Thursday, March 22, 2007

Tomorrow Starts Today

South African scribe Mark Gleeson is the pre-eminent African football journalist. Where there's soccer news in Africa, he's there. I get this info straight from Simon Kuper's wonderful book on football and politics, 'Football Against The Enemy'.

If Kuper says this about Gleeson, it must be so.

So Mr. Gleeson's our eyes and ears in Africa until I get there. He posted this article about the upcoming round of qualification fixtures for the 2008 African Cup of Nations. I interject in parentheses with my comments. Enjoy!

New generation of African players to make mark

By Mark Gleeson

JOHANNESBURG, March 22 (Reuters) - A budding new generation of African footballers return to the continent this weekend to set out their stall in the latest round of qualifiers for next year's African Nations Cup finals in Ghana. (I still don't know how I'm going to watch the matches this weekend. Ideas, anyone? Eh?)

Players like Chelsea's John Obi Mikel and Salomon Kalou,
Anderlecht's Mbarak Boussoufa (pictured left, the attacking midfielder started off at the youth academy of Ajax before joining Chelsea. He recently signed a 4-year contract with Anderlecht in a 3.5 million euro transfer.)
and Steven Pienaar of Borussia Dortmund will have the opportunity to start stepping into the shoes of the continent's more experienced players. (pictured below, Pienaar previously played for Ajax in the Eredivisie after joining the Dutch squad from its South African satellite club Ajax Cape Town. He's a popular player in Germany and took over the #10 shirt worn by now-Arsenal star Tomas Rosicky. He's earned 20 caps with South Africa and played in the 2002 World Cup. He just turned 25!)

A total of 23 matches in 12 groups are scheduled for Saturday and Sunday as the campaign to fill 15 of the 16 places at the final tournament in January reaches the halfway stage. (Please read the last post to see standings and important matches in each group.)

The weekend also sees the competitive debut for 13 new national team coaches, including former World Cup winners Carlos Alberto Parreira and Berti Vogts. (Big names in big places. These guys are very important people in shaping the future of African football right now.)

Brazilian Parreira takes his South African side, where Pienaar has emerged as the new midfield kingpin, to Chad for a tricky tie in Group 11. (He's got an unorthodox approach to coaching this team. He's doing the Jurgenn-Klinsmann-coaching-from-afar method of training. It worked for Jurgenn with Germany's semifinal berth in '06. SA in '10?)

The coach admitted he was concerned about a lack of information about their unheralded opponents, who host the match in the Saharan heat of Ndjamena on Saturday. (Scouting, anyone?)

German Vogts has had less than a week to work with his new Nigerian charges as they prepare for a Group 3 tie against Uganda in Abeotuka on Saturday. They already have a handy lead in the group. (I think they'll be ok. Go ask Kenya about not having any time to prepare!)

Mikel is expected to adopt the lead in the middle, taking over the role of former captain Austin Okocha, pictured right. (Jay Jay Okocha? Is he playing in Qatar now? Arguably the best footballer to ever come out of Africa ... discuss!), with Newcastle United's Obafemi Martins and Middlesbrough striker Yakubu Aiyegbeni hoping for a regular supply line upfront. (They sound like a strong squad. After failing to qualify for Germany '06, they'll be hungry. Watch out for them next year.)

Kalou is expected to partner his Chelsea team mate Didier Drogba in attack in his first competitive international as Ivory Coast take on Madagascar in Antananarivo in Group 1. (I feel a drubbing coming on ... prediction: Ivorians 4, Madagascar 1. But 'Madagascar' was a fine film.)

Kalou, who last year was still hoping to obtain Dutch nationality to play for the Netherlands at the 2006 World Cup finals, takes the place of the injured Arouna Kone in the Ivorian attack. (What a talent Kalou is.)

Dutch-born Boussoufa, who threw his international future in with Morocco last year, takes the leading role in the absence of the injured Marouane Chamakh for their game in Zimbabwe on Sunday.

Morocco can effectively wrap up the outcome of Group 12 if they win at Harare's Rufaro stadium. (Morroco were the first African team to qualify directly to the World Cup finals, in 1970. They were the first African team to win a group at the World Cup, which they did in 1986, finishing ahead of Portugal, Poland, and England.)

Striker Issam Jomaa's (pictured, right) recent goal-scoring form for Racing Lens in Ligue 1 has seen him recalled to the Tunisian squad for what is expected to be a routine assignment in the Seychelles on Saturday. (Jomaa's not a starter at Lens, but when he comes on, he makes an impact. Scored a goal against Valenciennes February 3rd after being on the pitch a total of a minute!)

Lille's Jean Makoun (pictured, below) is the new midfield general of the Cameroon side, whose caretaker coach Jules Nyongha returns to take charge of their Group 5 game against Liberia in Yaounde on Saturday. (In April 2006, it was revealed that Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson was considering a £5 million bid for the Cameroonian. Makoun said that he would love to play for the Red Devils. Unfortunately, the deal for the 26,784th 'New Roy Keane' didn't go through as Lille demanded a large transfer fee.)

Former African Footballer of the Year Samuel Eto'o (we all know that's him, right) returns for Cameroon after missing the last qualifier in October. (Can we stop calling him 'former African footballer of the Year' now? I'm guilty of it, too. Hopefully he does better here than his recent spell at Barcelona. He'll be wearing the Chelsea blue next season. You watch.)


Thomas said...

I loved Okocha but I don't think he was as great as Weah in the 90s or Eto'o today - they'd walk into any team in the world.

J said...

Wow, you truly are a fan of hte game! Like you, I have no idea how, but I will be in South Africa in 2010. See you there.

djshoghi said...

I don't understand why you think Eto'o will be playing with Chelsea next year. I'm sure Peter Kenyon will be looking at a certain Spaniard who plays for Valencia, and no not Morientes. After this season is over Eto'o will be lifting up his 3rd Liga title in a row and will have the motivation to win the Champs League next year. At Chelsea he would be walking into a question mark. He knows if he has 2 or 3 bad games in a row the owners will be shopping around for someone else.