Thursday, May 31, 2007

Cup of Nations News and an Argentinian Friendly


The 2008 African Cup of Nations is closer than you think.

January 20th, 2008 is the opening ceremony in Ghana and some teams could join the host nation in the tournament this weekend.

Should Angola and Nigeria win at the weekend and their closest competitors lose, they'll clinch their spots, assured of a place in the finals. The two are among four sides with 100 percent records halfway through the qualifying phase but they are the only teams with a chance of being mathematically certain of their progress to the finals in Ghana this weekend.

Nigeria can qualify at the head of Group Three if they beat Uganda away in Kampala on Saturday and Lesotho fail to beat Niger in Niamey in the group's other game on Sunday.

The Super Eagles' quest received a major boost with the belated arrival of Newcastle United striker Obafemi Martins at their training camp on Tuesday.

He missed a warm-up against Kenya at the weekend and was accused by officials of deserting the team but he told reporters he had had "passport problems".

His arrival comes as relief to new coach Berti Vogts after Lille striker Peter Odemwingie withdrew because of injury.

World Cup finalists Angola will qualify from Group Six if they beat Eritrea away in Asmara on Saturday and Kenya lose in Swaziland the next day.

Angola hammered Eritrea 6-1 in Luanda in March and with the qualifying competition's top scorer Flavio and Benfica's Mantorras in the squad they will be looking for a similar goal spree.

Nigeria and Angola share 100 percent records with the Ivory Coast and Cameroon, who can move to within one point of qualification if they win on Sunday.

The Ivorians will turn to the goal scoring touch of Chelsea striker Didier Drogba to extend their Group One lead when they host Madagascar in Bouake on Sunday.

In a symbolic gesture to reinforce the country's fragile peace process, the match has been shifted to the former rebel capital in the north.

African Footballer of the Year Drogba is likely to be joined in attack by Chelsea team mate Salomon Kalou, set to earn his third cap for the country.

Samuel Eto'o takes time off from the Spanish league title race to lead Cameroon against Liberia in Monrovia in Group Five.

Home wins for Morocco, South Africa and Tunisia will also take them a step closer to securing a berth in the finals.

Algeria, Egypt, Senegal and Togo also need to win away from home to keep up their front-runner roles.

A total of 22 games in 12 groups are being played over the weekend in the quest for 15 finalists to join hosts Ghana in next January's tournament.

*****************
In other news, save the date June 5th. Argentina will play former African champions Algeria at Barcelona's Nou Camp stadium in a friendly.

The game falls between two Cup of Nations qualifiers for Algeria.

They meet the Cape Verde Islands in Praia on Saturday and Guinea at home in Algiers on June 16 in Group Eight qualifiers.

Argentina play Euro 2008 co-hosts Switzerland in a friendly in Basel on Saturday.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Mourhino is now in the building ...


Jose Mourhino must feel like a rock star today.

The Blues manager was mobbed by Ghanian fans as he arrived in the country for a five-day visit in conjunction with Right to Play, Chelsea's global charity sponsor.

According to the BBC, it took the Special One over an hour to leave the Kotoka International Airport in Accra on Tuesday night.

"I'm thrilled to be here for the charity, as my life is all about supporting the less privileged," Mourhino said.

"It's also great to come to the country of Essien, who is a very important for us," Mourinho added, talking about Michael Essien, Ghanian midfielder-extraordinaire.

"It is a good feeling to come to Africa as I believe I am part of the continent because my wife comes from Angola.

"I hope that this visit can bring a lot of hope of many under-privileged children not only in Ghana and Africa but across the world."

During his trip Mourinho is expected to conduct training sessions for children in Accra and Tamale.

He will also hold coaching demonstrations for the Right To Play coaches who are integral to the charity's purpose of raising awareness about disease, war and poverty through sport.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Champions League Draw


The draw for the African Champions League took place today in Zurich and holders Al Ahly of Egypt were handed a tough draw. Ahly will start the defense of their Champions League title in the group phase with a home match against Al Hilal of Sudan next month.

Ahly, who are seeking an unprecedented third successive triumph in the continental competition, were drawn on Monday in Group B which also includes former winners Esperance of Tunisia and Ivorian club Asec Mimosas.

What this draw showed the casual fan is the dominance of Arab teams in African club football this year.
7 out of the 8 teams in the quarter-finals are Arab teams.
Sub-Saharan African football doesn't do too well in club competitions. Why is that?

Could it be financing?
That Sub-Saharan clubs sell players to Europe rather than retaining them?

Of course, this theory holds water only for this season, as last year's Champions League had 5 Sub-Saharan teams (ASEC, Enyimba, Hearts of Oak, Asanti Kotoko & Orlando Pirates) at the same stage.
Also, Sub-Saharan national teams consistently do better than the North African ones in the World Cup.

An interesting phenomenon ...

In Group A, Tunisia's Etoile Sahel were designated top seeds and drawn alongside former winners JS Kabylie of Algeria and FAR Rabat of Morocco and Libya's Al Ittihad.

Etoile Sahel won last year's Confederation Cup in a controversial and violence-plagued final against the Moroccan military team but they've never won Africa's top club prize.

The Tunisian side, recently crowned national champions for the first time after seven successive seasons as runners-up, have played in two of the last three Champions League finals, losing in 2004 to Enyimba of Nigeria and in 2005 to Ahly.

The top two finishers in each group advance to the semi-finals in September.

Here are the groups. Should be an exciting tournament.

Group A
FAR Rabat (Morocco)
ES Sahel (Tunisia)
JS Kabylie (Algeria)
Al Ittihad (Libya)

Group B
Al Ahly (Egypt)
ASEC Abidjan (Ivory Coast)
Esperence ST (Tunisia)
Al Hilal (Sudan)

Friday, May 25, 2007

Chelsea to Visit Africa & other tidbits


Chelsea never cease to amaze me.

I may not be a Blues fan, but they're making it hard to hate them. They knock my team out of the Champions League, have the most annoying manager in the sport and bore me to tears at times. But man, they sure know how to bring me back into the fold.

Chelsea announced today they're off to Africa for their first humanitarian visit with their Global Charity Partner, Right To Play.

Manager José Mourinho (pictured above), Chelsea FC Player of the Year and Ghanaian international Michael Essien and several young players will be in Ghana from May 29 until June 3 to visit projects run by Right To Play.

So who is Right To Play? According to their website, they're 'an athlete-driven international humanitarian organization that uses sport and play as a tool for the development of children and youth in the most disadvantaged areas of the world. Right To Play is committed to improving the lives of these children and to strengthening their communities by translating the best practices of sport and play into opportunities to promote development, health and peace.


The visit is the first major initiative in the six-year partnership announced between Chelsea and Right To Play in January 2007. Chelsea will also be bringing several coaches on the trip, headed by Academy manager Neil Bath.

Chelsea will be conducting play sessions for children in Accra and Tamale as well as holding coaching demonstrations for the Right To Play coaches who are integral to the charity's purpose of raising awareness about disease, war and poverty through sport.

Mourinho said: 'Everyone at the club is fully behind the work of Right To Play and we are all proud to support them. I'm sure our relationship will benefit thousands of kids throughout the world, starting with this visit to Ghana.

'Sport, particularly football, has a certain power. It is a world language, something where cultural difference does not matter. If you are in London, Lisbon or Accra, if you put down two pieces of clothing for a goal and wrap some paper into a ball and start to kick it, everyone knows what you are doing, there is no need to explain it.

'Because it is the world language you can reach everybody and if you have a big status in the game you have a big responsibility to use that power properly. And what better way to use it than for kids around the world to be healthier, fitter, fight disease, war, poverty. Football can and should help with this. It also reminds you that there are more important things than football.'

I'm very happy Chelsea's doing this work. It shows the human side of football, that it's not all about money, fame and arrogance. As Mourhino said, it's got a power to it, a language that everyone can speak.

It makes me proud to be a football fan. Keep up the good work, Blues.
**********************
We're coming up on the 6th-month anniversary of this blog. So where am I on the Road to the World Cup?

Not very far!

I've saved up some money from working two jobs, but I'm not sure how far that'll take me.
I'm not pouring as much time into the blog as I'd like, because I'm exhausted most days.
I think in time I'll be able to bear the fruits of productive labor, though. So I say the Road to the Cup will only get easier ... I've certainly learned a lot about football, African football in particular.
And I've seen the good & bad sides of the game, how it can help as in the entry above, or harm, when riots break out or the game is used as a tool for propaganda.

I'm still deeply in love with the game. I think this devotion will carry me to Africa and the World Cup. Of course, some hard work will be required. But the work will pay off. One way or another.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

African Cup of Nations: 242 Days to Go


242 days to go and the opening ceremonies of the 2008 African Cup of Nations will be upon us.

The Confederation of African Football (CAF) expressed satisfaction after inspecting facilities in Ghana for next year's tournament.

The five-man inspection team, headed by CAF executive member Slim Aloulou, said that Ghana's preparation for the January 20 - February 10th event is on track.

"We are pleased with the progress of work so far," Aloulou said after the visit, which ended last Monday.

"The current state is a tremendous improvement on our last visit. We are very confident everything will be in order for the competition."

Four new venues are undergoing construction and refurbishments for the 16-team tournament.

Qualifying for the tournament resumes next weekend with a full slate of matches.
Ghana's already qualified as hosts and the Ivory Coast, Nigeria and Angola are close to securing places.

Should be an exciting tournament. Hope I can watch the matches live in Ghana!

Friday, May 18, 2007

Drogba, the FA Cup and the United Nations


I like Didier Drogba. He's a good guy.

I wasn't much of a fan in years past. I'm not a huge admirer of Chelsea and I wasn't keen on his diving routine, flopping this way and that as if a sniper shot him from the towers.

But in writing this blog, I've gotten to read of a Drogba that cares for his people back home (the war-ravaged Ivory Coast), that cares about the fans and that genuinely gives back.

This weekend, the Ivorian international takes part in the final of the oldest footballing competition in the world, the FA Cup, which started play in 1871.

Drogba's Chelsea challenge Premiership champions Manchester United in the first-ever FA Cup Final to be held at the new Wembley Stadium, the new English national team stadium in London.

Having scored 32 goals for the Blues this campaign, Drogba is an important cog in the West London club's outfit.

The FA Cup Final is the traditional last game of the English season. Being that this season sees no major international tournaments during the break (unlike last summer's World Cup or next summer's Euro 2008 ... if you're South American, this summer brings the Copa America), most players will go on vacation and enjoy the break from the game.

But Didier has other responsibilities.

This past January, Drogba was appointed a Goodwill Ambassador for the fight against poverty by the United Nations Development Programme, joining the likes of Zinedine Zidane and AC Milan's Ronaldo.

Having this title gives Drogba some perspective heading into the big game.

"It's true this final is very important but there are things even more important than football," Drogba said.

"Life is more important than winning or losing a game."

Very true. So what happens now?

"Now I think we're going to have time to speak with Ronaldo and Zidane and to prepare something.

"It's to give everybody a chance to have a good life.

"We have this chance, we are in a better position than people in Africa or Asia. To go there and give them what they need is very important for us.

"To go and try to build some schools is very important because the children are the future of our world."

Looking back at his own boyhood, Drogba said: "I had the chance to go to France very early. My parents gave me the chance to learn and go to school in a better situation than if I was in the Ivory Coast.

"So I want to share this with the people in Africa and everywhere in the world."

Drogba's a good guy. He's one of the men playing football who use the game to uplift others.

I may not cheer for his club, but I'll cheer for the man. He deserves our accolades.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Juju (African Witchcraft and Football)


The art of African witchcraft, or juju is a phenomenon that's difficult to explain.

According to National Geographic News, juju exists in much of Sub-Saharan Africa and ...

it has long been common for soccer teams to turn to witchcraft, or juju, to gain a competitive edge. Teams might, for example, summon witch doctors to cast spells on opposing teams. Because of the secrecy surrounding such practices, it's difficult to tell how widespread they are in Africa today.

Sports is full of different rituals or superstitions.

In baseball, former Boston Red Sox third baseman Wade Boggs used to eat chicken before every game. Pitcher Turk Wendell used to brush his teeth and chew licorice between innings.

In football, Chelsea defender John Terry always sits in the same place on the bus traveling to the game. He also ties the tapes around his socks that hold his shin guards in place exactly three times.

Manchester United defender Gary Neville admits: “I’ve got lots of superstitions. I try to cut them down as I have too many. I wear the same belts, same shoes, same aftershave - I’ve worn the same aftershave all season. Just stupid things really. If we’ve been on a winning run of games I won’t change my boots. Someone pointed out to me last year that I’ve worked all my life to be a professional footballer, and yet it comes down to which aftershave I’m wearing as to how well I play!”

But juju isn't mere superstition or ritual. It's more than that.

According to Wikipedia, juju is:

... an aura or other magical property, usually having to do with spirits or luck, which is bound to a specific object; it is also a term for the object. Juju also refers to the spirits and ghosts in African lore as a general name. The object that contains the juju, or fetish, can be anything from an elephant’s head to an extinguisher. In general, juju can only be created by a witchdoctor, few exceptions exist. Juju can be summoned by a witchdoctor for several purposes; good juju can cure ailments of mind and body. Any thing from fractured limbs to a headache can be corrected. Bad juju is used to enact revenge, sooth jealousy, and cause misfortune.

Juju had a big affect on a Malawian domestic league match between host Dwanga United and Moyale Barracks on Sunday. I take this from Malawi's Daily News newspaper.

It all reportedly started in the first half when visiting Moyale realised that Dwangwa's 11th player, Winter Mpota, was outside the field of play and only entered the pitch when the full squad for the visitors hand marched onto the pitch.
Suspicious of the hosts' behaviour, Moyale also followed suit at the start of the second half when they instructed their midfielder Charles Kamanga to stay outside the field of play, waiting for Dwangwa's Mpota to enter first.
To the surprise of the sizeable crowd, Mpota never entered the pitch and Moyale's Kamanga also stayed put, forcing referee A. Maseko to proceed with game with both teams featuring 10 men each.


And so it stayed, all because of fears of juju.

"One of our players alerted us that Dwangwa have a funny habit of delaying in fielding their 11th player ... so we agreed that we should also delay ours in the second half, to dilute the juju," Moyale's manager Lieutenant Precious Gausi said.

Dwangwa coach Lloyd Nkhwazi admitted that he featured only 10 players after the break but he insisted that it was Moyale who started the practice.

“We just followed suit after Moyale had held back their player due to the juju beliefs, which visiting teams have that we use juju at Chitowe but there is no grain of truth in this,” said Nkhwazi.

According to the paper, it's not the first time juju has featured prominently in a Malawian fixture.

"teams have refused to use the entrance to the dressing rooms at soccer venues in fear of juju while other clubs have climbed fences instead of the usual gates to the pitch, fearing juju."

I could write an entire book on this subject, so I'll direct you to National Geographic and The Maven's Word of the Day for more on this interesting phenomenon.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

3 Africans in Top 10 Premiership Signings of the Year


Norman Hubbard of ESPN's Soccernet.com did a superb piece on the top ten signings of the English Premiership season.

Three Africans feature on this list. I quote from the article.

7. Kanu (Portsmouth, free): Harry Redknapp has displayed a weakness for players he was unable to afford during their prime, but few of his aged recruits have been as successful as Kanu. The Portsmouth manager's estimates of his age may vary between 47 and 54 - though Kanu is officially only 30 - but the undeniable fact is that this is his best goalscoring season since 1999-2000. After only 7 goals in 53 games for West Brom, the Nigerian was a surprise on the list of the Premiership's top scorers until the final weeks of the campaign and even more surprisingly, scored a few with his head.

5. Christopher Samba (pictured, right)(Blackburn, £400,000): Pound for pound, arguably the best signing of all at just £400,000. The giant Congolese is perhaps the most intimidating defender in the Premiership physically, but he has been so accomplished that his qualities stretch far beyond size alone. Blackburn's advancement in 2007 can be attributed to the signing of Samba and his pairing with a fit-again Ryan Nelsen at the heart of their defence.

2. Benni McCarthy (Blackburn, £2.5 million): Over recent years, no summer's transfer talk has been complete without mention of McCarthy. His prolific form for Blackburn prompts the thought that someone really should have signed the South African sooner. Scoring 24 goals for any club is an achievement but, at just £2.5 million, it is a remarkable return, especially as only Didier Drogba outscored McCarthy in the Premiership.

Besides the total, his range of goals is impressive, with the wonderful shot he unleashed to eliminate Arsenal from the FA Cup perhaps the most memorable. McCarthy joins Christopher Samba, Stephen Warnock, Ryan Nelsen and David Bentley in an impressive stable of signings by Mark Hughes.

Monday, May 14, 2007

The Fugees


We all know the usual cliches of sports as a tool to change people's lives. Rarely do we see as concrete an example as the Fugees soccer team of Clarkston, Georgia.

It perked my ears up when I heard about this team of refugees playing football in a small town in rural Georgia. Their story has made national news media here in the United States and for good reason.

Take a look at this article that appeared on the front page of the New York Times about the Fugees, short for refugees.
It will move you to tears. It's an emotional, powerful story about the challenges refugees face in this country.

Coming from war-ravaged lands to the general prosperity & peace of the US sounds wonderful in theory. But in practice, it can be an amazing hardship.

Here's a small quote from the article:

The Fugees, 9 to 17 years old, play on three teams divided by age. Their story is about children with miserable pasts trying to make good with strangers in a very different and sometimes hostile place. But as a season with the youngest of the three teams revealed, it is also a story about the challenges facing resettled refugees in this country. More than 900,000 have been admitted to the United States since 1993, and their presence seems to bring out the best in some people and the worst in others.


I don't want to spoil the story for you, so please click on the link above and read the Fugee's amazing story, as told by Warren St. John and the fine kids and coaches of the Fugees.

Inspiring is just one word I can think of about these people ...

Friday, May 11, 2007

Al Ahly and a Special Web Page


Two Al Ahly tidbits today as they cruise their way to more championships.

First off, coach Manuel Jose said his players are bored after a hard season. Must be nice to have time to be bored, eh?

The Portuguese coach, who's team is in the running to win a treble this season (Egyptian Premier League, Egyptian Cup and The African Champions League), said "The following period will be very difficult for us, the players are physically consumed and they are starting to get bored.

"The continuous local and continental commitments will definitely harm our players and the national team as well, because the players had no rest for two seasons.

"If we reach the cup final, it will be on July 2nd, just one week after a Champions League game, so the new season starts before the current season ends."

Seems like Africa's most acclaimed team is starting to feel similar pressures to European powerhouses like Manchester United & Real Madrid, who must contend with year-round club schedules and player commitments to national squads. After a World Cup year, where player's holidays were cut short, rest is critical. Doesn't look like Al Ahly's players will get one for the interim.

But Ahly's close to one championship, the Egyptian Premier League. And they can win it this Sunday for the third consecutive time if they win at home against Al Gaish.

Victory by Ahly over the army club will put the Cairo giants into an insurmountable lead with three matches left in the season and hand yet another title to the all-world club under the reign of Mr. Jose.

It will be their 32nd title in the 50 years since the Egyptian domestic league was launched. They have also won 54 major cup titles in Egyptian, African and Arab competitions and claim a further 14 other trophy successes. That tops Real Madrid, eh?
*******

I'd like to take my hats off to Kelvin Jayanoris, writer of the Kenyan football blog
Kenya Soccer.

Obviously, I'm very touched by a recent article he posted about this site.

But more than that, I'm motivated and re-invigorated by his passion for the African game.

First off, Kelvin is a 21-year old mechanical engineering student from Nairobi. Seeing there was little information about Kenyan football on the internet, Kelvin decided to start his own blog, 'because I wanted to do something for Kenyan Football, to help it grow in any way.'

Kelvin collaborated with other people on the site. But when they couldn't write anymore, Kelvin ran the site alone. This proved to be too much. His enthusiasm for the site waned and he almost shut it down. As Kelvin put it on the blog:
As you may have noticed, I have not updated this blog for a while and generally I am not as enthusiastic as I used to be. This is due to several reasons:


-My original partners in this blog have all left
-I am very busy with school and other things and now that I run this blog alone, the workload is sometimes too much
-I am about to leave the country and will not be able to maintain it
-Kenyan Football is full of politics and is generally very disheartening and disappointing

I was considering deleting this blog but I still have 'feelings' for it and would hate to see it go.


Something about what he said in his blog caught me. The disenchantment with the Kenyan game, the disappointment he felt because of the corruption and politics involved. This feeling almost led him to quit the site.

But people like Kelvin are precisely what African football needs. It needs people that care, that are willing to sacrifice time for the greater good, that have passion and can speak for the speechless.

Heck, it's not just African football that needs people like this. The world in general needs more Kelvins!

I rallied some troops together and along with his regular readers, encouraged Kelvin to continue his good work. I'm happy to say the site is still running.

Please do yourself a favor and check out Kelvin's Kenyan Football site. It's well worth your time.

And if you're passionate about the game out there, he's looking for help.
If you have a voice, raise it up. Remember, it's not just football that needs you. The world does.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

2010 Chief Replies to South Africa's Abilities


2010 World Cup head honcho Danny Jordaan let it be known that South Africa is ready to host the world's biggest sporting event.

Criticism has been rampant (take a look at this previous post) from FIFA, the press and fans regarding the nation's ability to host the games.

FIFA president Sepp Blatter went as far as to make public contingency plans should South Africa fail in its attempts to upgarde its stadiums, transportation systems and security.

Adressing reporters at the Soccerex business and football conference at Wembley Stadium in England today, Mr. Jordaan let it be known that they were ready.

Regarding Blatter's comments, Jordaan said, 'It is because of Sepp Blatter that we are hosting the World Cup. Without him bringing in a rotation policy it would have been very hard for us. He said that Plan A is South Africa, Plan B is South Africa and Plan C is South Africa....he just stated that in case of a natural disaster they would look elsewhere but our country has no history of natural disasters so they won't need to.' (Sounds nice, warm and fuzzy but anyone else get the feeling FIFA regrets this rotation system?)

Jordaan said work on five new stadiums had started, including the 68,000-seat Green Point stadium in Cape Town that was delayed.

The other new stadia are in Port Elisabeth, Durban, Polokwane and Nelspruit while five existing stadia are being upgraded, including the FNB and Ellis Park in Johannesburg.

Jordaan pointed to the huge financial backing for the tournament as further proof that confidence was high in South Africa successfully hosting Africa's first World Cup finals.

'FIFA has already generated for the World Cup in South Africa the highest revenue ever, $3.2 billion. It's the highest in the history of the World Cup,' he said.

'South African companies have also committed $100 million to the event...it's higher than what local companies committed in 2002 in South Korea and Japan.

'If major multi-nationals and South African companies are investing in the World Cup surely they have done their homework. The notion that we must consider something else does not make sense.' He has a point. But wouldn't local companies support this event no matter what?

Jordaan believes most of the scepticism is coming from people who have never been to South Africa. (Very true.)

"The issue is consistently arising since we won the vote in 2004...it's based on the views of people who have never been to our country," he said.

"If I have never seen Chelsea play I cannot be in a position to express a view on whether they are good or bad.' (Oh come on, we all know they stink! Just kidding!)

"We want this event to be a huge success. we owe that to our former president Nelson Mandela who spent a huge amount of energy pursuing this dream, we owe it to archbishop Desmond Tutu, we owe it President Thabo Mbeki and we owe it to so many South Africans. It's not something we are flippant about."

He's passionate and on-point with most of his comments. It's great that South Africa has someone like Jordaan in their corner. His confidence and demeanor will instill pride to the nation preparing for this major event.

I have no doubts. I wish FIFA didn't.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

African All-Star Game


File this under the 'Neat Ideas' category.

English football club Portsmouth said today they'll host a charity football match being organized by Nigeria's Nwankwo Kanu, their star striker. Kanu (left, in the picture) is the most highly-decorated African footballer in history, with over 10 awards to his name, including a UEFA Champions League, a UEFA Cup and two African Player of the Year awards. He is also the only current Premiership player to have won the UEFA Champions League, UEFA Cup, Premiership and FA Cup.

Kanu's game will take place at the club's home ground of Fratton Park and is shaping up as a match of African all-stars. How cool is this?

Arsenal's Kolo Toure (Ivory Coast) and Emmanuel Adebayor (Togo) will join Chelsea's Ghananian midfielder Michael Essien and Super Eagle Jon Obi Mikel on the pitch to raise funds for The Nwankwo Kanu Heart Foundation, on May 20th.

Other English-based Nigerians who could line-up in a 'Friends of Kanu' side include Newcastle United striker Obafemi Martins, former Bolton Wanderers midfielder Jay-Jay Okocha (best African player ever?) and Middlesbrough striker Yakubu.

Senegal's Amady Faye (Charlton) and Diomansy Kamara (West Brom) are also expected to take part.

Kanu started this foundation in 1996 after a routine medical revealed cardiac problems, requiring life-saving heart surgery.

The Nigerian marksman set up the charity to provide funds for sick children with similar ailments in his native Africa.

In this day & age of the flashy superstar and all-for-me selfishness that pervades football, it's nice to hear of Kanu's efforts.

If you're around, go out and support the game. Here's a link to Kanu's charity website. Well worth the effort for this wonderful cause.

Monday, May 7, 2007

African Champions League & Other Matters


Been pretty quiet around here the past few days as I get my work, living and financial situations in order. They're all a mess right now and my nerves are frayed. Frayed Ends of Sanity, like the Metallica song ...

It's not an easy task, this business of getting to Africa. But it's one that in retrospect may be seen as a beautiful endeavor. I'm working hard and I hope to see it pay off. Let's hope so, because I'm starting to lose it, as evidenced by this post ...

Anyways, I provide you small snippets today, in order to get myself back into the mojo of reporting. Sorry for the cutting and pasting. Proper credit is given where applicable. I hope to thank these people in person on the gravelly road to 2010.

****
As reported by the BBC, the draw for the group phase of the African Champions League will be held out outside the continent for the first time.

The Confederation of African Football (CAF) will conduct the draw on May 28th on the fringes of the FIFA Congress in Zurich.

The draw for the group phase of the continent's second club competition, the Confederation Cup, will also be held at the same time.

The Tunisian duo of Esperance and Etoile Sahel, holders Al Ahly of Egypt and Ivorian side Asec Mimosas are among the eight teams who have qualified for the league phase of the Champions League.

The other teams are JS Kabylie of Algeria, Libyan side Al Ittihad, Royal Armed Forces of Morocco and Sudanese club Al Hilal.

******
'Eyes and ears' Mark Gleeson, how are the African leagues coming along?
Glad I asked!

African leagues round-up
By Mark Gleeson(Reuters):

A round-up of league action from around Africa at the weekend and on Monday:

ALGERIA - First half goals from Farid Touil and Adel Maiza ensured Entente Setif beat Widad Tlemcen 2-1 on Monday and kept ahead in the race for the championship, retaining a two point lead over defending champions JS Kabylie, who also won. Mali import Cheikh Oumar Dabo scored the only goal as JSK overcame CA Batna to stay on the tail of the long term leaders. Both have four matches left.

MOROCCO - Leaders Olympique Khouribga stumbled near the finish line of the league campaign, beaten 2-1 at home by Kawkab Marrakesh for only their second defeat of the season. Both goals for the visitors came in a heady three minutes spell from Loutfi Benboubker. The defeat left Khouribga still needing four points from their last three matches to win a first-ever league title. Moghreb Tetouan tumbled out of second place after a surprise 4-0 home defeat by Difaa El Jadida. They were replaced by Royal Armed Forces, who are now six points behind Khouribga after Yassin Naoum scored the only goal of their 1-0 home win over Omnisport Meknes in Rabat.

IVORY COAST - A penalty converted by Labi Kassiaty on the hour mark kept up ASEC Abidjan's unbeaten run in Ligue 1 and a three point lead over arch rivals Africa Sport, who won 1-0 at Sabe Bouna. ASEC won their sixth game in eight matches of the new campaign after being held to a goalless draw in midweek. Africa Sports' victory came courtesy of an own goal early in the second half.

ANGOLA - Goals in the last quarter from Alberto and World Cup defender Loco took defending champions Primeiro Agosto back to the top of the GiraBola with a 2-0 win over Benfica Luanda. The army club have a slender lead on goal difference from Petro Atletico, who drew 0-0 with AS Aviacao. Sagrada Esperanca, who were champions in 2005, remain one point back after a goalless draw with Atletico Namibie.

CAMEROON - Mount Cameroon went to the top of the national league after a 1-0 win home win over Esperance Guider. They moved one point above defending champions Coton Sport, whose league game was postponed to Wednesday because of their African Confederation Cup match against CS Sfaxien of Tunisia. Union Douala moved third, three points behind the leaders, with a 3-1 win over Tonnerre Yaoundé.

SOUTH AFRICA - Walter Ramulondi scored with just three minutes to go to take Black Leopards clear of the premier league relegation zone and ensure that Durban club AmaZuilu still have a fight to stave off having to play in post-season promotion-relegation play-offs. Ramulondi's winner ensured a 2-1 triumph for Leopards at home over AmaZulu in the weekend's only scheduled match.

ZAMBIA - International Rainford Kalaba scored his ninth goal of the season as ZESCO United kept up a three-point lead in the premier league with a 3-0 away win over ZAMTEL. Veteran midfielder Numba Mumumba got both goals as defending champions ZANACO moved back to second place with a 2-0 home win over Konkola Blades. Lusaka Dynamos slipped down to third after being held to a goalless draw at home by Kabwe Warriors.

ZIMBABWE - New signing Thabani Moyo scored twice as Highlanders beat Black Rhinos 4-0 to move three points clear in defence of their premier league title. Masvingo United's 2-1 win over Eastern Lions saw them climb into second place after Lancashire Steel lost 1-0 to Shooting Stars. The Harare derby between Dynamos and CAPS United ended in a drab draw despite a packed crowd at the Rufaro stadium.

LIBYA - Champions Al Ittihad drew 0-0 away at Al Ahli Benghazi to stay three points clear of their neighbours Al Ahli Tripoli. Al Ittihad, who are through to the group phase of the Africa Champions League, remain unbeaten after 20 matches. Al Akhdar conceded a last minute goal at Al Hilal to draw 1-1 and stay nine points behind the leaders in third place.

SENEGAL - Three weekend matches produced just a single goal when US Ouakam beat Xam-Xam 1-0 but a stalemate between the majority of first division clubs and the Senegal federation continued, leading to the cancellation of the rest of the programme. Eight clubs in the top flight and five in the next two divisions are refusing to honour fixtures because of dispute over the running of the championship.
*********
Sad news from Kenya, from the BBC:
The three international football referees from Cameroon, who were aboard the Kenya Airways plane that crashed on Saturday, are feared dead.

Rescue workers in Cameroon say there are no signs of any survivors after reaching the wreckage in a mangrove swamp hours after the plane had gone missing.

Cameroon football officials said Zing Omgba, Engelbert Effa and Patrice Boungani were among 114 passengers aboard the flight.

They boarded the flight in Douala en route to the DR Congo via Kenya and were due to control a Confederation Cup fourth round fixture between home side TP Mazembe and Mwana Africa of Zimbabwe.

Replacement referees from Congo Brazzaville were rushed to Kinshasa and the match went ahead as scheduled on Sunday.

The flight, which originated in Ivory Coast, was reported missing on Saturday after it failed to arrive in Nairobi.

The BBC's Karen Allen in Nairobi said the Boeing 737-800 involved in Saturday's incident was just six months old and was part of a new fleet bought by the airline.

Kenya Airways only said the last communication with the missing plane was received by the control tower in Douala, Cameroon, shortly after take-off.

Poor weather hampered the rescue effort.

A team of Kenya Airways and government officials, led by Transport Minister Chirau Ali Makwere, have arrived in Douala. (Very sad, indeed ...)

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Good for Them: South Africa Defends 2010 Finals Bid


The South African government answered FIFA president Sepp Blatter's contention that the 2010 World Cup Finals may be moved if the African nation isn't ready for the games.

Government spokesman Themba Maseko said on Thursday that 'sensationalist headlines' misrepresented Blatter's remarks that other countries were ready to take over.

Earlier this week, Blatter said the Finals would be moved if South Africa wasn't ready to host them.

'We definitely must have a possibility to go somewhere else, but it must be a natural catastrophe,' Blatter said.

Blatter listed the United States, England, Japan, Spain, Mexico and Australia as potential alternatives - but stressed he was confident South Africa would be ready to stage an 'excellent World Cup.' (Sounds like he's saying two things here. 'Yes, we're keeping the Cup in SA! But here are 34,765 other places that can host it if/when they can't!' Unfair ...)

"It is regrettable, and in the case of the South African media inexplicable, that Sepp Blatter's unambiguous comments ... were misrepresented as Blatter expressing doubt in our country's capacity to stage the World Cup," Maseko said after a cabinet meeting.

Maseko said the cabinet had 'expressed full confidence' that the stadiums and infrastructure will be ready in time for the 2010 Finals, the first time they will be held in Africa.

There are a host of issues to rectify: from beefing up security to expanding hotel capacity to deal with the huge number of visitors; from overhauling its transport system to building new stadiums.

Local organizing chief Danny Jordaan has repeatedly stressed that South Africa is on, if not ahead of, schedule.

I think it's refreshing that the South African committee decided to defend themselves publicly. The country's been dogged by doubts over their ability to host these games since being named hosts a few years back.

Confidence can only grow from seeing a positive result in the future, not by constantly doubting whether they have the capability to put on a good show.

There's no doubt in my mind the people of South Africa will put on a good tournament and show the people of the world a refreshing, progressive image of Africa.

Looks like my plans are back on track. Johannesburg, here I come!

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Can Africa Get its House in Order?


The past few days have seen the question asked in wide circles: Will Africa ever get it right?

Apart from South Africa & the 2010 World Cup, can it help its people? Can it end the poverty, genocide, corruption and murder that languishes? Can Africa ever straighten its house out?

I've never been to Africa, so I can't comment from first-hand experience. Hopefully this blog and my goals will catapult me to Kenya, South Africa & beyond, where I'll be able to see for myself what I've only read or heard about.

In the past few days, FIFA President Sepp Blatter asked the question regarding the World Cup. The Nigerian elections show the corruption enveloping parts of the continent. Problems persist in Somalia and the Sudan. Leaders like Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe continue to hold power, their despotic ways a constant shadow over the people of his country.

The latest issue of the fine business and news magazine The Economist summed it up like this: 'If Nigeria, Africa's most populous country, is anything to go by, the sub-Saharan continent of some 800m people may be doomed to spend another generation or so in misery. Nigeria's recent bout of elections has been a fiasco. The country is rich in resources—the United States may soon be getting a tenth of its oil from it—but most of its 140m-odd people languish in poverty.'

Why? I don't understand. Is it just corruption? Is there something else going on?

So I ask the question: Can Africa get its house in order? Apart from the World Cup, what can the continent do to move ahead?