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African confederation promises full stadiums for Cup of Nations knockout games

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BATA, Equatorial Guinea — Stadiums will be "packed" for the remaining games at the African Cup of Nations, even if the home team is knocked out, the Confederation of African Football promised on Friday.

CAF spokesman Junior Binyam said he had "no doubt" the crowds would be good for the quarterfinals, semifinals, and final of the continental championship, which has struggled with attendances at previous editions.

"Even if the host country is not part of the competition, we will have stadiums full (and) packed," Binyam said. "We don't have any fear as far as that aspect is concerned."

CAF's guarantee comes with it buoyed by generally good crowds so far, although the first game day at the main Bata Stadium not involving Equatorial Guinea's team had just a tiny group of fans for a group match involving Tunisia and Congo this week.

Binyam called that "a single example" of poor attendance in the 24 matches to date.

Bata Stadium is infamous for a crowd of around 200 people that turned up for an African Cup quarterfinal in 2012, when Equatorial Guinea co-hosted the tournament with Gabon.

PHOTO: Soccer fans watching the African Cup of Nations Group B soccer match between DR Congo and Tunisia in Bata, Equatorial Guinea, Monday, Jan. 26, 2015. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)
Soccer fans watching the African Cup of Nations Group B soccer match between DR Congo and Tunisia in Bata, Equatorial Guinea, Monday, Jan. 26, 2015. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)

This year, CAF has profited off the desire of home fans to watch their team play at the 35,000-seat Bata Stadium, and the fact that the two venues in the eastern cities of Mongomo and Ebebiyin were fairly small, both with capacities of less than 10,000 which made them easier to fill.

Changes to the quarterfinal schedule are also expected to help the crowd figures.

The quarterfinals were moved away from Ebebiyin and Mongomo because of wear and tear on those newly laid fields, CAF said, and the four quarters will now be played as doubleheaders at Bata Stadium and Malabo Stadium on Saturday and Sunday respectively. That means fans need only to buy one ticket to watch two games.

At the same briefing, Equatorial Guinea's sports minister said his country had spent around $15 million getting those stadiums in remote Ebebiyin and Mongomo ready for the tournament in just two months, after it received the hosting rights at the last minute in place of Morocco.

Francisco Pascual Obama Asue, who is also head of the local organizing committee, said he couldn't give a final figure on how much the small, oil-rich nation would spend in total on organizing the championship until it was over.

He also defended the arrests of three men for protesting against the government spending on the African Cup when half the population has no access to clean water. Equatorial Guinea's oil riches benefit an elite few, and the regime is accused of stifling opposition.

"We cannot allow any disorder," the minister said.

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PHOTO: Equatorial Guinea fans sing as they hold an image copy of the tournament trophy ahead of the African Cup of Nations Group A soccer match between Equatorial Guinea and Gabon in Bata, Equatorial Guinea, Sunday, Jan. 25, 2015. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)
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