven't got that then the other way would be to book a hotel that could help. I was told that the Le Méridien Rendama would help with visas, but I decided against this even though there was a 20% price reduction as I felt £215 a night was a bit much.

So how is everyone else getting on with their visa applications: Jonathon WilsonOsasu Obayiuwana, Nick Ames.

So is it safe now  in Gabon, well with no news coming out of the country it is hard to say. But remember CAF issued their statement on November 25th...so everything must be OK. Mustn't it.
How smoothly did the last African Cup of Nations go in Equatorial Guinea in 2015?
Ok so what about travelling round the country. Four venues are being used Libreville, the capital, along with Port Gentil, Franceville and Oyem.

So I thought I would use Google maps to get around the country.

So to travel the 733km from Libreville to Franceville you can fly one way for £140 for the one hour 25 minute flight. You could catch the train for the 12 hour journey only £41. Or you could go by road, estimated time 15 hours.

Port-Gentil, Gabon.


Franceville to Oyem is 989km by road and takes 15 hours. There are no direct planes.
Oyem to Port Gentil. Sorry we could not calculate driving directions. That might be because there are no roads leading into Port Gentil (see under getting Around).

Port Gentil to Libreville. Sorry I forgot there are no roads. However you could fly, or even catch a boat. Would you catch a boat for a four hour trip in Gabon?

If you want to fly don't forget the Foreign Office warning (under Air Travel).

So if all of this information is right, what is the last way that you would want to enter the country?

Match tickets

Portimonense Sporting Clube

Portimonense Sporting Clube are the major football team in Portimão, a fishing port and former sardine canning center on the Algarve coast of southern Portugal.

Portimonense Sporting Clube, Portimao, Portugal.


Founded in 1914 by students returning from England, Portimonense S C are presently in the second division of Portuguese football, the Segunda Liga, but are hoping for a return to their glory days of the 1980's when the team were a presence in the top flight and even competed in the UEFA Cup in 1985-86. Portimonense, nicknamed Alvinegros, were last in the top flight in the 2009-2010 season.

Portimonense Sporting Clube.


The team is presently top of the Segunda Liga after 20 games with a good chance of promotion as they are four points clear of second-placed Aves and 14 points clear of third-placed Santa Clara.

Portimonense Sporting Clube, Portimao, Algarve.


Portimonense play in black and white stripes at the 9,500 capacity Estádio Municipal de Portimão, right in the center of the town. One stand at the ground is covered.

www.portimonense.pt
www.facebook.com/PortimonenseSC

Portimonense Sporting Clube, Algarve, Portugal.

Portimonense Sporting Clube.

Portimonense Sporting Clube.