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Mali president apologises to Cameroon players

© Reuters 2002

By Mark Gleeson

BAMAKO, Feb 8 (Reuters) - Mali president Alpha Oumar Konare has apologised to Cameroon's soccer team after their goalkeeper coach Thomas Nkono was handcuffed by overzealous police before the African Nations Cup semifinal between the defending champions and the host nation.

Konde, who watched Mali lose 3-0 on Thursday night, went to the Cameroonian changing room at Bamako's March 26 Stadium after the match to apologise for the incident.

The former World Cup goalkeeper was punched to the ground, handcuffed and carried off the pitch by at least 10 policemen.

"It was a gesture that we really appreciated. Mali owed us an apology and we received it from their leading citizen," said Cameroon coach Winfried Schafer on Friday.

Nkono, who played for Espanyol in Spain and was Cameroon's goalkeeper at the World Cup finals in 1982 and 1990, said he was still angry over the incident but had also accepted the apology.

He was wearing bandages on both wrists on Friday morning but attended a light Cameroonian training session after the emphatic semifinal triumph.

"It was an outrageous attack, I'm very angry about it. These sort of incidents cause great harm to the image of Africa. Can you imagine Michel Platini walking out with the French team before a match in Spain and being given the same treatment. Impossible," he said.

Nkono was accused by the policeman of dropping 'magic' on to the pitch when he walked out on to the field some 90 minutes before the start of Thursday's match.

He had been innocently standing on the side of the pitch, in conversation with team mates and also watching the stadium's big screen, which was showing pictures from Thursday's earlier semifinal between Nigeria and Senegal at Bamako's other venue.

Nkono was suddenly set upon by police and after a brief argument, a punch-up ensued, during which he was thrown to the ground and then handcuffed in full view of the stadium, which was near to its 50,000 capacity.

He was dragged kicking and screaming off the pitch by the police. Nkono then walked over to the media area, furiously displaying his handcuffs to the international press.

He was later released and returning sobbing to the team's changing room, where Schafer refused to go ahead with the game.

It took several minutes of negotiations with Confederation of African Football officials before calm was restored. There was also an earlier punch-up outside the stadium's press centre between members of the Cameroonian staff and police when a policeman tried to grab the bag belonging to the Cameroon doctor as the visitors climbed off their bus.

Cameron officials said they had also been subjected to intimidation from police on the eve of the game when they attempted to train at the venue on Wednesday night.

They were barred entry to the ground and the floodlights were not switched on for several minutes and police continually interrupted their training session when it finally got underway, Cameroon officials claimed.

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