ACoN Diary 2: Drogba, Dogtanian and a double-header in Malabo

Jonathan Wilson continues to document his time in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea for the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations

One of the joys of travel, they say, is the incidental knowledge you pick up on the way.

Yesterday, for instance, I was sitting in a restaurant in Malabo tucking in to a very good spaghetti bolognese before the double header of Ivory Coast against Sudan and Angola against Burkina Faso (food in Africa, for a western European palate anyway, is easily broken down: former British and Portuguese colonies = dreadful; former French and Spanish colonies = pretty good. This is doubly true of bread and coffee). The TV was showing the classic eighties cartoon Dogtanian and the Three Muskehounds, dubbed, I thought, into Spanish. But then the action went past a school, above the door of which was written ‘escuela’.

At first, I wondered whether they could possibly have redrawn that section of the cartoon to render it in Spanish but, having decided that was unlikely, I Googled the series. It turns out it was initially a joint Spanish-Japanese production and that the English dub, the one we all grew up with, was a translation.

Further research shows that Around the World with Willy Fogg (with its villainous wolf apparently modelled on Paul Breitner) was also a Spanish-Japanese co-production, while Ulysses 31 and The Mysterious Cities of Gold were French-Japanese. British animation seems to have been shamefully restricted to shorts like King Rollo and Willo the Wisp, the epic sweep apparently beyond them.

I tried asking the waiter about Dogtanian, but linguistic confusion led him to think I was talking about Didier Drogba, and he confirmed that he expected Ivory Coast to win the Cup of Nations. Like many others in Equatorial Guinea, he claimed to be an Ivory Coast fan, insisting his family came from there.

The Elephants, strong favourites for the tournament, began against Sudan on Sunday. The game kicked off at 5pm, but I got to the stadium at one, anticipating the chaos for which the Cup of Nations has become notorious. As it was, things couldn’t have gone more smoothly. There wasn’t even anybody checking accreditation at the door, and the wifi – always a journalist’s first concern – worked perfectly.

The stadium itself is small, with a capacity of only 15,000, but could hardly have a more beautiful setting. As you sit in the press-box, the lower slopes of Mount Cameroon stretch away to the right, covered in jungle and shrouded in mist. Over the stand to the left, perhaps 200 yards away, is the sea, which drew a small flock of white ibis to peck their way across the pitch, at least until the crowd swelled enough to scare them off.

The crowd didn’t swell much, though. Including the volunteers who took up their seats at half-time in the Ivory Coast v Sudan game, there were probably no more than 10,000 in the 15,000-capacity stadium. This is a perennial problem for Cups of Nations: when the hosts aren’t playing, crowds are always poor – and that's despite governments such as those of Ivory Coast and Angola subsidising trips for fans. Given the cheapest ticket was £6.25, around a week’s wages for the majority of the country, perhaps that isn’t so surprising, while travelling fans – never large in number in Africa anyway – were probably put off by the high cost of accommodation and the difficulty of attaining visas.

Ivory Coast weren’t great, but they were good enough – Didier Drogba heading the only goal midway through the first half and the much-maligned Boubacar Barry making two excellent saves to protect the lead before Yaya Toure dropped deep to shut the game down. It was efficient rather than spectacular, but given how often Ivory Coast have started Cups of Nations well only to falter, that’s probably for the best.

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