Friday, March 30, 2007

Record 204 teams enter 2010 World Cup


This being a World Cup blog and all, maybe I should speak a little about the World Cup? Maybe? Eh?

A record 204 countries have entered the qualifying competition for the 2010 World Cup finals, FIFA said in a statement on Friday.

The 204 participants beats the previous record of 199 which entered for the 2002 World Cup finals and only Bhutan, Brunei, Laos and the Philippines have not registered to take part. Anyone know why?

The number of entrants for 2010 includes host nation South Africa and Montenegro, which became the 53rd member of UEFA in January and is expected to be admitted as the 208th member of FIFA at the world governing body's Congress in Zurich in May.

The qualifying competition starts in August 2007 with the Oceania confederation using matches played in the South Pacific Games as a preliminary qualifying tournament for their region. I can't wait!

South Africa have automatically qualified as hosts for the finals which begin on June 11, 2010 with the final scheduled for July 11, where I'll be sitting with Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandela and rapper Zola (pictured, right).

Of the 31 places available for the qualifiers, 13 will go to European teams and five will be taken by African qualifiers.

Playoffs will determine the exact number of qualifiers from the other confederations with Asia providing either four or five qualifiers, CONCACAF three or four, South America four or five and Oceania either none or one.

Asia and Oceania teams will meet in one playoff while South American and CONCACAF teams play in the other.

And on we go, down the road to South Africa ...

A Nation Stands Still for a Footballer


The Ivory Coast was once a model of stability. As the world's leading cocoa producer, it was noticeable for its well-developed economy on top of its religious and ethnic harmony.

But an armed rebellion in 2002 split the nation in two. Civil war erupted and split the country between rebel-held north and government-controlled south. Foreign troops patrol a buffer zone in the middle.

Despite numerous peace deals the main combatants in the conflict have struggled to find a lasting political solution. It's the kind of internal struggle that's plagued so many African nations of late.

So it's refreshing when the country can agree on something. This summer, the Ivory Coast went to their first ever World Cup. The scene was bedlam, as people from north and south celebrated their qualification. You might remember the U2 video that talked of a nation putting down their guns to see their national team off to Germany. I'm not sure how accurate that was, but the point is well taken. Football has tremendous power to heal and bond.

This week, Ivorian star and African Footballer of the Year Didier Drogba made an appearance in the Ivory Coast's northern region. He called on the country as a whole to unite in peace. You might think, 'Well, some athlete getting involved in politics ... why doesn't he keep quiet and just play football?'

But footballers have tremendous sway in African politics. They're not just football stars. They are ambassadors of their countries, like Cameroon's Roger Milla.
They make the hop from soccer star to politician, like Liberia's George Weah. Or they call for peace, as Drogba did this week.

His words mean something because of the power and fame bestowed on him. It's not like Michael Jordan calling for world peace. This is bigger than that. This is the Ivory Coast's footballing son, asking for his divided country to be whole again. It means so much more than mere rhetoric.

Holding his African Footballer of the Year award high in the northern province, Drogba said , "I have come here to offer you a golden ball, it's the golden ball for the whole of the Ivory Coast.

"This is only the beginning. In June the whole Ivory Coast national team will be at Bouake for the match against Madagascar (in an African Nations Cup qualifier).

"June 3rd will be a memorable day: it will be the victory for Ivory Coast football, the victory of the Ivory Coast people and quite simply there will be peace."

Delirium from the audience, but will his words ring true? Drogba's words have power. His words have meaning because of his incessant goal-scoring. Football speaks in many different languages, the lingua franca of an entire planet.

Ivory Coast, who lead Group One of Nations Cup qualifying, play Madagascar on June 3rd.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

The Sad Realities of a Dream Unfulfilled



This story from the BBC really hit a nerve.

Much like basketball in the inner-cities of the United States, football is seen as a way out of the misery of everyday life around the world. In Africa, it's a ticket to Europe, to more money and to opportunity unseen at home for many young kids.

Most Ivorian kids dream of becoming the next Didier Drogba, of making loads of money playing football abroad. Sadly, the reality is that people are willing to exploit these dreams for their own ends.

International Organization for Migration (IOM) spokeswoman Jemini Pandya said, 'This dream of going to Europe as a footballer is a very big one in West Africa - footballing is a real passion.

'If anyone comes up and says that they think that they'll be able to get talented young footballers into these teams they will take a chance and go for it and that's clearly what's happened.'

It's so sad that this occurs. But it does, probably more often than we're aware. And another kid goes on with his dream unfulfilled.

-- On a lighter note, this story by Arash Markazi (who does a lot of quality football writing) from SI.com had me smiling.

It's a talk between Boise State's Ian Johnson, a college football player who scored the winning two-point conversion in this season's Fiesta Bowl (and subsequently proposed to his cheerleader girlfriend on national TV) and Chelsea's Didier Drogba. Apparently Johnson is a huge Drogba fan (aren't we all?).

I think it humanizes both players and makes us realize that deep down, we're all fans.

I especially like when John Terry gets on the phone but can't concentrate because he's playing a video game. Maybe that explains those defensive lapses?
Make sure to check this out.

-- Coach Carlos Alberto Parreira and South Africa were brought back down to earth when they lost a friendly to Bolivia 1-0 at home on Wednesday.
According to news reports, Parreira chose to start the game with the same side that had played so admirably in beating Chad 3-0 in Saturday's Nations Cup tie in N'Djamena.

On the back of that result, many expected this game to be a walk in the park for Parreira's men.

But Bafana Bafana and their supporters were stunned after just 19 minutes when Bolivian striker Joselito Vaca's shot deflected off midfielder MacBeth Sibaya into the back of the net.

Tough result for the South Africans that shows they have a lot of work to do before the Cup in 2010.

-- Vagner Love's first-half goal gave Brazil a 1-0 win over Ghana in a friendly match at the Rasunda stadium in Stockholm, Sweden Wednesday.

The CSKA Moscow striker scored in the 17th minute, after a Ronaldinho corner was headed on by Kaka.

Ghana's Haminu Draman was sent off with 11 minutes left after he was given a second yellow card for pulling down Daniel Alves outside the box.

The game was a rematch of last year's second-round World Cup clash. Brazil won that match 3-0.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Quick Tidbit about Sao Tome


Our friends over at São Tomé e Príncipe
(previously mentioned in an earlier post)
got some press today over at The Fiver,
The Guardian Unlimited's 'tea-time take on the world of football.'

I'm not sure if this is good or bad news ... you take a look.

'Guam, Aruba, Sao Tomé and Montserrat. Types of cheese? Swahili swear words? New Bolton signings? No, they're four of the nine countries currently doing something cheek-wrenchingly rude to the Fifa world ranking: sharing its bottom. If that sounds anatomically improbable, then the next bit is freaking incredible: none of the other countries on the list are called Northern Ireland ...'

Hmm, I suppose any press is good press, huh?

I don't know about you, but take a look at these pictures. Last place in the world or not, it's gorgeous there ...

Troubles for Arsenal's Adebayor


Emmanuel Adebayor is going through a pretty tough time these days.
We told you yesterday about his being dropped from the Togo national team after a row over money.

Now word leaks in that he's receiving death threats.

That's not something to be taken lightly, especially in the wake of the apparent murder of Pakistan cricket coach Bob Wooler after Pakistan's elimination in the Cricket World Cup.

Adebayor's been arguing with the Togo Football Federation over money he feels he's owed. Most players receive stipends to appear in international tournaments. Adebayor feels he hasn't been paid enough for his services in leading Togo to their first ever World Cup this past summer in Germany.

Luckily, he scored two goals and set up the third in the 3-1 win over visiting Sierra Leone this past weekend in Nations Cup qualifying. "Thank God I scored two goals," Adebayor said. "I do not know what will happen to me if I had not scored those goals."

It's not the first time Adebayor's been in trouble with the national team. Last year, he threatened to leave the African Cup of Nations after a spat with the coach. "He can go," Togo captain Jean-Paul Abalo said at the time. "He didn't just betray his team, he betrayed the Togolese people."

Togo's 2006 World Cup appearance was marred by this dispute over financial bonuses, a situation that almost led to the team boycotting their first World Cup match against Switzerland. Adebayor didn't play too well in Germany, leading to Togo having a sub par performance and being eliminated in the first round. Criticism was heaped on the Arsenal striker.

But this is a different animal.

With all the money bandied around to star athletes in poor nations, the average person in Togo might feel Adebayor's overstepped the boundaries of good taste. People are struggling to survive while Adebayor plies his trade for Arsenal in London, asks for more money to represent his country (and by association, his people) and doesn't even play well when the opportunity arises. Many might ask what right Adebayor has to act like this.

Unfortunately, by giving him such high regard and esteem, people have given him this right. He's a star player, attracts lots of money and gives exposure to the West African nation.

Threatening him with death is an awful atrocity. Luckily, Adebayor has England and a safe place to go away to.

"I am going back to Arsenal in London to reflect and think about my future. I have to protect my life. I have a family to look after," Adebayor said.

Monday, March 26, 2007

How am I Getting There Again?


Approximately 1,200 days to the 2010 World Cup Final in Johannesburg, South Africa and over 1,000 reads of the blog in almost 3 months of posts ... and you know what?

I haven't the faintest clue how I'm going to get there!! HELP!

African Cup of Nations Re-Cap


Unfortunately, I wasn't able to watch any of the African Cup of Nations qualifying games this weekend.

But I've heard unsubstantiated rumors the games are shown in African conclaves in Harlem and Brooklyn. Anyone care to corroborate these rumors?

So once again, I have to rely on the eyes and ears of veteran scribes like Mark Gleeson of Reuters to guide me along.

First off, big ups to Kenya as the Harambee Stars roared back to the international stage with a 2-0 victory over Swaziland in Group Six. (pictured above, Harambee Stars striker Denis Oliech (center) dribbles past two Swaziland players during their Nations Cup qualifier at Nyayo Stadium, on Sunday.)

According to the news report, 'Marabou storks circled above Nyayo National Stadium in the capital as delirious fans danced and beat drums in the heavy rain ...past defeats by Eritrea and Angola in previous qualifiers were a distant memory for the 30,000 spectators, and for those stuck outside after gates were closed, chanting and demanding updates from fans perched high on top of the stands.'

In one word? Raucous. That's what winning feels like after months of FIFA-imposed suspension.

More from the report by Reuters' Jeremy Clarke: 'While there was sometimes spiteful action on the pitch -- with four Swaziland players carried off injured -- there was no suggestion of the violence that has marred past internationals.
Security guards, armed with metal poles and makeshift wooden clubs, relaxed and enjoyed the game alongside fans.
"African football is the best football. We are African football," one fan called to reporters as he ran to catch a glimpse of players after the game.'

It's a feel-good story all around. Kenya now lie third in the group, six points behind leaders Angola who have a maximum nine points after their 6-1 rout of second-placed Eritrea on Sunday.

Elsewhere, Carlos Alberto Parreira made a winning start as South African coach when the 2010 World Cup hosts beat Chad 3-0 in Saturday's Nations Cup qualifier in Ndjamena.

The victory leaves Bafana Bafana (South Africa's nickname) two points clear at the top of Group Eleven after Congo and Zambia could only draw 0-0 in Brazzaville on Sunday.

The Ivory Coast moved a step closer to qualifying by maintaining their 100 percent record at the weekend, defeating Madagascar 3-0. The Elephants, who dominated proceedings, broke the deadlock in the 28th minute through Steve Gohouri before Aruna Dindane doubled the lead seven minutes later.
Amara Diane ended the Crocodiles’ hopes of qualifying for the 26th edition of the Cup of Nations with the third goal in the 82nd minute.

Nigeria also kept up their 100 percent record but the first match for new coach Berti Vogts delivered a far from convincing 1-0 home win over Uganda on Saturday.

Kanu scrambled the ball home 17 minutes from time in Abeotuka as Nigeria stretched their lead in Group Three to five points over Lesotho.

Cameroon also made it three out of three in Group Five with a 3-1 win over Liberia on Saturday but Barcelona's Samuel Eto'o was replaced in the 60th minute of the game.

Instead it was another Spanish-based striker, Achille Webo of Osasuna, who set up the win with a pair of goals in the opening quarter hour.

In Group 9, Togo moved top of the Cup qualifiers after beating Sierra Leone 3-1 in a game in which Arsenal striker Emmanuel Adebayor scored twice. Adebayor revealed on Friday that Togolese internationals, who threatened to boycott last year's World Cup over a bonus row, are still waiting to receive their payments for reaching the finals in Germany.

"The bonus problem is still there. We were given promises but still nothing has been done," said Adebayor. "We're still waiting to see the management and it's in their interest to meet with us as soon as possible. Whatever happens, we're not going to let this go. If they don't pay up, I don't know what will happen."

Here's what happened: they were kicked off the team. After the game, Adebayor and two Togo team-mates were kicked out of the national team following a spat over bonus payments. More on this later ...

The weekend's 22 qualifying matches delivered hat-tricks for Tunisia's Issam Jomaa and Senegal's Mamadou Niang.

Here's a great rundown of all the scores from the weekend from the Confederation of African (CAF) football website.

Maybe I can watch the next round of qualifiers somewhere in New York City?

Friday, March 23, 2007

Rwanda's Lost Generation


Interesting article from the BBC about the lost generation of Rwandan football players.

As many know, Rwanda went through a tragic genocide in 1994, where an estimated 800,000 people, many of them teenage boys, were slaughtered.

Rwandan skipper Michael Nees said, "We have a team in transition because this country lacks a whole generation of players in their mid-20s.

"As the more established team members have got older, we've had to look for much younger talent to integrate into the side and I think it's only now we are coming out of the valley,' said Nees, who took over as national coach last July.

Rwanda were surprise participants at the 2004 Nations Cup Finals in Tunisia. They just failed to reach the quarterfinals in a performance hailed as a fairytale for a country still recovering from its traumatic experience.

Rwanda plays Equatorial Guinea this weekend and lie bottom of Group Five in 2008 African Cup qualifying.

UPDATE: Equatorial Guinea beat Rwanda 3-1 in Malabo on Sunday.

'Offside': A soccer movie


If you live in New York or Los Angeles, check out this new movie by Iranian director Jafar Panahi.

It's called 'Offside'. It's about a group of young women in Iran who aren't allowed into a stadium in Tehran, where the Iranian national soccer team is facing Bahrain in a qualifying match for the World Cup. So they decide to dress up as men to sneak in!

Ahh, the power of football ...

Please click here to read a review by the New York Times' A.O. Scott .

And click here to see a trailer and read more about this fascinating film.

The Kenyan Football Situation


The Kenyan football situation simulates a bad television sitcom at times. One wonders if anyone could have written this stuff.

- Two competing football leagues.
- A 7-month FIFA ban.
- Constant instability at the Kenyan Football Federation (KFF).
- No helping hand from the Confederation of African Football (CAF).
- A FIFA overlord who drones on and on, pounding his soapbox, comparing basketball to football (see previous post 'Quick Bits' about this comedy routine).

So what's the latest hilarity to befall the East African nation?

Kenya plays Swaziland in a Group Six Nations Cup qualifier at Nyayo National Stadium in Nairobi on Sunday.

The stadium was rightfully shut down in 2005 following the death of a schoolboy and injuries to 15 fans stampeding to purchase tickets for a 2006 World Cup qualifer against Morroco.

A repeat of these ugly incidents looked imminent after the KFF announced that tickets would go on sale Sunday morning only hours before the match kicked off.
A case of history repeating itself ...

However KFF officials said security for the match had been beefed up and the manning of the stadium gates would be controlled by a local security firm to avoid manipulation by interested parties.

I don't know about you, but this sure sounds strange. How about selling tickets for a few days in advance? How about putting out the call weeks in advance to avoid calamitous situations like this? It doesn't take much.

People in Kenya are itching to see their Harambee Stars compete for the first time after a lengthy FIFA ban. Why not make it safe for them to watch the match?

I hope everything goes off without a hitch. The KFF's got a lot riding on this.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

BREAKING NEWS: Valencia and The Offside


BREAKING NEWS out of Brooklyn Heights today as Cesar Benoit, proud writer of this blog, is pleased to announce his all-new Valencia CF blog on the super, incredible The Offside website!!

Please join Cesar at The Offside and read his ruminations on all things Che!

(For all you fans of my African blog, that means no more Valencia news here. And isn't that a good thing?)

Please join Cesar in making his Valencia CF blog the biggest thing in football history!

That's valencia.theoffside.com!! Hope to see you there! Don't you dare miss it!

Tomorrow Starts Today



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

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

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


New generation of African players to make mark

By Mark Gleeson

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

2008 African Cup of Nations Qualifying


Qualifying resumes this week for the 2008 African Cup of Nations.

Automatic qualification is guaranteed to the top team of the 12 groups, while the top three runners-up in the groups (with four teams) will join them. In all, 16 countries will be represented.

This means that only one team has the chance of qualifying from Group 12, which has just three teams - Morocco, Zimbabwe and Malawi.

Ghana qualified as hosts of the tournament.

Please click here to review the group standings.

Some of the big games include:

Group 2 - Egypt v. Mauritania.
Group 3 - Nigeria v. Uganda
Group 5 - Cameroon v. Liberia
Group 6 - Kenya v. Swaziland (see previous posts regarding this strange fixture)
Group 7 - Senegal v. Tanzania
Group 9 - Mali v. Benin
Group 10 - DR Congo v. Ethiopia
Group 11 - Chad v. South Africa
Group 12 - Zimbabwe v. Morroco (Zimbabwe really needs this game. Only one country qualifies from here.)

Now, how do I watch the games?

Quick Bits

Some quick tidbits from the world of African football:

-- Mark your calendars for April 24th.

African Champions League holders Al Ahly have confirmed they will play European champions Barcelona in a friendly match on April 24th.
Al Ahly are the most successful team in the history of African football winning 99 trophies since their inception.
They have won 31 domestic league titles and 12 African club trophies, including five Champions League titles.
The match is part of celebrations to mark the Egyptian club's 100-year anniversary.
Should be a fun game, considering Ronaldhino and Samuel Eto'o, along with Lionel Messi will all play.


-- The English Premier League has agreed to help Nigeria repackage its football league and make it more commercially viable.
"We have benefited and we will continue to benefit from (the) Nigeria Football League," Richards told reporters in the Nigerian capital Abuja at the end of a two-day visit.
"We see our cooperation as a way of giving something back," he added.
Some of the Premier League's leading scorers are Nigerians, including Yakubu Aiyegbeni of Middlesbrough, Nwankwo Kanu of Portsmouth and Newcastle United's Obafemi Martins.
Under the agreement, the Premier League will train Nigerian officials to improve the technical standard and organization of the domestic league.


-- FIFA continues to have problems with Kenya. They’ve ordered Kenya to adopt an 18-team Premier League starting in the 2007 season with a further reduction to 16 teams next year. The message was issued by a FIFA delegation visiting the East African nation to set up a plan for the immediate relaunch of Kenyan football following the lifting last week of a five-month suspension from international competition.
"This is not basketball. This is football and football rules have to be followed," harrumphed FIFA's head of development department Pascal Torres, who led the delegation.
"Those who don't want to follow FIFA rules should quit now because we have decided it is 18 clubs for 2007 and 16 clubs for the 2008 season," Torres harrumphed, banging on his soapbox, sweat dripping from his brow.
The decision signals a death knell for Kenya's oldest club, AFC Leopards, which has been fighting behind the scenes to survive in the Premier League despite being relegated to the lower division last season.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Rankings


The official FIFA World Rankings came out a few days ago.
Argentina tops the list, upending World Champions Italy in the process.

Let's see how our African friends are doing in the rankings:

Cameroon tops the list of African countries, #18 in the world. They're followed by the fast-rising Ghana, up three spots to #19 in the world and the Ivory Coast, nipping at their heels at #20.
There's a small drop-off after that, with Mali checking in at #35, followed closely by Nigeria at #36.

Some of the more interesting listings are for upcoming World Cup hosters South Africa, ranked eleventh in Africa and #60 in the world. They've dropped a spot since the last ranking a month ago. Current African Cup of Nations holders Egypt come in at #41 in the world, 6th in Africa. I expected them to be higher.

How about some of these other countries?
Gabon at #98, Tanzania at #110, Kenya at #128 (and being held back, as evidenced by yesterday's entry).

Further down the list we see Swaziland at #149, Madagascar at #184 and all the way down the list, Djibouti and São Tomé e Príncipe tied at #199.

I've never even heard of São Tomé e Príncipe.

According to Wikipedia, São Tomé e Príncipe is an island nation in the Gulf of Guinea, off the western equatorial coast of Africa (pictured, above). It consists of two islands: São Tomé and Príncipe, located about 140 kilometres apart and about 250 and 225 kilometres respectively, off of the northwestern coast of Gabon. Both islands are part of an extinct volcanic mountain range. São Tomé, the sizable southern island, is situated just north of the equator. It is named after Saint Thomas by Portuguese explorers who discovered the island on his feast day.

They gained their independence from the Portuguese in 1975. About 157,000 people live there.

Also according to Wikipedia (what a great source of information),
São Tomé and Príncipe is the second smallest (in terms of population) African country (larger only than Seychelles). It is the smallest country in the world that is not a former US trusteeship, a former UK dependency, or a European microstate. It is also the smallest Portuguese-speaking country in the world.

They have a football association and they're registered with CAF, but their association website seems to be down and I can't find information of their playing fixtures in my limited available search time.

Anyone have some answers to these perplexing questions?

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Update on Kenya-Swaziland

Apparently, the Confederation of African Football (CAF) doesn't care that Kenya's been suspended for five months and isn't prepared to play an African Cup of Nations qualifier.

The CAF turned down Kenya's request to postpone their qualifier against Swaziland March 24th. Kenya hired a new coach yesterday (read yesterday's entry) and haven't had time to prepare.

"We have just received a reply from CAF and the answer is 'no'," said Kenyan Football Federation (KFF) secretary Sammy Obingo.

"We will go ahead with our preparations and play the match on March 25th instead of the intended date of March 24th to avoid a clash with the World Cross Country Championships in Mombasa."

Isn't that unfair? Kenya's been on the sidelines for five months, haven't had a coach, haven't trained together, are bottom of their qualification table and to top if off, CAF hands them this nice present.

'Here, you need help getting up? Let me lay my foot on your neck so it's easier.'

Good job, CAF! Thanks for nothing!
You want to repair the game in Kenya? Give them the two weeks they're seeking to gather themselves and give the squad a fair shot!

Update on Valencia-Inter Brawl


Here's the latest word from UEFA on the incident at the Mestalla between Valencia and Inter Milan after their Champions League contest last week:

The UEFA Control & Disciplinary Body has banned Valencia's David Navarro for seven months for starting the brawl at the end of the Champions League match with Inter Milan earlier this month.
Both clubs have been fined 250,000 Swiss francs ($205,400) by UEFA's control and disciplinary committee. Navarro broke the nose of Inter's Nicolas Burdisso, who was banned for six games along with team-mate Maicon.

Valencia's Carlos Marchena was banned for four games, while Inter's Ivan Cordoba and Julio Cruz received three and two-match bans. The bans are only effective for European competitions, although UEFA's in the process of asking FIFA to extend the ban on Navarro to international level so that it applies to any football competition - including domestic leagues and national team fixtures - on top of UEFA club competition matches. Ouch!!

I'm happy with the results of UEFA's investigation. They didn't impose a stadium ban on Valencia and didn't kill either team in terms of future competitiveness.
Such a silly incident for two good clubs to be involved in. I still don't see what Navarro was thinking. Well, he'll have seven months to think about what went wrong.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Stability for Kenya?

Jacob 'Ghost' Mulee confirmed his decision today to coach the Kenyan national football team, known as the Harambee Stars, after meeting the Kenyan Football Federation (KFF) Monday.



Mulee used to coach the squad, between 2003-2004 and was again the head man in 2005 even though he never actually coached the team during that time.

'When duty calls, you have to do it,' Mulee told BBC Sport Monday.

Mulee's currently the coach of the seven-time Kenyan league champions, Tusker. Once his contract runs out with Tusker, he'll sign a deal with the KFF. Until then, he'll head up the Harambee Stars on a part-time basis.

The KFF is also looking to postpone their March 24th date with Swaziland.

'We have asked the Confederation of African Football for a postponement to have the game delayed by three weeks,' Mulee said. 'We are coming back from a ban & so postponement would be very good for us.'

Mulee, who led Kenya to its only victory in a Nations Cup finals match at Tunisia in 2004, also said how FIFA's lifting of their ban has raised the spirits of Kenya's football community.

'Everybody's happy, especially the players,' Mulee (pictured, right) said. 'We need to put our foot on the ground now and solve the uncertainty in the administration of Kenyan football once and for all.'

In 2005, a dispute in the upper echelon of Kenya football resulted in Mulee's hiring as national team coach by one faction of the KFF only for a different section to overrule the decision.

One can only hope the appointment of Mulee will set the stage for full-blown stability in the Kenyan game. Once they get their house in order, the development of the game in Kenya can really take hold.

Two questions for readers:
- Why is the national team called the 'Harambee Stars'?
- Why is Mr. Mulee called 'Ghost'?

Monday, March 12, 2007

Special words from the Special One

We talk a lot about the African contingent at Chelsea, England’s reigning champions.
But rarely does “The Special One", Blues manager extraordinaire Jose Mourinho expound at length about them.

Mourinho praised the character & contribution of his African players on Monday at a news conference. Chelsea, second in the English Premiership behind leaders Manchester United, are playing quarterfinals in both the Champions League (Valencia) and the FA Cup (Tottenham).

"The African players have a special character," Mourinho told the conference.
"They are a strong personality group in the team. They like to win, they like to work, they are team players. And they give a big contribution, not just in football terms but also in psychological terms.
"They are people who are difficult to break, people who want to give everything -- not selfish or thinking about themselves but about the team. We are very lucky with that group of boys."

Ivory Coast striker Salomon Kalou (pictured, above) kept Chelsea in the FA Cup by scoring a late equaliser for a 3-3 draw on Sunday with Tottenham Hotspur.

Ghana's Michael Essien was also impressive. He was unlucky to score an own goal that gave Spurs a 2-1 lead in the first half.

Mourinho paid further tribute to an African contingent at Stamford Bridge which also includes Ivorian striker and top scorer Didier Drogba and Nigeria midfielder John Obi Mikel.
"John Obi and Salomon are also great talents - I keep saying this," Mourinho said.

"Salomon is adapting and improving and for John Obi (pictured, left) it was a big, big, big shame that he had this four-match ban after the Carling Cup final (for a silly fight at the end of the match). The way he played against Porto home and away and against Arsenal, these were three big matches and he was exactly in the point to make the jump."

Mourinho was proud to see Drogba named African Player of the Year, but believed the 29-goal striker should have won by a bigger margin from Barcelona's Cameroon forward Samuel Eto'o, the winner from 2003-05.

"I'm surprised a player with the fabulous season he's having won the trophy by only five points. I couldn't believe that,” Mourinho said.
"Of course, Samuel is an unbelievable player and I think he deserved to win the trophies the seasons before because he was amazing.

"But in a season where Cameroon doesn't play [in the] World Cup and Samuel is injured for four months but in which Didier goes to the World Cup and to the African Nations Cup final and is playing better than ever I think he was very unlucky to win the trophy by only five points.

"But I think you can see with Drogba, Eto'o, Essien and the others not in the awards, the top quality of African players and African football at the moment."

Beautiful words by the Chelsea manager. It’s great to see the African lads getting their due respect. Now about that tie against Valencia ...

Friday, March 9, 2007

Money


Money.

It’s what makes the world go round, or so people say.
I’m getting a firsthand lesson in the power of money on the road to South Africa 2010.

I’m working two jobs, day & night, saving up for the trip, trying to get by.
This isn’t a lament or a call for pity, but the truth.

It’s a powerful lesson in sacrifice. It says, ‘This goal isn’t easy. This is important. This will humble you.’
And I listen and look at my wallet and lo & behold? I am humbled.
I wake up in the morning after a long day of work and my body aches and what do you know? I am humbled!

No one said this would be easy. It shouldn’t be. If it were going to be easy, I’d just buy a ticket in late 2009, fly out to Johannesburg, support whatever country I felt like and leave it at that.
But this means more. This is something that feels real, that sometimes seems insurmountable, yet I know I’ll reach … by hook or by crook.

I look to my right and the clock ticks down, numbers forever getting smaller and my mind races. ‘How can I do this? What can I do to get further along to my goal? I only have 29,254 hours left! What do I do?’

My brain searches for answers, here and there, darting like a bunny rabbit hopping through the bush, this way and that.
The solutions will come. Patience is a virtue. Keep searching for solutions and they will come.

I pick up a copy of ‘Four Four Two’, the fine English soccer magazine and read about the most expensive transfer in football history, Zinedine Zidane sold to Real Madrid from Juventus of Italy for 45.62 million British pounds in 2001. That’s $88 million dollars.


Let me repeat that for you: $88 million dollars.


Think about what that money could do.

It could fund tons of schools around Africa for needy children.
It could educate millions of people about the dangers of AIDS.
It could go into funding research to defeat some of the deadly diseases around the world.

You get my drift.

This isn’t to say Zidane is a bad person, Real Madrid are evil people (well …) or the system is flawed. If anything, that’s what the market demanded and that’s what was paid.
Far be it from me to contest that. I’ve enjoyed watching Zidane’s magic on the pitch, enjoyed his regal passes and deft touch and gotten goosebumps watching him play.

I’m not complaining. I’m just wondering.

I’m thinking of people like Ethan Zohn, who used his million dollar winnings on the popular TV show ‘Survivor’ to start a foundation to educate youths on the dangers of AIDS, Grassroots Soccer.

I’m thinking of my friend Enouce in Kenya, who’s trying to better kid’s lives through education and football, trying to give them a chance to get out of destitute situations and make better for themselves and their families.

I’m thinking of playground warriors, who don’t get a cent for playing, but run around for the sheer joy of it, the power of the game bursting from their hearts.
They wear names on their backs, names like Beckham, Ronaldo and Maradona, men who’ve made lots of money playing the game.
In that instant on the playground, money doesn’t matter. It’s for ‘the love of the game’.

But the money men like Zidane and Ronaldo made playing is justified in some way, because they made us smile, made us cry, made us feel something we couldn’t feel without them.

Now I’m just babbling. I’m so tired. I’ve romanticized football yet again. I’m a walking cliché sometimes. Football is the Beautiful Game, I’ll probably say next …

But isn’t that great?

Diggin in the Dirt ... or Man, I'm tired!

I scour the wires for news and information so you don’t have to. I am a willing & humble volunteer.
Here’s some of the excitement I found:

- FIFA, world soccer’s governing body, finally lifted its five-month ban on the Kenyan Football Federation (KFF) Friday after securing a promise that the government wouldn’t intervene in the running of the sport in the country.
A crisis committee is being set up by Kenya’s government to run football in the East African nation.

Kenya’s been in hot water with FIFA for some time. They were banned from international competition for such outlandish acts as having two rival domestic leagues competing at the same time.
Kenya is now free to continue their qualification schedule for the African Cup of Nations. They’re set to face off against Swaziland in Nairobi on March 24th.
Good news for Kenya. Corruption had been the name of the game for some time. I’ve been told the talent level is high in this proud nation. Time will tell if the implementation of this committee will solve some of the ills of the KFF.

- Egyptian giants and current African Champions League holders Al-Ahly face off against European champions Barcelona in a friendly match in Cairo, due to be played between May & August.
Ahly celebrate 100 years of existence next month, a period that’s seen them win 99 trophies! That’s a lot more than Real Madrid.
Barcelona are expected to receive nearly $2 million for playing the match fielding a strong squad, including stars such as Ronaldhino, Lionel Messi and Samuel Eto’o.
Ahly played Barca’s bitter rivals Real Madrid in 2001, beating the 9-time European champions 1-0 despite Madrid fielding such stars as Raul, Luis Figo & Zinedine Zidane.

- So yes, I did watch the bitter contest between Valencia and Inter Milan in the Champions League Tuesday. My thoughts? David Navarro needs to be suspended for a lengthy period of time. A sucker punch such as Navarro’s on Inter’s Nicolas Burdisso can’t be accepted or tolerated. It’s fitting justice if Navarro gets suspended for the duration of this season. Honestly, I hope to never see him again in a Che uniform. But that’s another story.

The situation got out of hand before the sucker punch though, when Inter’s players intervened in Valencia’s celebrations. There was a lot of pushing, shoving and near fisticuffs. The episode exploded upon Navarro’s interference but only got worse after Inter’s players wouldn’t let the situation die down.
News cameras showed scenes of bedlam near Valencia’s locker room, with Esteban Cambiasso wrestling a police officer to get in and Milan’s reserve keeper Francesco Toldo actually making it inside.
In no way do I condone the actions of the Valencia players, simply because I am a fan.
But I hope UEFA, the European governing body, sees that both clubs were at fault. I hope they see that the situation wasn’t perpetuated by just Valencia players.
If they see that, they can access a fair, balanced punishment. And ban Navarro for a long time.

- So what do you all think of the UEFA Champions League draw?
It's going to be an interesting tournament on the road to the Final in Athens, Greece. The draw was quite favorable to the English sides, who were spared facing each other. Could we have an all-England Final? We'll see.

I see Liverpool getting past PSV, Manchester United besting Roma and Milan sneaking (and diving?) past Munich. Which leaves me with Chelsea-Valencia.
It’s an intriguing, tactical match-up that should go down to the last minutes at the Mestalla April 10/11. The matches could feature some of the best African players in the world, with the potential to see Didier Drogba, Jon Obi Mikel, Michael Essien, Salomon Kalou and Geremi in action, all playing for Chelsea.
It’s a good match and I’m keen to see how Valencia challenges the ball-controlling movements of Essien and the balanced defense of John Terry.
It could be a classic, it could be a romp. Let this one ferment some and I’ll get back to you on it.

Monday, March 5, 2007

Piece of my Heart



There’s a plethora of good, young talent emerging from Africa these days.
Soccernet.com featured some of these in a great article by writer Jon Carter.
Listed are the usual suspects, like African footballer of the year Didier Drogba, Barcelona malcontent Samuel Eto’o and uncrowned African footballer of the year Michael Essien.

Some of their other choices include high-powered Nigerian striker Obafemi Martins, formerly backflipping at Inter Milan, now scoring missiles at Newcastle United.
There’s former footballer of the year El Hadji Diouf, the Senegalese Spitter, now plying his trade at Bolton Wanderers. And there’s the tag-team champions of the Carling Cup Final, Kolo Toure and Emmanuel Eboue, both from the Ivory Coast and Arsenal, respectively.

The continent is rich in ability. Here’s how some of Africa’s best did during the weekend. Remember these names. They’ll be the stars of the 2010 Finals.

- Didier Drogba continues to shine at Chelsea. Fresh from winning the continent’s footballer of the year award, Drogba scored a right-foot volley to hand Chelsea a 2-0 victory at Portsmouth.

- Drogba’s Ivorian team mate Salomon Kalou scored his fourth goal of the season in the game to insure Chelsea’s victory, keeping the Blues in pursuit of Premiership leaders Manchester United.

- South African international Benni McCarthy scored two second-half penalties to give Blackburn Rovers a 2-1 win over Bolton Wanderers. They were the former Porto striker’s 11th and 12th goals of the season.

- In Spain, Mali international Frederic Kanoute’s club side Sevilla manhandled leaders Barcelona 2-1 to take over leadership of La Liga. Kanoute (pictured right), formerly of Tottenham Hotspur and West Ham, leads Spain with 18 goals. Samuel Eto’o was only a substitute in the game, coming on late in the second half.

- In France, a penalty by Ivory Coast international Arunda Dindane (pictured below) helped Racing Lens beat Marseille 1-0, leaving second-place Lens 13 points behind leaders Lyon in the French League. The Ligue 1’s Young Player of the Year, Nigerian starlet Taye Taiwo, fouled Dindane to set up the penalty.

- Ivorian Abdul Kader Keite scored two first-half goals to lead Lille to an easy 4-0 victory over lowly Troyes.

In other news, the biennial extravaganza known as the African Cup of Nations is fast approaching.
The Cup is the main international football tournament for African nations, similar to the Copa America in South America or the Euros in Europe. Next year’s competition is to be held in Ghana from January 20 through February 10. The field of 16 nations usually provide a breathtaking tournament, as evidenced by last year’s stunning matches in Egypt, especially the 12-11 penalty shootout won by Ivory Coast over Cameroon, Drogba scoring the winner after Eto’o’s miss. Egypt won its fifth championship at the ’06 Finals in their home country, beating the Ivory Coast in the final 4-2 in a penalty shootout after a goalless draw.


Qualifying is already underway for ’08 and we’ll have more info on that in the future.
My reason for stating all this is because we’d like to announce exclusively on this website that it’s our intention to attend the 2008 tournament in Ghana next year.

HOORAY!

Please wish us luck, as this is a barometer and sort of a ‘mid-term report’ on how our journey to 2010 is going. More on this dramatic announcement in the weeks and months ahead. But look for us in Ghana, cheering … oh, I don’t know who (!!) … early next year.


And one, small, tiny little note about a certain football match taking place tomorrow somewhere on the Mediterranean coast between two Mediterranean giants.

Ok, we all know what I’m talking about here: Valencia v. Inter Milan, Champions League.

No need for me to dive too much into this one. But I do ask for one favor;

PLEASE WIN VALENCIA! POR FAVOR!!! VAMOS!!!


PLEASE????

That is all.