Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Road to 2014 World Cup: Brazil

It's official.

Football's world governing body FIFA announced today that Brazil will host the 2014 World Cup, the second time the five-time winner of the tournament will host the event.

Brazil were the only country bidding to host the finals, but their delegation went through the formality of making a 30-minute presentation to the world governing body's executive committee in Zurich earlier today, before being officially awarded the finals.

"The task was not easy - for us it was a real big challenge to have the same list of requirements and the same conditions for only one candidate than if we had two and perhaps we put the bar higher than if we had two," said FIFA President Sepp Blatter (above, showing the world the 2014 Cup hosts).

"There was an extraordinary presentation by the delegation and we witnessed that this World Cup will have such a big social and cultural impact in Brazil.

"This the country that has given to the world the best football and the best footballers, five times world champions, and if we don't stop the invasion of Brazilian footballers then in years to come we may have only Brazilians in all the national teams! That's why the executive committee has decided unanimously to give the right and the responsibility to organize the 2014 World Cup to Brazil."

Brazil now face the daunting task of building or completely refurbishing every single one of their stadium for the tournament. FIFA's inspection report has identified 18 grounds with more than 40,000 capacity that could host matches and these will be whittled down to nine or 10. However, of the 18 four would have to be built from scratch and all of the other 14 undergo substantial renovation.

FIFA inspectors said the Brazilian football federation had estimated £550m as the budget for building and renewing the grounds but that figure appears very optimistic. So basic are the facilities at the moment that most of the stadia are not even equipped for television commentary.

FIFA's inspection report noted that Brazil was "more than capable of hosting an exceptional World Cup", but added, "surprisingly, most of the stadiums are not equipped for TV commentators. In fact, many of them will use TV commentary positions for the first time thanks to the projects and the necessary FIFA requirements for staging a World Cup."

The inspectors said FIFA must maintain close links with the Brazilian organizers - and start immediately. "Brazil has a rich history of hosting sporting and other international events," added the report, "but the standards and demands of the World Cup will far surpass those of any other event staged in the history of Brazil in terms of magnitude and complexity.

"The inspection team is of the opinion that it would be important for FIFA experts to carefully review the process and progress of host city selection to ensure that adequate financing is committed and secured by the time of the deadline for the selection of the host cities and the related stadium facilities or potential stadium construction sites."

Brazil last hosted the World Cup in 1950, which produced one of the greatest upsets in the history of the sport and a world record crowd, estimated at 199,000 for the deciding match which ended with Uruguay beating the hosts Brazil 2-1 in the Maracana Stadium on July 16 to lift the Jules Rimet trophy for the second time.

Good luck to Brazil. Should make for an exciting tournament.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Sad News: FIFA Ends Rotation Policy

Mark this under 'Sad News' in my eyes.

FIFA took the easy route to riches and ended their World Cup rotation policy, which rotated the hosting of World Cups through its six continental confederations.

The rotation policy allowed countries like South Africa (2010) and Brazil (2014) the opportunity to host the competition. Now what? Will we see European countries host the event every four years? When will countries like South Africa ever have the oppotunity to host the event again? Is the World Cup bidding process to become a jumbled mess like the Olympic Games process, which is full of scandal and controversy? Sad news. Pathetic, really.

FIFA president Sepp Blatter (above, right) added that a final decision on the hosting of the 2018 event would likely be taken in 2011, with prospective bidders probably needing to signal their interest by 2009.

He said that FIFA had already learned of six possible bids.
"Besides England, there is at least one combined offer from the Netherlands and Belgium," Blatter said. "There has also been interest announced from China, Australia, Mexico and the United States."

Monday's decision opens the bidding for future World Cups up to any national association, providing they do not belong to a confederation that has hosted any of the two preceding editions.

Blatter said there would be no restriction on multiple applicants from the same continental confederation.
"We haven't done that because it is the national associations who are the bidders and they all have the right to bid," he explained.

"But definitely if there are 10 or 11 bids then we would have to make a pre-selection like they do with the Olympics."

FIFA's change of heart means that the 2018 World Cup will be open to bids from all countries except those in Africa and South America.

South Africa was the first beneficiary of the short-lived rotation policy and is set to stage the next edition of the World Cup in 2010.

Brazil is the only candidate bidding to stage the 2014 World Cup in South America and is due to have its host status rubber-stamped by the executive committee on Tuesday.

Blatter said Brazil's sole candidature had been part of his own reasons for wanting to scrap the rotation policy.
"Brazil is a very strong candidate indeed but there was something missing from its bid," Blatter said.

"The bid is beautiful, it has all the necessary guarantees and the backing of the country's governors. But competition was lacking, and football is about competition."
Brazil have won the World Cup a record five times but have only hosted the tournament once before, in 1950.

Friday, October 26, 2007

African Champions League Final

The African Champions League Final is upon us!

The first leg of the biggest continental competition in Africa takes place this Saturday, with Tunisia's Etoile du Sahel challenging defending champions Al Ahly of Egypt.

Let the battle begin!

Etoile coach Bertrand Marchand called Ahly a 'lucky' team ahead of Saturday's clash.

The two sides meet in Sousse and the Tunisians are keen to avenge defeat in the 2005 final, which Ahly won on a 3-0 aggregate.

"Ahly depend too much on luck and experience and will need more than that when facing us," Marchand said.

"The key Ahly players are midfielder Mohamed Aboutraika and striker Emad Moteab and if we stop them, they will be easily contained and we can definitely claim the trophy."

Marchand considers Al-Hilal, the Sudanese club Etoile defeated 4-3 in a two-leg semi-final thriller, a much better team than the Egyptians, who relied on an own goal to edge Al-Ittihad of Libya at the same stage.

"I watched Ahly against Ittihad and they suffered to succeed. Hilal are much better than the Egyptians," he revealed. Talk about fanning the flames ...

Aware that Etoile flopped against Ahly two years ago using overly cautious tactics home and away, Marchand vowed to unleash a three-man strike force against their opponents, who are chasing a record third consecutive Champions League title.

His likely choices are Tunisian Amine Chermiti, leading Etoile scorer in the competition this year with seven goals, three-goal Cape Verdian Gilson 'Ja' Silva and Ghanaian mid-year signing Sadat Bukari.

All are young, quick and slick, and capable of troubling an Ahly defense long on experience but short on pace when brutally exposed 3-0 away to Hilal in the mini-league phase.

"Winning the African Champions League would be a dream," Chermiti said.

"We have a solid squad and wonderful supporters and I cannot accept failure again after losing two of the previous three finals."

Etoile were pipped on penalties by Enyimba of Nigeria in the 2004 decider.

The club from the Mediterranean resort of Sousse have won every Confederation of African Football (CAF) competition except the Champions League.

They also want to end a losing streak by Tunisia in the showcase of African club football as CS Sfaxien had victory snatched from their grasp last year when Aboutraika struck a stoppage-time winner in Tunis.

Good luck to both squads and may the best team win!

Ghana is Football Crazy

A wonderful article from today's BBC concerning the football fever sweeping through Ghana ahead of next year's African Cup of Nations.

Here's a small quote from the article. For the full text, please click the link above.

In fact, so contagious is the passion for the tournament that it seems to affect everyone, even those who are not necessarily football fans.

"I hate football with every bone in my body," said Blessed, an Accra taxi driver, who vowed never to catch the Nations Cup bug.

"But I can't do anything about it because everyone around me is talking about this Africa Cup," he moaned.

Seems like not everyone is being swept up by the excitement!

I admit to being anxious to see what happens out in Ghana. Again, let's hope all the superstars of African football can attend and that the huge European clubs that control football don't hijack the beauty of this tournament.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

No More Bafana Bafana?

We talked a few months ago about some of the interesting team names in Africa. Names like Ten and One Young Dribblers and Cape Coast Mysterious Dwarfs dot the continent.

One of the more interesting monikers for an African national team is 'Bafana Bafana' for the South African national team. The term means 'The Little Boys' and can be used as a cheer or as a representation of the team itself.

Now, South African president Thabo Mbeki has called for the national football team to drop its nickname, saying it's unsuitable for the hosts of the 2010 World Cup.

"What kind of a name [Bafana Bafana] is it? I don't think it is fit for a senior national team or for the hosts of the 2010 FIFA World Cup," Mbeki told a South African radio station.

"We need to revisit the names of teams like Bafana Bafana, Banyana Banyana (The Girls football team), Amaglug-glug [the under-23 football team]."

Springboks was the pseudonym used by South Africa's national teams during the whites-only apartheid era which ended in 1994, but most of the teams have since adopted new monikers such as the Proteas in cricket.

The one notable exception has been the rugby team but even their name is under threat after the ANC (Mbeki's ruling African National Congress party) passed a resolution at a conference earlier this year for the Springbok title and emblem to be scrapped.

Mbeki's call received support from former Bafana Bafana coach Jomo Sono who agreed the name was inappropriate.

Sono also urged a rethink on the team's strip which has changed color on a number of occasions since apartheid.

"I support the president 100 percent. We also need to change the colors of the team and get something close to, or similar to the Boks, which is a source of national pride and represents the country," Sono said.

"Everyone knows the Springbok is an African animal, and green is our grass in the fields here. But what does Bafana Bafana mean?

"The name came from a journalist as a nickname in an article [when South Africa was readmitted to world football] and it stuck.

"It was relevant then, but now we need a name that is representative of the country."

However Banyana Banyana's manager Fran Hilton Smith was cooler on the idea.

"It will be difficult to change the names and colors of the teams ... because they are synonymous with the team. People already know them by those names," she said.

Mbeki said it was important the public was involved in the names debate.

"The public should participate in a plan where we look for new names for our national teams," he said.

"I'm not saying we must call all our national teams Springboks, but we have to change the names, the emblems and the colors the teams wear, so that they can be recognized as representatives of South Africa."

Monday, October 22, 2007

African Cup of Nations Schedule

Here is a full schedule of fixtures for the 2008 African Cup of Nations in Ghana.
Only 90 days to go!

Group A


20 January:
Ghana v Guinea, Accra
21 January:
Namibia v Morocco, Accra

24 January:
Guinea v Morocco, Accra
Ghana v Namibia, Accra

28 January:
Ghana v Morocco, Accra
Guinea v Namibia, Sekondi

Group B

Ivory Coast

21 January
Nigeria v Ivory Coast, Sekondi
Mali v Benin, Sekondi

25 January
Ivory Coast v Benin, Sekondi
Nigeria v Mali, Sekondi

29 January
Nigeria v Benin, Sekondi
Ivory Coast v Mali, Accra

Group C


22 January
Egypt v Cameroon, Kumasi
Sudan v Zambia, Kumasi

26 January
Cameroon v Zambia, Kumasi
Egypt v Sudan, Kumasi

30 January
Egypt v Zambia, Kumasi
Cameroon v Sudan, Tamale

Group D

South Africa

23 January
Tunisia v Senegal, Tamale
South Africa v Angola, Tamale

27 January
Senegal v Angola, Tamale
Tunisia v South Africa, Tamale

31 January
Tunisia v Angola, Tamale
Senegal v South Africa, Kumasi


3 February

(1) Group A winners v Group B runners-up, Accra

(2) Group B winners v Group A runners-up, Sekondi

4 February

(3) Group C winners v Group D runners-up, Kumasi

(4) Group D winners v Group C runners-up, Tamale


7 February

SF1: winner match 1 v winner match 4, Accra

SF2: winner match 2 v winner match 3, Kumasi

Third place playoff

9 February

Loser SF1 v Loser SF2, Kumasi


10 February

Winner SF1 v winner SF2, Accra

Analysis of 2008 African Cup of Nations Draw

So the draw is complete. Now that the dust has settled, who is in prime position to do well at the tournament in Ghana and even win the prestigious cup?

Durosimi Thomas of the BBC analyzed the groups for their football website. Here's his expert opinion:

Group A

So host nation Ghana should watch out in Group A despite being drawn in a seemingly easy group alongside Guinea, Morocco and Namibia in Group A.

Namibia are seen as the weakest link on paper, but the Brave Warriors are the dark-horses with a surprise or two up their sleeves.

The Guineans are rated highly by Ghana's coach Claude Le Roy, and with good reason to considering the Guineans' flair and star-studded line-up.

Although Morocco lost 2-0 to Ghana in a recent friendly, the Atlas Lions were convincing in qualifying and could become a serious threat in three months time.

Who wins the group remains open but Guinea and Ghana are fancied to progress into the quarter-finals.

Group B

Nigeria are in much tougher company in Group B with only Benin seen as real underdogs as the Ivory Coast and Mali complete what could be called a group of death.

Here there are three potential champions: an exciting Malian side looking to reach the final for the first time since 1972; a lethal and defensively strong Ivorian squad while Nigeria's experience is unmatched.

Group C

Cameroon and defending champions Egypt are favourites in Group C, but Sudan and Zambia should not be discounted.

The Pharaohs after all left it until their final match to secure qualification.

The resurgence of Sudanese football could see an upset on the cards, while Zambia have the same potential to cause a stir with their youthful side.

Group D

The 2004 champions Tunisia are in a wide open Group D with Angola, Senegal and South Africa.

Looking at recent records, Senegal and Tunisia would seem favourites to progress here.

But 2006 World Cup finalists Angola will be motivated to advance from the group stages for the first time as they prepare to host the tournament in 2010.

South Africa have possibly an even bigger motivation as they will want to do well in order to gauge their chances of being competitive 2010 World Cup hosts.

Whatever the permutations there are football fans have some really good games to look forward to in the competition.

Friday, October 19, 2007

African Cup of Nations Draw

And here's the draw for the 2008 African Cup of Nations.

Hosts Ghana will play Guinea in the opening match of the finals, set to begin January 20th.

Ghana were placed in Group A in Accra with Guinea, Morocco and Namibia in Friday's draw.

"We are delighted to get the opening game, it will make for a compelling start," Guinea coach Robert Nouzaret told reporters.

"It will serve as a major motivation for my players."

Holders Egypt's hopes of a record sixth title will be tested by Cameroon, Sudan and Zambia in Group C.

Nigeria and Ivory Coast were paired in Group B along with Benin and Mali, meaning Berti Vogts (Nigeria) will be up against fellow German coach Uli Stielike (Ivory Coast).

Group B was due to be staged in Tamale in the north of Ghana but the Confederation of African Football (CAF) general secretary Mustapha Fahmy said the venue was being moved to Sekondi which is nearer the Ghana-Ivorian border.

CAF said they were able to change venues to attract more fans.

Tunisia, winners in 2004, are up against Angola, Senegal and 2010 World Cup hosts South Africa in Group D.

"I think the groups are all very well balanced and there is plenty of scope for surprises," said Henryk Kasperczak, the Polish-born coach of Senegal.

The draw was conducted by three-times African Footballer of the Year Abedi Pele and former France World Cup winner Marcel Desailly, born in Ghana.

Here's the full draw, courtesy of the BBC ... what do you all think??


Group A (Accra)

Group B (Sekondi)
Ivory Coast

Group C (Kumasi)

GROUP D (Tamale)
South Africa

Drogba Speaks

Didier Drogba hasn't shied away from his plans to leave Chelsea. But in an article published in France Footballmagazine today, Drogba stated he'll stay until next summer because "it would be a little cowardly to leave at a time when the boat is rocking".

He does say that his original intention after Jose Mourinho's departure was to leave the club as soon as possible and that he planned to not play against Valencia last month so that he would be eligible to play in the Champions League for another team later in the season. After reflection, Drogba eventually declared himself available for that game and now says he is determined to stay at Chelsea until June.

"When you're disappointed you sometimes take stances that you haven't thought about properly," he explained. "That was my way of showing how angry I was. But I wouldn't have been able to look my team-mates in the eye afterwards. I am someone who has always campaigned for solidarity, so I've decided to stay until next summer."

Drogba is signed until 2010. But he said, "Experience shows that there's no point holding on to a player against his wishes. I hope we'll be able to find a tidy way of leaving Chelsea."

Drogba also revealed that he has been taking Spanish and Italian lessons for "a little while" and would love the opportunity to play for one of the giants of Serie A or La Liga. "I want to get back to playing with butterflies in my stomach for a club who make me dream," he said. "For me, there aren't 50 clubs who could stimulate this sort of passion, just four: AC Milan, Inter, Barça and Real."

Aware that Chelsea fans may accuse him of disloyalty or money-grabbing, Drogba said: "Since my first day at Chelsea, I've always thought collectively. I don't think anyone can complain if I decide to think a little about myself towards the end."

"All I know is that the decision has done a lot of damage to the team," he continued, seriously. "There are many casualties in the dressing room because now we know what happened and whose fault it is that Jose Mourinho is gone. In the days after his departure, I had trouble looking at certain people without feeling angry."

"Some things that were done and said did not conform to the mentality of a squad that until that point had always been tight and had shown solidarity for each other. I understand that some people might not have wanted the coach to stay and hoped that his successor might give them more games, but what happened went beyond that. It went far too far. Maybe it would be an exaggeration to talk about treachery but certainly some people were very disappointing. I understand why the coach, despite being very attached to most of the players, announced as he was going, 'I am very happy to be leaving here.'"

Drogba described the atmosphere in the dressing room after Mourinho's departure. "There were fireworks ... Things went a little haywire and there was quite a rumpus within the group. Several players weren't far off professional misconduct, ignoring basic principles. Fortunately all that didn't last too long."

He refused to elaborate further and denied that there were now warring factions within the dressing room. Asked whether Andriy Shevchenko and John Terry had played any role in Mourinho's departure, he replied - sarcastically, according to France Football - "No, I don't want to believe that ... if that was the case, it would be really shocking."

He made little effort, however, to disguise his displeasure with Roman Abramovich's role in Mourinho's departure. "Everything was halted at the whim of the president," he said. "We are mere employees. I don't hide the fact that I took the whole episode very badly."

"When you stick with a manager through the summer, you have to at least give him until December unless some catastrophe takes place. But apparently president Abramovich has changed philosophy. We feel that the shared story was ended too quickly. We're left with a feeling of incompleteness, and impotence.

Despite all that, Drogba maintains that he is determined to do his best for Chelsea until he leaves. "I think Henk ten Cate will do us good. We're not out of the title race and were still on track in the Champions League. I believe we can succeed. We wouldn't be the first team to pull off a great season after encountering some problems along the way. We've all developed such a hunger for victory that I can't see us settling for second place. We've got what it takes to surprise some people. The trauma is behind us now."

Very elaborating interview. Drogba remains a man who vents his frustration when need be. The marriage between the Ivorian superstar and the money-riddled club looks to be over. What will be the course for the rest of the season?

Eto'o Has No Idea If He'll Play African Cup of Nations

Samuel Eto'o is one of Africa's brightest stars.
But he doesn't know if he'll play in next year's African Cup of Nations.

"I will play where they tell me to. I am not the boss," Eto'o said in an interview with Spanish daily Sport on Friday.

"I can't do anything. I understand the club's worries but I also understand my country's concerns. They have to sort it out between them. Txiki (Begiristain, Barca's sports director) has to speak to the Cameroon Football Federation."

Earlier this week, Begiristain said he had asked Eto'o and Ivory Coast midfielder Yaya Toure to skip the tournament which runs from Jan. 20 to Feb. 10 in Ghana.

Eto'o, three-time African Player of the Year, has been sidelined since the beginning of September with an injury to his right thigh, and missed more than four months of last season after needing surgery for a knee injury in the same leg.

He refused to set a date for when he hoped to return to action. Doctors have said they expect Eto'o to be out for at least two months.

"I need to take it little by little because the most important thing is that I return to help the side win. I don't want to come back and be a burden," he said.

I really hope Sam plays for Cameroon. What a shame to not see him in Africa's biggest tournament ...

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Drogba Wants to Leave Chelsea

I've been away from the screen for the past few days, due to various reasons.

In the meantime, African football has been providing fans with saucy plotlines to follow.

First comes attacks on Mali players that followed the 2-0 away win over Togo in their decisive African Cup of Nations qualifier in Lome, Togo on Friday. The BBC reports that the Confederation of African Football (CAF) is looking into the incidents. Today, the CAF said they will order an indefinite ban on Togo's Kegue stadium following attacks on Mali players after a key African Nations Cup qualifier last Friday. Further disciplinary action is to follow.

Then, FC Barcelona have asked their African stars to skip January's African Cup of Nations. Let's hope this request is emphatically turned down.

Next, the Confederation of African Football released their seedings for January's Cup of Nations in Ghana. The draw takes place tomorrow (come back and check out our analysis of the groups for the tournament). Nigeria, Egypt, Tunisia and Ghana head the list of the 16 countries that have qualified for the African trophy.

But today's news is probably the biggest shocker, coming from Africa's best player.

Current African Footballer of the Year and Chelsea FC starlet Didier Drogba told a journalist he wants out from Chelsea.

"I want to leave Chelsea. Something is broken with the club," Drogba was quoted as telling France Football magazine due to be published on Friday.

However, the west London club were quick to dismiss the idea of a possible transfer.
"Didier Drogba signed a new four-year contract last year. As a top professional we are sure Didier is committed to Chelsea and intends to honour that contract," the club said on their Web site (www.chelseafc.com).

Drogba was one of the players most affected by Portuguese manager Jose Mourinho's departure last month.

The coach, who led Chelsea to back-to-back league titles in 2005 and 2006, along with two League Cups and the FA Cup, has been replaced by Israel's Avram Grant.

"I can't hide the fact that I've taken this whole business very badly, probably because I made the mistake of allowing too much of an emotional attachment in my relations with the coach," Drogba said.

"I can only say that I have been unpleasantly surprised by some people."

He added: "Ever since I arrived, I've been mulling a lot of things over, because I hadn't chosen my destination. My relations with Chelsea have always been bizarre."

"Right from the very first day, I wanted to leave. And every summer after that. But, despite that, I've stayed here for four seasons -- the best of my career."

Drogba, whose last comment indicated he would stay until the end of this season, added he would like to play either in Italy's Serie A or Spain's La Liga.

"I've got the impression that I have nothing else to prove here. I need to go and look somewhere else. I need new challenges and these two countries really attract me."

"I have made my decision. Nothing will hold me here. I know people are saying that Ronaldinho and Kaka will be here next season but it will not change my desire (to leave). I will not change my mind, probably because something has broken (in my relations) with Chelsea."

Drogba added that only five clubs attracted him: "AC Milan, Inter Milan, Barcelona, Real Madrid. And Marseille."

Mourinho spent 24 million pounds ($49.06 million) when he bought Drogba from Marseille in July 2004.

The striker took a while to settle before finding his form with a vengeance last season, scoring 33 goals for Chelsea, the most in the English Premiership.

Where will Drogba land? Will he change his mind? How will the Chelsea faithful react to the Ivorian's strong words? Will Chelsea management attempt to wash their hands of Drogba and sell him during the winter transfer period, when he's set to miss time due to the African Nations Cup?

All intriguing questions ...

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Last Licks on Road to Ghana 2008

This is it!

We wind down qualification for the 2008 African Cup of Nations in Ghana this weekend with the final games in Groups Two and Nine.

Reigning champions Egypt are favorites for one of the places, as they need only to avoid defeat at home to Botswana on Saturday.

Egypt will be without injured duo Mido and Mohamed Barakat for the match against Botswana but have Hamburg striker Mohamed Zidan back after he missed their last match in Burundi.

A shock win for Botswana could put them through to their first Nations Cup finals appearance but only if Burundi fail to win in Mauritania in the other Group Two match in Nouakchott on Saturday.

Wins for Burundi and Botswana would see the two teams finish top of the group tied on 10 points each and equal on head-to-head record meaning that goal difference will come into play. Could get very interesting indeed.

Over to Group Nine, where there's a three-way race for the qualifying berth. Just a point separates Mali, Togo and Benin.

All three can win top place and qualify. Benin could finish second and still go through to the finals as one of the best runners-up.

Mali and Togo are both on nine points, although Mali will finish above Togo on a head-to-head count if there is a draw in Friday's match between the two in Lome.

But a draw in that game could allow unheralded Benin to come from behind and win the group.

Benin, with eight points, are away to Sierra Leone and a win for the Squirrels (gotta love that nickname) on Friday will guarantee their place in the finals.

The Squirrels warmed up for and promoted their qualifier with a 2-2 draw in a 30 minute game against a team of ministers and officials on Tuesday.

Benin's President Thomas Boni Yayi scored a final-minute penalty for his team of ministers and officials to force the draw. (I wonder if the referee was paid off to give him the penalty ...)

"It is to bring about the presence of my country in Ghana 2008 that I scored that goal," Yayi said after stroking home the penalty.

Togo are expected to have Arsenal striker Emmanuel Adebayor back for his first run in the team since March.

Adebayor is still saying he's owed bonus payments after Togo's qualification for last year's World Cup finals. He boycotted recent matches.

But Adebayor told officials he would make himself available for the game.

His return has prompted Mali coach Jean Francois Jodar to say, "We should not fear Adebayor because if we tremble because of him then what will happen if we face the likes of (Didier) Drogba, (Samuel) Eto'o and others in the Nations Cup finals."

Mali are at full strength for the match with Sevilla striker Frederic Kanoute leading their attack.

One team not in action this weekend but who will have a very close eye on the action in Group Nine will be Uganda, who are still hopeful of qualifying as one of the best runners-up if results go their way.

It's going to be an exciting finish to the qualifiers. Make sure to catch them if you can!

And on we go to Ghana 2008 ...

Three Africans on FIFA World Player of the Year List

Three Africans made it onto FIFA's 30-player list for 2007 World Player of the Year.

Usual suspects all.

Strikers Samuel Eto'o of Cameroon and Didier Drogba of the Ivory Coast as well as Ghana midfielder Michael Essien have all made the initial shortlist.

There are also three Africans on the list for the women's award for 2007: Adjoa Bayor from Ghana as well as Nigerian duo Christie George and Perpetua Nkwocha.

The list is drawn up by members of FIFA's technical committees and voted on by the coaches and captains of every national team.

The winner will be announced at FIFA's World Player Gala in Zurich on December 17th.

Good luck to our African friends!

Here's a rundown of all the nominated players:
Men's nominees (alphabetical order):
Gianluigi Buffon (Italy), Fabio Cannavaro (Italy), Petr Cech (Czech Republic), Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal), Deco (Portugal), Didier Drogba (Ivory Coast), Michael Essien (Ghana), Samuel Eto'o (Cameroon), Gennaro Gattuso (Italy), Steven Gerrard (England), Thierry Henry (France), Juninho (Brazil), Kaka (Brazil), Miroslav Klose (Germany), Philipp Lahm (Germany), Frank Lampard (England), Rafael Marquez (Mexico), Lionel Messi (Argentina), Alessandro Nesta (Italy), Andrea Pirlo (Italy), Franck Ribery (France), Juan Roman Riquelme (Argentina), Ronaldinho (Brazil), Wayne Rooney (England), John Terry (England), Carlos Tevez (Argentina), Lilian Thuram (France), Fernando Torres (Spain), Ruud van Nistelrooy (Netherlands), Patrick Vieira (France)

Women's Nominees (alphabetical order):
Nadine Angerer (Germany), Adjoa Bayor (Ghana), Cristiane (Brazil), Daniela (Brazil), Lisa de Vanna (Australia), Formiga (Brazil), Christie George (Nigeria), Ragnhild Gulbrandsen (Norway), Duan Han (China), Ariane Hingst (Germany), Jie Li (China), Kristine Lilly (USA), Renate Lingor (Germany), Marta (Brazil), Perpetua Nkwocha (Nigeria), Bente Nordby (Norway), Cathrine Paaske Sorensen (Denmark), Birgit Prinz (Germany), Un Suk Ri (North Korea), Christine Sinclair (Canada), Kelly Smith (England), Rebecca Smith (New Zealand), Ane Stangeland Horpestad (Norway), Kerstin Stegemann (Germany), Ingvild Stensland (Norway), Abby Wambach (USA)

Monday, October 8, 2007

El Hadji Diouf Calls It A Day

Breaking news from Senegal, as captain El Hadji Diouf announced he's ending his international career, citing organizational problems at the West African side.

"I have stopped my international career," Diouf told commercial radio station RFM in a telephone interview from England, where he plays club football for Premier League Bolton Wanderers. "There are so many problems with the national team.

"The team has a scheduled friendly match in a week and we don't even know who we are playing against. This is unacceptable," said the 26-year-old striker, who has played for his country over 30 times.

"If we have to come and play for our country, we have to pay for our own air ticket and reimbursement of the cost is another big problem," he added.

Senegal have qualified for the next year's African Nation's Cup in Ghana.

"I don't think I will change my mind," Diouf said.

This is a big blow for not only Senegal, but for African football.
Let's hope he changes his mind. Senegal wouldn't be the same without their inspirational leader.

Al Ahly-Etoile in African Final

Congratulations to Al Ahly of Egypt and Etoile du Sahel of Tunisia, who both advanced to the African Champions League final this weekend.

Etoile were the first to advance on Saturday, 3-1 over Sudan's Al Hilal.

The Sudanese won the first leg in Omdurman 2-1, meaning Etoile needed only a 1-0 home victory on Saturday to go through, thanks to their away goal.

Amine Chermiti put the Tunisians on the road to the final with the first of two headers after 13 minutes.

And the score remained 1-0 throughout the rest of the first half.

Early in the second half, though, there was a flurry of goals.

Saber Ben Frej got the better of a goal mouth scramble to put Etoile 2-0 up on the night.

But three minutes later, Hilal's Nigerian striker Ndubuisi Ezei got one back for the visitors, to make it 2-1 in Sousse, and level at 3-all on aggregate.

It was his eighth goal of the Champions League campaign.

The prospect of extra time loomed.

Not for long though, as Chermiti struck his second of the night on 63 minutes to take Etoile 3-1 ahead on the night, up 4-3 on aggregate.

But Hilal only needed to level the match with a second away goal to go through, and as the clock ran down they pressed and pressed.

A sequence of free kicks from just outside the Etoile area peppered the home side's goal.

But the Tunisians held on and they go through to their fifth consecutive continental final, and their third Champions League final in four years.

Over to Al Ahly, who edged past Al Ittihad 1-0 in Cairo on Sunday to reach the final.

The Egyptian club will now be looking to win their third consecutive title after they qualified for the final 1-0 on aggregate, after the two sides drew 0-0 in Libya two weeks ago.

The only goal of the game came after 20 minutes when Hilal's Hesham Shaban headed into his own net as he tried to clear a cross from Angola's Gilberto.

The final is a repeat of 2005 final that Ahly eventually won 3-0 on aggregate.

The first leg of the final will be played in Sousse in Tunisia on the weekend of October 26-28 and the second leg two weeks later in Cairo.

Good luck to both squads!

Friday, October 5, 2007

African Confederation Cup Semi-Finals

The African Champions League isn't the only game in town this weekend.

The African Confederations Cup gets ready to crown two finalists for their grand championship game this weekend, as well.

CS Sfaxien of Tunisia and El Merreikh of Sudan could clinch places in the big games this weekend.

In Group A, Sfaxien must beat Mamelodi Sundowns of South Africa in Pretoria to be certain of making the final.

Any other result would open the door for TP Mazembe of the Democratic Republic of Congo, provided they improve their away record and defeat Astres Douala in Cameroon.
Sfaxien enter the final-round group fixtures Saturday with a one-point advantage over twice African Champions winners Mazembe and a better head-to-head record.

Even though they're out of it, Sundowns will not lack incentive having suffered a humiliating four-goal loss in the Mediterranean town of Sfax not too long ago.

"We owe it to ourselves and to South Africa to avenge that embarrassing loss," vowed coach Gordon Igesund

Mazembe, the most successful Congolese club in Africa with three titles, will pin their hopes of success in the Atlantic city of Douala on national team striker Mputu Mabi, the leading Confederation Cup scorer with eight goals.

In Group B former Cup Winners Cup title holders Merreikh have a much simpler task than Sfaxien to qualify for the final as they need only avoid losing 5-0 away to Dolphin of Nigeria Sunday.

Merreikh, coached by German Otto Pfister, are three points clear of Dolphin and have a huge head-to-head advantage having triumphed 6-1 against the west Africans in Omdurman.

Pfister has no doubt his multi-national mix of stars are heading for the two-leg final in November.

"Merreikh and neighbors Al Hilal are the biggest organised football clubs in black Africa," he said.

"They have good infrastructure and organisation plus passionate supporters."

Ismaili of Egypt, who fired coach Taha Basri this week after a 4-4 draw with lowly Al Ittihad in the national championship, host Kwara United of Nigeria in the other fixture.

Thanks to the BBC for the info in this article. What would I do without you?

Thursday, October 4, 2007

African Champions League Semifinals

It's here. The biggest continental competition in Africa celebrates its semifinals round, one more game to go before the grand final.

Saturday's African Champions League semifinal between Etoile du Sahel of Tunisia and Sudan's Al Hilal will produce a landmark result - whatever the outcome.

If Etoile can overcome their 2-1 deficit from the first leg in Omdurman, they will be in their fifth consecutive continental final. They won last year's Confederation Cup and they were beaten finalists in the Champions League in 2004 and 2005. In 2003 they took the now defunct African Cup Winners Cup.

If Hilal win, they would cap a remarkable year for Sudanese football.

The national side has reached the Nations Cup finals for the first time in three decades, and Hilal's club rivals Al Merreikh have all but secured a place in the final of the Confederation Cup.

Etoile feel good going in. They scored an away goal in Sudan. A 1-0 victory at home sends them to the Final.

"The first leg puts all the pressure on the Sudanese," striker Gilson Silva told BBC Fast Track on Thursday.

"They will be compelled to score at least once, as we did ourselves."

"They know that staying in defense will be catastrophic for them."

Etoile had a disappointing build-up to the game, with a 1-1 draw by US Monastir in the Tunisian league last week, but they are boosted by the return of defenders Mehdi Merieh and Saber Fradj.

The pair missed the first leg because of injury.

Hilal have amassed an impressive array of wins over the course of this Champions League campaign.

They have thrown off ASEC Mimosas of Ivory Coast, Esperance of Tunisia and Zamalek of Egypt, among others. Not too shabby.

Also, they will welcome back their key midfielder Rtshard Justin Lado for the game. Sounds like an enticing contest.

Over in the other semi-final, defending champions Al Ahly need a goal to get through on Sunday.

After squeezing out a 0-0 result in Tripoli a fortnight ago against surprise semifinalists Al Ittihad of Libya, the champions will look for the death blow away.

The 'Red Devils' will be highly dissappointed should they underrate the Libyans, who have been in superb form in their maiden campaign at this stage of the competition.

The aggregated winners advance to a two-legged Champions League final.

The first leg will be played in either Sudan or Tunisia on the weekend of October 26-28th with the return match in Egypt or Libya on the weekend of November 9-11.

I hope I can watch them here in the States.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Cameroon Ban Kome, Ze from Cup for Partying

This, straight from the Reuters wire ...

Cameroon's Daniel Ngom Kome and Albert Meyong Ze will miss the 2008 African Nations Cup after being suspended from international duty for six months for partying ahead of a qualifier.

Sports Minister Augustin Edjoa said in a statement dated Monday that the ban was for "indiscipline shown on the occasion of the final qualifying match" between Equatorial Guinea and Cameroon on Sept. 9 in Malabo.

Cameroon, who had already qualified from Group Five, suffered a shock 1-0 defeat to outsiders Equatorial Guinea after Kome and Ze were both left out of the squad at the last minute.

Edjoa did not elaborate on the "indiscipline" but Cameroonian state television, which reflects the view of the government in the central African country, reported on Tuesday that the players had been out partying before the match.

"While in Malabo, the two players disobeyed the instructions of the interim coach and always went out at night," the TV station said. Jules Nyongha is managing the team while the Football Federation recruits a permanent coach.

"Even on the eve of the encounter they went to the night club and came back very late. That is why the coach did not line them up for the match and only presented 16 players," it said.

Cameroon lost their place as the top FIFA-ranked African side to Nigeria last month after losing 2-0 to Japan in an Aug. 22 friendly, provoking an outcry among devoted fans of the "Indomitable Lions".

The Nations Cup is being held in Ghana from Jan. 20 to Feb. 10 next year.

Yikes. That's not a good sign for Cameroon, is it?
What do we know of these players? Anyone have a scouting report on them?

Cup of Nations Draw: October 19th

Save the date: October 19th.

The Confederation of African Football (CAF) announced today the 2008 Cup of Nations Finals draw will take place in Accra, Ghana on October 19th.

The 16 qualifiers will be drawn into four groups of four teams for the tournament, which runs from January 20th to February 10th.

Two days before the draw, a CAF inspection team will look at the facilities at the four venues - Accra, Kumassi, Sekondi and Tamale.

There are still three Nations Cup places to be decided, with the remaining four games to be played on October 12th and 14th.

Egypt, Burundi, Botswana, Mali, Togo, Benin and Uganda all have chances of qualifying.

The 12 teams that have booked their place already, along with hosts Ghana are: Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Sudan, Tunisia, Cameroon, Angola, Senegal, Guinea, Namibia, Zambia, South Africa and Morocco.

Meanwhile, Ghana will round-up their Nations Cup preparations with the hosting of a four-nation tournament in November.

Guinea, Benin and the United Arab Emirates will line up alongside the Black Stars.

The four-day competition, which begins on November 17th, will be played in Accra and Kumasi.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Getafe's Uche Ikechuwku Wants Hardware

This story combines my love for Spain's La Liga with my interest in African football. Can't beat that, can we? The football double ...

Today's BBC profiles 23-year-old Nigerian striker Uche Ikechuwku, who has played for the past four seasons in Spain.

He's currently in his first season at Getafe after spending the past four seasons at Recreativo de Huelva. He told the BBC he's looking forward to the challenge of helping Getafe become a major force in Spain's top division.

"It's always difficult to adapt when you change clubs but I'm very happy with the move I made," Uche said.

"Everyone at the club is doing everything to make things easy for me and I'm glad I joined Getafe."

Uche scored 21 goals in the 2005/06 season to help Recreativo regain promotion to the top division.

The Nigerian missed the start of last season because of injury but managed to score eight goals in 30 appearances for Recreativo, which is the oldest club in Spanish football.

He's now aiming to win one of the most coveted prizes in Spanish football - the Pichichi trophy - awarded to the top goal scorer in La Liga.

"It's one of my dreams in football to win the Pichichi but I know it's not easy.

"It takes a lot of hard work and the most important thing is for me to be lucky and not get injured."

When asked for his opinion about the racist abuse directed towards black players in Spain in recent months, Uche said it was difficult to change people's perceptions.

"Racism affects your confidence as a player because nobody likes being insulted.

"At the beginning it used to affect me a lot but now I understand that there is not a lot I can do as an individual to stop it.

"There are other people whose duty it is to stop the racism but this is all about educating people to accept each other.

"Spain is generally a very good country to live in because not everyone is racist, and those who insult Africans do so just to distract us.

"As foreigners, we have to accept that not everybody is going to like us instead of getting distracted."

He sounds like a good lad with his head on straight. Good luck, Uche on your stay in Spain and your drive towards the coveted Pichichi trophy!