Belfast Telegraph

African Wild Dogs are rover the moon

By Billy Weir

It was the football match we had all been waiting for, the home team in front of an expectant crowd whipped up by their manager against a side desperate to make it on the big stage against a bigger team.

No, not Liverpool's visit to Manchester United, this was even bigger: the start of the African Cup of Nations, and my new favourite team Guinea-Bissau in the lion's den as they took on tournament hosts Gabon.

Technically they were in the Panthers' den, or wherever a panther hangs out, as is the way with African football - the nicknames aren't so much out of this world but chosen from the exotic animal world.

So while England can boast Robins, Canaries, Magpies, Rams, Bees, Black Cats and assorted other beasts, Africa tends to do things a bit bigger and angrier, although Gabon's other nickname is the Brazilians, hopefully after the country as what goes on in the Brazilian den is a question for another time.

Guinea-Bissau are the minnows of the competition, or rather the Djurtus, which translates as African wild dogs, which will be handy if they take the lead. But that is unlikely as commentator Wayne Boyce on Eurosport, TV home of the competition, explained that they had only won four competitive matches before qualification for the tournament.

"They've been talking themselves up like their former colonial power Portugal, who won the Euros in the summer, but it really would be a sensation even if they manage to pick up a single victory," said a less than optimistic Boyce.

Not that the fans in Libreville cared, they were there for a good time, many of them waving orange hands which did give it the feel of a DUP annual conference, but it was quite warm so no need for any heaters. I would apply anyway, just say you knew nothing about it and your relation is a djurtus farmer and all will be grand.

"It's pretty much like Luxembourg or the Faroe Islands qualifying for the Euros, it's a wonderful achievement," added Boyce, before unleashing an expert on all things African upon us. Who would it be? Efan Ekoku, Didier Drogba, David Attenborough?

Nope, Stewart Robson, formerly of Arsenal, West Ham and Coventry City.

"They've got nothing to lose, they can't be fearful of this Gabon side," he said, notching up a few clichés early doors, and it wasn't long before the colourful crowd, bumpy pitches and mercenaries turning out for the land of their forefathers were mentioned, only to be interrupted by the first brutal challenge of the match.

It took 13 minutes (African football is making strides), although Guinea-Bissau, who claimed independence from Portugal in 1973, still seemed quite fond of their overseas rulers, fielding quite a few players from there and playing in the same kit.

The first half wasn't a classic at the Stade de l'Amitie, although I misheard that and thought Boyce said Del Amitri, which would have been closer to the truth as nothing ever happens in the opening 45 minutes in the tournament. You will need to have been born just before Guinea-Bissau independence to get that joke.

To try and liven things up at the break, a local hip-hoppist was sent out to whip the crowd into a frenzy, prompting Boyce to ask Robson if he had any of Babu's records.

"I haven't. Actually I have an extensive hip-hop collection but Babu isn't in it, I have to say," he replied, but before we could go any further Gabon rudely interrupted us with a goal from Borussia Dortmund striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, which was handy as we knew him.

Things were looking good for the hosts, the underdogs looking down and out and licking their wounds until a man called Soares (there were three in the team) scored in the dying seconds as the African Wild Dogs went, well, wild.

"And there is the final whistle, the celebrations are for Guinea-Bissau," said Boyce.

"Boos ring out (at least it wasn't Babu) but what a wonderful story."

Indeed it was. I am not sure it lasted or not as the Djurtus were in action last night against Cameroon, and I am travelling back from Libreville on my pack of wild dogs.

It's okay being in the pink against the Panthers, or indeed tearing a strip off the Brazilians, but when you're up against the Indomitable Lions, then that's a different matter altogether.

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