Day six of the Africa Cup of Nations had Ivory Coast beaming, Mali fuming and Algeria left out in the cold by their national media and accused of gamesmanship by organizers.
Friday’s lone action came from Cabinda where competition favorites Ivory Coast became the first of the 15 Nations Cup teams to reach the quarter-finals.
They did it the hard way, defeating a severely depleted Ghana 3-1 with 10 men.
The Elephants were down a player on 56 minutes when Arsenal defender Emmanuel Eboue was red-carded for a vicious tackle from behind on Opoku Agyemang.
By then Lille forward Kouassi “Gervinho” had already put them in front. Siaka Tiene scored direct from a free-kick after 67 minutes and Chelsea striker Didier Drogba completed the win in the final minute.
Ghana got a stoppage-time consolation goal via an Asamoah Gyan penalty after he had been fouled by Souleman Bamba.
Victory lifted the title favorites to four points from two matches.
Ghana or Burkina Faso will join them in the last eight in Group B which was reduced to three teams with Togo’s defection following the deadly attack on their team bus.
Down in Luanda, what should have been a routine training session degenerated into high drama, farce and recrimination.
Everything began normally at the Escoqueirus Stadium when Algeria turned up to prepare for tomorrow’s must-win Group A clash with hosts Angola, but waiting reporters were astonished when, a quarter of an hour later, the Mali team bus rounded a corner and parked outside the stadium.
Utter confusion then reigned as first Mali players, including Real Madrid midfielder and national team captain Mahamadou Diarra and 2007 African Footballer of the Year Frederic Kanoute, were made to wait in the coach for more than half an hour.
Then they were told they could enter the ground, only to find the doors locked.
Diarra and some of his fellow teammates attempted to gain access by clambering through an open window, while Kanoute and Mali’s Nigerian coach Stephen Keshi tried to talk their way in at the main gate, but to no avail.
After more than an hour and as dusk fell, Keshi led his charges away, furious at having missed a vital chance to prepare for their last group match against Malawi in Cabinda tomorrow.
Keshi said: “I’m fed up. How could this happen, to get the boys in a bus and travel to a ground and be told you can’t train? I don’t know whose fault it is.”
Barcelona midfielder Seydou Keita added defiantly: “They can do what they like, but we’re still going to qualify [for the quarter-finals].”
The Africa Cup of Nations organizing committee (LOC) laid the blame firmly with Algeria.
LOC media officer Virgilio Santos said: “This mix-up had nothing to do with us. What happened was this: Mali were supposed to travel to Cabinda today, but delayed their trip until Saturday. Algeria were supposed to train at the stadium until 17:00, but when they saw the Mali team turn up they decided to make life difficult for Mali and they didn’t leave the pitch until 18:15, which made Mali angry.”
In a separate subplot the Algeria team were cold shouldered by their local press who were angry at being refused entry to watch the training session.
The Desert Foxes’ press pack formed a human wall and turned their backs on the players as they left the stadium.
The relationship between the two sides is fraught after coach Rabah Saadane took exception to the criticism that followed his side’s opening 3-0 defeat to Malawi.
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