- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 20, 2015

BATA, Equatorial Guinea (AP) - African Cup of Nations organizers got through the first round of group games without any serious problems - unlike heavyweight teams Ghana and Ivory Coast.

Equatorial Guinea’s hurried preparations haven’t been world-class, but they’ve held up OK so far after the small Central Africa nation had just two months to prepare for Africa’s biggest sports event.

That doesn’t mean there have been no problems at all.

At least three teams have complained about the standard of their hotels, and the pitches in Ebebiyin and Mongomo, two remote venues in the country’s far east, have been bad. Players have spent plenty of time replacing ripped up chunks of turf during games there.

But the issues across the four host cities have generally been met with good spirit by the players and coaches.

Ahead of the tournament opener, Republic of Congo’s French coach Claude Le Roy complained there was no running water in his squad’s hotel in the city of Bata. While reporters questioned him about the issues, the lights failed in the room at Bata Stadium and it was plunged into darkness. As they flickered back on again, Le Roy broke into a wide smile and shrugged.

“It’s OK,” he said.

Some players also appear to be understanding of the challenges Equatorial Guinea has had to face to rapidly put the tournament together after Morocco pulled out as host late last year.

In Ebebiyin, a town in the jungle, Tunisia’s squad has been eating dinner by candlelight because of regular electricity cuts at their hotel. Ebebiyin’s training grounds are also pretty rugged and the field at the stadium - which is carved out of the dense rainforest - has been troublesome.

“It’s the same for both teams so we’ve got no excuses,” Congo’s Premier League player Youssouf Mulumbu said.

After all, those tricky conditions often make the African Cup one of the sport’s most unpredictable and interesting tournaments.

Already, four-time champion Ghana - with Asamoah Gyan sidelined by a mild bout of malaria - was beaten in its opening game by Senegal on Monday. And star-studded Ivory Coast lost forward Gervinho to a red card after a moment of madness in a 1-1 draw with a surprisingly competitive Guinea on Tuesday.

The host team - with its rowdy supporters set to pack out Bata Stadium again - wants that run of upsets to continue on Wednesday in the second round of matches in Group A: Equatorial Guinea versus 2013 finalist Burkina Faso and group leader Gabon versus Republic of Congo.


Gerald Imray is on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GeraldImrayAP

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