NEWCASTLE United manager Alan Pardew will tomorrow welcome the safe return of his three African players caught up in a riot at the weekend.
Senegalese stars Papiss Cissé and Demba Ba, along with Cheick Tioté of the Ivory Coast, are expected to arrive back in the North East within the next 24 hours with an incredible story to tell their club team-mates.
An estimated 30 people, including Senegalese Sports Minister El Hadji Malick Gakou, were injured after fights broke out during a 2013 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier in Dakar, capital of Senegal, between their respective countries.
The match stood at 2-0 to the Ivory Coast, which meant they led 6-2 on aggregate, until it was abandoned with a little over quarter of an hour remaining.
A Didier Drogba penalty was disputed by the Senegal fans who, as soon as the ex-Chelsea striker scored, threw missiles onto the pitch, lit fires on the terraces and eventually invaded the playing area.
Cissé, Ba, Tioté and the other players were “shaken but unhurt” according to Senegal FA officials and were able to get back to their respective hotels that night.
The result is expected to stand, which means Tioté is set to miss at least most of January while he is on international duty at the African Cup of Nations with his country.
Senegal are definitely out and may face serious sanctions from Fifa because of the problems at the Stade Leopold Senghor.
Senegal’s official news agency APS said: “Mr Gakou has been hurt by a stone and was evacuated.
“We had three cases of wounds that required stitches and four or five cases of discomfort or pain.
“But there were no serious injuries, people were not trampled.” And
the agency added: “The match was halted and the Lions of Senegal will not qualify for the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations.” That has yet to be confirmed, however.
This chaos is the last thing Pardew needed any of his players to involved in ahead of what is easily the biggest game of United’s season so far, this Sunday’s trip to the Stadium of Light to face Sunderland.
The Newcastle manager will, however, be pleased that he won’t lose Cissé and Ba come the New Year, although the absence of Tioté is going to be a blow.
And it does seem the trio should have no lasting effects from their experiences on Saturday night.
The problems began in the Senegal stadium after Drogba scored his and the Ivory Coast’s second goal, from a penalty.
The BBC reported that home fans started throwing rocks at the small band of visiting supporters, who were forced to escape by jumping down onto the stadium’s athletics track.
One fan was reported as saying; “The police told us to jump. We had to jump. It was very dangerous – I’m still shocked.”
Another said: “Some people back home said to me, don’t go to Dakar because if you do you’ll be beaten up, Senegal cannot win. But I wanted to see Drogba and all those big players.”
The Senegalese FA admitted the blame lay with the home fans.
In a statement they said: Unfortunately the match ended in very sombre circumstances.
“The referee was forced to stop in the match in the 72nd minute with the score at 2-0 because of serious outbreaks in the stands by very unhappy Senegalese supporters. “
It added that the police cleared the ground only “after many confrontations”.
The other Premier League stars involved were West Ham’s Mohamed Diamé, of Senegal, and from the Ivory Coast, Arsenal striker Gervinho and the Manchester City brothers Yaya and Kolo Touré.