U.S. Has Tougher Qualifier Against Panama but Earns a Point
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My journey from Brooklyn, New York January 4, 2007 to the World Cup Final match July 11, 2010 in South Africa. How will I get there? I have no idea. Join me as I travel around Africa, write a book, make some friends and watch the beautiful game!
Fifa accused of prejudice against Africa
Mahamadou Diarra blasts 'scandalous Fifa decision'
Friday June 15, 2007
In club-versus-country rows Fifa can generally be relied upon to side with the international team - but not any more, at least not when it comes to Africa.
The world governing body today set a precedent by ordering Mali to retract their selection of Mahamadou Diarra and Frédéric Kanouté for this weekend's African Cup of Nations qualifier against Sierra Leone so that the duo may play for their respective clubs on the final day of the Spanish league season.
Fifa reportedly justified its surprising decision by saying this weekend's African fixtures were not provided for in the internationally-agreed calendar. Malian officials have rejected that logic, pointing out that the ACN fixtures were finalised in February 2006, which was before Spanish authorities decided to delay the start of their season to give players extra time off after the World Cup. Furthermore, Fifa's executive committee itself approved the African fixtures last March.
Real Madrid can win La Liga this weekend if they beat Mallorca and had pleaded with the Malian Football Federation not to call up Diarra. Similarly, Sevilla, who hope Kanouté may recover from the injury that kept him out of last week's league match in time for this weekend's clash with Villarreal, are believed to have discreetly lobbied Fifa for permission to prevent the striker going to Mali.
"Fifa has surrendered to pressure from the Spanish clubs," Mali's French manager Jean-François Jodar told L'Equipe. "It seems a little African federation doesn't count as much as Spanish giants".
As for the players, Diarra is furious at being denied the opportunity to help his country reach next year's ACN finals in Ghana. "I understand what Real Madrid did, and they're entitled to protect their interests but Fifa's behaviour is scandalous," said the midfielder. "They've shown a lack of respect for African football and Africa in general.
"I've seen the fax they sent to the Federation yesterday and I don't understand their justification. They claim that if Fred Kanouté and I play against Sierra Leone we could be docked points or Mali could even be thrown out of the competition. National teams are supposed to take precedence over clubs but it seems Fifa has changed its rules a mere 72 hours before a match!
"What's more, Kanouté and I are now in the sh*t because people back home think that it's us who've found a way to avoid playing for our country."
Mouloudia d'Alger and JS Kabylie, who are taking part in this weekend's Algerian Cup semi-final, had also sought permission to retain its Malian internationals (Moussa Coulibaly and Omar Dabo) - but unlike the Spanish request, their pleas were rejected.
Back in early October 2005, when the whistle blew on the last game of Ivory Coast's successful qualification run for the 2006 World Cup, a 3-1 win against Sudan, captain Didier Drogba sank to his knees and led his teammates in pleading for peace back home. Ivory Coast, a West African state, has been divided since a civil war started in 2002 between the eventually rebel-held North and the government-controlled South. Every game 'les Elephants' have played since the beginning of the war has been an encounter against both the opposing 11 men on the pitch and the civil war back home, every trip to the dressing room a quick opportunity to call home and find out the latest news.
With World Cup qualification the team's prayers were answered. North and South danced in the streets for two days. President Laurent Gbagbo, who controls the South, awarded all players, North and South alike, million-dollar villas and honorary knighthoods and called for a truce. For a brief moment the divisive concept of 'Ivoirite,' which excludes most northerners, was forgotten. An ABC/ESPN ad starring the team members and the music of U2 spread the story worldwide, hailing soccer as a universal incentive for peace.
With some recent success in these peace initiatives, Ivorians are starting to have hope in more than soccer. Recently, Drogba, also this season's leading scorer in the U.K.'s Premier League, visited the North and dedicated his African Footballer of the Year award to a united Ivory Coast. Currently, even as the Elephnats cut an early swath in their qualifying group for the 2008 African Cup of Nations, they continue their peacemaking attempts, trying to still the guns of civil war through today's most Pan-African of movements: soccer.
Double disaster taints image of African football
By Mark Gleeson
JOHANNESBURG, June 5 (Reuters) - Two football related disasters in Africa at the weekend have set back efforts to project a positive image of the 2010 World Cup finals.
Twelve people died in a stampede at the end of an African Nations Cup qualifier in Zambia on Saturday, followed 24 hours later by the death of 23 supporters, including Togo's sports minister, in a helicopter crash in Sierra Leone.
The disaster in Zambia was the second such incident in a decade in a country that is being earmarked to host peripheral activities before and during the 2010 World Cup finals in South Africa.
Three children were among the dead after spectators stampeded through a narrow exit at the Konkola stadium in Chililabombwe, where Zambia had beaten Congo, in order to get to free buses. More than 40 were also injured.
In Freetown, Togo sports minister Tata Avlessi Adaglo and 21 supporters died when the helicopter ferrying them on a seven minute flight from the Sierra Leone capital to the airport crashed.
Togo had beaten Sierra Leone 1-0 in their Nations Cup qualifier.
The two disasters follow closely on a bid by FIFA and the South African organisers to lay to rest doubts over the country's ability to host the finals, the first major sporting event of its kind on the African continent.
FIFA president Sepp Blatter last week used the FIFA Congress in Zurich to show support for South Africa saying: "The World Cup is staying in Africa, there is absolutely no problem about this.
"It is staying in South Africa. Plan A is South Africa, Plan B is South Africa, Plan C is South Africa and Plan D is South Africa."
South Africa 2010 Local Organising Committee chief executive officer Danny Jordaan said the country had to accept that Africa's colonial legacy was always going to leave its ability open to question.
"Africa has never had a chance before to show what it can do and as a result there will always be doubters who expect us to fail. There is nothing we can do to change their minds until they see a well organised event in 2010.
"In the mean time we have to learn to live with the constant speculation about our ability," he told Reuters.
Jordaan has been pushing FIFA in recent months to allow more World Cup activities to take place in other countries in the southern African region, including Zambia.
FIFA has already hinted they would accept a change of rules that would allow teams to stay in neighbouring countries before matches at the World Cup finals.
Southern African countries are also expected to host a raft of pre-tournament friendlies in May 2009.
But Zambia's participation will now be in doubt.
The main stadium in the capital Lusaka has been closed because of its dilapidated state. Future use of the alternative venue in Chililabombwe, on the country's Copperbelt close to the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo, is now expected to come under close scrutiny.
In recent weeks, FIFA officials have been travelling throughout Africa inspecting stadiums before the start of qualifiers for the 2010 World Cup finals.
FIFA last year warned that venues that were not safe enough would be prohibited from hosting World Cup qualifiers.
The challenges of hosting the World Cup have become at home in South Africa a mirror for the larger issues facing the country: the need to improve public transport, widen the supply of basic services such as water and electricity, create jobs, and help engineer a political solution to the ongoing political and economic crisis in neighbouring Zimbabwe.
What Danny Jordaan and his team must do to make the tournament a success, according to Phillips, is to ensure that it has a strong South African flavour. What local fans desire most of all are tickets for the games. But if tickets are as expensive as they were at recent tournaments, few genuine local supporters will be able to attend games. There has been talk of introducing a cheaper 'African ticket' - but given that Fifa's desire is to maximise profits and that nobody has worked out how to ensure that the proposed cheaper tickets are kept off the black market, this seems an unlikely prospect. Second best, not just for local fans but for those arriving from overseas, will be to have Fan Fests, where games are shown live on big screens in the major cities. They were hugely popular in Germany, where as many as 500,000 people gathered to watch games at the Fan Fest next to Berlin's Brandenburg Gate. Fifa is eager for the model to be used in South Africa as well as in the other major African cities such as Accra, Lagos, Nairobi and Cairo.
How safe will it be for fans to gather in the streets and watch football on large screens in South African cities? As you drive around the suburbs of Johannesburg you soon recognise what South African writer Ivan Vladislavic has called a 'place of contested boundaries'. Houses are barricaded behind high security walls; people with money even prefer to barricade themselves in their cars, which are fitted with satellite tracking devices. Park anywhere and a 'car guard' will rush over to make sure your vehicle is not stolen while you go about your business - for a fee, naturally. The newspapers publish each day horror stories of violent crime. The murder rate remains terrifying, among the highest in the world (nearly 19,000 people were murdered in the year to March 2005, against 853 in the UK in the same period; the UK's population is around 10 million higher than South Africa's).