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All’s well that ends well Befitting finale as Africa bids Gabon goodbye

Aboubakar hits home the winner for Cameroon (Photo: REUTERS)

Well done, Gabon 2017. Good luck, Cameroon 2019

It's a wrap. This is where it all started on January 14 and this is where it ends, 23 days later. It is time to move on to the next Africa Cup of Nations edition.

The Gabonese have been faultless hosts during three-week football fiesta. But most of them are glad this tournament is over. When they hosted the 2012 edition, they were full of pride. But that was missing this year.

Cameroon's forward Benjamin Moukandjo (L) and Cameroon's defender Nicolas Nkoulou (R) hold up the winner's trophy as they celebrate beating Egypt 2-1 to win the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations final football match between Egypt and Cameroon at the Stade de l'Amitie Sino-Gabonaise in Libreville on February 5, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / ISSOUF SANOGO

You could see it in their eyes every time you mentioned 2017 Africa Cup of Nations. Pain. Anger. Betrayal. Their government spent $700 million (Sh72.2 billion) to host the tournament, turning a blind eye to the plight of its citizenry. And they were unmistakably angry.

Still, there’s no doubt Libreville, Franceville, Port-Gentil and Oyem served as gracious hosts during this year’s football feast.

In Libreville, the capital city, locals captivated most visitors with their unsurpassed natural warmth. Their bigheartedness was always present when required.

“My stay here has been wonderful. There were a few problems in the first three days, but after settling down, it has been a good stay,” said Deat Assani Chakouri, a journalist from Benin.

“The Gabonese have been welcoming and hospitable.”

Indeed, Gabon was eager to make an excellent impression. The public goodwill was not at expected levels but the organisers needed to host a successful tournament regardless.

Investment in numerous areas meant Gabon wanted to have an almost problem-free Afcon. But their Achilles heel was the empty seats during most matches, poor pitches and lack of reliable transport systems.

For three weeks, Gabonese streets, markets, hotels, bars and stadia were like a small United Nations. Flying fags of the 16 teams were a common sight.

Most fans donned the jerseys of their favourite players or preferred country.

Few were originals; thousands were fake replicas. It did not matter. As the last two men standing — Cameroon and Egypt — left Gabon, so did thousand of other foreigners, yours truly included. It was time well spent. It is now time to tell the endless tales.

After 32 matches and a spellbinding opening ceremony, the incredible closing show treated Africa to energy-sapping performances by African musicians from Gabon, Cameroon and Mali.

Gabon’s President Omar Bongo Ondima, Fifa President Giovanni Infantino and Caf boss Issa Hayatou gave us a wave before kickoff and before they presented Cameroon with the Afcon title; their first since 2002 and fifth overall.

Plenty of fireworks illuminated the skies of Angondje, as The Indomitable Lions landed the elusive golden gong. Even the heavens were delighted. And the fans were truly enchanted by the falling of the mighty Pharaohs.

Truly, the tournament elicited moments of selective amnesia as all forgot the setbacks that surrounded it.

Fans were customarily colourful. They were here in their thousands and as the sun set ahead of the final, they were in full war paint. The number of Cameroon and Egypt fans was even, almost, but the Cameroonians outshone their North African rivals, dressed in green, red and yellow.

They say all good things come to an end, and it was no different on Sunday.

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