African Cup hands out free tickets for semis

Organizers gave away free tickets to the African Cup of Nations

semifinals on Wednesday in an attempt to avoid the eyesore of empty

stadiums at the continent’s top tournament.

The first semi between Zambia and Ghana at Estadio de Bata was

still nearly deserted as it kicked off in front of swathes of

unoccupied red and blue seats.

Confederation of African Football spokesman Ouattara Hego said

schoolchildren and local businesses were handed an unspecified

number of tickets for the Zambia-Ghana game in Bata and Ivory

Coast-Mali in Libreville, Gabon, while fans who turned up on the

day would be allowed in without paying.

Only a small number of spectators were attracted to Bata

Stadium, however, while a torrential downpour at Stade de l’Amitie

in Libreville made it only more unlikely that large numbers of fans

would turn up for the second semi.

Filling the stadiums is a perennial problem at the African Cup

of Nations, where matches not involving the host team are often

almost deserted. Football supporters in Africa tend to be poorer

and have a limited budget to spend on tickets for games not

involving their favored teams, while finding transport to games is

also an issue.

”We asked the local organizing committee to think of a solution

for this because the stadiums have been empty,” CAF’s Hego said.

”The problem in Africa is the crowd. When your team is not

playing, the people don’t come. It’s not just here, it’s the same

problem in other countries in Africa.”

Hego had hoped as many as 15,000 fans might attend the

Zambia-Ghana match at the 37,500-capacity Estadio de Bata and this

”should create some atmosphere,” but there was only a handful of

supporters present alongside a small group of schoolchildren.

AP Sports Writer Gerald Imray contributed from Libreville,

Gabon.