Friday, December 28, 2007

Ghana Coach Speaks About Appiah Injury

The Ghana football team is putting on a brave face in light of captain Stephen Appiah's injury. Ghana coach Claude LeRoy insists his team's Cup of Nations hopes have not been ruined by Appiah's injury blow.

The midfielder has been forced out of the tournament by a long-standing knee injury.

Appiah, who plays for Fenerbahce in Turkey, is now expected to be out of action for up to two months.

When contacted by BBC Sport, LeRoy put on a brave face while bemoaning the loss of his most important player, a player widely regarded as the heart and soul of the squad.

"Even without Stephen we'll try to do our best to win the competition. That's why I want him to join us for our training camp and if possible to be with us during the tournament as well. We will use him as a special adviser because he can bring a lot to the team even without playing," LeRoy said.

LeRoy admitted that a Black Stars team without Appiah is unlikely to have the likes of Morocco and Guinea tossing and turning in their beds.

"It's terrible news for all the Ghanaian people because it won't be the same team without him.

"It was difficult for me to sleep when I heard the news that he was out. It's a huge problem," LeRoy said.

Namibia Coach Bamfuchile Dies

Shocking news out of Zambia today as Namibia football coach Ben Bamfuchile has passed away. He was 47. The Zambian succumbed to illness on Thursday night in the nothern city of Kitwe.

Bamfuchile became an instant hero in September after Namibia snatched a 3-2 victory in Ethiopia to qualify for the African Cup of Nations finals.

The Brave Warriors' victory left more fancied group opponents like the Congo on the outskirts of the finals.

It was only the second time the country had reached the finals of the African football showpiece.

Bamfuchile had previously coached his own country.

Zambian FA president Teddy Mulonga paid tribute to him.

"The association has lost a dedicated professional and a true patriot," Mulonga said.

"He was true to his faith and delivered the results. Ben was an achiever of the highest order. One of the memorable moments was in 2000, when he qualified Zambia to the Nations Cup finals without a loss and with the highest points in all qualifying groups."

After losing his job as Zambia coach in 2000, Bamfuchile bounced back as assistant coach to Kalusha Bwalya in 2003.

He quit that job this year, opting to join Nambia as head trainer.

During his career as a footballer, he played for fallen Zambian giants Nkana, who dominated domestic football in the '80s.

Later, Bamfuchile coached Nkana's arch-rivals Power Dynamos, with whom he won over six cups.

He also had coaching stints in South Africa.

Bamfuchile is survived by his wife and six children.

Sad news. Our prayers go out to him and his family.

Stephen Appiah to Miss Cup of Nations

Bad news for the Ghana team ahead of January's Cup of Nations.

Their captain Stephen Appiah will miss the tournament due to nagging knee injuries.
The Fenerbahce midfielder says he will be out of action for two months.
He's been in Italy for tests on his knee and to get a second opinion, but his doctors have confirmed that he will not be fit.

"The news has come as a bitter blow to Stephen," a statement on the player's website said.

"[He] has been working hard in the last week or so to prove he is fine and fit. Stephen [would] like to say a big thank you to all his fans and well wishers who have sent him get well soon messages in the last few weeks.

"He is very grateful for your support."

The statement also thanked the Ghana Football Association for its patience and understanding. The GFA had given Appiah as much time as he needed to try to prove his fitness.

Appiah's absence will be a huge blow to the host country.

The captain is an inspirational part of the Black Stars lineup.

He led the way as they became the only African side to make it through the knock-out stages of the World Cup in Germany 2006.

He scored the winning penalty in their match against my country, the USA - a victory which sent them through to the last 16 and eventual defeat at the hands of Brazil.

Big blow. Hope you get better soon, Mr. Appiah.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Ghana Slums Being Cleared Out Before Cup of Nations

Back from the holidays with some grim news from our friends in Ghana.

As the nation prepares for the 2008 Cup of Nations, it seems the Ghanaian government doesn't want the visiting supporters and journalists to see the horrible poverty in their cities.

Their answer to getting rid of the poverty? Bulldoze it away. And if that doesn't work, use a flamethrower.

People's homes, however small and insignificant they may be to the Ghanaian government, are being destroyed. And for what? To look good in visitor's eyes? This isn't right.

Here, an article in Sunday's London Times by Dan McDougall in Kumasi, Ghana detailing the horror.

Have a go at it here or at the link above. As the article says, 'An African Cup of Nations spokesman said that the government was determined to clean up Ghana for the tournament. “There is a need to beautify the country to make it attractive,” he said. “All hands must be on deck in order to achieve this goal.”

But as one article commentator said online, 'Why do we treat fellow human beings this way? Is football so important to the extent that people will lose their livelihood without a blink of an eye from officialdom?'

Interesting question. Seems to me the question's already been answered.

THE sound of bulldozers tearing down his neighbours’ homes abruptly woke Ibrahim Addalah, a schoolteacher, just after dawn broke. Behind the earth-movers marched a platoon of 200 policemen and soldiers, brandishing flame-throwers and machine-guns, ordering residents to leave their homes immediately.

They had come to clear his house, a corrugated iron shack in a shanty town he shared with 15,000 migrant workers, just outside a new football stadium that will host matches in the African Cup of Nations next month.

The teeming slum was being swept away to spare fans and visiting stars, including Premier League players such as Didier Drogba of Chelsea and Kolo Tour� of Arsenal, the sight of grinding poverty on their way to the giant Baba Yara stadium.

“The bulldozers got bogged down in the mud and there were so many houses they couldn’t reach them all, so the military set fire to the whole slum,” Addalah said last week.

“My school is gone. The community had bought us a blackboard; we had made a small school. It took us a long time to get all those things: the benches, the books. They gave us no time to leave; they just burnt our homes and our future to the ground. Now we are living in the rubble with nowhere to go.”

Addalah is among 5,000 slum-dwellers left behind in the Zongo district of Kumasi, sheltering from the rain under blue plastic sheets and binbags and eking out a pitiful existence in the remains of their homes in Ghana’s second city.

Built in the late 1970s, Zongo was meant to be a temporary resettlement camp, but like most African shanty towns it grew into something more – a vibrant community with a school, a church, half a dozen mosques and thousands of homes made of brick, thatch and asbestos.

The slum-dwellers claimed the police gave them no warning of their raid. “No one had time to collect their things. The police beat them with canes,” said Shefawu Awadu, 34, a mother of three. “I tried to grab what I could but the soldiers caned me to stop me getting into my house. I’m left with nothing.”

Zongo’s residents say their slum was cleared because of antiMuslim prejudice. A huge number of impoverished northerners, mainly Muslims, have been drawn south in search of jobs. The tournament, they claim, offered the local authorities an excuse to clear them out.

Government officials believe the tournament will bring a financial windfall. One in three of the country’s residents scrapes by on less than 50p a day; most players will stay in Accra’s five-star African Regent hotel, with suites starting at £400 a night.

An African Cup of Nations spokesman said that the government was determined to clean up Ghana for the tournament. “There is a need to beautify the country to make it attractive,” he said. “All hands must be on deck in order to achieve this goal.”

Meanwhile, Addalah watches his former pupils playing among piles of bricks, corrugated iron and shards of broken glass. In the distance a 20ft-high poster of the Chelsea star Michael Essien announces the impending arrival of some of the world’s wealthiest black footballers.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Happy Holidays!!

So many different ways to say it ...

Alur - Wafoyo Kado Oro & Wafoyo Tundo Oro manyeni
Alutiiq - Spraasnikam & Amlertut Kiaget!
Acholi - Mot ki Yomcwing Botwo Me Mwaka Manyen
Adhola - Wafayo Chamo Mbaga & Bothi Oro Manyeni
Aeka- Keremisi jai be
Afrikaans - Geseende Kerfees en 'n gelukkige
Yoruba - E ku odun, e ku iye' dun!

Zarma - Barka da Issa hay-yan hann & Barka da djiri barey-yan
Zaza - Newroz'a tu Piroz be
Zia - Kerisimasi wosewa
Zime - El ma ka bar vra aso vei Lu & El ma ka kim na mireu
Zulu - Sinifesela Ukhisimusi Omuhle Nonyaka Omusha Onempumelelo
Angami - U kenei Christmas mu teicie kes a-u sie teicie
kesa-u sie niepete keluo shuzaie we
Apache (Western) - Gozhqq Keshmish
Urdu - Naya Saal Mubarak Ho
Uvean - Italo fa ide tau fou nei eseke
Uyghur - YanghI yiling ahlqIs bolgey!
Valencian - Bon Nadal i millor any nou
Tshiluba - Diledibua dilenga dia Mfumu - Tshidimu tshipia - tshipia th silenga
Tswana - Keresemose o monate le masego a ngwaga o montsha
Tubetube - Yayaliyaya Yesu sikabi kaiwena
Vespi - Rastvoidenke i Udenke Vodenke
Vietnamese - Chuc Mung Giang Sinh - Chuc Mung Tan Nien
onga - Kristo abe anduwe muciindo ca Christmas
Tongan - Kilisimasi Fiefia & Ta'u fo'ou monu ia
Toraja - Salama' Natal & Selama' taun baru
Trukese - Neekirissimas annim oo iyer seefe feyiyeech!
Tagalog - Maligayang Pasko at Manigong Bagong Taon
Tahitian - Ia ora i te Noere e ia ora na i te matahiti 'api
Tagakaulu - Madyaw Pagsalog sa Pagka-otaw ni Jesus & Aw mauntong na bago Umay!
Tala Andig - Maayad ha pasko daw bag-ong tuig
Surigaonon - Malipayon na pasko sanan bag-on tuig!
Swahili - ºKrismas Njema Na Heri Za Mwaka Mpyaº
Swazi - sinifisela khisimusi lomuhle nemnyaka lomusha lomuhle
Swedish - God Jul och Gott Nytt År

But whatever way YOU may say it, have a nice holiday!
And keep on watchin' the Beautiful Game!

Friday, December 21, 2007

The Reason I'm a Football Fan - Champions League Final 1999

Off-topic a bit, but here we go ...

Was thinking the other day, 'Why am I such a big footie fan?'

I wasn't so hardcore when I lived in England and I was already a huge fan when I arrived in Spain. What happened in between?

I present to you the 1999 Champions League Final. In many ways, even more incredible than the 2005 Liverpool comeback.

The video is of poor quality, but you get the idea.

This game gave me an appreciation for the sport. This game made me fall in love with the passion, the noise, the beauty and the enormity of it all.

This match in particular stole my heart and never let it go. Now look at me. Falling in love all over again with the African game. Isn't football wonderful?

They call it the Beautiful Game for a reason. This is one of the reasons ...


Thursday, December 20, 2007

Adebayor: Don't Mess with Cup of Nations Schedule!

Finally, a player speaks up in DEFENSE of the African Cup of Nations being in January, smack in the middle of the European football season.

Arsenal and Togo striker Emmanuel Adebayor is against it, saying a move to June could have major health implications for the players.

Two high profile African players died this year – Zambia striker Chaswe Nsofwa collapsed while training in Israel and Cameroon under-23 star Clement Atangana perished under similar circumstances in Vietnam.

Adebayor says many players from the continent could suffer similar consequences when the African Cup of Nations is played in the summer because it is very hot in most parts of the continent.

“Only this year we have seen two African players die on the pitch so playing during the summer could be very dangerous for us,” Adebayor said.

“We know of the deaths of Nsofwa and Atangana because they are big players but we don’t know how many young or unknown players have died in Africa this year.

“Those making these demands would have to think about this carefully if a mistake is made in making a change. We might have a disaster on our hands.”

Unfortunately for him (and fortunately for Arsenal), Adebayor won't be at next month's Cup of Nations. Togo didn't qualify for the finals and Emmanuel is not pleased.

“I am very sad that we could not qualify as I very much wanted to be part of this big event for us Africans because it is not only a football tournament.

“The Cup of Nations brings us together as people and in our continent where a lot of people are deprived, football makes people happy and even forget their problems, that’s why I really wanted to be part of it.

“Even as I will not be playing I will follow the tournament closely and use my time in here to help my club Arsenal to win the title.”

The lanky striker is one of five nominated for the African Player of the Year. He hopes to win the award as a way of forgetting about Togo's non-qualification.

“It is a tough line up for this year’s African Player of the Year award as Drogba, Essien, Kanoute, and Diarra have being in excellent form.

“But I know my performance for my country and club this year will help me to win the award.

“I have being in a very good shape for Arsenal and represented Africa in a positive way by helping my country in a very difficult qualifying group.

“I hope I can win the award and share the same platform with great players like Abedi Pele, George Weah, Samuel Eto’o, Kanu and Drogba who have all won this award in the past.”

Sudan Hungry for Success at Ghana '08

Most followers of world news know about Sudan's recent problems.
One avenue of entertainment and joy for the Sudanese people has been the football team.

Sudan wants to give even more joy to their people this January at the African Cup of Nations in Ghana.

The Nile Crocodiles' appearance in Ghana will be their first in the Cup finals in 32 years. They were one of the only three teams (Egypt, Ethiopia) to participate in the inaugural African Cup in 1957 and won the competition in 1970 when they hosted it.

According to Ahmed Al Maazar, vice-president of the Sudanese Football federation, they are leaving nothing to chance in their preparations for the tournament.

Sudan are scheduled to be in Spain early next month, where they will train and play friendly matches against Nigeria and the Ivory Coast.

Al Maazar told BBC Sport that players have been promised cash incentives "to fire them up" as they represent their country.

"The players will be given some money by the federation and we're also planning to buy them plots of land," he said.

"The president of the country (Omar Al Bashir) has promised them big things as a way of motivating them. We want to go there and have a very good tournament; we want to show how valuable Sudanese players are," Al Maazar said.

Sudan finished top of their qualifying group in a year which also saw Al Merreikh and Al Hilal shine in African club competitions.

When asked to name players likely to lead them to Nations Cup glory, Al Maazar singled out 37-year-old Faisal Ajab - scorer of five goals during the qualifiers.

He also mentioned 29-year-old Haitham Tambal, Ajab's team-mate at Al Mereikh.

Unlike most teams going to Ghana, all of Sudan's players are from domestic squads.

Sudan face a tough road out of the first round: they are in the same group as Egypt, Cameroon and Zambia.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Diouf Predicts a Tough Cup of Nations

El Hadji Diouf is back with the Senegal team after quitting a few months back.
Now, he's saying the 2008 edition of the African Cup of Nations will be the toughest one yet.

Can't say I disagree ...

"We have so many good teams in this year's tournament," he said.

"I think this is the hardest African Nations Cup ever to win because every team has good players."

Despite the tough competition, Diouf feels Senegal are capable of lifting the trophy on February 10th.

"This time, I think that if we play the way we did during the qualifiers, we have a chance. We have been to a final, semi-final and hopefully this year we can go all the way.

The Teranga Lions (great nickname) were beaten in the 2002 final on penalties by Cameroon and have reached the semi-finals on four other occasions.

Diouf threatened to retire from international football in October after criticizing the way the Senegal Football Association is run.

Luckily, their differences have been resolved.

"Well it's impossible to say that all the other players in Senegal are of any less importance, but it is fair to say that I am a rather symbolic player for the country.
I set out the problems that I had, all those problems have now been resolved."

"I could say that I was a little hot-headed in my approach to those problems but I'm not in a position, nor will I ever be in a position, where I could leave my countrymen to get on without me.

"I want to be there, as the captain it is not an option not to be there."

But add El Hadji to a growing list of footballing personalities calling for a change in Cup fixture dates.

"Players like me, Didier Drogba, Samuel Eto'o and a lot of other African players want to play this tournament in June," he said.

"If we did that then we wouldn't get problems from anybody.

"But don't forget that I'm an African. I'm very proud of my country.

"The clubs need to understand that we are only away for a month and wish us all the best and we in turn will wish them the same."

Gotta love Mr. Diouf. One of the colorful characters of the African game.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Bad News for Cameroon's Webo

Cameroon's Pierre Achille Webo had an operation on his right foot Tuesday and will be sidelined for up to four months. This is bad news for the Cameroon squad ahead of next month's African Cup of Nations.

Webo was injured during a game with his Spanish club side Real Mallorca, a goalless draw at home to Athletic Bilbao on Sunday.

He has scored twice for Mallorca in the Spanish league since he joined the team from Osasuna just before the start of the season.

The Cameroon international had only recently returned to action after surgery on the same metatarsal back in September.

Bad luck. So who will Cameroon use in his place to partner with Barcelona's Samuel Eto'o? Lots of questions to be answered by one of the favorites for the Cup.

2000 African Nations Cup Final - Cameroon vs Nigeria

Too busy at work to do much posting, but this video compilation from the 2000 Nations Cup Final between Cameroon and Nigeria should suffice for the moment. Notice the young Eto'o and the handful of superstars playing for both countries. Looks like it was a great game!!

Friday, December 14, 2007

Top 10 Goals of 2006 African Cup of Nations 2006

A compilation I found to get everyone juiced up for the 2008 Cup of Nations. There's some disagreement over which goal should have been #1. For my money, Samuel Eto'o's two goals at #2 and #1 are pure class ... wicked!


Thursday, December 13, 2007

African World Cup Qualifiers Could Cause Anxiety

African countries will have to play their first four qualifying matches for the 2010 World Cup on successive weekends, FIFA said last Friday.

The first group phase of the qualifiers begin at the end of May and conclude in September.

The four weekends of June will be used for the first four rounds of group matches, presenting a potential logistical headache for teams having to criss-cross the continent.

"We have written to FIFA seeking clarification of this," said South African Football Association chief executive officer Raymond Hack. "It seems a little tough on the players." Very tough.

Poor flight connections, which often turn traveling to international matches into multi-day and multi-stop expeditions, are likely to cause anxiety among coaches.

African sides often find it easier to travel via Europe. South Africa are the first host nation to participate in the World Cup preliminaries since Italy in 1934.

Although they automatically qualify for the 2010 World Cup, the preliminaries are also being used to determine the 16 teams for the African Cup of Nations finals in Angola in 2010.

The 48 African countries left in the race for places at the World Cup are divided into 12 groups. The winners and eight best placed runners-up go through to the second league phase after October.

The final 20 teams will be divided into five groups from which the winners qualify for the World Cup. The top three in each group join host Angola in the Nations Cup field.

More Hit Out at African Cup of Nations Scheduling

The chorus of people against the African Cup of Nations schedule continues to grow.

Today, a significant article in the BBC about the wave of African players leaving English shores for the Cup come mid-January.

Portsmouth assistant manager Joe Jordan made it clear what he wants.

"I don't know all the arguments behind staging it at that time, but from our point of view a switch to a summer date would suit us," Jordan told BBC Sport.

"It would benefit a lot of clubs with African players and give the players and coaches more time to prepare."

The Cup is traditionally staged in the first two months of the year because of the continent's unpredictable weather conditions in the summer months.

The rainy season hits western and central Africa in June and July, while the weather in South Africa, which will be hosting the 2010 World Cup in those two months, is usually cool.

Former Chelsea striker and BBC Sport's Gavin Peacock has little sympathy for those clubs affected by the loss of African players for the 2008 tournament, which will be staged in Ghana from January 20 to February 10.

"They know when they sign African players every two years a large proportion of them will be missing," Peacock told BBC Sport. "I'm sure if it could have been switched, they'd have done it by now. The tournament needs to benefit African football, not European football and if that means it's played in January and February then it needs to be played then."

Good statement. To read the full article, please click the link above.
Below, a list of African players in England about to leave for the Cup in Ghana. Extensive list.

Kolo Toure and Emmanuel Eboue (Ivory Coast), Alexandre Song (Cameroon)

Richard Kingson (Ghana), Mehdi Nafti and Radhi Jaidi (Tunisia)

Aaron Mokoena (South Africa)

El-Hadji Diouf (Senegal), Abdoulaye Meite (Ivory Coast)

John Obi Mikel (Nigeria), Didier Drogba and Saloman Kalou (Ivory Coast), Michael Essien (Ghana)

Joseph Yobo and Ayegbeni Yakubu (Nigeria), Steven Pienaar (South Africa)

Nabil El-Zhar (Morocco), Muhammed Sissoko (Mali)

Mohamed Shawky and Mido (Egypt)

Obafemi Martins (Nigeria), Geremi (Cameroon), Abdoulaye Faye and Habib Beye (Senegal)

Papa Bouba Diop (Senegal), Nwankwo Kanu and John Utaka (Nigeria), Sulley Muntari (Ghana), Lauren (Cameroon)

Andre Bikey (Cameroon), Emerse Fae (Ivory Coast), Ibrahima Sonko (Senegal)

Dickson Etuhu (Nigeria)

Hossam Ghaly (Egypt), Didier Zokora (Ivory Coast)

John Pantsil (Ghana), Henri Camara (Senegal)

Salomon Olembe (Cameroon), Julius Aghahowa (Nigeria)

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

African Player of the Year Shortlist

Some old faces, some new names in the Confederation of African Football's shortlist for the 2007 African Player of the Year.

Reigning African Footballer of the Year Didier Drogba will be up against his Chelsea team mate Michael Essien, Arsenal striker Emmanuel Adebayor and the Spanish-based pair of Frederic Kanoute and Mahamadou Diarra for the award which will be given out in February.

Kanoute, who helped Sevilla win the UEFA Cup in 2007, could become the first European-born player to win the title. Kanoute was born near Lyon and played for France at junior levels before switching his international allegiance to Mali in 2004.

Real Madrid's Diarra helped Mali qualify for the African Cup of Nations while Adebayor's performances with Arsenal catapulted him onto the list. There's controversy with the lanky striker from Togo as Adebayor boycotted several international matches this year in an on-going dispute over money with his country's football federation.

The winner will be announced at the annual Confederation of African Football awards ceremony, scheduled for Feb 1 in Lome, Togo.

The winner is voted for in a poll of coaches of the 53 African national teams. The five finalists were chosen by an initial vote of CAF committee members.

Good luck, all!

Monday, December 10, 2007

African Footballers to Storm Swedish Shores

The influx of African footballing talent in Europe should go up by an e higher number in the next few years after the Swedish Football Federation (SFF) ruled that from next season on, Swedish clubs can feature any number of African players.

This comes after Spain announced African players would not count as non-EU players anymore. The footballing world is starting to see the talents of the African footballer.

The SFF made the ruling in accordance with the Cotonou Agreement, a treaty signed in Benin in 2000 by members of the EU and a group of 77 African, Caribbean and Pacific states (ACP).

The agreement stipulates that nationals from those countries working legally in Europe should have the same rights as EU citizens.

"We had a choice between breaking the law and respecting EU regulations," Swedish football boss Lars-Ake Lagrell said.

Previously, only three non-European players were allowed to play for a club.

Helsingborg, a club with five Africans, earlier this year called for the federation to implement the accord.

At the time the SFF said it could not make any changes since the regulations for the season had already been adopted.

Helsingborg director Bo Nilsson told BBC Sport that the decision is a victory for his club.

"We are pleased. The decision is fair and it is a respect for international law. Before there was discrimination," he added.

Liberia defender Jimmy Dixon who plays for Malmo FF welcomed the ruling as a one of the best things to happen to African footballers.

"It will give more opportunities to African footballers in Sweden. Before it was hard to make it," Dixon said.

Good news. Let's see how the Africans fare now that the borders are open. Immigration is a good thing and I believe the more people see the African player, the better.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Etoile Through to World Club Cup Semis

Congratulations are in order for Tunisia's Etoile du Sahel, who secured a place in the semi finals of the World Club Cup, thanks to a 1-0 victory over Pachuca of Mexico in Japan.

Young Ghanian striker Moussa Narry scored the only goal of the game in the 85th minute.
His shot from distance was deflected into the net by Pachuca defender Leobardo Lopez.

Etoile will now face Argentinian powerhouse Boca Juniors in the semis.

It means they have already matched the achievement of their great rivals Al Ahly, in getting to the semi finals of the event.

Etoile beat Ahly in the final of the African Champions League to secure their place at the Fifa showpiece.

"I am very happy with the way the match turned out and very happy with my players," said Etoile coach Bertrand Marchand.

"We have a lot of young players under 25 and Pachuca had more experienced players, but we knew with a strong defense and teamwork we could do it."

Until the decisive moment, it had been Pachuca who looked more likely to claim victory.

Etoile goalkeeper Aymen Balbouli frustrated the CONCACAF champions throughout and produced some fine saves to stop Gabriel Caballero's diving header and Marvin Cabrera's fierce shot in the first half.

Pachuca's Julio Manzur had a goal disallowed for offside after Balbouli fumbled a free kick from Christian Gimenez.

"We played a very good match, we were dominating the game, producing a lot of chances but were unable to score," said Pachuca coach Enrique Meza.

Good luck, Etoile! We're proud of you.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Chelsea Coach Speaks Out Against Cup of Nations

It's a common theme among big-name coaches in Europe:
Most are against the timing of the African Cup of Nations.

This is a good and bad thing.

Good in that it means more Africans are infiltrating the dressing rooms of top world football clubs like Barcelona and Chelsea.

Bad in that it's annoying to hear these coaches biting the hand that feeds them.

Africa has a right to stage their continental competition when they see fit. Although I strongly feel they shouldn't cave in to European demands simply because Old World powerhouses are calling for these changes, it's evident that changes need to be made. The Nations Cup scheduling is hurtful to the teams that pay big money to salary their African stars.

As more Africans play at world-class clubs and as more Africans proser at these clubs, the more their services are going to be missed and the angrier the clubs will get.

It's really a lose-lose situation in many ways.

Today, Chelsea coach Avram Grant became the latest to pop off on the African Cup of Nations timing.

Grant has called for the tournament to be played in June or July in the future as he faces the prospect of coping without striker Didier Drogba.

Ivory Coast captain Drogba is committed to playing for his country, which starts January 20th, although he has a knee injury and may require surgery.

Chelsea will decide in the next week whether an operation is required but already know Salomon Kalou, John Obi Mikel and Michael Essien will be away for up to a month when they play in Ghana in the new year.

When Grant was asked if the tournament should be moved to suit the European soccer calendar in future, he was quite vocal.

"Of course, I think everybody wants it (a scheduling change) but it doesn't depend on me," he told a news conference at Chelsea's training ground.

"We need to think about this. When they started the African Nations Cup there were not so many players playing in Europe. Now the Africans have many players in the Premier League and in other leagues -- and in my opinion it will be even more in the next few years. So we need to think about this because it's not good for the players or the clubs. It would be better in the summer but I cannot change it, I can only say my opinion."

Drogba is 90 percent certain to miss this weekend's Premier League match at home to Sunderland according to Grant and the timing of his operation could have an impact on his availability for the African Nations Cup.

Grant said Drogba and the club had known about the problem for some months but the striker insisted on playing.

"He pushes to play even now but we must take care of the health of the player. We will see what is good for him. At the moment we will keep an eye on the situation then we will know what will happen," Grant said.

When asked if the player would require surgery, the manager said: "Maybe. We don't know yet, we will know better in the next days."

In other news, Samuel Eto'o is expected to play his first minutes since September with Barcelona this weekend. He's been recuperating from a leg injury. Good luck to you, Sammy. Stay fit.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

ASEC Mimosas' Impressive Record

I'm a regular reader of the Guardian Unlimited's weekly The Knowledge articles. The editors attempt to answer interesting questions about world football, like 'has a journalist ever won an international cap?' or 'who is the most prolific corner goalscorer of all time?'

Along the way, they manage to deliver witty bits of football intelligence that make you go, 'Hmmm ...'

This particular question-and-answer definitely made me tilt my head and rub my chin some.

"What is the longest run of league games undefeated in world football?" wondered Jamie Ainge back in early 2005. "I ask because I saw Piers Morgan on TV suggesting that Arsenal were the best team ever because they went a season without losing. I thought the AC Milan side of the mid-90s went something like three years undefeated?"

So what do you think the answer is?

I guess I gave it away in the headline, but it had to do with ASEC Mimosas, also known as ASEC Abidjan, especially in international club competitions.

Here's the answer:

Milan's unbeaten Serie A run lasted a massive 58 league games, and took place between May 19 1991 and March 21 1993, before they lost 1-0 at home to Parma. That, however, is still a long way short of the world record, which is held by Asec Abidjan of the Ivory Coast.

Boasting a side featuring numerous Ivorian internationals, Asec went 108 matches unbeaten between 1989 and 1994. For most of that period they were managed by Philippe Troussier. When their winning streak did eventually come to an end - via a 2-1 defeat by SO Armée - the backlash was immediate: they crushed their next opponents 11-0.

108 matches ... 108 MATCHES! That's amazing.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Better Times for Kenyan Football?

Loyal readers of this blog will know my affection for Kenyan football.

So today's Reuter's article about the Kenyan game struck a major chord.

Can football succeed in Kenya? There's been many ups and downs, with FIFA sanctions and poor play coupled with bad administration. Certainly, the talent is there. But can the people running the game keep it together?

What's been the problem? Can Kenya scratch their way out of this self-imposed mess? Read the article below and click the link above to read the original. It looks like Kenya might finally be getting their house in order. FIFA's ensuring that every country in Africa benefits from the first World Cup to be staged there.

Kenya is no exception.

Jacob Mulee (left), coach of Kenya's national team Harambee Stars (their nickname) and of club side Tusker, was a worried man two years ago when he was caught up in the factional politics that split Kenya's soccer federation in two.

"We had two factions of the federation, two parallel leagues running, and I was caught between a stone and a hard place. As a coach of one of the top clubs in the country, I did not know (who) to back or which league to enter my team in," Mulee told Reuters.

Mulee is happy now, with the quarreling over and news that Kenya is to get its first artificial pitch and a big television sponsorship deal.

"These are signs of a bright future for the game. Our players will be marketed to the world," said Mulee.

The Kenyan game's troubles, with the government intervening to disband the Kenyan Football Federation (KFF) and set up a caretaker committee, led world governing body FIFA to suspend the east African nation from all international competitions.
Delegations were sent from FIFA to help sort out matters and the government backed down. The rebel league fizzled out, the suspension was lifted and, for the first time in four years, Kenyan clubs played in a single Premier League. The season ended last month with Mulee's Tusker winning the title.


November also brought news that FIFA, as part of a $70-million pan-African project, would install Kenya's first artificial pitch in a Nairobi stadium.
Hard on the heels of that announcement came news that a pay television channel with a global audience had entered into a four-year, $5.5-million sponsorship deal to showcase Kenyan soccer.

The agreement with South African-owned SuperSport International to sponsor the Premier League from next year was signed on Nov. 24 and was hailed as a milestone by club officials.

Kenya Premier League (KPL) vice-chairman Gerald Chege said the specific amounts to be paid to clubs had not yet been agreed but would be known by the time the league started up again in February.

He said each Premier League club might receive between 2.5 million and three million Kenyan shillings ($40,390 to $48,470), a big bonus for clubs used to surviving on shoestring budgets.

The artificial pitch, being laid under a FIFA 2010 World Cup initiative, will cost 42 million Kenyan shillings and will be at the 15,000-seat Nairobi City Stadium, not far from the central business district.


The stadium, built by the colonial government in the early 1920s, was the first in the Kenyan capital before the 35,000-seater Nyayo National Stadium and the Chinese-built, 65,000-seater Moi International Sports Stadium were added in the 1980s.

Under the FIFA initiative, all but one of Africa's 53 member countries will get artificial pitches, the exception being 2010 World Cup hosts South Africa.
FIFA's development officer in charge of Africa, Ashford Mamelodi, said the project would ensure that every country on the continent got some benefit from the first World Cup to be staged there.

"Every country in Africa will win something, even those who will not be at the finals. This is why FIFA takes the project seriously," Mamelodi told reporters.
KFF secretary Sammy Obingo said Kenya wanted to put its troubles behind it and look forward.

"Those wrangles drew us so much behind," Obingo said. "We want to market Kenya as a destination for European teams who'll be going to the 2010 World Cup."

Monday, December 3, 2007

Short List for 2007 BBC African Footballer of the Year

It's that time of year again, when journalists around the globe announce their picks for Footballers of the Year.

Africa has their own prestigious award and today, the BBC announced their short list for 2007 African Footballer of the year.

*Note: The BBC award is independent of the Confederation of African Footballer award. Ghana's Michael Essien won the award last year, while Ivory Coast's Didier Drogba won the CAF prize.*

The players selected are listed with their home countries and club teams:

Didier Drogba - Ivory Coast, Chelsea
Michael Essien - Ghana, Chelsea
Emmanuel Adebayor - Togo, Arsenal
Frederic Kanoute - Mali, Sevilla
Samuel Eto'o - Cameroon, FC Barcelona

The list was drawn up through consultation with sports reporters from every country in Africa.

Each reporter, from Morocco to Mozambique, from Somalia to Senegal, was asked to provide a list of five names. I'm a little skeptical of the Eto'o choice, being he's hardky played this year. But this is what they chose, so what do I know?

If you'd like to vote, please click here and have your say!

The winner will be announced at a special ceremony in Accra, Ghana on February 1, after the completion of the group stages of the African Cup of Nations.

According to the BBC's website, here's some things to consider in each player's case:

- Despite hardly playing in 2007, Samuel Eto'o has been chosen as the face of the 2010 World Cup and has taken a leading role in the fight against racism in football.

- Michael Essien was rewarded for his performances with a new five-year contract at Chelsea, and Ghana coach Claude Le Roy has declared Essien's talent to be "from another planet".

- Frederic Kanoute scored the vital goal which saw Mali qualify for the Nations Cup, and he helped his club side Sevilla retain the Uefa Cup.

- Togo's Emmanuel Adebayor picked up where Thierry Henry left off for English Premier League side Arsenal with seven goals for the Gunners in the first three months of the season.

- Ivorian Didier Drogba scored the winner in Chelsea's FA Cup final victory over Manchester United.

So who is going to win? What do you think?

Sunday, December 2, 2007

South Africa's Economic Boom Thanks to 2010 World Cup

I've been posting a lot about Danny Jordaan the last week, but let's be fair. The guy's doing a great job as chief of South Africa's World Cup organizing committee.

This, an article from the BBC about Jordaan's belief that the 2010 Cup can be a force for 'national renewal.' Isn't that what this is all about anyways?

As the article points out, 'Staging the globe's showcase football event has become intertwined with rebuilding the economy, banishing the divisions of apartheid, and establishing a new national identity ... Mr Jordaan says the main economic focus, which includes the many World Cup projects, must be on those who were economically excluded in the past.'

It's an incredibly interesting read. To see the original article, click above or glance at the article from the BBC's business reporter Bill Wilson below.

For most countries, securing the rights to host the World Cup means national promotion, a chance to show off the latest technological and engineering innovations, and the chance to cash in on a summer tourism and consumer spending boom.

However, for South Africa to secure the 2010 event much more was a stake - both commercially and socially.

Staging the globe's showcase football event has become intertwined with rebuilding the economy, banishing the divisions of apartheid, and establishing a new national identity.

This vision of a World Cup that aids the economically disadvantaged is being driven by the head of the 2010 organising committee, Danny Jordaan, a former lecturer, politician and anti-apartheid activist.

"Our pursuit of the football World Cup was part of a broader agenda," he explains, speaking at the Soccerex football business convention in Johannesburg.

"South Africa, after 1990, faced the challenge of building a brand for our country."

And Mr Jordaan says the decision was made, strongly supported by Nelson Mandela, to build a new "national brand" through hosting major sporting events.

"When a country has come from a struggle between black and white people we want them to then come together and pursue the promotion of the country together - the World Cup is such a project," he explains.

Total access

But Mr Jordaan says the main economic focus, which includes the many World Cup projects, must be on those who were economically excluded in the past.

And he believe the fact football's governing body Fifa had awarded the tournament to South Africa "debunked the myth" that global commercial considerations - as opposed to local needs - were the prime motivators in awarding the event.

"Fifa does not have to make billions from the event - the World Cup is strong enough to go to any sort of society" he says.

"Also, the revenues for Fifa are not generated by the commercial activities in the host nation, but because global brands based in Japan, the US, or Europe want to be associated with the World Cup name, and pay for the privilege."

Mr Jordaan says that 2010 organisers are operating with a World Cup budget of 3.2bn Rand ($457m; £222m) and the intention is to create jobs and encourage the formation of more small, medium and micro enterprises.

"We must create access to the economy for all our people," he explains. "Apartheid excluded 90% of the population from taking part in the daily economic life of our country.

"To strengthen the economy you must create access for all parts of society."

Delivering stadiums

Part of the way economic access can be improved is through creating jobs in infrastructure projects around the World Cup, including building stadiums as well as improving things like roads, and water, electricity and gas supplies.

"Hosting the World Cup places us within a time frame and a given budget. It installs discipline," says Mr Jordaan.

"It also invites the world media to oversee what we are doing and become project managers."

And those "project managers" have not always been kind to South Africa, with many of them still warning that it still may all end in tears.

"Every country that has hosted a World Cup has faced its own unique challenges - we are not different to any other nation," says Mr Jordaan, who has a wealth of experience in South African football administration.

"The gap in infrastructure is big with countries like Germany," he continues.

"So we have to pay more attention to our infrastructure, and each host city now has to report on their progress each month, and our technical team goes and visits the host cities on a regular basis.

"But I am confident we will deliver the stadiums."

Problem projects

However, Mr Jordaan admits that problems remained in Cape Town, where a new stadium has proved controversial, and in his home city of Port Elizabeth, where the target date might not be met.

"With two stadiums we have problems but with eight we have none - so we are 80% there," he counters.

And he remains positive on the crime issue, despite a former Austrian footballer being shot dead on a golf course outside Durban prior to Sunday's World Cup draw.

"There is a mismatch between perception and reality," insists Mr Jordaan.

"We have said again and again, when we have a major event, the people around the event are secure. You have to have a security plan whether you are staging the World Cup in Germany or South Africa."

He points out that South Africa has staged the rugby and cricket World Cups, as well as major athletics events successfully without incident.

Mr Jordaan adds: "Everyone at the World Cup draw was safe and secure. Of course we have concerns - but every country in the world has crime issues.

"Crime is opportunistic wherever it occurs, but we have the confidence our sporting event track record will stand the test of time."

'Never surrender'

Mr Jordaan drew a parallel between his days fighting apartheid, and the strange circumstances in which South Africa were denied the 2006 World Cup.

"The experience of having setbacks but continuing to struggle - it is part of the culture I come from.

"You have to never surrender and to hope again."

And he says that Nelson Mandela - who was a major force in South Africa finally securing the 2010 event - still retained his passion for football that first flourished while he was a prisoner on Robben Island.

"As head of state he understood the importance of sport in building the country up into a new society."

"In South Africa we have had all the major events - Rugby World Cup, Cricket World Cup and now Football World Cup - driven by that inspiration."

However, Mr Jordaan says that there was now pressure on the South Africa national team, as a host country had not failed to qualify for the World Cup second round since 1954.

"The success of a World Cup depends on the performance of the home team," he says. "We are faced with a new challenge - we must make sure that we are not the first host in a long time to drop out in the first round.

"But I want to make clear that my role is to prepare a World Cup for 32 countries to play in, not only one for South Africa."

Friday, November 30, 2007

Cup of Nations: Yobo Believes, McCarthy Dropped

Some Cup of Nations news as we inch closer to the January 20th start date.

First off, Nigerian defender Joseph Yobo thinks Nigeria's going to win it all in Ghana 2008. He believes Nigeria will be crowned African champions.

The 26-year-old, who plays for Everton, said the timing is right for consistent third-place finishers Nigeria to go all the way in next year's finals.

"I have played in three Cup of Nations tournaments - in every minute of every game, and each time I have picked up the bronze medal (for third place)," Yobo said.

"In Ghana it is time for the team to go one better and I know we can do this."

Nigeria finished in third place at the 2002, 2004 and 2006 Nations Cup and have not won the tournament since 1994 when they beat Zambia 2-1 in the final.

"For some reason we always collapse in the semi finals and I don't know why.
We should definitely make the final next year, if we get there the team would do everything to win the trophy."

"All the players in the Nigerian team are in a good mood - Yakubu and Anichebe (fellow Everton players) are doing well - we all just want to make our country proud.

"Plus playing in Ghana will be great opportunity - because it is so close to Nigeria it will be like playing in a second home," Yobo added.

"We'll try and take advantage of this and the fact many of our fans will be there to support us."

Nigeria don't have it easy. The Ivory Coast, Mali and Benin share space in Group B and will be looking to advance to the knock out stages.

In other news, South Africa have dropped Blackburn striker Benni McCarthy for the 2008 Cup in Ghana. Brazilian coach Carlos Alberto Parreira refused to reveal why a striker he had battled to get back into a goal-shy Bafana Bafana squad was suddenly surplus to requirements. Strange, indeed.

Rumors swirled around the hotel where the squad was named as to why the joint-leading South African scorer with 29 goals had not made a squad to be captained by Blackburn team-mate, defender-cum-midfielder Aaron Mokoena.

Some observers suspected South Africa struck a deal with Blackburn manager Mark Hughes to leave McCarthy out as Premiership clubs brace for a mass exodus of stars for the tournament which starts January 20th.

When Parreira took over South Africa, his first serious challenge was to woo the temperamental McCarthy out of self-imposed international retirement since the 2006 Nations Cup in Egypt.

McCarthy, who burst into prominence by scoring nine goals at the 1998 Nations Cup in Burkina Faso to help South Africa finish second, claimed he was wrongly accused by national association officials for stirring a bonuses storm.

Parreira eventually got his way after a five-minute meeting in England and McCarthy scored on his return against Zambia in Cape Town two months ago to draw level at the top of the goals list with retired Shaun Bartlett.

South Africa, the first of the 16 finalists to name their squad, have been drawn with Angola, Senegal and Tunisia in Group D at the Nations Cup finals.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Chief of 2010 World Cup Believes in South Africa

Interesting piece by Reuters' Mike Collett about Danny Jordaan, the man leading the South African charge towards 2010.

Jordaan's had to face a lot of challenges as the chief organizer of the 2010 World Cup. From work stoppages at stadium sites to incessant questions about his country's preparedness for the tournament, Jordaan has handled all inquiries with class and style. He strongly believes that South Africa is ready to host the games and his enthusiasm is contagious.

Have a read at Mr. Collett's recent article about the man behind the 2010 World Cup.

Danny Jordaan is a man with a raft of problems but he shows no sign of panic or fear.

As the driving force of South Africa's preparations for the 2010 World Cup, Jordaan has much to contend with.

"It is absolutely inevitable that if you are putting on a World Cup then there are going to be problems, big problems in some cases, but it's how you deal with them that matters -- not that you have them," he said in an interview with Reuters on Tuesday. "Of course there are things we worry about but we are not worried that we cannot solve them, that is the key issue."

Jordaan, 56, is the chief executive officer of South Africa's World Cup organising committee and has just passed a significant milestone on the long road he has been traveling to ensure the finals will be played in his country.

Sunday's draw in Durban for the preliminary tournament, a glitzy 90-minute affair staged in Durban, went off with barely a hitch.

As the finals inch closer, Jordaan admits his main concern is the stadium rebuilding programme. While he is convinced that every seat in every stadium will be in place in time for the kickoff on June 11, 2010, there are still hurdles to overcome.
"We will not sleep peacefully until the day the stadiums are all finished," the former member of parliament and anti-apartheid activist said.

"Stadium building programmes have become such a major news item. People read about it day to day. In the past, people decided to build a stadium and they built it, simple as that. But now the media seem to focus on every nut and bolt as it goes in.

"I understand why and while it puts us under enormous pressure, a lot of pressure from the media...we are comfortable with it."


He is not so comfortable, though, with the idea that striking construction workers could hinder plans to get the stadiums finished on time.

"We will never call on the workers not to strike or condemn them because the right to strike is a part of the culture of our democratic society but the stadium building plan is also a national priority.

"The workers may have conflicting interests but our interests are that the stadiums must be finished on time.

"This is a national priority. We must resolve these matters in a way that all of our interests are taken into account."

Another issue close to Jordaan's heart is making the World Cup accessible to some of South Africa's poorest citizens by introducing a cheap category of ticket costing $20 for the opening-round matches and making 120,000 of around three million tickets free to residents.

He has also pledged that some of the World Cup finalists will stage some of their training sessions in townships and poorer areas, so those who cannot get to matches will have a chance to feel a part of the World Cup.

"Perhaps they will not train there every day and of course some training sessions are closed. But we have stadiums suitable for World Cup training. We want to make the World Cup as open as possible to as many people as possible."

Sounds like a good plan. So far, so good Mr. Jordaan.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Update on FIFA Chief's World Cup Comments

A quick update on comments made earlier by Sepp Blatter regarding crime and safety in South Africa.

Seems the Austrian tourist killed this weekend in Durban and mentioned near the bottom of my earlier post was former soccer player Peter Burgstaller.

German newspaper Frankfurt Allgemeine Zeitung reported on its web site that the murdered ex-SV Salzburg goalkeeper had been invited to the preliminary draw in Durban this weekend by Germany's Franz Beckenbauer, a World Cup winner as a player and coach.

"The murder of Peter Burgstaller is very depressing," current German coach Joachim Loew was quoted as telling German sports news agency SID.

"There is crime everywhere but we're going to put the security issue near the top of the agenda ahead of the 2010 World Cup. Everyone knows there is enormous poverty and crime in South Africa. We're going to have to be prepared for that," Loew said.

Burgstaller died from gunshot wounds suffered on a golf course near Durban on Friday, reviving the concerns over high crime rates which have dogged South Africa's preparations for the tournament. Police said the motive for the shooting, which took place on an estate surrounded by an electric fence, was thought to be robbery.

"I just want to say how much we deplore that a tourist from Austria was shot dead on a golf course. We deplore that as we would deplore all death or casualties in any country," Blatter said. "This tourist was not a member of the delegation coming for the draw and to make a parallel between FIFA's presence here and this death is not right. In a city of 3.5 million people some crimes will happen as they would in many other countries. On Friday evening in a tram station in Zurich a young girl of 16 years old was shot."

Unfortunately, South African crime will continue to be an issue as the Cup gets closer. In some ways, shining a light on the crime issue is a good thing. South Africa can deal with these problems and other countries can help out, now that their interests are affected.

Still, let's hope this isn't the main crux of news coming from the country. Optimism should be the word of the day. As the official World Cup saying goes, "Celebrating Africa's humanity," not "Exposing Africa's Negatives."

FIFA Chief Speaks About 2010 World Cup

FIFA boss Sepp Blatter had some interesting things to say at this weekend's 2010 Preliminary Draw in Durban, South Africa.

Speaking ahead of Sunday's qualifying draw for the 2010 Cup, Blatter said the World Cup could help solve the social ills of the hosts South Africa by acting as a catalyst for development.

"After having meetings with the organizing committee and local organizing committees, we are very confident that we are still going strong towards the realization of a wonderful event," Blatter told reporters in Durban.

Strikes have stalled building and renovation work on the 10 stadiums which will host the tournament.

But Blatter said he had spoken with some of the workers and was sure that any industrial disputes could be resolved.

"The World Cup is the biggest event in the world of sport and that's normal there are problems ... but all problems have a solution." He's an optimist, at least.

He also said the Cup could help alleviate some social problems, like apartheid and rampant crime.

"The Republic of South Africa has made a big, big effort twice to organize this competition. If a country is asking to organize a World Cup they know exactly what it means when they want to go in this big, big competition."

The killing of an Austrian tourist over the weekend in Durban has underlined fears over safety for visitors in a country where around 50 people are murdered every day.

But Blatter said such a crime could occur anywhere in the world.

"In a city of 3.5 million people, some crimes are possible like in all other countries. On Friday evening in a bus station or tram station in Zurich a young girl of 16 years old was shot ... crime is everywhere," added the Swiss-born Blatter.

Africa Gets Rave Reviews in First World Cup Test

Kudos to the South African Organizing Committee and FIFA for putting on a brilliant preliminary draw show.

The hosts put on a smooth-running show, with just one little glitch in Sunday's draw, sending visiting delegations from more than 150 nations away on Monday in various degrees of hope, expectation and, in a few cases, dismay.

Only 31 will return to join South Africa in the 2010 finals at the end of the two-year qualification trail of twists and turns.

The hosts stuttered a little when the build-up to an announcement of the tournament's slogan ended in embarrassment. South African organizing committee chairman Irvin Khoza was just about to reveal that "Celebrating Africa's humanity" was the choice when he was cut short. Television producers switched over to open the international feed to more than 170 countries, leaving the audience in Durban's International Convention Centre bemused and bewildered. But that's about all that happened.

The draw produced some controversy, particularly for England whose delegates looked shocked when the fates conspired to land them in the same European qualifying group again as Croatia.
Only four days earlier, Croatia crashed England's expected progress to the Euro 2008 finals with a shock 3-2 victory at England's Wembley Stadium.

Other teams came away happy. World champions Italy look sure to dominate a group in which only Bulgaria and Ireland should provide meaningful opposition and European champions Greece were beside themselves at getting nothing harder in their group than Israel and Switzerland.

South Africa will be thankful they do not have to qualify as hosts. The African section of the draw doubles as the qualifying competition for the 2010 African Cup of Nations and South Africa were drawn in the same group as traditional continental heavyweights Nigeria.

The organizers will no doubt congratulate themselves on switching the Soweto derby between Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs to Durban for the occasion.

Saturday's thrilling 2-2 draw, and particularly the uninhibited and passionate support of more than 50,000 fans, left a deep impression on international soccer visitors and whetted their appetite for what should be the biggest sporting party in history in 2010.

Honestly, I'm buzzing with excitement!! I can't wait!!

Sunday, November 25, 2007

2010 World Cup Preliminary Draw Results

So the FIFA 2010 World Cup Preliminary Draw is over and we're seeing some interesting groupings. Let's get to it and give some initials reactions on the Road to 2010 ...

First off: Africa, consisting of 12 groups of four. Winners and the best eight runners-up will advance to five final groups of four. The winners - plus any team second to South Africa (this goes towards the 2010 African Nations Cup as well) - will make it to the first World Cup to be held on African soil.

Group 1: Cameroon, Cape Verde Islands, Tanzania, Mauritius
Group 2: Guinea, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Kenya
Group 3: Angola, Benin, Uganda, Niger
Group 4: Nigeria, South Africa, Equatorial Guinea, Sierra Leone
Group 5: Ghana, Libya, Gabon, Lesotho
Group 6: Senegal, Algeria, Liberia, Gambia
Group 7: Ivory Coast, Mozambique, Botswana, Madagascar
Group 8: Morocco, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Mauritania
Group 9: Tunisia, Burkina Faso, Brundi, Seychelles
Group 10: Mali, Congo, Sudan, Chad
Group 11: Togo, Zambia, Eritrea, Swaziland
Group 12: Egypt, Congo DR, Malawi, Djibouti

Initial reactions see Group 4 as a tasty one, with Nigeria facing South Africa. Although I see both teams advancing easily, especially with SA guaranteed a spot in 2010. Besides that, Group 6 with Senegal playing Tunisia is interesting.

Ok, on to Asia:

Group 1: Australia, Iraq, Qatar and China
Group 2: Oman, Thailand, Bahrain, Japan
Group 3: North Korea, Jordan, Turkmenistan, South Korea
Group 4: Lebanon, Singapore, Uzbekistan, Saudi Arabia
Group 5: Syria, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Iran

Yikes, look at that North v. South Korea match-up. Think that'll be a passionate one or what?? Also, a rematch of the Australia-Iraq match from this year's Asian Cup.

In Asia, there's a first group stage with the top 2 sides from the 5 groups of 4 advancing to a final group stage. The winners and runners-up of the two final groups of 5 advance to the World Cup finals with the two third-placed sides playing off for the right to play an Oceania side for a final World Cup spot. (That's a mouthful ... I'm confused now. Read it slowly. It makes sense.)

As for Oceania, qualification is composed of two rounds. The first round took place at the 2007 South Pacific Games, where the top 3 teams (New Caledonia, Fiji and Vanuatu) advanced to a final round group stage with New Zealand. The winning team will then playoff against the 5th-placed Asian side for a spot in the finals.

Ok, on we go ...

To North America, where all member associations have entered the qualifying competition, which starts in February 2008. Three sides will qualify by right for South Africa 2010, with a fourth team going into a play-off with the fifth-place finisher in the South American zone. But to get there (or understand how to get there) requires some hard work. Qualifying consists of two preliminary rounds to reduce the 35 entrants to 24 and then 12 teams, followed by 3 semifinal groups of 4 (likely to occur in the second half of 2008), with the top two in each group advancing to a final 6-team group (held during 2009).


Anyways, here are the groupings:


Barbados v Dominica
Turks and Caicos Islands v St Lucia
Bermuda v Cayman Islands
Aruba v Antinga and Barbuda
Belize v St Kitts and Nevis
Bahamas v British Virgin Islands
Dominican Republic v Puerto Rico
US Virgin Islands v Grenada
Suriname v Montserrat
El Salvador v Anguilla
Nicaragua v Netherlands Antilles

The rest of the nations join qualifying in the second round when they will be seeded again based on FIFA World Ranking. The winners of the 12 two-legged ties will move into round three.


USA v Winner Match 1
Guatemala v Winner Match 2
Trinidad & Tobago v Winner Match 3
Winner Match 4 v Cuba
Winner Match 5 v Mexico
Jamaica v Winner Match 6
Honduras v Winner Match 7
Canada v St Vincent/Grenadines
Winner Match 9 v Costa Rica
Winner Match 10 v Guyana
Panama v Winner Match 11
Haiti v Winner Match 12

This next round is done on a league basis, with three groups of four countries. The top two teams in each group advance. The final stage sees one, six-team group from which the top three will qualify. The fourth placed team earns a play-off against a nation from South America.
Honestly, does it have to be this hard?? This is confusing ...

Anyways, on to Europe where qualification is somewhat simpler. Then again, graduate level Calculus is easier than North America's qualifying ...

European qualification starts in September 2008. The 53 national teams will be divided into eight groups of six teams, and one group of five. The nine group winners will qualify directly and the best eight runners-up will play home and away play-off matches for the remaining four places.

Group 1: Portugal, Sweden, Denmark, Hungary, Albania, Malta.
Group 2: Greece, Israel, Switzerland, Moldova, Latvia, Luxembourg.
Group 3: Czech Republic, Poland, Northern Ireland, Slovakia, Slovenia, San Marino.
Group 4: Germany, Russia, Finland, Wales, Azerbijain, Leichtenstein.
Group 5: Spain, Turkey, Belgium, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Armenia, Estonia.
Group 6: Croatia, England, Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Andorra.
Group 7: France, Romania, Serbia, Lithuania, Austria, Faroe Islands.
Group 8: Italy, Bulgaria, Republic of Ireland, Cyprus, Georgia, Montenegro.
Group 9: Holland, Scotland, Norway, FYR Macedonia, Iceland.

Juicy match-up in Group 6 with England once again meeting Croatia.
Italy doesn't lookin danger of not making it and Holland-Scotland looks fun ...

As for South America, whose qualifying already started, here's how the group looks after 4 games:

Team Pts W D L
1 Paraguay 10 3 1 0
2 Argentina 9 3 0 1
3 Brazil 8 2 2 0
4 Colombia 8 2 2 0
5 Venezuela 6 2 0 2
6 Uruguay 4 1 1 2
7 Chile 4 1 1 2
8 Ecuador 3 1 0 3
9 Peru 2 0 2 2
10 Bolivia 1 0 1 3

South America has the simplest system. Ten participating teams play each other twice in a single group.
The qualification process takes about 25 months. The top 4 teams advance to the World Cup finals while the 5th place team goes into a playoff with the fourth placed North American nation.

The fun's just started! So what do you think???

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Free World Cup Tickets!

If you don't have to pay to get into the World Cup, life's grand!

South Africans are learning this today after FIFA announced they will give 120,000 free tickets to South African residents for matches in the 2010 World Cup finals, FIFA general secretary Jerome Valcke said at a news conference on Saturday.


It was announced on Friday that South African residents would be able to purchase specially-priced cheap tickets for the finals and the price for first round matches, apart from the opening match, was set at 20 US dollars on Saturday.

As well as these Category Four tickets being sold, Valcke added: "the cost of the 120,000 free tickets in that category will be met by FIFA's commercial partners."

It will be decided shortly whether those free tickets will be given away as prizes through the commercial partners competitions, or handed out on a first come, first served basis.

Valcke said measures would be taken to ensure the free and cheap tickets would not be sold on to fans overseas."We are working on measures to make sure there is no black market," he added.

Danny Jordaan, chief executive of the local organizing committee, added: "We cannot announce the measures three years beforehand as people will try to develop counter-measures. Our target is the poor football fans in this country and if there is someone in an England shirt or Belgium shirt in that seat we will know something has gone wrong."

The most expensive tickets for first round matches was set at US$160, rising to US$900 for the most expensive tickets for the World Cup final in Johannesburg on July 11, 2010.

So I'm pretty poor ... can I get a free ticket PLEASE?

Friday, November 23, 2007

2010 World Cup Draw Format Announced

So the preliminary qualifying draw's almost here. What's in store for the teams on Sunday in Durban, South Africa?

FIFA General Secretary Jerome Valcke is the Master of Ceremonies for the event, which begins with the Stage Three draw for the Asian Zone. The North, Central America and Caribbean Zone is the next confederation to come under the spotlight, with the first three stages of their preliminary campaign decided upon in Durban.

Approximately an hour into proceedings, Europe will be buzzing with anticipation when its 53 teams are divided into nine qualifying groups, before the evening rounds off with the draw for the African Zone, where 48 teams will be placed into 12 groups of four teams.

I can't wait! Make sure to come back to 'Road to 2010 Final' where we (I?) will post more info about the draw in Durban.

When Will Africa Win a World Cup?

This, an interesting, thought-provoking article from the BBC about Africa's expectations regarding the World Cup.

Pundits have long said it was a mere matter of time before an African nation lifted the World Cup trophy. But so far, expectations haven't been met.

No one's really sure why. Maybe the infrastructure isn't there. Maybe the players don't gel well when they come together in a huge international tournament. Maybe they're just not good enough at the moment.

It's a wonderful topic of debate. What do you think?

Read the article and post your comments.

Pele's prediction that an African team would win the World Cup before the end of the last millennium never materialised.

And recent experience has dampened expectations of African glory as the continent prepares to host the tournament for the first time.

"We need to lift the expectations but maybe 2010 is too early... Maybe in Brazil," said France's World Cup winning captain Marcel Desailly.

Cameroon's progress to the quarter-finals of the 1990 tournament in Italy raised hopes that Africa would be the next force in world football.

However, only one team, Ghana, managed to get past the first round last year in Germany.

The semi-finals still remain unchartered territory for African countries.

Desailly, who was himself born in Ghana, believes they are likely to remain so when South Africa hosts the world's finest in three year's time.

"The tournament in South Africa? It will not change anything," Desailly said ahead of this weekend's draw for the qualifying rounds.

"I am not happy at all about the performances of the African teams since the US in '94."

That was when Nigeria knocked Argentina out in the first round before taking eventual finalists Italy into extra time."

Carlos Alberto Parreira, who coached Brazil to victory in 1994 and is now in charge of South Africa, believes Africa will put up a better showing with so many players now turning out regularly in Europe's top leagues.

However, he acknowledges the continent's teams face a huge challenge.

"I believe this time, when you see the African players in Europe, in the big teams, they will do well. I am sure they will raise their performance," Parreira said.

"If we had one or two African countries reach the quarter-finals, it would be a huge success. If it was the semi-finals, it would be fantastic.

"We have to raise the barrier ... but it's very difficult.

"For three months they play (in Europe), then suddenly they've only got two days before a match. That's difficult for the team and for the coach."

Parreira said that inexperience was less of an excuse than in the past.

"I don't think it's inexperience. They were naive in 1986 and 90. Then they had the skills and technique but they were naive," added the Brazilian who has also coached Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates in the finals.

"Now 80 percent of some of the squads' players are in the big leagues."

Lucas Radebe, a former captain of South Africa and fallen English giants Leeds United, said teams in the past had been intimidated by the whole experience of playing in the world's most popular sporting event.

"The stage is so huge, you are playing against massive teams and you get stage fright," he explained.

However Radebe said such an excuse would no longer wash.

"We have been gaining that experience. There are no excuses, we have got the players," he added.

While individual African players may have benefited from playing abroad, their absence has undermined the quality and development of the local leagues.

Desailly said that too many African players were being shipped off to Europe at too early an age and found themselves surplus to requirements and greater emphasis should be placed on developing players at home.

He said: "We have to increase the level of the leagues in Africa."

"There are some players who should be outside of the country, they should be staying inside as when they arrive in Europe they find they are second choice."

Radebe, however, said there was no reason to be too despondent.

He believes African football was definitely on the upturn, pinpointing the emergence of countries such as Ghana and the Ivory Coast.

"The continent is improving in terms of quality. This is the time to showcase that talent, to show them that we can compete."

An African team's qualification to the final "would electrify the continent," he added.

Samuel Eto'o is the Face of 2010 World Cup

Talk about a great honor!

Barcelona star Samuel Eto'o was unveiled as the face of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa on Friday.

FIFA president Sepp Blatter on Friday unveiled the poster for the first tournament to be staged in Africa.

An image of the Cameroonian striker about to head a football, his face and neck superimposed on a map of Africa, will form the center piece of the publicity campaign for the tournament.

"You will have no problem to recognize first of all that it's Africa and you have the face of one of the most popular and well-known faces of the continent," Blatter told reporters.

"He was not able to participate in the last World Cup but what is more important here is to give this continent a face, a human face in football," he said ahead of Sunday's draw for the qualifying rounds.

Eto'o was only 17 when he appeared in the 1998 tournament in France but the "Indomitable Lions" failed to qualify for the last World Cup in Germany.

In other news, South Africans will get cheap tickets to watch the 2010 World Cup on home soil, local organizers announced Friday.

Certain tickets will be sold only to South African residents, they said. Details would be announced over the weekend after FIFA's World Cup organising committee meeting in Durban.

South Africa's 2010 Local Organizing Committee chairman Danny Jordaan said the special tickets were an attempt to make watching the finals as accessible as possible to South Africa's population, more than half of whom live below the poverty line.

Good move, as the spirit of the World Cup can now be shared by all.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Fantastic Goal Celebration!!

This video comes to us from the Who Ate All the Pies? footie blog via the Offside website where I'm the Valencia blogger.

This has to be one of the greatest goal celebrations of all-time!
The video is from Congolese club TP Mazembe Englebert’s 2-1 African Confederations Cup win away to Cameroon’s Astres Douala last month.

I understand what the goal scorer is doing. Simple stuff.

But what is the goalie doing????

Monday, November 19, 2007

2010 World Cup Comes Into Focus

We're 933 days from the opening game of the 2010 World Cup. The Finals inch closer and closer.

The footballing world is already abuzz with excitement as we head to November 25, 2007, the day Durban, South Africa hosts the draw for the 2010 World Cup qualifying ties and groups.

The ceremony, which includes a section of typical African entertainment, will feature the draw to determine the pairings and groups for the 2010 World Cup preliminary competition. Exempt from the draw are South America, whose qualifiers are already underway in a home-and-away league format, and Oceania, whose preliminary competition began with the South Pacific Games in August 2007. The draw will commence with the Asian zone, followed by CONCACAF, Europe and finally Africa. The results can also be followed live on

Dr Danny Jordaan, the Chief Executive of South Africa's Local Organizing Committee, is very enthusiastic: "As the first official associated event of the 2010 FIFA World Cup, the preliminary draw is of paramount importance to us at the organizing committee. We have a unique opportunity to demonstrate our ability to organize a world-class event to an expectant local, continental and international community. We've worked tirelessly for months on end to ensure all is in place for this special occasion and we are confident that all visitors to our country will revel in our uniquely African hospitality."

Some of Africa's finest musical talent will be performing at what promises to be a highly energetic and dynamic Preliminary Draw show at the Durban International Convention Centre. The theme is 'Africa is the theatre, South Africa is the stage,' and that has been reflected in the artists chosen to perform. According to Lesley Sedibe, the architect of the Preliminary Draw Show, it will be "infused with color and texture" and even the draw pots will be African-themed.

Jordaan added: "It is important to express in a concrete way, what we mean when we say it is an African World Cup, but it is also an excellent World Cup and every aspect must suggest that."

The Preliminary Draw, the first official FIFA event for the 2010 World Cup on African soil, will be watched by a global audience of millions across the world.

Arguably the most recognizable music will be excerpts from the world-famous Disney musical, The Lion King, which this week celebrated its tenth anniversary on Broadway.

One of Nelson Mandela's favorite groups, the internationally-renowned Soweto String Quartet, whose music is a fusion of the dance rhythms of local kwela, mbaqanga and swaying African jazz will also be part of the festivities, as will MTV Music Award winners Freshlyground, one of the country's most successful bands.

Judith Sephuma, whose debut, platinum album 'A Cry, A Smile, A Dance' was released in 2001 and won several awards, will also be part of the show's line-up, along with three of South Africa's finest voices, the Afrotenors - Africa's answer to the Three Tenors

And last, but by no means least, one of Africa's most celebrated artists, Senegal's Yousssou N'Dour, will add his distinctive West African flavor to the draw. N'Dour, who performed the Official Song for the 1998 FIFA World Cup will become the first man to appear at a FIFA World Cup Final and a Preliminary Draw when he takes to the stage.

The draw itself will be conducted by FIFA General Secretary Jerome Valcke, who will be able to count on such famous names as South African legends Kaizer Motaung, Jomo Sono and Lucas Radebe as well as Ali Daei (Iran), George Weah (Liberia), Abedi Pele Ayew (Ghana), Kasey Keller (USA), former French World Cup winner, Christian Karembeu and Marcel Desailly (France) as his assistants.

I wish I could go! Thanks to for the information presented in this article. It sounds like a wonderful event and a great way to kick off the countdown to the 2010 Cup.

It's almost here, folks!

Nigeria Cup of Nations Plan to Affect English Clubs

English Premier League clubs will not be too happy with Nigeria's plans ahead of January's African Cup of Nations.

Nigeria plans to call up their players a full two weeks before the African Cup of Nations begins in January. This will affect several English Premier League clubs.

Those set to lose their African stars for up to six weeks include Newcastle United, Portsmouth, Chelsea, Manchester City, Sunderland, Everton and Wigan Athletic.

Nigeria's team manager, Berti Vogts, announced his plans and made it clear that attending the training camp will not be optional for players, but mandatory.

Former Scotland boss Vogts, a World Cup winner as a player with (West) Germany, told the Liverpool Echo: "That is the way that things have to be and there will be no exceptions.

"There will be a two-week training camp and all the players will be there.

"They will not be allowed to arrive later."

The Premiership players likely to be called up for the Nigeria squad are: Joseph Yobo, Victor Anichebe and Yakubu Aiyegbeni (Everton), Kelvin Etuhu (Manchester City), Dickson Etuhu (Sunderland), Nwankwo Kanu and John Utaka (Portsmouth), Obafemi Martins and Celestine Babayaro (Newcastle United) and Julius Aghahowa (Wigan Athletic).

The Cup of Nations is a great boon to Africa. But it affects all the major football leagues. When will the governing body of African football see fit to move the Cup to a more appropriate month? Will there come a time when clubs don't allow players to suit up for their countries? It's a very interesting club vs. country debate that isn't going away any time soon.