10 Best Stadiums to Watch a Game in African Football
While the Cup of Nations 2013 showcased South Africa’s finest stadia to an international audience, the continent’s sporting architecture isn’t limited to the Rainbow Nation.
Across Africa, one can discover footballing arenas that offer intimidating atmospheres, contribute to burgeoning cityscapes and present symbols of nationalism and patriotic pride.
In this article, Bleacher Report’s African Expert Ed Dove profiles some of his favourite stadia in the continent.
Soccer City: South Africa
The FNB Stadium in Johannesburg, more commonly referred to as ‘Soccer City’, has emerged as an iconic venue after the 2010 FIFA World Cup and, more recently, the 2013 Cup of Nations.
Once a site for a famous discourse delivered by ‘Father of the Nation’ Nelson Mandela, the space has resonance both as a national symbol for South Africa, and as a modern venue for a sporting spectacle.
A further nickname, ‘The Calabash’, also alludes to the stadium’s importance in an African context as a symbol for the continent’s sport on a global sphere.
With a current capacity of 94,736, the arena was, most famously, the stage for Spain’s inaugural World Cup win—their extra time victory over the Netherlands in 2010. However, it is hard to forget South Africa’s emphatic, momentous, Afcon win over Tunisia in the 1996 final—soccer’s very own ‘Invictus’ moment.
Nigeria fans will also forever have the stadium emblazoned in their minds, as it was the location for Sunday Mba’s Burkina Faso-slaying winner, and their third Afcon triumph.
Borg El Arab Stadium: Egypt
Egypt’s largest stadium, and Africa’s third biggest, has a capacity of 86,000 and is easily accessible from the beautiful Mediterranean city of Alexandria or from the Borg El Arab Airport. While travelling in the North of Egypt, I was left under no illusion as to the depth and power of footballing sentiment, and the Borg El Arab is a perfect monument to the game’s power in the Middle East.
Part of Egypt’s failed bid to host the 2010 World Cup, the stadium would surely have been a stunning backdrop to some of the cup’s high octane drama.
The stadium, which was constructed and designed by the Egyptian Armed Forces Corps of Engineers has a unique appearance, which makes it an impressive landmark along the Cairo-Alexandria desert highway.
June 11 Stadium – Tripoli International Stadium: Libya
One of Africa’s largest stada, the 88,000 capacity Tripoli International Stadium is one of the continent’s most impressive arenas.
The relationship between Libya and Italy has been evidenced in the stadium’s past; the 2002 Italian Supercup final between Juventus and Parma was played here, resulting in victory for the Old Lady.
The greatest game in the stadium’s history was the 1982 Afcon final between Ghana and Libya. Unfortunately for the thousands in attendance, the North Africans were unable to seal victory on home soil, losing a dramatic penalty shootout to a George Alhassan and Samuel Opoku Nti inspired Black Stars.
While the recent Arab Spring has disrupted football across the north of Africa, Libya’s revival began with an unlikely participation at the 2012 Cup of Nations. Even though they played two of their crucial home fixtures in nearby Cairo and Bamako, the June 11 Stadium was the location for a famous early victory against eventual champions Zambia.
Lagos National Stadium: Nigeria
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A thing of beauty, but similarly, a site of nostalgic misery, the National Stadium in Lagos is a symbol of much that is good, and much that is bleak, about Nigeria.
Currently in a state of disrepair, the national monument has been described by my colleague Lolade Adewuyi as emblematic of the stalling growth of Nigeria’s sport.
Written in an era of pessimism, before the nation’s recent Afcon triumph, his eulogy to the Lagos arena examines its golden afternoons, and the sad evenings of its plight.
Built as a 45,000 stadium in 1972, the arena played the venue to Naija’s Afcon triumph over Algeria in the 1980 final, before having the capacity increased ahead of the FIFA World Youth Championship in 1999.
Having begun to fall into decline in the middle of the last decade, and with illegal squatting and sporadic religious gatherings replacing the glorious sporting occasions of the past, the stadium may seem an odd choice for this list, but I am a romantic, and I hope that the National Sports Commission’s 2009 vow to return the stadium to its former glories bears fruit.
Stade TP Mazembe: DR Congo
Few atmospheres in Africa raise the hairs on the back of the neck quite like the Stade TP Mazembe in Lubumbashi. Not the continent’s oldest stadium, nor its biggest, the 2011-built, multipurpose facility is the crowning glory of Moise Katumbi’s investment in the Congolese giants.
With 18,000 in capacity, however, the Corbeaux receive one of the finest backings in Africa, with emotion and adulation expressed on the terraces in equal measure.
Since replacing the Stade Frederic Kibassa Maliba after completion in 2011, the site has become the spiritual home of TP Mazembe, and as the club’s advancement continues, we may witness many more glorious evenings in the heart of Katanga.
Abuja Stadium: Nigeria
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While the gentle deterioration of the Lagos stadium has prompted nostalgia earlier in this slideshow, its neglect has been due, in no small part, to the prominence of the new Abuja Stadium in the federal capital of Abuja.
Due to the fractious ethnic divisions that exist within Nigeria, plans were conceived to locate a new capital in a neutral location, one that would eventually be accepted and respected as a disinterested centre of governance. Built in the 1980s, after extensive planning, Abuja officially became Nigeria’s capital in 1991.
Few decisions resonate more with the popular majority than the home ground of the national side, in a country such as Nigeria, where football is one of the few key features that unites the people, moving the side’s spiritual home to Abuja was an inevitable decision.
The stadium is considered among the finest architectural features of the nascent capital, and is likely to increase in stature once the all-conquering Super Eagles continue their World Cup Qualifying campaign.
Stade 5 Julliet 1962: Algeria
As is the tradition in various quarters of the world, stadiums are named after dates of major political significance for a region or a nation. The 76,000 Stade 5 Julliet is one of the most tremendous examples of this phenomenon, as well as being one of Africa’s most impressive stadia.
It was named in recognition of the summer of 1962, the date when Algeria declared independence from the metropole France, taking a major step in its route to nationhood. The arena was opened a decade later, and has been renovated on successive occasions since.
Having been the regal backdrop to occasions such as the 2004 Pan Arab Games and the 2007 All-Africa Games, the stadium’s finest footballing hour came during the 1990 Cup of Nations. The final proved to be a crowning glory, as hosts Algeria defeated Nigeria in front of over 105,000 delirious fans.
The record attendance still stands at 110,000 however, for a friendly match between Algeria and Serbia in March 2010.
Stade Mohamed V: Morocco
One of Africa’s finest derbies is the Casablanca clash between Wydad and Raja—the city’s two premier clubs. Stade Mohamed V is a major athletic complex and a dominant feature of the cityscape. In the western region of the Maarif district, the current capacity of 67,000 can, on derby days, create a cacophony of noise and an overflow of tense, terse emotion.
King Mohamed V was one of the founding fathers of modern Morocco, and a key figure in the nation’s eventual independence from French rule.
The stadium would have been a fitting final to the 2010 World Cup, had Morocco’s bid been successful. Doubtless it will prove to be an excellent backdrop to the 2014 Afcon, where the Atlas Lions will look to rediscover their dominance in the crucible of home.
Stade Leopold Senghor: Senegal
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Named after Senegal’s first post-independent ruler, the philosopher-king Leopod Sedar Senghor, the Senegalese national stadium is a landmark in Dakar, the nation’s capital.
Formerly known as the Stade de l’Amite, the 60,000 capacity arena was opened in 1985.
Despite being the location for many terrific Lions of Teranga victories, the stadium is also the home ground for local side ASC Jeanne d’Arc—10 time Senegalese champions.
However, recent performances have drawn unwanted controversy onto the nation’s football—the stadium was the venue for the country’s recent qualifying match with the Ivory Coast, the game which was abandoned after some ugly scenes from the home fans with the Elephants enjoying an insurmountable lead.
With many exciting youngsters emerging to represent the national side, the stadium will surely overcome the recent turmoil and play host to future glorious evenings for the Lions of Teranga. Doubtless Senghor, pen in hand, would have appreciated the green shoots of optimism for the West Africans.
Moi International Sports Centre: Kenya
Kenya may not have the highest footballing profile among African nations, but the country’s sporting potential is untapped—if ever the team realise the immense future predicted for them, they will have one of the continent’s finest stadia to call their home.
After being initially built in 1987, the stadium was renovated in 2010 at an enormous expense—estimated to be 900 million Kenyan shillings. The development was part of the growing relationship between Asia and East Africa, the money coming from a grant paid to the Kenyan Government from the Chinese Government.
With an aquatic complex, a gymnasium and a swanky hotel, the stadium is among Africa’s most luxurious; it is almost forgotten that two of the Kenyan Premier League’s top teams, Mathare United and Tusker FC play their home games in its glorious confines.
Perhaps the Kenyan National Side will also be able to find glory on its turf in the future,