x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

A continent uniting for the big occasion

Rivalries across Africa have been forgotten for the World Cup as supporters rally behind the six teams competing. Euan Megson joins in by watching Nigeria v Greece at a packed fan park in Cape Town.

Nigerian fans celebrate after watching Kalu Uche score a goal against Greece, on a screen in a World Cup fan park in Lagos, Nigeria yesterday. The Nigerians also had plenty of support from fellow Africans in fan parks in South Africa as they went down 2-1 in their Group B clash.
Nigerian fans celebrate after watching Kalu Uche score a goal against Greece, on a screen in a World Cup fan park in Lagos, Nigeria yesterday. The Nigerians also had plenty of support from fellow Africans in fan parks in South Africa as they went down 2-1 in their Group B clash.

Pride comes before a fall. Continental support for the six African sides contesting the first World Cup to be held on home soil, has been one of the stories of the tournament so far. Across Africa, fans' domestic allegiances have been set aside and various nationalities and ethnicities have united under a universal "Team Africa" umbrella. "Africa is proud," said Mohamed Mustafa, an Egyptian slicing and dicing through sandwich-making duties at Cairo Schwarma, a cafe on the fringes of Cape Town's Fan Fest. "The rest of the world didn't believe that Africa could stage a great World Cup, but they forgot the Under 17 [Nigeria] and Under 20 World Cups [Egypt] were both held in Africa this year." The emotion gripping Africans is continental pride. The Rainbow Nation, said Blessing Kunydzi, a Ghanian living in Cape Town, is flying the flag for Africa. "It's Africa's World Cup and everyone is behind the tournament because nowhere else could have done it better," said Kundydzi. On Wednesday night, the 8,000-strong crowd at Cape Town's Fifa-sanctioned Fan Fest illustrated that point perfectly. Despite the Bafana Bafana's tame surrender to a Diego Forlan-inspired Uruguay, the atmosphere was electric. South Africans, Somalis, Nigerians, Ivorians, Congolese, Egyptians - all were Bafana Bafana for a night. And with Nigeria facing a make-or-break Group B clash against Greece yesterday, the "all for one and one for all" sentiment continued. "It's our soil and I'm supporting any team from Africa," Kunydi added. "I'm from Ghana, yes, but I am an African. I'm wearing the Nigeria jersey today, see." He was not alone. With Argentina having floored South Korea earlier in the day, Nigeria, who end their group phase against the Asians, could not afford to lose a second consecutive game against Greece. Nigeria got a good start as Kalo Uche's cross found the net in the 16th minute. After celebrating, Christopher Dimokbala, a Nigerian university student studying sociology in Cape Town, explained a continent's collective patriotism. "Nigeria are playing today, but you can see all the different people from African countries. This is the tournament's first time in Africa and we are all 100 per cent supporting our brothers - we have to," Dimokbala said. A Sanu Kaita sending off 17 minutes later cranked emotions up another notch. "I am referee back home and that merited a red card," added Dimokbala. "The Greece player may have started it, but you have to endure." Greece's equaliser on the stroke of half time hushed the crowd, but not its hope. "The reality is I am African, even if my country is not in the World Cup," said Charles Mbiya, a student from Zambia. "The first time someone invites you to a party, you must be proud. I'm supporting every African team because they gave us this opportunity to have this tournament is in Africa, so let's catch it." An unbelievable miss by Chinedu Obasi forced Saad Chaariat, a London-based Moroccan following Algeria during the group stages, but Nigerian for the day, to cry: "You can't miss those at the World Cup. It's not a duty, it's a commitment. South Africans are showing love for the other African teams too." There was misery when Vincent Enyeama, the Nigerian keeper who had played brilliantly, spilled a shot and Vassilis Torosidis put Greece in front. The crowd went catatonic. "Teams might be rivals on the continent, but when we play countries from other continents, the support is always for Africa," whispered Justice Akuchie, an American of Nigerian descent. Mbiya, displaying the confidence of a continent, strolled over. "I have an African saying for you," he smiled. "If its between your brother and your friend, the choice is clear." emegson@thenational.ae