African Football at The Shrine

Watching the African Nations Cup Final at The Shrine in Harlem.

February 10th, 2013, 1:30 pm. The Burkinabe and Nigerian expatriate communities were out in force for the Africa Cup of Nations final on Sunday afternoon in Harlem at the Burkinabe-owned music venue, The Shrine. The Shrine was having a viewing party for the match, which couldn’t have been more appropriate for the West African dominated CAF final. The walls are festooned with Burkinabe traditional masks along with 1970s American Afro-centric LPs, which seemed to celebrate and exchange of not only music styles, but also American-African culture.

Despite preliminary worries about the viability of their Ghanaian satellite feed, The Shrine ended up drawing over a hundred fans that crowded around the packed, standing room-only bar to get a glimpse of the continent’s showpiece game on a large screen.

Nigeria came out very strong in the first half, going close on three occasions. Later, Burkina Faso found their rhythm through the omnipresent trickery and velcro-like first touch of player-of-the-tournament Jonathan Pitroipa.

In the 39th minute, a bit of magic from local boy Sunday Mba, who drilled home a golaso after flicking it up to himself on the run, broke the deadlock at Soccer City Stadium and ignited a chorus of cheers from the Super Eagles’ fans in Harlem. Two green-clad supporters even began taunting a dejected Burkina Faso fan by waving their scarves in his sad direction.

At halftime, a small stand near the front of the bar was doing brisk business hawking Burkina Faso football t-shirts as fans stocked up on beers for the final 45 minutes.

A Nigerian music promoter also took the opportunity to hop on stage and inform the crowd of an upcoming live performance by Naija artist 9ice at Buka Restaurant in Fort Greene.

After the break, Nigeria’s conservative lead-protectionist tactics gave Burkina Faso an opening as they pressed forward through some neat interplay between Pitroipa and Djakaridja Kone but Les Étalons’ final ball lacked the necessary quality.

Victor Moses’s strong hold-up play and runs for the Super Eagles were a constant threat on the counter, but Burkina Faso maintained their pressure — forcing a few fine saves from Nigerian keeper Vincent Enyeama.

Burkina Faso’s late forays into the Nigerian box continued to prove fruitless in the dying minutes as frustrated Burkinabe waiters and bartenders in Les Étalons kits cursed the screen under their breath in French while taking last-minute beer orders.

As the final whistle blew, the Nigerian fans began jumping up and down and waving green scarves, joyously yelling at the player celebrations on TV, and even hoisting small children up into the air:

Though, a win by the underdog Burkina Faso would have been appropriate for their Cinderella-like ascension in the Cup, they have created a lasting name for themselves as strong competitors on the continent.

Instead, it was the Nigerians’ moment to bask in the glory. The Shrine even put on some carefully curated bass-heavy Naija hip-pop music over the very capable speakers and the crowd broke out into spontaneous dance to celebrate the Super Eagles’ third Afcon title and the long-awaited return of the trophy to West Africa for the first time in eleven years.

New York City certainly knows how to do the Africa Cup of Nations.

* Cross-posted with permission from Global Soccer, Global NYC.

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