x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Few fans as Zambia stun Ghana in African Cup of Nations semi-final

Crowds are sparse, but the action flows on the field as Mayuke scores for the winners.

Ghana's Samuel Inkoom defends against Zambia's James Chamanga.
Ghana's Samuel Inkoom defends against Zambia's James Chamanga.

Organisers gave away free tickets to the African Cup of Nations semi-finals last night in an attempt to avoid the eyesore of empty stadiums at the continent's top tournament.

The first semi-final at Estadio de Bata was still nearly deserted as the match kicked off in front of swathes of unoccupied red and blue seats.

Ouattara Hego, the Confederation of African Football spokesman said schoolchildren and local businesses were handed an unspecified number of tickets for Zambia's 1-0 victory over Ghana in Bata and the later match between Ivory Coast and Mali in Libreville, Gabon, while fans who turned up on the day were being allowed in without paying.

Only a small number of spectators were attracted to Bata Stadium, however, while a torrential downpour at Stade de l'Amitie in Libreville was keeping the crowds away from the second semi-final.

Filling the stadiums is a perennial problem at the continental tournament, where matches not involving the host team are often almost deserted.

Football supporters in Africa tend to be poorer and have a limited budget to spend on tickets for games not involving their favoured teams, while finding transport to games is also an issue.

"We asked the local organising committee to think of a solution for this because the stadiums have been empty," Hego said.

"The problem in Africa is the crowd. When your team is not playing, the people don't come. It's not just here, it's the same problem in other countries in Africa."

Hego had hoped as many as 15,000 fans might attend the Zambia-Ghana match at the 37,500-capacity Estadio de Bata and this "should create some atmosphere," but there was only a handful of supporters present alongside a small group of schoolchildren.

While the stands were empty, there was still plenty to watch on the field. Goalkeeper Kennedy Mweene was the hero for Zambia, pulling of a string of fine saves to keep a clean sheet against Ghana's formidable strike force that included Al Ain's Asamoah Gyan, who missed an early penalty, and Derek Boateng, who was sent off late on.

And Emmanuel Mayuke made the Ghanaians pay with a wonderful curling strike in the second half to book Zambia's place in the final.

Meanwhile, Senegal's football federation last night fired Amara Traore, their coach, after one of their worst campaigns in this tournament, where they lost all their games to be the first team eliminated. The nation's federation said Traore was responsible for the surprise group-stage defeats to Zambia, Equatorial Guinea and Libya.