African Nations Cup in Istanbul

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LISA MULLINS: In Turkey, Istanbul is still basking in its role as the host of the recent International Basketball Federation tournament. In fact, the Turkish team made it to Sunday's championship game, although it lost to the US. Well now, there's another international sporting event in Turkey's largest city. But it has more a do-it-yourself kind of feel. Istanbul's African residents organized the African Nations Cup. The winner this year will probably be Nigeria. But that's not the point for the players and the fans. Matthew Brunwasser sent us this report from the Ferikoy soccer stadium in Istanbul.

MATTHEW BRUNWASSER: The African Nations Cup boasts six teams from as many countries. It sounds like a pretty big deal. And it is. But not in the way you think. The organizers are trying to showcase African soccer talent in Turkey. And maybe land some of the players a spot on one of Turkey's some 135 professional teams.

FRANCIS OBOME: I came here to do the same thing, but unfortunately luck is not on my side.

BRUNWASSER: Francis Obome played professional soccer in Nigeria. Like a good number here, he came to Turkey at the invitation of a soccer team, but in the end didn't make the cut.

OBOME: When we come here, then we try to play the professional but we couldn't make it, so me and my friend, we said okay, we are footballers, we can't go to relax [INDISCERNIBLE] because we are not playing. Let us organize something like this, to encourage the young ones coming to this place.

PASCAL EKENE: Hopefully, by the grace of God, I'm going to play this season, okay, because they have promised me.

BRUNWASSER: Pascal Ekene is 23 and was left stranded when the team which brought him from Nigeria said they ran out of money. But another Turkish club says he can play for them. Like many African players here, Ekene dreams of eventually playing in Europe.

EKENE: Of course, every player in the world dreams how to go Europe and play good football. If you could ask even a little kid in his or her mother's womb, he is dreaming of going to Europe to play good football. Because the pattern of playing in Europe is different than any other country.

BRUNWASSER: Today's match is Congo versus Ghana. The only thing is, there aren't many Congolese in Istanbul. Or Ghaniains. About 80% of the players, on all teams, are Nigerians. Teams always get to pick from their nationals first, so the Nigerians usually win. In the stands, pretty much all the fans are African. Chamberlain Akano, from Nigeria, has lived in Istanbul for 18 years. He says Africans used to see Istanbul as a stopover on the way to Europe, but many have now decided to stay. Akano says Turkey has changed as well. Africans in Turkey used to live in fear of arbitrary police brutality.

CHAMBERLAIN AKANO: There is change among the blacks. You can hear the blacks are making noise here. It's not done in Turkey. That is the change. Blacks they go home freely. They don't fear. Nobody disturbs them on the street. Many of them here now they got papers, they are married to Turkish people.

BRUNWASSER: Africans are so integrated now that organizers found a corporate sponsor this year for the competition. As the African Nations Cup heads toward the final match in a few weeks, the players are playing their best game and hoping Turkish scouts discover new talent. Of the six teams in the competition, the best bet is on Nigeria. For The World, I'm Matthew Brunwasser, in Istanbul.