Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Best African Players & A Comment About Censorship

A few days ago I posted about the greatest African player ever. A post like this gets noticed and many people commented with their opinion.

I also managed to get readers from the Big Soccer forum and Xtratime.com community.

Here, I share some of the best comments.

Reader Chxta said: 'As with most things African, this is a topic that would be quite controversial, for example a lot of the titles won by Egyptian clubs have always been hotly debated.

For me it is a straight fight between Milla, Hassan and Kanu.

Milla shone on the world stage, but never got to the pinnacle of club football.

Kanu has shone on the world stage, but arguably in youth competitions (Olympics for example), however truth be told is that he is, the most decorated player in the English Premiership at the moment, and the most decorated African player ever. However, he hasn't even scored a Nations Cup goal much less win the tournament.

I'd probably give it to Hassan on the strength of the impact he had on his country's game.'

BigSoccer poster Cazlon said: 'Unfortunately there is little point in a ranking like this.

Who outside of their respective country still knows about Abdul Razak, Thomas N'Kono, or even the legendary Kalusha Bwalya ?

European/American tabloids don't, certainly not if you limit the selection to the last decade.

Fair enough.

Xtratime reader Andy Christ said: 'It's between Weah and Eto'o and the Cameroonian will probably edge it after another 3-4 good seasons. Drogba might also come close to Weah's legend if he stays in the form he showed last season. Kanu and Okocha have never been world class and Milla never did enough in Europe. Hassan is somebody who is an unknown factor outside Africa but I doubt if that many Africans outside Egypt seriously rate him above Weah or Eto'o.

He may be right. Only time can tell.

The issue isn't settled and only time will tell who really is the greatest African player ever. Kanu? Milla? Eto'o in a few years? Or someone unknown to the masses, as Cazlon pointed out? Let the debate continue.

A few days ago, we posted a story about censorship and FIFA's attempts to discourage use of their brand. We noted the case of Anton Vosloo, who ran the wildly successful www.2010-soccer-worldcup.com. FIFA ordered it shut and the site was closed within days.

This comment comes in from Anton Vosloo himself: 'They said the actual domain name was the problem and not so much the content. There are already much more than 7 sites out there.I think it was more the group of us that had a high page rank on google. My site was a free directory for travel related sites in Southern Afica.

I think it's sad that FIFA has come to this, but maybe they're right? Maybe they do need to protect their assets? What do you think?

Read the article and the posted link in the article to learn more about this story.

Kudos to the Iraqi soccer team on their Asian Cup victory. Once again, football uplifts and transforms a nation. The power of a ball. It's incredible ...

Friday, July 27, 2007

2010 Political Cartoons

I found these political cartoons on the Project 2010 website, one of our friends from South Africa actively promoting the good of the game pre-2010.

They're by an artist called Jonathan Shapiro, also known as Zapiro. He is an internationally-respected cartoonist who has won numerous top awards. His satire highlights numerous social issues in South Africa and around the world. Zapiro has been a keen follower of the football scene since before South Africa won the games. Check out these insightful political cartoons.

'Best Feet Forward' - Drogba and the Ivorian Civil War

As the latest Vanity Fair article on the Ivory Coast and Didier Drogba suggests, football can heal a wounded nation.

Drogba and his compatriots are the subjects of a massive article in the American magazine of culture, fashion, and politics about their latest African Cup of Nations qualifier against Madagascar.

It's the latest in a line of articles depicting Drogba and mates as a soothing tonic to the national problems in the Ivory Coast, which is battling a civil war.

As author Austin Merrill points out in the article, '... victory, per se, wasn't so much the point. You didn't have to look hard to see that there was much more at stake than just a soccer match. On this day, the Beautiful Game had reunited a country. ... To everyone in the stadium, and to millions of others across Ivory Coast, Didier Drogba had just ended his country's civil war.'

Big words for a big player. Take the time to read the article about the healing power of the Beautiful Game. It's well worth your time.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Road to 2010 to Shut Down?

If FIFA has their way, I may have to 'suggest' I'm going to South Africa for some big event and not out-and-out say I'm off to the FIFA World Cup.

This smells of censorship ... A report in the Times of South Africa states that the world football governing body has ordered about seven websites to shut down or face legal action.

Seems FIFA said organizing the 2010 World Cup is “extremely expensive” and that its successful staging hinges on the significant financial investment from their sponsors and licensees.

David Murray, FIFA’s senior legal counsel, defended the ultimatum to the websites saying the sites could cause the public to believe their firms provided “this official service ... which is not the case”.

In a letter to Anton Vosloo, who ran the wildly successful www.2010-soccer-worldcup.com, Murray said: “We appreciate that you may not have been aware that companies such as yours, which do not have a formal licence to Fifa, cannot use the infringing signs. For this reason, we are writing to explain this to you and to politely request that you immediately refrain from using the domain name and the infringing signs.”

Vosloo shut down his site within days.

So what's the big deal if some people write about the upcoming games?

Maybe I'm not getting this. Anyone care to interject?

You can read the entire article here. Let me know what you think ...

Turmoil in Iraq

Let's hope nothing like this happens in Africa during the 2010 Finals.

A day of joy and jubilation was marred by violence, as extremists used the Iraqi's march to the Asian Cup Finals to propagate their agenda.

This report comes to us from the Associated Press. The pictures are courtesy of the New York Times.

'BAGHDAD (AP) -- Two suicide car bombings struck soccer fans in Baghdad as they were celebrating Iraq's victory in the Asian Cup semifinal on Wednesday, killing at least 50 people and wounding more than 100, officials said.

The victims were among the thousands of revelers who took to the streets of the capital after the country's national soccer team beat South Korea to reach the tournament's final against Saudi Arabia on Sunday in Jakarta, Indonesia.

The first attack took place about 6:30 p.m. when a bomber exploded in a crowd of people cheering near a well-known ice cream parlor in Baghdad's western neighborhood of Mansour, according to police and hospital officials. At least 30 people were killed and 75 were wounded, an Interior Ministry official said.

Another suicide car bomber detonated his payload about 45 minutes later in the midst of dozens of vehicles filled with revelers near an Iraqi army checkpoint in the eastern district of Ghadeer, killing at least 20 people, including two soldiers, and wounding 61, according to the ministry official.

All the officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release information.

The second attack occurred as Iraqis of all ages were packed on top of cars, pickups and minibuses, waving Iraqi flags and shirts, while others danced in the streets near the checkpoint. Men put towels over their heads or sprayed cars with water for relief in the hot summer weather.

Thousands of fans also gathered in the central district of Karradah to celebrate, dancing, beating drums and chanting ''Iraq, Iraq.'' Elsewhere in city, traffic snarled as cars, Iraqi flags flying from their windows, moved slowly amid hundreds of fans. Motorists honked their horns.

The successful run in the Asian Cup has been a cause of much joy in this wartorn country, with Iraqis saying the mixed makeup of the team showed the country's rival ethnic and religious factions can unite despite years of sectarian violence.

Preliminary police reports said one person was also killed and 17 wounded by celebratory gunfire.

More than an hour after Iraqi goalkeeper Noor Sabri made the crucial save to win the match, gunfire could still be heard in many parts of the capital.

State television broadcast a warning from the Iraqi military urging residents not to engage in celebratory gunfire. But the warning appeared to have been ignored.

Five people were killed in the celebratory gunfire that followed Iraq's win over Vietnam in a quarterfinal match played in Bangkok, Thailand, on Sunday. But no other violence was reported in those celebrations.

Iraq and South Korea played to a scoreless draw through 90 minutes of regulation time and 30 minutes of extra time in the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur. But Iraq won a penalty shootout 4-3 to advance to Sunday's final in Jakarta.'

Iraq in Asian Cup Final Update

It's Iraq-Saudi Arabia after the Saudi's 3-2 victory over two-time defending champions Japan.

The tournament final will be played on Sunday in Jakarta. It will be Iraq’s first-ever trip to the Asian Cup championship game. The Saudis won it in 1984, 1988 and 1996.

According to the Associated Press, 'Heavy celebratory gunfire rang out across the Iraqi capital and thousands of fans gathered in the central Baghdad district of Karradah to celebrate by dancing, beating drums and chanting ‘Iraq, Iraq.’ Elsewhere in the city, traffic snarled as drivers honked their horns — Iraqi flags flying from their windows — amid hundreds of fans.'

After the final penalty kick was taken, AFP reported, 'Iraqi players rushed to their supporters to grab national flags as other players wept with joy when the realisation hit that they had won.'

Iraq coach Jorvan Vieira said: “This victory is for the people of Iraq because they deserve it. It also also for the boys because they worked very, very hard. … Korea are a good team and I thought we neutralised them well. We were better than Korea on the fitness side. Is is a game that we will never forget.”

Unfortunately, according to Reuters, 'A car bomb exploded near a group of soccer fans celebrating Iraq's Asian Cup victory over South Korea on Wednesday, killing 10 people and wounding 20, police in Baghdad said.

Police said the blast took place in the capital's western Mansour district. One police source said the bomb was placed in a parked car.
A second source said the blast was caused by a suicide bomber.'

Iraq in Asian Cup Final

An update on the Iraqi national team playing in the Asian Cup.

Jubilation for Iraq today as they advanced to the Asian Cup Final virtue of their penalty-shootout victory over South Korea, 0-0 and 4-3 on penalties.

Congratulations to the Iraqis on their spectacular run to the Final. They'll play the winner of the Saudi Arabia-Japan game, which is being played now.

For more on the game, read the Guardian Unlimited's report here.

According to the New York Times, 'In South Korea, the defeat will be overshadowed by news of the killing in Afghanistan of a South Korean held hostage by Taliban extremists. In Iraq, recent victories of the national team have been met with spontaneous street celebrations, although a penalty-kick victory in the quarterfinal over Vietnam was marred by the deaths in Baghdad of at least two Iraqis by stray gunfire, after celebrants fired weapons into the air.'

Monday, July 23, 2007

South African Crime Could Hurt 2010 Attendance

We recently discussed the state of the police force in South Africa. The country expects upwards of 360,000 foreigners to attend the month-long 2010 World Cup.

Police have said that there will be about 20% more police officers in uniform for the World Cup. Unfortunately, that's not enough as it's anticipated that fear of crime may be keeping more than 22 million tourists from visiting South Africa. The high levels of crime could also deter foreign investment in Africa's biggest economy and derail its chances of hosting a successful World Cup.

Although considered one of the most desirable destinations for tourists because of its natural beauty and luxury resorts, South Africa has battled to reassure visitors they will be safe from criminals in its cities, at the seaside and in game parks, especially during the World Cup.

The country has one of the world's worst murder rates, and its incidence of rapes, carjackings and assaults also are extremely high, with some of the most violent types of crime rising last year despite efforts to beef up police forces.

In a speech in Cape Town, Tourism Minister Marthinus Van Schalkwyk said 2005 research by SA Tourism, which promotes South Africa internationally, showed more than 22 million people overseas were afraid to visit due to crime, SAPA news agency reported.

"Crime is, therefore, an issue we as industry have to deal with if we want to reach our target of 10 million arrivals by 2010," Van Schalkwyk was quoted as saying at the National Conference of the Southern African Association the Conference Industry.

Football in Iraq

Iraq isn't in Africa, but it's pretty close.

Iraq's national team is currently playing in the Asian Cup, the continent's version of the African Cup of Nations. And they're doing pretty good, defeating Vietnam 2-0 on Saturday to reach the semi-finals. Pretty heady stuff considering their situation back home.

Iraq's play sparked a terrific article by 'The Grey Lady', The New York Times this Saturday. The article is by Ahmad Fadam and Alissa J. Rubin.

BAGHDAD, July 20 — Even on the hottest summer afternoons when men doze in doorways and children cry from heat rashes, the dusty tracts along the Tigris and the littered wastelands in poor neighborhoods are a welter of activity as young men gather for soccer, the one unifier left in this tortured society.

Iraq is soccer crazy, and despite mortars, bombings and shootings that are sometimes aimed at amateur teams in Baghdad and Ramadi in western Iraq, it remains the national game. While the young play, older men and children gather to watch and women who are walking by steal glances from under their long, black veils.

Excitement reached new heights this week when the Iraqi team advanced to the quarterfinals of the Asian Cup after beating Australia and tying its matches with Thailand and the sultanate of Oman. The team plays its first quarterfinal game on Saturday against Vietnam.

“During the two hours of game time, I live in another world,” said Nawfal Hameed, an electric appliance shop owner. “I forget about the car bombs and feel human again, and what is more beautiful is that the team includes all sects — they are all Iraqis to us and they make me feel that we are united again.”

Mr. Hameed, now in his 40s, is a soccer fan from his youngest days and remembers going to the stadium to support his favorite team. “We used to go hours ahead of time and take all the food and water we needed,” he said. “We even became good friends with other football fans, friendships that have lasted until now.”

This week one reporter heard a barrage of bullets from the Iraqi Army checkpoint on his street; fearful that a gunfight had started, he whisked his children to the innermost room of the house. After 15 minutes the shooting stopped and he tentatively emerged.

“Iraq won, Iraq won,” one soldier shouted in jubilation. The other replied, “They play the best football,” as he brandished his AK-47 rifle.

For Iraqis the success of the soccer team — a 22-member squad with Sunni Arabs, Shiites and Kurds — evokes the old days, a time before sectarianism began to tear the country apart. It offers a moment of national pride and fosters the hope that the country, like the team, can look beyond its differences.

“The Iraqi team is the only thing that is uniting us now,” said Haiydar Adnan, 29, a Shiite. “When the Iraqi team wins a game, the people in Karkh, who are Sunnis, get happy, the people in Rusafa, who are Shiites, get happy.”

“I hope that the Iraqi politicians would look at these simple football players who managed to unite the Iraqi people and learn from them,” Mr. Adnan said.

Not only does the team bring together ethnic and sectarian groups (under a Brazilian coach), it is also free of the abuse that sports teams suffered under a son of President Saddam Hussein, Uday, who was the head of the soccer federation. That is another encouragement to Iraqis that they can win out of skill, and not out of fear.

“In the past, the Iraqi players used to play because they were afraid of Uday, but now they play out of pride, they play for their country,” Mr. Adnan said.

It is not so easy now to watch the national team at play. In Baghdad, electricity is available for only an hour or two a day, so watching at home, unless the family has access to a generator, is not an option. People used to go to cafes where free tea and soft drinks were handed out by the cafe owners. Now many are afraid to go outdoors.

Abu Hussain, a 52-year-old Shiite, said: “I don’t like football, but I like to watch the Iraqi football team play. I feel proud when I see the beautiful Iraqi flag rising in another country.”

Friday, July 20, 2007

Greatest African Player Ever?

The wonderful football magazine World Soccer has their annual summer issue out and this year they deal with 'The Greatest': the best teams, goals, matches and players of all-time.

In the issue, they briefly touch on who they believe is the best African player of all-time. I've stated before that the distinction might fall to one of three men: Kanu, George Weah and Jay-Jay Okocha. Some others who undoubtedly come up are Samuel Eto'o, Roger Milla, El-Hadji Diouf and Abedi Pele. But I'm a neophyte when it comes to African soccer, so let's see what the experts have to say:

With 170 caps for Egypt, Hossam Hassan is arguably Africa's greatest player. He's certainly the greatest African never to have played outside the continent. Still playing at the age of 40, Hassan has amassed an impressive array of titles, including three African Nations Cups (1986, 1998 & 2006), the African Champions League and 11 Egyptian championships. He became the world's most capped player in 2001 when overtaking Lothar Matthaus's mark of 150, but has since seen Claudio Suarez and Mohamed Al-Deayea overtake him.

He certainly boasts amazing credentials. He currently plays for Al-Itthad Al-Iskandary, one of the biggest soccer clubs in Egypt.

So is he the greatest player ever from Africa? Is he the man people agree is the best African footballer ever?

Let's open the floor for some debate.
Who do you think is the Greatest African Player of All-Time?

Liberian Players Adopted by American Fans

This story is just too good to pass up.

It's from the BBC and it concerns Liberian champions Mighty Barrolle. They've won the Liberian championship twice in the last three years, but have found it difficult to reward their players for their success and have watched as other clubs pinched their roster.

But not to fear. A branch of the club's supporters in New Jersey have stepped to bring a ray of hope. A Trenton, New Jersey supporter's club, made up of some former players and officials, has asked its members to help pay the players monthly salary of around $20.

"We felt that if each member 'adopted' a player and commited to paying this amount monthly, this could help alleviate some of the financial burden on the administration," Zoegar Wilson, the fan club's president told BBC Sport.

"To date we have 49 people signed up, including two from Rhode Island, two from Baltimore and one from Massachusetts."

Wilson, a former goalkeeper for Barrolle in the 1980's, added: "For now this is just one way to help but for a long term we need to come up with other programs that will help the team."

The 'adopt-a-player' idea was conceived when Barrolle's president Garmondeh Karngar explained the club's cash problems to the fans while on a recent visit to the USA.

Some of the fans see their contribution as way of paying the club back for providing them with an education and livelihood in the 1970s and 1980s when Barrolle were financially solvent.

It is not the first time that fans have helped the club out. Two years ago they sent four sets of playing kits and other equipment to Liberia and also provided Christmas bonuses for the players last year.

This year the fans paid for Barrolle's registration in the African Champions League and helped underwrite the cost of the team's trip to neighboring Ivory Coast to play in the opening round of the competition.

If you're interested in helping out their efforts, here is a website dedicated to the 'adopt a player' movement. Click here!

This is truly incredible. Now if I could do the same for Valencia and help them sign some new players ...

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Madiba's Birthday and African Champions League

The stars of football past & present congregated in Cape Town Wednesday to mark statesman Nelson Mandela’s 89th birthday. A celebrity World XI drew 3-3 with an equally high-profile African squad at the Newlands Stadium, with players’ ages ranging from the mid-20s to almost 50.

The stars traveled from all over the world to display their creaky but technically enviable skills in a match to celebrate the life of Mandela, South Africa’s first black president and Nobel peace prize laureate.

The match theme was “Say No to Racism”, key among Mandela’s causes, as the African team wore white and their opponents black.

To read more about this match and see who played (among the participants were Pele, Samuel Eto'o, Ruud Gullit and Ivan Zamorano), please read the South African Times article here.

The African Champions League gets underway again tomorrow and holders Al Ahly of Egypt, the strongest team of the tournament and favorite to win, look to creep ever closer to a semifinal berth.

The Egyptians giants, who are chasing an unprecedented third successive Champions League title, host Tunisia's Esperance in Cairo and are hoping to take advantage of a club in crisis.

Ahly's opponents begin their third match of the league phase with a third successive coach, Arbi Zouaoui, brought in after the surprise departure of Fawzi Benzarti last week.

Benzarti had himself been appointed only two weeks earlier when Frenchman Jackie Duguperoux got off to a slow start in the Group B campaign last month and was promptly dismissed.

Esperance have also suspended their captain and veteran defender Moyin Chaabani for disciplinary reasons.

Ahly go into the game with two wins and, if they maintain their 100 percent record, they will take themselves to within touching distance of the semi-finals.

The top two teams in the two groups advance to the semis - Al Hilal of Sudan host Asec Mimosas in the group's other game on July 22.

The Sudanese looked convincing in a 2-0 win over Esperance two weeks ago while Asec lost their last game at home to Ahly and have just a single point.

Another defeat could end any realistic hopes for the Ivory Coast champions.

In Group A, Morocco's FAR Rabat desperately need a win against Al Ittihad of Libya to stand any chance of progress after losing their opening two matches.

"The losses have complicated our chances and handed us an arduous mission, so we have no alterative but to win," declared coach Mustapha Madih.

Etoile du Sahel of Tunisia host JS Kabylie in Sousse, also July 21, with a chance to take control of the group.

The Tunisians have been runners-up in two of the last three editions of the Champions League but never won Africa's top club prize.

Monday, July 16, 2007

South African Police Not Up to Par

South Africa dreams of a strong police presence in the months leading up to the 2010 World Cup.

The country's staggering crime rate has been a contentious point for not having the Finals there. This, from Wikipedia:

According to a survey for the period 1998–2000 compiled by the United Nations, South Africa was ranked second for assault and murder (by all means) per capita, in addition to being ranked second for rape and first for rapes per capita. Total crime per capita is tenth out of the sixty countries in the data set. Nevertheless, crime has had a pronounced effect on society: many wealthier South Africans move into gated communities, abandoning the central business districts of some cities for the relative security of suburbs. This effect is most pronounced in Johannesburg, although the trend is noticeable in other cities as well. Many emigrants from South Africa also state that crime was a big motivator for them to leave.

South Africa has vowed to clean up their house by growing the police force. The government hopes to dispel their crime-riddled image and make the anticipated throngs of visitors from around the world feel safe.

That's why today's news from South Africa is so disheartening. According to news reports, just 500 of 15,000 applicants are qualified for jobs as Johannesburg police officers.

According to the article, police spokesperson Wayne Minnaar says applicants undergo literacy and numeracy proficiency assessments before being interviewed.

Once OKed, the applicants undergo a six-month basic training course. Then there's six more months in the field.

"The training includes criminal procedures, ethics, evidence procedures, fire arm skills, basic first aid, accident recording and advanced driver training."

They will then be trained in the field and will learn to open dockets, take fingerprints and witness statements.

"We hope to have a strong force by the time of the World Cup," he said.

The government better hurry up. The new officers need to be out in the field now - working. Hopefully this situation can be resolved in the coming months.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Road to 2014 World Cup Begins Oct. 29

FIFA, world football's governing body, is expected to announce the site of the 2014 World Cup October 29th.

Brazil is widely expected to be named the hosts.
Considering they're the only country in the running, I'd say their shot at winning selection is pretty good ...

FIFA is trying to introduce a rotation policy to hosting the World Cup between the 6 regional confederations.

In 2006, the Cup came to UEFA (the European governing body, which stands for Union of European Football Associations) and Germany.

In 2010 to CAF (Confederation of African Football) and South Africa. Now comes South America's turn, with CONMEBOL (CONfederación SudaMEricana de FútBOL) putting in Brazil's bid.

Mind you, Brazil has been told by FIFA that it must still meet the necessary technical requirements and provide sufficient government guarantees. So it's no shoe-in. FIFA president Sepp Blatter said in March that the World Cup could still be moved to another continent if Brazil failed to mount a convincing bid.

The World Cup has not been staged in South America since Argentina hosted and won the trophy in 1978.

Brazil has hosted the World Cup once before, in 1950.
That tournament ended in heartbreak for the Brazilians, when Uruguay beat them 2-1 in the Maracanã in Rio de Janeiro to become world champions.

This game is one of the most painful memories for Brazilians to remember. It's been dissected and talked about ad nauseum by journalists, philosophers and prominent thinkers of the day.

As Alex Bellos, author of the wonderful book, Futebol: The Brazilian Way of Life
says, 'The 1950 World Cup final has been discussed, analysed and interpreted so many times, by so many people and for so long that it has ceased to be a game of football and is instead a weave of mythical narratives.'

Or as prominent Brazilian writer Nelson Rodrigues said, 'Everywhere has its irremediable national catastrophe, something like a Hiroshima. Our catastrophe, our Hiroshima, was the defeat by Uruguay in 1950.'

Not even this week's victory over Uruguay in the Copa America semifinals will remediate this pain.

Read this excerpt from Futebol for more on this classic game.

A Key Test for South Africa & Nigeria Advances

Football stars past and present will be on hand in Cape Town, South Africa next Wednesday for the "90 Minutes for Mandela" match to be played in honor of the great Nelson Mandela's 89th birthday.

The match will feature an African XI tackling a World XI and feature the likes of former South African captain Lucas Radebe, three-time African footballer of the year Samuel Eto'o, former European player of the year Ruud Gullit, and former Spanish star Emilio Butragueno (also known as "The Vulture"). Also on hand will be quite possibly the greatest player of all time, Pele.

2010 World Cup Chief Organizer Danny Jordaan said next week's match in Cape Town is a 'key test' for the city ahead of the World Cup.

Jordaan was addressing the media regarding the match. ‘As we move towards preparing for and hosting the 2010 FIFA World Cup, we celebrate Madiba's (Mandela's nickname) birthday in recognition of his personal contribution and sacrifices to help South Africa and the African continent host its first World Cup.'

Let's hope the game goes off without a hitch. According to reports, only 10,000 tickets out of 50,000 have been sold. If you're in Cape Town, get to the stadium!! It's for a good cause (proceeds from the game will go to programs which use soccer to develop educational, health and social programmes among the young), it's in honor of one of humanity's greatest gifts (Nelson Mandela) and Pele will be there!

Just look at these lineups, courtesy of the BBC:

Africa XI

Coaches: Jean Manga (CMR) Jomo Sono (RSA)

Goalkeepers: Badou Zaki (MOR) Jacques Songo'o (CMR)

Defenders: Austin Eguavoen (NGA) Mark Fish (RSA) Stephen Keshi (NGA) Doctor Khumalo (RSA) David Obua (UGA) Stephen Tataw (CMR) Okechukwu Uche (NGA)

Midfielders/Attackers: Abedi Pele (GHA) Daniel Amokachi (NGA) Kalusha Bwalya (ZAM) Samuel Eto'o (CMR) Hossam Hassan (EGY) Lomana LuaLua (DRC) Rabah Madjer (ALG) Pedro Mantorras (ANG) Phil Masinga (RSA) François Oman Biyik (CMR) Dennis Oliech (KEN) Samson Siasia (NGA) George Weah (LBR)

Team colours: White/White/White

Rest of the World XI

Coaches: Roy Hodgson (ENG) (current Finland coach) Claude Le Roy (FRA) (current Ghana coach)

Goalkeeper: Andoni Zubizaretta (ESP)

Defenders: Zoubaier Baya (TUN) Christian Karembeu (FRA) Gary Mabbutt (ENG) Patrick M'Boma (CMR) Santos Muntubile (DRC) Lucas Radebe (RSA)

Midfielders/Attackers: Ali Daei (IRN) Emilio Butragueno (ESP) Stéphane Chapuisat (SUI) Youssouf Fofana (FRA/CIV) Julen Guerrero (ESP) Ruud Gullit (NED) Joo Sung Kim (KOR) Leonardo Nascimento de Araujo (BRA) Pele (BRA) Fernando Redondo (ARG) Wynton Rufer (NZL) Iván Zamorano (CHI)

Team colours: Black/Black/Black

Kudos to the Nigerian U-20's, who successfully made their way to the quarterfinals of the Under-20 World Cup by defeating fellow continent mates Zambia, 2-1.
The eagerly-anticipated all-African showdown in Ottawa, Canada did not take long to get going.

Nigeria, runners-up at Netherlands 2005, struck the first blow after just three minutes, a powerful header from Uwa Echiejile doing the damage.

Zambia, meanwhile, appeared somewhat out of their depth, keeper Jacob Banda having to be at his agile best to prevent the Flying Eagles extending their lead.

However, a moment's indecision in the Nigerian backline let in Emmanuel Mayuka, who crossed for Rodgers Kola to level the game on the 33-minute mark.

The stormy conditions that had plagued the first half eased after the interval, the sun finally emerging from behind the clouds.

And with it came the decisive goal, Chukwuma Akabueze powering home a strike on 57 minutes worthy of winning any game. 'I'm very happy to have scored. I'm always trying to catch keepers out from distance, but it hadn't worked for me until now. We want to win the title,' said Akabueze, pictured celebrating.

The scoreline would stay that way, despite the host of clear-cut chances that fell to both sides before the 90 minutes were up.

Next up for the Flying Eagles is a trip to Montreal, where they will face Chile in the quarter-finals.

The Copper Bullets, for their part, can make the long journey back to Lusaka with their heads held high.

Meanwhile, Congo are also heading home following their 3-0 defeat at the hands of Mexico in the other game on Thursday.

Nigeria is the lone African representative. Go on, lads!

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Beckham and Ghana's U-20's

'Tomorrow in Los Angeles, the U.S. mainstream world is going to be introduced to the biggest soccer star to come to America since Pele in the 1970s when David Beckham is announced as a new member of the Galaxy in Major League Soccer.'

So says Orlando Sentinel journalist Brant Parsons concerning the move of football's most recognizable player to the United States.

This blog doesn't deal with American issues too often, but this story is huge and deals specifically with the burgeoning football market in the United States.

Beckham's move is huge and I've dealt with the issues and complications of it in previous posts.

What's intriguing to me as far as this blog goes is the mainstream coverage of soccer in the States.

You don't see anything about the sport most days. 'Copa America semifinals? What's that? Champions League? Who?'

But Beckham's arrival is front-page news. It could be the shove America needs to make football a mainstream sport as this article suggests.

Let's hope so. The article makes some valid points and is an interesting read.
The only thing we can do is wait and see. The American sporting public is quite fickle. Once they figure out Beckham is not a scoring machine, the backlash to 'that boring sport' could be brutal.

The first African representative to play in the Under-20 World Cup has crashed out. Gambia's 'Young Scorpions' were beaten by Austria 2-1 last night in Edmonton.

Substitute Erwin Hoffer scored the late match-winner to put the Europeans through to the quarter-finals.

Gambia's fortunes in its debut tournament took a blow when midfielder Tijan Jaiteh was sent off for a second yellow card in the 43rd minute.

Two minutes later, Austria scored when the free kick was headed in by Sebastian Proedl.

Austria will now go on to meet the United States, who beat Uruguay 2-1 in extra time to progress to the quarterfinals on Wednesday.

The Czech Republic and Spain have also qualified for the quarter-finals.

Africa's hopes now lie with Zambia, Nigeria and Congo.

Zambia play Nigeria this afternoon while Congo meets Mexico tonight.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

3 Years to Go!!

Three years to go ... three years to the day of the 2010 World Cup Final. (Above, Italy winning the 2006 Final.)

How will I make it?
How far am I willing to go to make this a reality?
What kinds of people will I meet? What sorts of stories will I have to tell?
Who knows? Questions that I can't answer at the moment.

Instead of pounding you over the head with mushy personal tales, let's hit you with some cold hard facts from our friends at Project 2010, whose slogan is 'Preparing South Africa for the World'. They're an SA-based company with a load of information about the World Cup. You could spend hours there.

From them, a fact sheet about the 2010 World Cup.
See ya in three years! Predictions? On July 11, 2010 we'll be watching Brazil defeating Germany in the Final game ... you heard it here first! (Who knows? Maybe Italy-Cameroon in the Final? Would be nice ...)

When will the World Cup be held?

It will be staged between June 11 and July 11, 2010.

Where will the World Cup games be held?

In Bloemfontein, Cape Town, Durban, Johannesburg, Nelspruit, Pretoria, Polokwane, Port Elizabeth and Rustenburg

Where will the opening match and final match be played?

Soccer City in Johannesburg is expected to host both these fixtures.

When will tickets sales open?

February 2009.

What is a ticket going to cost?

Preliminary ticket prices are expected to range from R280 ($45) to R5 000 ($800) for the opening match, R140 to R1 500 for group matches, R280 to R2 300 for the last 16 matches, R350 to R3 000 for the quarterfinals, R400 to R5 000 for the semifinals, R350 to R2 300 for the third and fourth play-off and R630 ($100) to R7 500 ($1200) for the final.

How will tickets be distributed?

Tickets will be delivered via the officially appointed 2010 Fifa World Cup courier or made available for collection at pre-defined ticket pick-up points. This will happen as late as possible to reduce the possibility of counterfeiting as much as possible.

Where will I be able to watch the games if I can't get a ticket?

Matches will be broadcast globally on television and radio. There will also be several fan parks set up around the country.

What are the key dates for events linked to the World Cup?

Preliminary team draw (23 Nov 2007), World Press Day (24 Nov 2007) FIFA
Confederations Cup, South Africa (14 - 27 June 2009), Final Draw (Dec 2009),Team workshop (Feb/Mar 2010), Referee Workshop (Feb/Mar 2010)

Monday, July 9, 2007

Mozambique Update and the Under-20's Shine

An update on our post of a few days back about Mozambique and their statewide development ahead of the 2010 World Cup.

Reuters is reporting that the World Bank agreed on Monday to give Mozambique $100 million in credit to help upgrade its road network, most of which was damaged and neglected during a 17-year civil war that ended in 1992.

Mozambique's government sees road and bridge construction and modernization as key to boost economic growth in the southern African nation, which relies on agriculture and tourism for the bulk of its foreign exchange earnings.

Improved roads could allow Mozambique to lure foreign tourists who visit neighboring South Africa for the 2010 soccer World Cup. Mozambique's capital Maputo is a few hours drive from Nelspruit, one of the host cities for the tournament.

"We have the 2010 soccer event in South Africa in just three years, therefore, roads and bridges are very important if we want to reap the benefits," Fecilio Zacarias, Mozambique's minister of public works, told Reuters.

Very encouraging news for the southern African nation. We wish them well and will provide further updates as we get them.

On to other encouraging news ...
Wins for Gambia and Congo at the under-20 World Cup in Canada on Sunday secured second round places for all the four African sides in the tournament.

Gambia and Congo dramatically beat Portugal and hosts Canada 2-1 and 2-0 respectively to book their places in the last 16.

They will join Nigeria and Zambia who secured their second round place on Saturday.
Congo now advance to the last 16 to meet Mexico on Thursday while Nigeria face Zambia.

Gambia will take on Austria on Wednesday.

The talent is obviously there at the youth levels.
Why don't these results transfer to the senior international levels?
Somewhere along the line, the talent is either misused or misplaced.

Does anyone have an answer to this befuddling question?

Ultimately, the answer to this question will tell us why an African nation hasn't yet won the World Cup. There are probably a vast number of answers, from poverty to disease, from wars to social upheaval.

Still, the talent is there. If it can be harnessed efficiently, an African nation can lift the trophy sooner rather than later.

African Champions League Update

The African Champions League resumed this weekend with some group action around the continent.

Al Ahly stayed on track for a record third consecutive African Champions League title with a 1-0 victory over Ivorian side ASEC Mimosas in Abidjan on Sunday.

Ace midfielder Mohamed Aboutraika (pictured) scored after 40 minutes in the Group B second-round clash to lift the 'Red Devils' of Egypt five points clear of Asec and Tunisian side Esperance.

Success was particularly sweet for Ahly, who were lucky to lose only 2-1 at Asec in the semi-finals last year having established a two-goal first-leg lead at home.

Collecting maximum points from arguably the toughest of their six group fixtures completed a wonderful week for five-time Champions League title holders Ahly.

Last Monday they came from behind three times to pip fierce Cairo rivals Zamalek 4-3 after extra time in the Egyptian Cup final and complete a second consecutive domestic double.

Ahly made six changes from the team that left it late before overcoming Al-Hilal of Sudan 2-0 in Cairo two weeks ago in the opening round of Group B action.

Among those introduced by Portuguese coach Manuel Jose was cultured Angolan midfielder Felisberto 'Gilberto' Amaral after an 18-month injury layoff that threatened to end his football career.

Gilberto fitted neatly into an Ahly team that soaked up first-half pressure before going ahead when Aboutraika pounced on a headed pass and goalkeeper Vincent Angban stood motionless as a low shot hit the net.

French coach Patrick Liewig rang the second-half Asec changes, sending on Marc Dion, Nigerian Mutiu Adegoke and Serge Deble to bolster the attack, but veteran Ahly goalkeeper Essam al-Hadary was rarely troubled.

"We played well, there is no shame in losing to Ahly," Liewig said.

"They have much more experience than us, that is the difference. I don't want to disrepect my team, they played very well."

In Sunday's other Group B match, Al Hilal of Sudan beat Tunisia's Esperance 2-0 in Omdurman, with Nigerian import Ndubuisi Eze scoring twice.

His first was set up by compatriot Kelechi Osunwa whose dribbling outfoxed the Esperance defence before he crossed for Eze to finish on 29 minutes.

The second saw Eze burst clear of the Tunisian defenders, pushing forward in added time for an equaliser, and beat Esperance goalkeeper Hamdi Kasraoui to a loose ball.

Esperance had few chances in their first outing under new coach Faouzi Benzarti, who replaced Frenchman Jacky Dugueperoux.

He was fired after the Tunis club was held at home in the opening group match by Asec last month.

(Thanks to the BBC for this information.)

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Mozambique & The Cup, 100 Posts and 1100 Days to Go

You'll notice by the long title of this post that I've a lot to cover ... let's get to it.

- Item: Mozambique eyes World Cup tourism windfall

We all knew the World Cup would help out the country of South Africa.
What wasn't as evident was how the tournament would help out the rest of the continent.
Sure, it would instill a sense of confidence & pride.
But what about economically?

According to a report in Reuters, Mozambique, South Africa's neighbor, plans to spend $600 million on new hotels, casinos and other leisure facilities as part of an effort to capitalize on a tourism boom expected when South Africa hosts the 2010 World Cup.

The tournament reaches out and helps the entire continent of Africa ...

In an interview with Reuters on Wednesday, Albino Mahumana, Mozambique's national tourism director, said the southern African nation was hoping to lure a large number of visiting soccer fans to its famous beaches and colonial cities.

More than 300,000 tourists are expected to come to South Africa for the month-long soccer tournament, which begins on June 11, 2010.

The Mozambican capital Maputo is a few hours drive from Nelspruit, one of the nine World Cup host cities, and about six hours from Johannesburg, where the opening and final games will be played.

"We would like Mozambique to be a jewel for visitors when they come for the World Cup," Mahumana said. "Everybody else is focusing on this event, and we would like to make a major difference."

Although one of the world's poorest countries, Mozambique is experiencing an economic boom, and its government is keen to lure more tourists and foreign investors to further boost growth.

Mozambican officials predict that 2007 will be one of the best years for the country's tourism sector in decades, with the government forecasting more than a million visitors and tourism revenue of about $150 million.

Tourists generated $144 million for the former Portuguese colony in 2006, making the sector one of the largest sources of foreign exchange for the country.

Good luck to Mozambique. Their efforts will hopefully be well rewarded.

- Item: 100 Posts, 1100 Days to Go

Today marks my 100th post on this blog.

Coincidentally, tomorrow marks 1,100 days to go. 1,100 days to realize my goal and be in Jo-Burg for the World Cup Final.
So what's my status?

I've made contacts here and there, done research and certainly learned a lot about African football, which is frustrating and beautiful all at the same time.

It's a great analogy for my life at the moment, frustrating and beautiful. I haven't the time to make this blog what I'd like it to be. But the desire is there.
And free time will be coming my way very shortly.

Once that free time becomes available, I'll devour it like a cross into the box to Kanu and make sure to send the ball into the top-left corner, as hard as possible.

So, I'll say thank you to everyone whose path I've crossed in the time I've written this blog. It's amazing what writing a journal like this does. People from all over the world have been so encouraging and helpful. It amazes me and makes me so happy.

And I'll say I'm on my way. I feel the purpose of this blog is only an introduction to the wider projects I have in mind. I haven't played all my cards yet, so stay tuned. It should be an exciting, educational and interesting ride.

Isn't football great?

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Crime, Racism and Pele Returns to South Africa

Three tidbits on the world of African football from your hard-working friend at this blog, who's still wondering how he'll end up in Johannesburg for the Final.

- The crime situation in South Africa continues to be an issue as the World Cup Finals approach in three years time.

Data from the South African Police Service released on Tuesday showed murders, carjackings and bank robberies rose in South Africa in the past 12 months, dealing a blow to efforts to reduce one of the world's highest crime rates before the country hosts the Finals. The murder rate was up 2.4 percent in the 12 months ending March 31, 2007. There were 19,202 murders in that period, compared with 18,528 in the previous 12 months. Scary numbers.

The rise in certain types of violent crimes was a setback for police, who had targeted a 7 to 10 percent annual decrease for serious crimes.

South African officials noted, however, there had been a decrease in rapes, common robberies and several types of assault.

"The report on crime trends showed that crime levels in South Africa continue to drop. We are deeply concerned though that crime continues to be rife and that the crime rate continues to be high," Safety and Security Minister Charles Nqakula told a news conference after the report was released.

Africa's biggest economy is battling some of the worst crime rates in the world: some 50 people are murdered and around 150 women report being raped every day according to a report released in March by the Institute for Security Studies.

President Thabo Mbeki (above) has come under fire for playing down the problem although the government has vowed to crack down on criminals and to beef up security to stop violence from spoiling the World Cup.

The first African country to host the tournament, South Africa is expecting up to 3.5 million people to take part in the month-long event, with some 360,000 of them foreigners.

But the continent's economic powerhouse is battling perceptions it is an unsafe destination for tourists, particularly in the poor black townships on the edge of most cities.

Business leaders cite crime as one of the biggest deterrents to investment, and South Africa sent its security minister on a charm offensive in April to convince foreign investors the fight against crime is being won.

- Racism is a rampant social problem in the world of contemporary football.
Issues have recently erupted in Spain & Italy.

Cameroon and Barcelona striker Samuel Eto'o has been in the eye of the storm, almost walking off the pitch last season at Real Zaragoza after incessant monkey noises were directed at him.

Eto'o today said players should walk off the pitch if they face racist abuse.

The 26-year-old is furious with lack of action on racism.

"Promises have been made for change - for sanctions to be enforced - but the first move needs to be made and it needs to be made by those who are being subjected to racism," he said.

"Part of me hopes that one day someone will manage to walk off the pitch in protest."

With the new season in Europe fast approaching Eto'o believes the general public also have a role to play in clamping down on the problem.

Eto'o said: "If we experience this in football it means our society is rotten and that means we're in a dangerous situation.

"That's what we need to be fighting against. I think that football is a small thing, but society - just imagine!

"I am treated first and foremost as a footballer, as Samuel Eto'o, but away from the cameras a black man is suffering from racism and nobody cares.

"That's the problem."

- Pele's back! Well, sort of.

Pele is one of more than 50 players of the past and present who will play in a special match in South Africa to honor Nelson Mandela's 89th birthday.

The "90 Minutes for Mandela" match will be played on July 18th at Cape Town's Newlands Stadium and see an African team take on a Rest Of The World side.

Legendary Brazil star Pele, 66, will play and be joined by Ruud Gullit, Samuel Eto'o and Christian Karembeu.

Should be a fun one ...

Sunday, July 1, 2007

July 11, 2010 - Jo'Burg

So now I know where I'll be in approximately three years time, July 11th, 2010.

Sitting in the sun at Soccer City stadium in Johannesburg, sipping on a Castle, chatting with Zola and Desmond Tutu, watching the Final game of the madly successful African World Cup.

FIFA's executive committee let the world know Wednesday that the final game of the World Cup will be held in the legislative capital city, in the 94,700-seat stadium.

The stadium will hold the final and opening matches, five first-round matches, one second-round match and one quarter-final.

Wish me luck!!!