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Sunday, May 19, 2024

Guinea break the knockout curse – now the elephant is coming

“Bing Bing So. Bing Bing So. Bing Bing So.”

Depending on who you speak to from Guinea, this phrase, which originates from a local dialect called Soussou, has multiple meanings. M’mahawa Soumah tells The Athletic it is a feeling, a sense of pure joy. Soumah’s friend shakes her ass and explains it’s an invitation to dance before running off laughing.

The majority of people believe it means “the elephant is coming” or, more specifically, it is the sound an elephant makes as it powerfully stomps across the plains of their country and warns you to get out of its path. When thousands of Guinea supporters are chanting Bing Bing So, accompanied by drums and trumpets, it turns into a threat — a promise their team is going to score.

For the majority of their 1-0 victory over Equatorial Guinea, it felt like the elephant lost its way. Neither side recorded a single shot on target in the first half. Serhou Guirassy and Naby Keita, Guinea’s most high-profile players, started on the bench. Guirassy came on in the second half and looked undercooked after only recently recovering from a thigh injury. Keita showed brief flashes of creativity.

Equatorial Guinea’s central defensive midfielder Federico Bikoro was sent off shortly after half-time, but Guinea did not take the opportunity to dominate possession. In the 68th minute, their opponents earned a penalty which Emilio Nsue, the leading goalscorer at the Africa Cup of Nations, missed and they still failed to spark into life.

People were beginning to get suspicious the elephant would never arrive. This meant the moment was extra special when it did, with seconds left on the clock before the game went to extra-time.

Ibrahim Diakite whipped a cross into the box and it was flicked past Jesus Owono. Nobody knew who scored and it didn’t matter. The television screen inside the stadium flashed up an image of Mohamed Bayo, but the crowd were screaming Guirassy’s name.

Bayo celebrates (Franck Fife/AFP via Getty Images)

Ivory Coast is the central hub of West Africa and there are lots of immigrants living in the back streets of Abidjan. The host nation shares a border with Guinea and there is a large local community. They basically made this a home fixture for them.

When Guinea took the lead, the Alassane Ouattara Stadium exploded with energy. One person whipped his top off, exposing his underwear, without a care in the world. Kids were running up and down while one man hopped on top of the railing over the staircase and started dancing, one wrong move away from a serious injury.

Another man jumped onto the pitch and ran towards the players during their lap of honour. He was swarmed by security guards and dragged away. He will probably think it was worth it to get within a few metres of his heroes. Coulibaly Nabele Abou could not resist celebrating in front of the cameras throughout the match. At full-time, he just kept repeating: “Thank you Guinea, I love you Guinea.”

Guinea have won a knockout game at AFCON for the first time in their history. They were runners-up in 1976 but the competition had a different format. This knockout win came after failing in their previous six attempts. Guinea have never qualified for the World Cup, which means this is one of their biggest sporting achievements.

“There was a lot of criticism, but I knew this group had quality and we proved it today,” head coach Kaba Diawara said. “Everyone prepared well. It’s a group that we built piece by piece and it’s a reward for them. We now look ahead. We want to go as far as possible.”

Diakite won the man of the match award, which he dedicated to his mother and said: “This victory is for the people who have suffered for a long time.”

“I’m extremely proud,” supporter Amara Kromah tells The Athletic. “I travelled all the way from Australia to watch my country play. It’s been 18 years since I’ve been in Guinea. It’s a special moment. I love Africa and I am extremely sad I haven’t been to Ivory Coast before. This won’t happen ever again. Our people are lovely and the best on the planet. I’m so proud to be Guinean.”

Guinea fan Amara Kromah (left) (Jay Harris/The Athletic)

Outside the ground, fans draped in flags darted around celebrating. One man was painted in red, green and yellow — the colours of their flag — while another held a toy elephant like it was a prized jewel. One man, who claimed he could not speak English, ran away from The Athletic shouting: “Naby Keita is a bull.”

The television cameras emerged to capture the scenes and the bright lights were an invitation to show off. Soumah started performing a traditional Soussou dance with her sister and their friends. They were quickly joined by a large group and the drums, which never stopped, played to a new rhythm.

“We are just happy,” Soumah says. “We follow them and we have to say thank you. I pray to god that we can reach the final. We can win it.”

The celebrations showed no signs of stopping and a few hours later, Guinea found out who they would be facing in the quarter-finals. DR Congo eliminated the seven-time champions Egypt via a penalty shootout following a 1-1 draw.

“I feel like we have a big chance against DR Congo, but Egypt is going to be a tough game,” Kramah says before he knew the outcome. “But we can do it. We are Guinea, anything is possible.”

The elephant is coming and you better be prepared.

(Top photo: Franck Fife/AFP via Getty Images)

Read the full article here

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