African aftermath both violent and celebratory

[WORLD CUP 2010 QUALIFYING] It's sometimes too easy for fans in more privileged countries to cope with defeat by rationalizing soccer as "only a game." But there are parts of the world where a result has a wider significance than two stats on a sheet of a paper. In Africa this past weekend, as the first phase of World Cup qualifying ended and a number of countries were eliminated, reactions varied from extreme celebration to extreme violence.
 
In the 2002 World Cup, Senegal's progress to the quarterfinal was heralded in soccer quarters as the belated but welcome arrival of Africa as a major player on the international stage. But when Senegal finished third in its preliminary qualifying group after a 1-1 draw against Gambia in Dakar Saturday, fans reacted furiously. At the end of the game, the players endured a barrage of stones and bottles before they made it back to their locker rooms under armed guard. They were then held in the stadium for three hours before escaping via a side exit. Fans went on to vandalize the headquarters of the Senegalese soccer federation.
 
A member of the Senegalese Normalization Committee running soccer in the country, Nouha Cisse, told BBC Sport that the reaction was "most regrettable," and that since the success of 2002, fans had been under the illusion "that one day we would win something." He added that "at the moment, there is an illness -- economic, social, cultural, political illness here, and all those tensions came out when a sporting defeat was added to them."
 
Contrast that with the reaction in Gambia, where the country's president declared a national holiday Monday to celebrate the 1-1 result, including a "national party," to which President Yahya Jammeh invited "all Gambians." Gambia, it should be noted, did not actually qualify for the next round either, but stopping Senegal from doing so was deemed sufficient cause for a mass shindig. President Jammeh, it might also be added, came to power in a military coup in 1994, won his last election in 2006 under allegations of intimidation by the opposition, and this year announced that he would "cut off the head" of any gay or lesbian person found in his country. So celebrating elimination from the World Cup is perhaps the kind of presidential order Gambians would regard as bizarrely normal.
 
In Mozambique, qualification for the next round after a 1-0 road victory in Botswana set off "a series of wild celebrations at home," according to the African Press Agency, when thousands of fans streamed onto the streets of the country's major cities, with cars hooting and people dancing. "The national flags were flown all through the capital Maputo, the central port city of Beira and as far as northern city of Nampula," said the agency, "as the party gathered momentum into the night as firecrackers pierced into the night air."
 
Anyone thus celebrating Uganda's progress into the next phase would have woken up not just with a hangover, but a crippling sense of disappointment too. The reason? Uganda didn't actually qualify, but the Uganda Football Association's CEO Charles Masembe apparently thought they had, and duly announced it to the country on CBS radio. His mistake was in thinking that when two sides finish equal it is still head-to-head results that determine placings, having failed to read the memo that FIFA has changed it back to the old system of goal difference for this World Cup.
 
When contacted by the paper, the official still insisted that Uganda was through and safe. "I have first-hand information and documents ascertaining that we are already there, and those who want to confuse people should stop it," he said. "Ugandans should just be calm and wait for the final FIFA communication." The paper observed that the gaffe "conceivably explains why the team found itself falling a few goals short of advancement once more."
 
Ghana's qualification with a 3-0 victory over Lesotho was marred by an overcrowded stadium, with rumors that three people had been crushed to death causing "a state of insecurity, anxiety and panic," the Ghanaian Times reported. Although the rumors reportedly turned out to be false, there was chaos as gates to the 20,000-capacity stadium in Sekondi were locked hours before kick-off, with many ticket-holding spectators still outside. Fans then stormed their way into the stadium past security, resulting in people climbing onto the stadium roofs to watch, and others being forced to spectate from the field perimeter.
 
"Scenes outside the stadium about two hours [before]... kick off and that in the stands during the match were horrific as fans jostled each other and tried to keep hold [of] their seats or places," reported the paper. "For sellers of 'pure water' and bottled water, it was a boom as sympathetic fans patronised them at exorbitant prices to revive those around them who fell unconscious in the absence of security personnel and first aid officials."
 
Finally, a beautifully expressed extract from an AfricaNews game report on Cameroon versus Mauritius. "[Cameroon's] Albert Meyong Ze replaced Achille Emana in the second half. The former came in pepped. He liaised with [Samuel] Eto'o so well that a beautiful connection between the two led to a penalty in favor of the Indomitable Lions at the 46th minute of play."

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