1- Fielding questions.
The ground staff were out a couple of hours before the final Group C match between Democratic Republic of Congo and Togo at the Stade Port-Gentil. As the loose grass was scattered to hide the particularly nasty bits of sand, a colleague reminded me that at the 2013 Cup of Nations in South Africa, the pitch at Nelspruit was so crusty that the ground staff sprayed green paint over the offending patches.
Paint and scattering: that’s a tasty combination to embellish the naughty parts at Port-Gentil. I liked one moment in the preparations before the match. One of the ground staff went into the centre circle with a pot and painted the tiny circle on which the ball is placed for the kick-off.
He adorned awhile and then edged back, folded his arms and tilted his head musingly to survey his handiwork. He was content. It was a moment of intimate calm and harmony amid the horticultural horror around him.
2- At last a nice a touch on the Port-Gentil.
The Democratic Republic of Congo players formed a guard of honour for the Togo squad at the end of their Group C match in Port-Gentil. It was the idea of skipper Yousuf Mulumbu who wanted to pay homage to Togo skipper Emmanuel Adebayor. And it was very touching.
Adebayor, who is not everybody's cup of tea, said that he came very close to breaking his promise to himself to never weep on the pitch. He should have done, it can only help that surface.
3- Adebayor, the great divider.
Sheyi Emmanuel Adebayor has been a feature of the football firmament for the past 16 years. The Lomé lad's halcyon days were spent under Arsene Wenger at Arsenal before venturing off for the money to Manchester City. Stints followed at Real Madrid and Tottenham Hotspur. Now 32, he is a free agent after a six month spell ended at Crystal Palace at the end of the English Premier League season in May 2016.
He’s been seven months without competitive football but he put in sterling shifts for Togo in their three matches at the 2017 Cup of Nations. Togo boss Claude Le Roy and his Congolese counterpart, Florent Ibenge, were full of praise for the striker’s efforts.
Le Roy said people had told him he was crazy to name Adebayor in the 23 man squad. The veteran, who has coached six different teams at nine Cup of Nations, said Adebayor’s performances and attitude had more than vindicated his inclusion.
4- Winning is tough. Defending is tough.
There was symmetry aplenty in the match between Cote d’Ivoire and Morocco on day eleven. Morocco coach Hervé Renard, who led the Ivorians to the title in 2015, had a chance to be the architect of their demise two years later.
His Morocco side needed at least a draw against the defending champions to advance while the Ivorians needed all three points. Morocco won 1-0 thanks to Rachid Alioui’s wonder strike from 25 metres. So out go Cote d’Ivoire, the first defending champions to fall at the group stages since 2013's debacle for Zambia led by … Hervé Renad.
5- You get appointed. You resign.
Following their elimination on day 10, Algeria’s football suits waited until the dust had settled the next day and then saw that coach Georges Leekens was right. He should resign. Leekens, 67, was only appointed last October. His departure means that since Christian Gourcuff left in April 2016, the Algerians have gone through Milovan Rajevac and now Leekens.
They’re bottom of their 2018 World Cup qualifying group after two of their six games and failed to justify their billing as one of the favourites for the 2017 Cup of Nations title. With this kind of turnover, the next man could just about last until the autumn leaves are falling.