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Motsepe, Klopp, Le Roy, Eto’o, Belmadi: What was said about AFCON

When Patrice Motsepe was elected African football supremo, he could never have imagined visiting grieving Cameroonians in the build-up to the Cup of Nations final less than one year later.

A 24-team tournament designed to bring joy to the continent was enveloped in sadness on January 24 after eight men, women and children were crushed to death at the Stade Olembe in Yaounde.

They went to a stadium built for the event to cheer their beloved national team, the Indomitable Lions, but never returned home to recount how the hosts triumphed 2-1 and reached the quarter-finals.

Confederation of African Football (CAF) president Motsepe told the mourning families: “We are going, with the government, to stand by you in this difficult ordeal because you must not be alone.”

A Cup of Nations delayed three years by slow construction, the coronavirus and unfavourable weather conditions delivered drama on and off the field and AFP Sport recalls what some of those involved said:

“If that gate was open, as it was supposed to be, we would not have had this problem, this loss of life. Who closed that gate?”

— Motsepe speaks after eight people died and 38 were injured in a crush at Olembe Stadium

“We cannot feel the same pain as you but we have come to offer you the condolences and solidarity of the entire African football family and CAF.”

— Motsepe talks to families of deceased

“In January, there is a little tournament in Africa.”

— Manager Jurgen Klopp at a Liverpool press conference

“Who does he think he is? I respect Liverpool but not Klopp, who undermines African football. He is where he is today because of African footballers.”

— Senegal coach Aliou Cisse responds to Klopp

“I did not mean it like that. I do not know why you understand it like that.”

— Klopp responds to Cisse and other critics

“There is this invisible monster that is the Africa Cup of Nations, which takes players from the locker room without us knowing when they will return.”

— Napoli manager Luciano Spalletti

“They (European clubs) do not realise how important the AFCON (Cup of Nations) is for African people — it is more important than the World Cup.”

— Legendary Cup of Nations-winning coach Claude le Roy

“Cameroon is a unique country, a football country. My only regret is not being able to participate as a player.”

— Cameroon Football Federation president and former star Samuel Eto’o

“I cannot bring in a player who could blow up the team, even if he is called Lionel Messi.”

— Morocco coach Vahid Halilhodzic justifies shunning Chelsea winger Hakim Ziyech

“It was small of them, but that is how it is with small teams.”

— Ghana captain Andre Ayew blasts Gabon for not returning ball after Black Stars kicked it out of play to enable treatment of an injured player

“We are Ghana and we will win our last match and qualify.”

— Ayew talks before a stunning loss to Comoros eliminated his team in first round

“We played beautiful football, and that is the goal of this tournament.”

— Comoros defender Alexis Souahy

“We win, we lose. We gave everything. Hopefully, we will come back stronger.”

— Algeria captain Riyad Mahrez after shock first-round elimination of title-holders

“Oscar Wilde said if you aim for the moon, you will land among the stars. We wanted to break the world (unbeaten) record but have not managed.”

— Coach Djamel Belmadi after Algeria surrender 35-match unbeaten record

“Do not point fingers at players who have given you so much happiness.”

— Belmadi slams critics

“Sometimes we come to a match expecting a samba, but it turns out to be a tango.”

— Egypt coach Carlos Queiroz on need for tactical flexibility

“The national team is like a house without walls, windows or doors. Those who can help enter and it remains open to all.”

— Queiroz explains his selection policy

“Playing in Africa is not like in Asia or Europe, it is more difficult. You have to be mentally strong to face these conditions.”

— Widely travelled Queiroz on competing at the Cup of Nations

“I cannot explain that goal. You could have Jurgen Klopp or Pep Guardiola in charge and they would not have been able to prepare for that.”

— Ivory Coast coach Patrice Beaumelle reacts to an inexplicable blunder by goalkeeper Badra Ali Sangare that gifted Sierra Leone a last-gasp equaliser

“I think it is a disaster.”

— Beaumelle slams state of Japoma Stadium pitch in Douala

“What does not kill you makes you stronger.”

— Senegal star Sadio Mane after recovering from an aerial collision with Cape Verde goalkeeper Vozinha

“We are not here as a favour or by chance. We deserve to be in Cameroon.”

— Rwandan Salima Mukansanga after becoming first woman to referee a Cup of Nations match

“We do not have a star — our star is the team.”

— Midfielder Pablo Ganet after Equatorial Guinea exceed expectations by reaching quarter-finals

“I want to take the Gambia to the 2023 and 2025 Cup of Nations and the 2026 World Cup.”

— Tom Saintfiet, the Belgian coach of the Gambia, who defied being the lowest ranked team in Cameroon by reaching the quarter-finals

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