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Equatorial Guinea saves CAF blushes

14 November 2014, 19:00

Paris - The 2015 edition of the Africa Cup of Nations (CAN) will be held in Equatorial Guinea, the Confederation of African Federations (CAF) said Friday.

Original hosts Morocco were stripped of hosting rights of the January 17 to February 8 tournament after insisting on a postponement due to the ongoing Ebola crisis in West Africa.

CAF refused to postpone the event and Morocco failed to confirm its commitment by last week's deadline, forcing the continent's governing body to seek new eleventh hour hosts.

Equatorial Guinea co-hosted the CAN with Gabon in 2012.

The decision to step in at short notice followed a meeting in Malabo, the capital of Equatorial Guinea, between the country's president Teodoro Obiang and CAF president Issa Hayatou.

Equatorial Guinea drew praise from African Union chief Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.

"The Ebola outbreak in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone should not paralyse continental programs and events," Dlamini-Zuma said.

"Like many other challenges the continent has faced in the past, the Ebola outbreak is being surmounted and is by no means a reason to stall the African Cup of Nations.

"Football is a unique unifying force of our continent and the world. We look forward to once again coming together and celebrating Africa together in the exhilarating 2015 AFCON tournament in Equatorial Guinea.

"We should remember that we have fought and defeated many tragedies including HIV/AIDS whose spread has been significantly halted. We will defeat Ebola."

Morocco have been barred from the competition for failing to fulfil their obligations.

CAF's decision Tuesday meant the search was on for new hosts but Angola, the 2010 hosts, pulled out of the running on Wednesday.

South Africa, the replacement 2013 hosts after Libya had to withdraw, said they could not afford to put on another CAN, while the likes of Egypt, Gabon and Nigeria were rumoured to be in the running.

So, too, according to certain reports, were Qatar, a member of the Asian Football Confederation.

While the oil-rich Gulf state did say on Thursday they would be willing to help out, they also said no-one from CAF had been in contact to ask them to do so.

So it fell on another oil-rich country, Equatorial Guinea, to step into the breach.

It means the country, originally eliminated in the first qualifying round despite a 3-1 aggregate victory over Mauritania, for having fielded an ineligible player, have now qualified for the tournament as hosts, taking Morocco's place.

Four grounds have been set aside to host matches, in the capital, Bata, Mongomo and Edediyin.

CAN qualifying is currently ongoing with two rounds left of the group stages to be played this weekend and next Wednesday, after which all the qualifiers for the finals will be known.

So far, only Algeria and Cape Verde have secured their places.

While Equatorial Guinea's agreement may have spared CAF blushes, it won't be a popular choice among human rights groups.

Equatorial Guinea is regarded as one of the most corrupt countries in the world, being ranked 163rd out of 175 by Transparency International.

Obiang came to power in a 1979 military coup and has ruled with an iron fist ever since, being accused of the violent oppression of any form of opposition.

He won the last elections in 2009 with 95.37 percent of the votes.

He is being investigated in France and the United States for money laundering and abuse of public funds, among other accusations.

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