FEATURE: AFCON qualifiers produce hilarious stories off the pitch

Perhaps the stories that occurred off the pitch during this international window in African football were more entertaining than some of the actual matches that went on over the past few days.

With 48 nations facing off against one of their group partners in home and away ties, we got to see how players, coaches, and federations reacted after having to face their opponents a second time after a not-so-great first leg.

Nigeria vs Sierra Leone: Bad Mattresses, Humiliation, and Anger

The Nigeria-Sierra Leone matchup probably garnered the most attention during the international period, with the drama even starting before the first game in Benin City.

It all started on Thursday morning, when MLS’s and Sierra Leone’s legendary striker Kei Kamara took to social media to complain about his side’s hotel accommodation in Nigeria ahead of their match with Nigeria. 

“This bed, these pillows. My head can’t sink in this thing; my head can’t get in this pillow, so my neck hurts. My body can’t get comfortable because this is a box spring, not a mattress.” The 36-year-old said on social media. 

To add to the drama, the Sierra Leone Football Association moved quickly to rebuke and condemn Kamara’s claims, and said they would launch an investigation into his defamation of the hotel. A day later the Leone Stars miraculously came back from 4-0 down to draw with the Super Eagles in Nigeria. Maybe Kamara’s sore back helped him lead the comeback…

Nigerians, expecting an easy win over the 124th ranked team in the world, were shocked that their side gave up such a large lead. Once again, fans began to call for the firing of their German head coach Gernot Rohr, whose substitutions and tactics irked many.

Following the match, NFF Preisdent Amaju Pinnick described the 4-4 draw as the ‘worst result he has seen in his life’. He called for the Super Eagles to right their wrongs and win the second leg in Freetown 4-0. The Super Eagles (or the Super Chickens – as they are now being called by some) were held to a goalless draw in the second match. Truly embarrassing stuff for the Nigerians.

Gambia vs Gabon: Stranded at the Airport

After Gabon defeated Gambia 2-1 to go top of a tense Group D that also includes DR Congo and Angola, the Gabonese federation found themselves stranded at the airport just hours before their return leg in Bakau, Gambia. The staff at Gambia’s Banjul International Airport seized the Gabonese players’ passports at 11pm local time, and they were not released till just before 6am the next day. Arsenal and Gabon captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang took to Twitter to express his disgust at their treatment.

He tagged the official account of the Confederation of African Football and wrote: “What a great night at the airport… Just want to know why Gambia keep our passports for hours and they keep us at the airport. Are we hostage or what?”

He later took a picture of the team on board the team bus, along with the caption: “Finally in the bus. See you later. Thanks for the extra motivation Gambia,” possibly suggesting that the hold-up was a tactic by their opponents to try to tire them out ahead of the big match.

If it was a tactic by the Gambians, it surely worked, as they defeated Gabon 2-1 to go back on top of their group. 

Kei Kamara should be thankful he at least got to sleep on a bed and not on the airport floors.

It is worth noting that the Gambians reportedly also faced travel complications. The Gambian federation had booked a chartered flight to take them back to Gambia after the first match, but did not find the plane at the airport and were forced to wait for four hours.

Kenya vs Comoros: Covid Threats

Arguably one of the surprise stories of the recent matches was the strength of the Comoros national team, who are poised to qualify to their first ever AFCON.

Kenya were disappointingly held to a 1-1 draw at home, before losing 2-1 in the reverse fixture. Comoros, ranked 132nd in the world are now level on eight points with first-placed Egypt.

Harambee Stars manager Jacob “Ghost” Mulee (who was recently hired for his fifth stint of managing the national team) decided to place the blame on his opponents.

“It was very unfortunate the match was delayed for almost 30 minutes because Comoros tried to lie and unsettle my players by saying some of them [six in number] were Covid-19 positive. It was all false and I hope CAF will step in and take action because the standoff instilled fear in my players.” Mulee said.

This is likely the first ever instance in football of the use of a disease as a method of threatening or instilling fear into an opponent. 

Tanzania vs Tunisa: Powerless Changing Room

In the lead up to Tunisia’s match against Tanzania in Dar es Salaam, the power went out in Tunisia’s dressing room (the home changing room still had power). The Tunisians were forced to use lanterns and torches to light up the room.

It is unclear how the power could go out in only one room, leading many to believe that this was an attempt by the Tanzanians to unsettle their opponents. Whether or not it was intentional, the Tunisians seemed to be off their game, drawing 1-1 after winning the first match in Rades 1-0.

Were these attempts intentional? Should such actions be allowed? Let us know on social media.