Cameroon beat Gambia 2-0 in the first of the weekend’s quarter-finals on Saturday in front of a boisterous crowd in Douala to move into the final four and temper some of the impact of the disaster.
The deaths last Monday at Yaounde’s Olembe Stadium cast a dark cloud over the tournament, which has been beset by a host of other problems.
The deadly crush took place as spectators attempted to gain entry to the stadium. The Confederation of African Football (CAF) moved a subsequent match away from the venue and is waiting for government assurances of improved control if Thursday’s scheduled semi-final and next Sunday’s final are to go ahead at the new stadium.
“We wanted to win this game to pay tribute to the eight people who died at the Olembe stadium in our last game,” said Cameroon’s key defender, Michael Ngadeu Ngadjui, after Saturday’s win.
“We did it, we offer our sincere condolences to these families, and we promise them qualification for the final.”
Cameroon produced a much better showing after several nervous performances in their previous matches.
“It was the determination and commitment of the team that made the difference in this game. We saw guys who were hungry, who wanted to show the Cameroonian people that we could play with commitment and determination,” Ngadeu added.
Continued success of the home team will help distract attention away from other problems around the tournament: two postponements of the event because of the COVID-19 pandemic, complaints over the poor state of pitches that has seen other matches moved and organisational issues.
Among issues that led to the CAF considering cancelling the tournament when they held an emergency meeting in December was the host country’s failure to pay contractors, delaying the completion of works at the Olembe Stadium and leaving other aspects of the tournament organisation behind schedule.
The local organising committee said such problems would be resolved. However, on Friday a contractor who said he had not been paid for the hire of his audio equipment at the stadium in Garoua dramatically removed the microphones and speaker system at the start of a scheduled news conference involving the Burkina Faso team.
He said he was packing up his property and leaving. The news conference went ahead without any sound system.