Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 28 December 2014

Billy on the Box: It’s safari so good as DR Congo finds cure

The first heats of the 'I'm A Little Teapot' heats in Africa prove to be a tad more exciting than the early stages of the football
The first heats of the 'I'm A Little Teapot' heats in Africa prove to be a tad more exciting than the early stages of the football

You join me as I manfully continue to try and thaw out my vuvuzela so that I can truly join in on the footballing feast that is the African Cup of Nations.

To be honest, a cup of Bovril would probably be the best thing to help defrost it, but far from the frozen wasteland that is Northern Ireland, football is alive and kicking in the winter drizzle of South Africa.

This is just one of the many myths about this majestic continent for while David Attenborough tries to shine some light on some of its jewels, over on ITV4 Matt Smith is busy digging deep for clichés that usually revolve around sunshine.

“With the big freeze hitting the UK there is no better time for a bit of sunshine and escapism of the African Cup of Nations,” he beamed.

It was a shame that no-one told him that it was lashing down in Johannesburg as the host nation kicked things off on Saturday with a game against the Cape Verde Islands, or the Blue Sharks as they are better known.

This is a feature of African football that should be embraced globally, some wonderful nicknames that would keep Mr Attenborough gainfully employed for ages.

For example Ivory Coast are the Elephants, Togo are the Sparrowhawks and Nigeria are the Super Eagles (to avoid any confusion with Crystal Palace) but sadly the Squirrels of Benin did not make it this time.

Bizarrely Niger are known as Mena, but I’ve browsed through my Big Boy’s Book of African Football Teams Nicknames to discover that this is a type of antelope and nothing to do with Ballymena United, or the Sky Blue Sheep Squeezers as I shall be suggesting as a new nickname.

Unfortunately the opening game was a damp squib (not a nickname) and not even the jaunty national anthems or Cape Verde’s kit that made them look like a lot of Wham bars running around, could liven things up.

They even had a man called Platini playing for them but even he couldn’t lift things while Clive Tyldesley on safari from Salford, informed us there were seven Kaiser Chiefs in the South African squad, but there was no danger of riot, as absolutely nothing happened and it was the same when the Black Antelopes locked horns with the Lions of the Atlas.

I’ve seen this encounter on Life on Earth, it doesn’t end well, but no blood was spilled or much sweat broken in the tamest of encounters as Angola and Morocco failed to trouble the scorers.

It was a relief then to switch over on Sunday to Eurosport (Africa is not in Europe but then again they’re spending most of their time at the Australian Open tennis so I’ll let it go) but take a bow Ghana’s Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu, or Badu to his friends, who finally broke the scoring duck (this is a term, not a nickname).

The midfielder celebrated with an African version of the funky chicken and when the Black Stars doubled their lead it looked just not what had been ordered by DR Congo, while the Ghanaian fan who started the chant ‘Give us an E…’ probably needed some medical attention shortly afterwards.

After the break, no doubt enriched by the isotonic goodness of Um Bongo, the Leopards roared into action coming back from two goals down to score a late penalty to grab a share of the spoils and spark the best celebration ever witnessed.

Goalkeepers rarely get the chance to share in the joy of goal celebrations so Congo’s Robert Kidiaba, a man who I’m guessing that with a beard, shaved head and a ponytail isn’t exactly shy and retiring, was determined to get in on the act, sitting on the ground and then pretending to ride an invisible horse by bouncing up and down.

I can offer no explanation, so over to you Mr Attenborough to try and solve that African mystery.

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