Football Special Report #1: Ivory Coast vs Ghana, African Cup of Nations 1974 Qualifier, 29/07/1973

Here we are again with another new feature where we are going to take a look at random incidents, interesting matches or general football related events that don’t fit into any of our other categories. This is the Football Special Report.

For Football Special Report #1 we cast our eye to the West African derby of 1973 between coastal neighbours Ivory Coast and Ghana. The two were paired together for the final round of African Cup of Nations ’74 qualifying; a two legged affair that saw Côte d’Ivoire take the first game 3-0 away from home on July 15th, 1973.

Going into the return leg on July 29th in the Ivorian city of Abidjan, the hosts with their advantage were naturally feeling confident of victory. All that was needed was to kill time and let the clock run down while maintaining possession. But apparently, this was combined simultaneously with the need to take the complete piss out of the opponents, manifesting in one of the strangest sights ever seen in an international football match.

First it is worth noting the end behind the goal where throngs of people casually appear to be on the move, as seen during the throw-in below. Presumably, and hopefully, this occurred throughout the entire match.

Then, perhaps in an attempt to entertain the restless crowd during the dull game – or indeed themselves, or just in complete and utter contempt of Ghana – the Ivorian players begin to cruelly showboat and mess around, such as standing and sitting on the ball:

This occurs to overwhelming delight from the home supporters who vocally display their approval. As the ball is passed around, other players have their turn:

The Ghanaian players seem baffled and unsure how to react, but their restraint in not immediately descending into fury at this patronising display must surely be commended.

Later, as the visitors are taking a corner, a home substitute close by can be seen dropping a white hand towel to the ground and standing sternly with hands on hips. This may well be an innocuous moment, but given the spirit of the game I’m going to go ahead and assume it is some sort of local passive aggressive intimidation tactic:

Things get even more farcical from here as first the home side abandon a perfectly good chance to counter attack to do literally nothing…

…before one of the Elephants (official nickname of the Ivory Coast team, and I didn’t want to say “Ivorian” again) proceeds to lay down on the grass behind the ball:

This actually results in Ghana stealing possession shortly after and making at attempt on goal, albeit a failed one. Not to be deterred by this close call, an Ivorian (dammit) defender uses the dead ball situation to demonstrate his solo skills as throngs of supporters can again be seen in motion in the end behind the goal and we wouldn’t have it any other way:

So then: spontaneous and lighthearted fun that is sorely missed from the modern game, or a cynical, premeditated attack displaying unprofessionalism to a disgraceful degree? You decide. Either way, Ivory Coast were rewarded for their tomfoolery with a 1-0 win on the night, 4-0 on aggregate, and proceeded to the Nations Cup in Egypt the following year.

Ghana could take some solace from that fact that the Elephants would be knocked out of the tournament in the first round, bottom of their group and without a win. But the wounds inflicted, by way of the theft of their dignity on that July 1973 day, would doubtless take far longer to heal.

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