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Football fever grips tiny Equatorial Guinea

The usually dormant and warm City of Malabo in Equatorial Guinea has in the past few days burst into life, amid a buzz of activities initiated by thousands of visitors, most of whom are here to take part in the Africa Cup of Nations.

The 30th edition of this biennial continental football showpiece kicks off on Saturday evening at the Port City of Bata some 240km away from Malabo, with an elaborate opening ceremony at the 36,000 seater Estadio de Bata that should be graced by the country´s long serving President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, and a majority of continental football chiefs led by Confederation of African Football President Isaiah Hayatou.

This fiesta in which a galaxy of renowned African artists including Ugandan Eddy Kenzo are slated to entertain, will then pave way to the first of the 32 matches of the tournament involving the host nation and Congo.

Equatorial Guinea, a tiny Central African Nation that borders Cameroon to the North and Gabon to its South, is staging this event for the second time inside three years, thanks to the last minute withdrawal of Morocco, whose government cited Ebola-related health risks.

BRISK BUSINESS

About half of the 16 teams that qualified for this competition have already arrived in Equatorial Guinea, with most of the contingents finding their way through a congested Malabo International Airport amidst a thorough Ebola check by local and foreign health care officials and thereafter transiting to Bata, Mongomo and Ebebiyin.

The estimated 150,000 visitors expected to descend in this tiny Central Africa country that boasts an estimated population of about a million people has stirred up excitement in Malabo, with traders, hoteliers, taxi operators, Forex Bureaus, bars and eateries registering brisk business.

Estadio de Bata, Nuevo Estadio de Malabo, Estadio de Mongomo and Nuevo Estadio de Ebebiyin are the four venues that will host the matches.

“We welcome all the visitors here because they bring blessings. I am sure all of those coming here will enjoy their stay, and the thrilling action from some of the established teams,” a Malabo restaurant operator said.