Thursday, June 28, 2007

The Impact of Football in Africa


Ibrahim Dabo is a football journalist from Sierra Leone who runs Goal.com's excellent African soccer page.
Recently, he wrote an invigorating piece on the meaning of football in people's lives in Africa. It is an excellent essay and well-thought out.

Please take the time to read this piece. It's emotional, inspiring and well worth your time.

*****

'In this June 28, 2007 edition of African Talking Point, we focus on a Special Report – The Power Of Football In Africa. Goal.com’s Africa Editor Ibrahim Dabo gives an insight into this topic and unravels some of the true life experiences from Angola to South Africa. He says ‘football is not only meaningful to many fans across the continent of Africa, but it also plays an undisputable and remarkable role in reviving the lives of people who have been greatly devastated by civil war.’

For millions of people in Africa, hope, loved ones and personal belongings may all have been lost. However, that which is never lost is the passion for football.

War is widely known to break down communities, create enmity, wash away lives and cast a bitter experience on the lives of millions of ambitious children.

Not least to say, war often leaves an open wound on the minds of all those who have fallen victim to it, regardless of age, sex, ethnicity or location.

Indeed, such memories are hard to forget. So where does the role of football come in? Many would agree that amid all these constraints as a result of war, the passion for football never dies.

We can also say that football rekindles the fading embers of hope in the lives of many and transforms them into a direct blazing flame. The unbeatable and earth-shattering joy that the sport can bring is an expression of such hope.

I am highly inspired to be sharing this in-depth editorial, which says a lot about the power of football in Africa. More precisely, as you may have noticed, I am focusing on how football is being used as a vital instrument in revitalizing the lives of those who have undergone a bitter experience of civil war.

Not very often do we link football and war together. However, those who have been victims of war can testify that although everything else may have been lost, football is a sport that not only lingers to bring about moments of ecstasy. It also serves as a driving force of unity and in other exceptional cases, brings along marvelous accomplishments that are worth celebrating.

Rwanda is a good example of such achievement. They made their first African Nations Cup appearance in 2004; exactly a decade after between 800,000 and 1 million people were killed in the Central African country that became synonymous with genocide.

Within ten years of that genocide, the country was able to focus on both a rehabilitation process and a national team building process. One can only imagine how many of the approximately 2 million refugees who fled the 1994 fighting felt when the Wasps qualified for Africa’s premier football showcase. Two words might help describe such feeling: “Euphoric” and “Memorable”.

There are times when blissful moments from football are short-lived. This is because the negative impacts suffered from war are too much to bear and those sour memories hardly ever fade away. The good thing is that the much cherished game of football truly puts a smile on the face. No matter how little one smiles, it is truly meaningful.

In 1997, at the age of fourteen (14), I was forced to leave my country, Sierra Leone, when the rebels invaded the capital city Freetown. I left everything behind and little did I know my destination, only to find myself seeking refuge in The Gambia. Around the time of my departure, teenagers were being forced to join the rebels or risk being killed, something I feared greatly being in my early teens then.

While I thank God for my life and for enabling me to escape unharmed, I always think about those youths who were not as lucky as I was. Many became child soldiers and were put on drugs while thousands of others lost their lives. I strongly believe that many of those who were killed, some brutally, had aspirations of becoming the future George Weahs, Michael Essiens, Samuel Eto’os and Didier Drogbas of African football.

While I also thank God for having the opportunity to use my talent and promote African football on this site for seven years now, I many times become deeply emotional when I think that many other youngsters may have had ambitions of becoming football journalists, only to lose their lives in unjust civil wars in Africa.

Many youngsters who survived the amputation of limbs—one of the worst atrocities in the last century—by rebels in Sierra Leone have today undoubtedly demonstrated a captivating indomitable spirit and love for football. They have shown that even though a hand or leg may have been viciously chopped off, they can still happily take to the field and play the game they adore so much.

Suleiman Sesay gave an account of how his limb was hacked off by rebels, who used axes and machetes. Sesay and others were given an option of choosing how long or short their limb was to be amputated, a development that followed after they refused to perform a task the rebels had ordered them to do.

"They [the rebels] gave us a choice," Sesay told CNN.com in a report published in April 2006. "'Do you want short sleeves or long sleeves?' "

"They chopped my arm at the elbow... Six swings and my arm came off."

Even though his situation was brutal and a cowardly act, Sesay unfortunately also lost one of his friends during the heat of the moment.

"My other friend, Mohammed, a very good soccer player, had his leg chopped off," said Sesay.

"The rebels said they'd done it deliberately so he could never play again. Mohammed bled to death some hours later."

A Sierra Leone Single Leg Amputee Sports Club was set up after the war, which brought many players together.

In February this year, Sierra Leone hosted Africa’s first amputee football cup, which was supported by Fifa. The other participating teams were Liberia, Ghana and Nigeria while Angola were unable to make the trip.

An estimated 3,000 people lost their limbs in Sierra Leone during the war and most of the players who made up the Liberia and Sierra Leone teams had lost their limbs as a result of war.

Even in a foreign country while seeking refuge, football can be a life-changing activity. Thousands of people who fled the war in Sierra Leone and Liberia moved to neighbouring countries, one of which was The Gambia. Many embraced football as a last resort of happiness, and perhaps even more.

“During the interregnum in Sierra Leone, a lot of Sierra Leoneans escaped the unbridled violence to neighbouring countries like Guinea and The Gambia.” Abdul Deensie told African Talking Point.

“Football [was seen] as a form of counseling and social rehabilitation. The sport became a tool of unity among Sierra Leoneans. Football fields where our teams played became a meeting point to get news about what was happening back home. For once, football united Sierra Leoneans and helped preserve hope in us as in a fortress.”

Many of the talents that featured in teams that were set up have already started to blossom, a success story for ambitious players who had to strive when it seemed they had lost everything in life.

Sheriff Suma, who now plays for GAIS in the Swedish top division, recalls how tough it was.

“It was not that easy,” 20-year-old Suma told African Talking Point. “Firstly, you had to know someone to recommend you as a footballer and to have a better team that will help you through your needs as a refugee. Football was the only way to survive.”

Even for many Gambians, it was touching to see how refugees could cope and use football as a means of minimizing the stress.

“There were a bunch of Sierra Leonean stars whom I faced in the [Gambian] league,” Ismaila Badjie tells African Talking Point.

Badjie, a 24-year-old Gambia striker who currently plays for Swedish side Karlslund IF HFK, says he was struck by how many handled the pressure.

“I could remember those days how I felt playing against those guys, although I was a small lad who just started playing in the first division. I could have never pictured myself in their position; fleeing my country, leaving everything behind ― and even some of them lost everything including their parents. And with all that pain, they were able to play a game that needs hundred percent concentration.”

In neighboring Liberia, a bloody civil war ensued between the period of 1989 and 1996 claiming more than 200,000 lives. It was not too long though, before the healing process began when the country qualified for their first ever African Nations Cup finals in 1996.

The nation was at the time without sufficient electricity supply as a result of the war but the unbeatable electrifying spirit which followed the team’s qualification, sparked a beam of light in the hearts and eyes of many across the West African state.

When it comes to football in Africa, even enemies bond together and it was therefore not surprising that many of the former combatants put their differences to rest, embraced each other and vigorously celebrated the team’s success.

Legendary footballer and former African, European and World Best Player, George Weah (above), who had a vision of becoming the nation’s president in the most recent presidential elections, played a leading role in the team’s success over the years.

Although the Lone Star made a first round exit in the ’96 finals, their appearance did mean a lot.

“The appearance of Liberia for the first time in the African Nations Cup in 1996 marked a significant milestone in the history of the nation, especially as the nation was going through civil crisis,” said Methuselah Doe, a football enthusiast from Liberia who shared his experience on African Talking Point.

“It actually assisted the nation to some extent by unifying the division that was evident. It also accelerated the desires glaringly of young people who were eager to be sports professionals. Lastly, it made people who were bearing arms to voluntarily put their weapons down and make the society gun free.”

Liberian international striker Dulee Johnson, who plays professional football for AIK in the Swedish top division, shared similar sentiments about the mood in Liberia after the country qualified for the Nations Cup.

“It was a very, very big thing as after the war, it helped people forget about all the guns and the things that happened in the past and celebrate,” the 22-year-old Johnson told African Talking Point.

“It was a very big moment in Liberia and even kids watching their country and professional players playing on television - and they had the courage that one day things will be better. I think it helped in a way to bring people together and know there is hope somewhere.”

In the Ivory Coast, civil unrest had left the country divided with rebels controlling the north while the government held the south. Interestingly, many of the players who make up the national team come from different parts of the country; north, south, east – you name it.

So when the Elephants qualified for their first ever World Cup finals in 2006, ‘peace talks’ were not needed to send a frenzy throughout the nation and bring thousands together in jubilation. Young fans were so happy that they took to the streets in the country’s capital Abidjan chanting: “The war is over! The war is over!”

In a move to further use football as a means of brokering peace in the country, reigning African Footballer of the Year and Chelsea striker Didier Drogba has being playing an instrumental role.

In March, the Ivory Coast captain made a visit to the north of the country where he called on the nation to unite in the name of peace. He took his African Footballer of the Year award with him to show the people of Bouake and from the podium of the famous Carnival Square, he 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 a qualifier for the 2008 Nations Cup].

"3 June 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."

Indeed Drogba honoured his word and led the team to thrashing Madagascar 5-0 in Bouake on 3 June. Drogba registered a goal in the victory along with Saloman Kalou, Yaya Toure and Arouna Kone, who scored a brace.

Nearly 2 million people have been displaced plus an estimated 200,000 to 400,000 dead in Sudan after conflict broke out in the western region of Darfur in 2003. Most people in the country might be touched following these developments but at least, The Desert Hawks have made a major breakthrough which many Sudanese can cheer about.

The team has now qualified for the 2008 African Nations Cup finals, their first in 32 years. And what did qualification mean to many Sudanese?

"I was so happy I broke the television," a labourer was quoted as screaming on BBC Sport.

"There are no words to describe this feeling."

On a more positive note, I believe Africa is ready to put wars behind it and unleash an enthralling moment of ecstasy in 2010 when South Africa hosts the world’s most popular sporting event — the World Cup finals. Six slots have been allocated to Africa for the finals and it will be the first time in 8 decades that the extravaganza will be staged on the continent.

“Soccer is my life,” Claude Reddy, who is excited about his country hosting the 2010 World Cup, tells African Talking Point.

“This [the hosting of the World Cup] means a lot to me and also to my fellow Africans as we are finally being given recognition for our progress in the world. The [mood will be] vibrant, joyful, ecstatic, emotional…but overall, jubilation.

“Most war victims would feel a sense of pride and joy to know that the World Cup would be coming to Africa. Football is life to many in Africa.”

Just as South Africa president Thabo Mbeki had put it: “Africa is ready, Africa’s time has come, Africa is calling.”

In conclusion, we continue to hope and pray for an end to senseless and unjust wars in Africa, so that we can enjoy football even more. The problem is not only limited to the ignorant combatants involved in mayhem during wars, but especially to the highly educated individuals who get involved because of some form of personal and selfish gain.

We hope they will finally get the message through football, as the time has come for us all to embrace one another in the spirit of love, and take Africa to a different level. It is better to lead rather than mislead.

The continent is very rich in promising talents who have the potential to make it to the highest level in football if given the necessary support and encouragement, and surely, we need not deprive them of these basics.

Instead of sadly having child soldiers, we can merrily have budding stars. What could be more thrilling than to see those talents blossom over time? Indeed, “Africa is ready,” the wars can be stopped and we can all proudly say: “Africa is calling.”

Road to 2018 Final?


So when do I start the blog on my way to the 2018 Final?
If this story is true, I won't have to go far ... (thanks to Reuters for this story)

A bid by the Benelux countries to host the 2018 World Cup was launched on Wednesday with the man steering it emphasizing it was a single bid from one political entity and not a joint bid from three countries.

Alain Courtois was director of the Belgian half of Euro 2000 which his country co-hosted with the Netherlands.
He said at the launch of Belgium's part of the triple bid with Luxembourg and the Netherlands that it was definitely "not a joint bid" which are no longer favored by FIFA.

"We are one entity, one political entity with a common economic base," Courtois said.
"Benelux has its own parliament which has existed for 50 years," he told Reuters.

He said they were confident of convincing FIFA president Sepp Blatter of awarding the finals to Benelux, even though Blatter has said FIFA is not in favor of future joint bids for soccer's showpiece event.

Only one of the 18 World Cups staged since the tournament began in 1930 has been split between two countries -- the 2002 finals in South Korea and Japan.

With the 2010 finals in South Africa and the 2014 finals probably set for Brazil, the destination of the 2018 finals is far from certain as FIFA have not yet fixed their continental rotational policy that far into the future.

Blatter has said the 2018 event could be held in North America, but a number of countries around the world are also considering bidding with England, Russia, the United States, China, Italy, Spain and Australia all possible contenders.

Courtois confirmed that both Belgium and Luxembourg had given their political backing to the bid with the Dutch expected to follow suit next week when the Dutch FA (KNVB) meets its government.

He said: "In 2000 we were the first European Championships to make a profit and the fact that we are one of the most wealthy, accessible and highly populated regions of the world means we are a perfect choice.

"But you must also look at the recent awarding of the European Championships to Austria-Switzerland in 2008 and Poland-Ukraine in 2012 to see that joint bids can also be successful too."

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Thuram Speaks Out Against Violence


Football gives otherwise ordinary men the platform to voice their opinions.
Some come off as goofy while others come off as strong, even intelligent.

France and Barcelona defender Lilian Thuram is a well-spoken athlete with a lot to say. Recently, the French international urged youths to shun violence on his recent tour of West Africa as a United Nations goodwill ambassador.

Thuram visited Guinea before moving to Sierra Leone and visiting Liberia on Monday.

The stalwart defender told a jam-packed hall in Freetown that youths should reject violence and work harder to improve their lives and society.

"I want the youths to ask themselves what they are doing for the society and not what the society does for them," he said.

"When things go wrong in the society, the youths should ask themselves what role should they play to solve the problem.

"Now that Sierra Leone is having elections, the youths should know that they should behave well and make sure that they keep themselves away from violence.

"As a footballer I've found out that you have to rely on yourself and your own efforts to be successful in life.

"I rely on my own efforts greatly and that has made me what I am today, so I want the young people to rely on their own efforts to succeed in life."

Sierra Leone's Minister of Youth and Sport Doctor Dennis Bright thanked Thuram for his message.

"I think Thuram has brought the right message to the youths and I want the youths to listen to his advice," he said.

Alusine Fofanah, one of the youngsters listening to Thuram, said he would be following the football star's advice.

"I think Thuram is a good example and he's worth listening to," Fofanah told BBC Sport.

"It's true that we young people always engage in violence particularly in the build-up to elections this year in Sierra Leone.

"Let us take heed of his advice and I believe it will benefit us and the country as a whole."

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Good News from South Africa 2010


Some good news today from the people working hard in South Africa to get the country ready for the 2010 World Cup extravaganza.

Construction of the main stadium for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa will be finished early, the main spokesman for the country's 2010 organizing committee said on Tuesday.

Tim Modise told a briefing that government officials were confident the Soccer City stadium in southern Johannesburg would be ready by April 2009, well ahead of the October 2009 delivery deadline set by soccer's governing body FIFA.

"The flagship stadium, where the opening and final games will be played, will be delivered several months ahead of time," Modise said. "They have been working 24/7 on it."

South Africa is building five new stadiums and refurbishing five others in preparation for the World Cup, which is expected to draw hundreds of thousands of visitors to the country.

Work on the stadiums began this year, later than expected, prompting concerns South Africa would not meet key construction deadlines and spurring reports that FIFA might consider moving the World Cup to another country.

FIFA officials have repeatedly denied any plan to strip South Africa of the prestigious tournament. The organization's President Sepp Blatter said after touring World Cup sites in South Africa last week that "only an act of God" would see the tournament taken away from the country.

The Soccer City stadium, which is located near the giant black township of Soweto, will have 94,000 seats. Designed to resemble a giant calabash shell, the stadium will create the image of a traditional African cooking pot when lit up at night.

While praising officials for picking up the pace on stadium construction, Blatter and others have urged organizers to pay attention to the construction of hotels and other World Cup facilities and ensure the streets are safe for visitors.

South Africa's high level of violent crime -- much of it centered in and around Johannesburg -- has raised fears that fans and athletes could be easy pickings for criminals during World Cup events in the nine host cities.

Thanks to Reuters for the details of this story.

Friday, June 22, 2007

African Champions League Back in Swing


The African Champions League gets back into swing this weekend, with a full slate of games on hand.

Egyptian giants and holders Al Ahly set out in search of an unprecedented third successive Champions League title when they host Sudan’s Al Hilal at home on the first weekend of the group phase of the competition. Ahly start as strong favorites in a field of eight sides, seven of which come from the Arabic-speaking North of the continent.

Ahly will have Mohamed Aboutrika, the catalyst for their success in last year’s competition, back from injury for Sunday’s match, having overcome a groin strain picked up in an international friendly for Egypt in Kuwait last week.

Al Hilal compete in the group phase of the Champions League for the first time and on the back of Sudan’s qualification last weekend for the African Cup of Nations finals.

Nine players from Al Hilal featured in the 2-0 win in the Seychelles on Saturday that saw Sudan qualify for the Nations Cup finals for the first time since 1976.

In addition to the champions game, Esperance of Tunisia face Asec Mimosas of Ivory Coast at Al-Menzah Stadium in Tunisia Saturday followed by FAR Rabat of Morocco against Etoile Sahel of Tunisia at Moulay Abdallah Stadium in the Moroccan capital.

In the other game, Al-Ittihad of Libya, the first club from the north African country to get this far, host twice title holders JS Kabylie of Algeria in Tripoli to launch a 24-fixture pool programme involving eight clubs. This game takes place on Friday.

FAR and Etoile look a cut above their rivals in the weaker Group A and Ahly, ASEC and Esperance should slug it out for the two semi-finals slots from Group B where even outsiders Hilal look no pushovers.

Only the bravest would predict the likely champions at this stage, especially as the coach of obvious choice Ahly admits his star-laced squad are weary after endless domestic and international commitments.

Here's a list of the games coming up. The top two finishers in the two groups advance to the semifinals. The winner of the Champions League plays in December in the Club World Cup in Japan. Enjoy the action as Africa crowns a club champion!

GROUP A

P W D L GF GA Pts
FAR Rabat (MOR) 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Etoile du Sahel (TUN) 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Al Ittihad (LBY) 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
JS Kabylie (ALG) 0 0 0 0 0 0 0


22-24/06/07: FAR Rabat (MOR) v Etoile du Sahel (TUN)
22-24/06/07: Al Ittihad (LBY) v JS Kabylie (ALG)

06-08/07/07: Etoile du Sahel (TUN) v Al Ittihad (LBY)
06-08/07/07: JS Kabylie (ALG) v FAR Rabat (MOR)

20-22/07/07: FAR Rabat (MOR) v Al Ittihad (LBY)
20-22/07/07: Etoile du Sahel (TUN) v JS Kabylie (ALG)

03-05/08/07: Al Ittihad v FAR Rabat
03-05/08/07: JS Kabylie v Etoile du Sahel

17-19/08/07: Etoile du Sahel v FAR Rabat
17-19/08/07: JS Kabylie v Al Ittihad

31-02/09/07: Al Ittihad v
Etoile du Sahel 31-02/09/07: FAR Rabat v JS Kabylie

GROUP B

P W D L GF GA Pts
Ahly (EGY) 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Al Hilal (SUD) 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Esperance (TUN) 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Asec Mimosas (CIV) 0 0 0 0 0 0 0


22-24/06/07: Ahly (EGY) v Al Hilal (SUD)
22-24/06/07: Esperance (TUN) v Asec Mimosas (CIV)

06-08/07/07: Al Hilal v Esperance
06-08/07/07: Asec Mimosas v Ahly

20-22/07/07: Ahly v Esperance
20-22/07/07: Al Hilal v Asec Mimosas

03-05/08/07: Esperance v Ahly
03-05/08/07: Asec Mimosas v Al Hilal

11-19/08/07: Al Hilal v Ahly
11-19/08/07: Asec Mimosas v Esperance

31-02/09/07: Esperance v Al Hilal
31-02/09/07: Ahly 1-0 Asec Mimosas

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Barcelona defeat Sundowns


This story is from the news wires:

Spanish giants FC Barcelona came from behind to beat South African champions Mamelodi Sundowns 2-1 in a friendly in Pretoria on Wednesday.

South African international Surprise Moriri handed the home side an early lead but late goals from substitutes Santiago Ezquerro and Marc Crosas secured the win for the visitors.

Sundowns took the lead after just two minutes when Brent Carelse latched onto Vuyo Mere's low cross before setting up Moriri, who shot past Barca goalkeeper Victor Valdes.

Calvin Marlin kept Sundowns lead before the break after making point-blank saves from Samuel Eto'o and Ludovic Giuly.

Even though the Spanish side dominated the first half, Carlese, Josta Dladla and Patrick Apataki also spurned good scoring chances for the South Africans.

Barcelona's persistence paid off the in the 74th minute when Ezquerro levelled from a Ronaldinho free kick.

Ronaldinho was again the provider with a superb pass to Crosas, who fired past Marlin with six minutes remaining

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Mamelodi Sundowns vs. Barcelona


Barcelona's season isn't over yet. They travel to Pretoria, South Africa for an international friendly against South African champions Mamelodi Sundowns tomorrow night.

“We have raised the bar and I am proud of my president (Patrice Motsepe) for inviting such a historical team to play here. They are bringing a full-strength team and that augurs well for our preparations for the Confederations Cup next month against TP Mazembe,” said Sundowns spokesman Alex Tshakoane.

“I urge local football fans to come and support this team because we are not doing this for us but for the whole country. With the 2010 coming here, it is about time that we all pull together to realise our ambition.”

Most people know a lot about Barcelona. Let's educate you on Mamelodi, from a press release

-- Mamelodi Sundowns Football Club originated from Marabastad, a cosmopolitan area North West of the Pretoria CBD.

The club was originally formed in the early 1960s by a group of youngsters, among them were Frank Motsepe, Roy Fischer, Ingle Singh and Bernard Hartze, to mention but a few, and it became an official football club in 1970.

The club was affiliated to the Federation Professional Soccer League in 1973 and the same year reached the finals of the Coca Cola Cup where they played against Berea United and lost 5-3.

In 1978, the Federation Professional Soccer League threw their weight behind the then National Professional Soccer League. This meant the end of the Federation Professional Soccer League and the subsequent relegation of Sundowns to the second division.

For five years ‘Downs battled to gain promotion and during that period the Sundowns management resolved to disband the club but instead were approached by the late Boy Mafa who bought the franchise for R2000.00, a transaction facilitated by then lawyer, Dikgang Moseneke. This resulted in the club relocating to Mamelodi in the early 1980s.

In 1984 South African Football was the first sport to become non-racial and the National Soccer League was formed incorporating the top clubs in the country.

Sundowns earned promotion to the NSL in 1985 but in their first season in top-flight soccer, they found the going difficult until Zola Mahobe came on board and appointed Ben Segale as their coach.

In 1988, the ownership of the club fell in the hands of Standard Bank, which repossessed the club from Mr. Zola Mahobe. The Twin Pharmaceutical Group, owned by the Krok brothers, then bought the club from Standard Bank.

Sundowns enjoyed a golden period of success in the late 90s that saw them pick up three consecutive PSL titles (the PSL replaced the NSL at the start of the 1996/97 season) from 1998 to 2000 as well as being Bob Save Super Bowl winners in 1998 and Rothmans Cup winners in 1999.

The club reached the final of the 2001 CAF Champions League, their best performance in continental competition, where they were defeated 4-1 on aggregate by Egyptian club Al Ahly.

In 2003, mining magnate Patrice Motsepe bought 51% shares in the club and in 2004 he took total control of the club by buying the remaining shares and thus became the sole owner and shareholder of the club.

Sundowns picked up their first piece of silverware for six years in May 2006 when co-coaches Miguel Gamondi and Neil Tovey oversaw Sundowns’ triumph in the PSL, the seventh league title in their history.

After a slow start to the current season, Gamondi and Tovey were relieved of their positions and Gordon Igesund took over as head coach. Under Igesund, Sundowns defended their title in emphatic style, running away with the trophy. They unfortunately failed to win the ‘double’ losing to `Ajax in the Absa final.

With Barcelona fielding a full-strength squad, this should be a fun one. Catch it if you can!!

The Importance of the Game




Two stories today give us a glimpse at the importance people place on football in Africa.

First comes this emotional story from the Sudan (pic, left), whose national problems have become an international cause.

Hundreds of screaming and dancing Sudanese fans welcomed their national team home after qualifying for their first African Nations Cup finals in 32 years.

Sudan beat Seychelles 2-0 in an away match on Saturday and even if these lose their last qualifying match against Group Four leaders Tunisia, they are effectively through to the finals in Ghana next year as one of the top three group runners up.

Thousands of supporters of the Nile Crocodiles met the team on arrival at Khartoum airport.

"This is not just a win for the team, but for all of the people of Sudan," defender Khalid Hassan Ali said, as the players emerged one by one to be engulfed by drumming, singing fans.

"I'm so happy I want to scream out "I am Sudanese" and die for my country," said student Abdel Salaam el-Sir.

"Normally the media talk about politics, but now this is a different side to Sudan, and we are proud," said al-Rashid al-Tayyib.

Sudan were champions in 1970 and the Confederation of African Football was founded in Khartoum in 1957.

Riot police fought off fans to allow players, who were carried aloft by dozens of people, to get into waiting cars.

"I was so happy I broke the television," screamed one labourer, draped in the Sudanese flag and shaking his shoulders in a triumphant traditional dance.

"There are no words to describe this feeling."

It's a beautiful story that illustrates the compassionate side of the game. Football allows people to feel diversion and pride in a place they call home, even though that place is going through divisive strife.

The next story comes from the BBC and involves Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand, who has pledged to assist Uganda unearth a new generation of African football stars.

The Manchester United ace has completed a three-day tour of the country at the invitation of Proline Soccer Academy.

Ferdinand had the rare chance of meeting Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni at the State House in Nakasero.

He vowed to help promote the activities of the academy to European clubs and also help in developing local talent.

"I am certainly going to help develop the Ugandan kids because they have the talent. I will help the academy," Ferdinand said.

"I would like to see Uganda produce players like Ivorian Didier Drogba and Ghana's Michael Essien in the future.

"I have come here to help the kids. That's the most important, to give them skills and inspiration of becoming important people and not only in football but in life as well."

President Museveni promised to help the Proline Soccer Academy by offering land to expand the facilities of the school.

He also vowed to waive taxes on goods being importing for purposes of developing football in Uganda.

Proline Soccer Academy is managed by former Ugandan international Mujib Kasule.

This is an important story on two fronts.
1 - It's wonderful that Ferdinand and his counterparts recognize the abilities of the African players. More and more, the Africans are being respected for their vast footballing knowledge. Ferdinand's star power will only help shed more light and more exposure on the continent's riches.

2 - President Museveni is waiving taxes on goods imported for the purpose of developing the game in his country. Can you imagine that happening in the United States? Bush waiving taxes for the development of baseball, for example? Or soccer even? It's an amazing move and another example of the sway the sport holds over some nations.

Amazing things happening in the world of soccer ...

Monday, June 18, 2007

No More Africans for Chelsea - Mourinho


Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho's frustrated by the African Cup of Nations schedule.
Unfortunately, it will cost Chelsea a significant portion of their squad come January, when the Cup of Nations gets underway in Ghana, smack dab in the middle of the English season.

So what does Mourinho do?

Mourinho told English paper News of the World: "We are never happy with the African Cup of Nations in January.

"African players are excellent technically and are natural fighters but when you have a lot of them you have to say stop, no more.

"Losing them can kill your team at a crucial time. If someone asks me do I want more African players, I'd say no."

Chelsea stand to lose Ivorian Didier Drogba, Ghanian superstar Michael Essien as well as Geremi Fotso Njitap of Cameroon, John Obi Mkel of Nigeria and Salomon Kalou, also from the Ivory Coast for up to five weeks.

Cup of Nations Roundup


African Cup of Nations qualifying resumed this weekend. Congratulations to Cameroon, Morocco, Angola, Tunisia and Sudan, who became the first batch of teams to qualify for next year’s Cup of Nations in Ghana.

Nigeria and South Africa inched closer to joining the qualification party while Algeria and Togo suffered shocking defeats, keeping their groups wide open. The remaining 10 teams will be determined after the last matches of the campaign in September.

Here's a rundown of the weekend's action, courtesy of our friends at the Confederation of African Football.

**A side note, but don't these countries have the greatest nicknames? Read the following report and notice the teams colorful monikers. They're fabulous!**

Group One

Gabon shuttered the Ivory Coast's Elephants hopes of qualifying without kicking a ball as they beat “whipping boys” Madagascar 2-0 to move three points adrift of the former.
Midfielder Georges Akiremy Owondo broke the deadlock after 20 minutes before substitute Elvis Eva-Kedi sealed victory with the second in the dying embers of the game.
The Azingos play the Elephants in the ultimate match of the group at home and need at least a 6-0 victory to qualify.

Group Two

Botswana lifted themselves from the bottom with a 2-1 victory over Mauritania in Gaborone, despite being out of contention of a Nation’s Cup berth. Two goals from Modiri Marumo and Dipsy Selolwane were enough to give the Zebras their second victory of the campaign, though Yoann Langlet pulled one for the visitors. The other game involving Burundi and Egypt has been rescheduled for September after accommodation problems in Kigali.

Group Three

Nigeria’s Super Eagles edged closer to their 15th appearance at the biennial event after thrashing neighbors Niger 3-1 in Niamey. A goal each from Nwankwo Kanu, Taye Taiwo and Yakubu Aiyegbeni gave Berti Vogts his biggest victory since assuming the reigns of the Eagles a few months ago. Despite the loss, Niger coach Hamieye Hamadou was a happy man after not conceding an avalanche of goals against the star-studded Nigerians.

"I am very happy to lose by only 3-1. We tried to play for a draw but unfortunately, that was not possible. But this is a young team, and I know that we have a big future ahead,” Hamieye told the media.

The Uganda – Lesotho game has been fixed for Tuesday following the late arrival of match officials.

Group Four

The Carthage Eagles of Tunisia booked their place at next year’s soccer fiesta courtesy a 2-0 win over Maurituis in Rades just like second placed Sudan, who won 2-0 in Seychelles. The 2004 winners moved to 13 points, one more than their opponents in the ultimate match of the qualifiers, Sudan.

Top scorer Issam Jomma scored first just before the first half, before Karim Nafti sealed qualification with the second later.
A goal each from Kamal Haytham and Faisal Agab ensured the Desert Foxes reached their first Cup appearance since 1976, as one of the second best placed teams.

Group Five

Four-time winners Cameroon sealed their place at next year’s event after a slim 2-1 victory over Rwanda in Garoua on Sunday. Germany based striker Mahamadou Iddrisou opened the scoring in the 34th minute before Chelsea defender Geremi Njitap blasted home the second from a thunderous shot in the 42nd minute.

Striker Jimmy Gatete grabbed a consolation for the Amavubis later in the second half, but that was not enough to halt the 15th appearance of the Lions at the bi-annual event. Indomitable Lions coach Jules Frederic Nyongha dedicated the victory to the people of Garoua as pay back for their support towards the team.

“It is a personal victory and one for the people of Garoua. If we have qualified today, I say thanks to everybody from the bottom of my heart.” In the other game, Liberia and Equatorial Guinea settled for a pulsating 0-0 draw.

Group Six

Angola secured a place at the 26th edition of the Cup thanks to a 3-0 drubbing of Swaziland on Sunday as they moved five points clear of second placed Eritrea. The Palacras Negras, one of Africa’s representatives at the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany realized their second successive appearance with goals from Paulo Figueiredo, Arsenio Love and Al Ahly play maker Flavio.

Eritrea dashed the hopes of the Harambee Stars of Kenya as they beat them by a lone goal courtesy an 80th minute strike from Berhane Aregay.

Group Seven

Tanzania’s Taifa Stars shuttered the dreams of Burkina Faso, beating them by a lone goal in Ouagadougou, to move to eight points, same as leaders Senegal. The Taifa Stars, who played most of the game without Brazilain coach Marcio Maximo and Shadrack Nsajigwa, both sent off, got the match winner through Henry Joseph.

FIFA 2002 World Cup quarter-finalists Senegal were held to a pulsating goalless draw by Mozambique, taking the group decider to the ultimate matches slated for September.

Group Eight

Algeria suffered a severe setback in their qualification bid as Guinea handed them a 0-2 defeat in Algiers. The feat saw Guinea moved to the top spot on eight points, same as the Desert Warriors, but with a better head-to-head record. France-based duo Fode Mansare and Pascal Feinduono scored two goals, which handed the 1990 winners their first loss in the qualifying series.

In the other match, Gambia drew 0-0 with Cape Verde making the automatic spot a two-horse race between the Syli Nationals and the Desert Warriors.

Group Nine

The Hawks of Togo also wasted a perfect opportunity to wrap up a place at the finals as they bowed out to neighbours, Benin 4-1.
The match almost failed to produce a goal before Squirrels top marksman Razack Omotoyossi broke the deadlock just before the break. Omotoyossi grabbed a brace in the 52nd minute before Stephane Sessegnon and Muri Ogunbiyi added one each to land the Hawks their heaviest defeat of the campaign. Adekambi Olufade grabbed a consolation for Togo 15 minutes before the end.

Mali moved to top spot after thrashing Sierra Leone 6-0 in Bamako to set up a potentially thrilling three-team finish involving Benin.

Group Ten

DR Congo maintained top spot despite a 1-1 draw with Namibia in Windhoek.
The Simbas drew first blood in the 28th minute through Zola Matumona, before Michael Pienaar leveled up for the home team 13 minutes later. In the other match, Libya thrashed Ethiopia 3-1 in Tripoli to move to second spot.

Group 11

South Africa was held to a 1-1 draw by Congo in Pointe Noire, forcing the automatic spot to be decided on the last day matches. A costly error by Bafana Bafana goalie Rowen Fernandez, who allowed a long range from Jean Vivien Bantimba slip through his fingers, gave the hosts the equalizer in the 65th minute after Sibusiso Zuma had put the visitors ahead in the 46 minute.

Zambia failed to take advantage to topple the 1996 winners as they were also held by the same scoreline by lowly Chad. Hilaire Kedigui stunned the home crowd with the opener in the 14th minute before local hero, Collins Mbesuma drew equal in the 57th minute.

Zambian coach Patrick Phiri blamed the inability of his strikers to convert the numerous chances they had as being their bane.
“We created a lot of chances but we failed to covert them,” a sad looking Phiri said.
“We have to win our last match against South Africa” Phiri added.

Group Twelve

Morocco became the first team to qualify for Ghana 2008 after beating Malawi in Blantyre on Saturday. The Atlas Lions got the goal after only nine minutes, when Bouchaib Al-Moubaraki pounced on a mistake from Malawi goalkeeper Simeon Kapuza to connect home. The 1976 winners will be making their 15th appearance next year.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Repercussions of Club vs. Country Row


I haven't the time to write a proper update today (work beckons), but this is in reply to yesterday's article about the African Cup of Nations and its scheduling dilemma.

Seems some European giants are frustrated at losing players for up to 6 weeks due to the African Cup of Nations being scheduled in January.

Two players recently involved are Real Madrid's Mahamadou Diarra and Sevilla's Fréderic Kanouté. Both are Mali internationals involved in Cup of Nations qualifying this weekend and both are vital to their club's championship hopes this last week of football in Spain.

Paul Doyle wrote an excellent article complete with user comments about this strange dilemma.

Today, FIFA ordered the two back to their clubs for their respective title deciders. Usually, FIFA is the first to side with the countries. But in this instance, they've bucked tradition and folded to club demands.

Here's Mr. Doyle's article from today's Guardian Unlimited about this decisive row.

Fifa accused of prejudice against Africa
Mahamadou Diarra blasts 'scandalous Fifa decision'

Paul Doyle
Friday June 15, 2007
Guardian Unlimited

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.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

African Cup of Nations Scheduling vs. Europe


We've talked about the clash between the African Cup of Nations and the European domestic calender before here (Kanoute's dilemma) and here (El Hadji Diouf's statements).

Now comes an interesting article and online debate on the Guardian Unlimited's website about this very issue.

Please read the article
and tell us what you think.

This is a hot-button issue in the world of football right now: the clash between club and country. Nowhere is it more extreme than in the world of African football, where we see players leave from between two to six weeks for the bi-annual tournament.

I've gone on record stating my belief that the Confederation of African Football should seriously consider changing their scheduling to accommodate the European clubs more. But after reading this article, I'm torn. Yes, I think they should change their scheduling. But at the price of diluting such an exciting tournament, just to placate former colonial powers?

It's a touchy issue and the article is poignant and filling. So are the comments by some of the readers, who are as informed as the author, Paul Doyle.

Here are some telling excerpts:

... in the interests of mutually-beneficial cooperation, couldn't Africa cut Europe some slack by not staging their shindig smack bang in the middle of most European league seasons? Issa Hayatou, chief of the Conféderation Africaine de Football, has a tried-and-trusted counter to that quibble. "We hold it in January and February because of our rainy seasons," he explains. "The simple fact is that in June three-quarters of Africa is under water. So just as Europeans can't play in winter because their pitches are frozen, we can't play in summer because most of ours are flooded."

Three-quarters is an exaggeration - southern Africa, the Mahgreb, the Sahel and much of east Africa are eminently playable during these periods. But it's true that rain wreaks havoc in parts of tropical Africa at the same time. So why stage ACN qualifiers this weekend? And why does the African Champions League run throughout June, July and August every year, all the way up to the final in November? Because though it complicates matters, the rain can often be surmounted (usually by accepting a small degree of flexibility with the fixtures, so that they can be postponed for a day or two if necessary - something which, admittedly, would not be so easily done in a more compact competition such as the ACN). So if climate is not the main motive for always holding the ACN in January and February (when it also rains in much of the continent anyway), can you guess what the major reason is? That's right: money.

If the tournament were held in June or July it would clash with one or more of the following: the World Cup, the European Championships, the Copa America, the Summer Olympics. Such scheduling would puncture television interest in Africa's showpiece, deflating the continent's already flaccid football finances. So Africa is defying European clubs in order to nurture its own infrastructure. And so it should.


And some comments:

Carl Weathers said, 'Why should Africa cut Europe any bloody slack? Europe hardly needs any help, does it? I think the piece could have ended at "tough sh*t". Africa should hold its tournaments and qualifying matches whenever it pleases. if that means more top African players stay in Africa then all the better, surely? If the African and Asian nations ever hope to compete with Europe and Americas then they need strong national and continental competition. Why should they be a feeder system for Europe?


BobTaylor says, European clubs are not short of money. They know the rules. They know when the Cup of Nations is scheduled to be played.

English clubs, with no squad size restrictions, can sign extra players to cope with this problem (which does conveniently happen in the middle of the transfer window). Its like Mourinho complaining about having no defenders. Absolute garbage - it was his decision to sign the players he did, and not to have a larger squad. He made his bed, now he must lie in it.

Spanish clubs are slightly more restricted, because they have to supply a list of players in their squad for each half of the season, supplemented by youth players as required. Diarra at RM for example is using up a squad place that they cannot give to two players. Still, though, they decided to sign him, knowing his international commitments. It really is just tough sh1t.

European clubs are only negatively affected by the ACN if they choose to be.


But a dissenter: Whether Africa should help out Europe isn't really the point. Obviously the organisers could and are perfectly within their rights to maintain the Africa Cup of Nations as it is. However, given increasing numbers of players are playing at top clubs in the top competition (ie the Champions League), it doesn't take much to forsee potential mass retirement from the national team for Africa's top players.

If a player has the opportunity to join someone like Real Madrid and his agent was informed that they'd love to sign him, but can't afford him taking 6 weeks a season off every other year, there is a massive incentive to simply walk away from the national team and concentrate on European league football. Rescheduling the cup would be the way to protect against this. Obviously the organisers can do what they will, but they're walking into a potential disaster if they end up losing all their top players from the international game.


Your thoughts?

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Exploitation of Football-Mad Ivorian Youths


There's a catastrophe occurring in the Ivory Coast these days, as desperate families send their young men abroad in hopes of footballing riches.

Unfortunately, as this excellent article in England's Observer points out, there are many people out there ready and willing to take advantage of them.

The piece, written by journalist Dan McDougall is a murky expose of the depths people reach and what they do to claw out.

In the Ivory Coast, football is a powerful tool. As a Lebanese businessman says in the article, 'Sometimes I think that the only thing that keeps Ivory Coast together is the love of football, it is more important than religion to these crazy people and we are making their dreams come true.' Or are they?

As FIFA President Sepp Blatter said, 'I find it unhealthy, if not despicable, for rich clubs to send scouts shopping in Africa, South America and Asia to "buy" the most promising players there. Europe's leading clubs conduct themselves increasingly as neo-colonialists who don't give a damn about heritage and culture, but engage in social and economic rape.'

Please read this article and formulate your own opinions.

In the mad-cap world of football, it's easy to see just the glitz and glow of rich clubs and star footballers. Sometimes, we need to squint harder to see the murky underside, like the belly of a rock we pick up in the woods.

As Mon Emmanuel, one of the first Africans to play in Europe, says in the article, 'A young footballer can be worth much more than a diamond. It is the parents' fault. They get lulled into this belief that their son can make money in Europe. It is a new slave trade. The reality for most young players is further poverty and abuse. In countries like Malaysia, Thailand, Morocco and Tunisia the players more often or not end up on the street or sleeping 14 to a room. The majority are deported.'

It's a sordid world out there and as beautiful as the game of football is, there's a discernible flip side.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Is Messi Taking This Maradona Thing Too Far?


On the heels of Lionel Messi's Maradona impression against Getafe and the Greatest Goal I've Ever Seen, I'm thinking he's taking this a bit too far.

Today, Messi recreated the infamous Hand of God goal by scoring his own Hand of Messi goal against Espanyol in a pivotal La Liga match.

I wonder how long before he gains 300 pounds and ends up with a talk show in his native Argentina ...

Regardless, what an extraordinary talent. He's a pleasure to watch ...

Friday, June 8, 2007

Ivory Coast and Vanity Fair


If you haven't gotten it already, rush out and purchase the July 2007 issue of Vanity Fair. The issue is about Africa, the people that shape it, the issues affecting it and how we can help.

It's deeply moving. It also features guest editorial duties from U2 singer Bono and 20 different covers featuring 21 different people involved in African issues photographed by famed artist Annie Leibovitz. Truly great work.

In the issue, you'll notice an article entitled Spirit of Africa, where they talk about 'Africans confronting it, their courage, imagination, brains, and grit ... (they are) their continent's hidden wealth.'

Pictured on the first page of the article is Didier Drogba and the Ivory Coast national football team, standing on the pitch before an important match.

The text, written by famed author Billy Kahora, the assistant editor at Kwani?, Kenya's foremost creative arts journal, reads:

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.


Powerful. Beautiful.
Keep up the good work.

To see the video mentioned in the article, please click here.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Marketing


In the interest of getting my voice out into the world, I've decided to link the blog up to myspace.com.

There, you'll find my latest entries and ... well, that's it for now.
I don't know a single thing about this social networking phenomenon, but I'm willing to give it a try.

At the very least, it's another vehicle for promotion and a way to get in contact with me if you so wish.

So if you're on MySpace, click HERE HERE HERE, say hello and become my friend so we can get me to Africa and quit my incessant whining about work, money, boring football, etc ...

Again, the URL is http://www.myspace.com/roadto2010final.

See you all there soon!!!

Kanoute and a Big Mess in Africa & Spain


Frederic Kanoute, the Mali international and Sevilla striker, is the second-leading scorer in Spain behind Ruud Van Nistelrooy of Real Madrid.

He's obviously a big reason for Sevilla's success on the national and international stage, leading Sevilla to the UEFA Cup and to within 2 points of co-leaders Real Madrid & Barcelona in Spain's La Liga with 2 matches to go.

Unfortunately, he's not going to play in the last game of the season against Villarreal. He's received a national team call-up for Mali's Group Nine African Cup of Nations game against Sierra Leone, ruling him out of the match.

I alluded to this in an earlier post about the Cup and fixture congestion. Here's a classic example of where no one's satisfied, least of all Sevilla, who lose their marksman for what could be a very important game. Mind you, should they lose this weekend this is all for naught. But what if they could win La Liga against Villarreal, without their prolific scorer?

"I want to play for my country because they need me but I would also like to play here," Kanoute said.

"I don't understand how the two games could be scheduled for the same day. It's not logical.

"What is clear is that it will be impossible to play them both because they are practically the same day," said the Malian sniper.

Kanoute, who has scored 21 league goals this season, will be available to play for Sevilla in the final of the King's Cup against Getafe on 23 June however.

Kanoute is not the only African to be in this situation. Kanoute's Mali team mate - Real Madrid midfielder Mahamadou Diarra - is likely to find himself in the same situation for Real Madrid's final home match against Mallorca.

Barcelona's Samuel Eto'o is also expected to be called up for Cameroon's Group Five qualifier against Rwanda which could rule the striker out of a possible title decider against Gimnastic.

Don't forget that Chelsea's Jose Mourhino has already gone on record saying that most of the transfer moves he makes this summer will be in direct proportion to the amount of players he loses to the Cup of Nations in January.

The debate about when the Cup should be held will heat up as Africans make their mark in European leagues. There's no easy solution.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Argentina 4 Algeria 3 and Other Notes


A friendly was played last night at Barcelona's Nou Camp between Algeria and Argentina, a warmup for the Albicelestes (White and Sky blue, Argentina's colors) 2008 Copa America campaign.

FC Barcelona starlet Lionel Messi, architect of the Greatest Goal I've Ever Seen, scored two goals as Argentina held on for a 4-3 win over the Algerians.

Argentina led two minutes into the game after striker Carlos Tevez converted a penalty awarded after Majid Bouzid fouled striker Diego Milito.

Anthar Yahia equalized for Algeria in the 10th, deflecting in a corner, and the Africans went ahead 2-1 lead in the 43rd thanks to Majid Bougherra's shot that surprised goalkeeper Roberto 'Pato' Abbondanzieri.

The 19-year-old Messi then converted a penalty after being brought down by defender Mehdi Meniri in the 55th minute to level the scores.

Two minutes later, Inter Milan midfielder Esteban Cambiasso connected on a Javier Zanetti cross from the right to push Argentina into the lead.

Barcelona's Messi, playing on his home ground, exchanged passes with midfielder Pablo Aimar before scoring Argentina's fourth in the 74th minute.

Nadir Belhadj scored his second of the night in the 75th but the Argentines held on for the win, three days after a 1-1 draw with Switzerland in a friendly.
******************************

Three-time African Footballer of the Year Samuel Eto'o said recently he is keen to stay with Spanish side Barcelona. But that's not going to stop European champions AC Milan from trying to lure him to Italy.

The hot transfer news of the day has the super striker top of Milan's shopping list.
Adriano Galliani, the vice-president of the champions, said, "We intend to ask Barcelona at the end of the Spanish season if they would sell Eto'o."

I'm sure Barca would love to keep Eto'o, but something tells me the Cameroonian is ready to move on. Stay tuned.

******************************
The Confederation of African Football (CAF) has refused an appeal from the Egyptian Football Association (EFA) demanding a replay of their 2008 African Cup of Nations qualifier in Mauritania.

The decision was made at a meeting of the African Nations Cup committee in Cairo.

"The incident that occurred during the match did not affect either of the teams or the spirit of the game," a CAF spokesman said.

The Group Two game on Sunday in Nouakchott ended in a 1-1 draw but was held up for 40 minutes during the half-time break as the home fans invaded the pitch.

Egypt, the reigning African Champions, were leading 1-0 at the end of the first half and the EFA claimed that their players were scared during the second half which affected their performance and the match result.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Double Disaster Taints Fragile Image of African Football


This one comes in from the man I like to call my 'Eyes & Ears' in Africa.
He's Mark Gleeson and a well-known, respected journalist from Reuters.
No, I don't know the man personally. But if anyone in the cyberworld does and wants to use my previous post regarding 6 Degrees of Separation as inspiration to introduce us, please do so!
I'd love to chat with the man over a coffee and learn from him ...

Until then, here's a piece he wrote today regarding the recent football disasters that have occured on the continent. Some of the positive vibes surrounding the World Cup are being extinguished, according to Gleeson.

The continent needs the World Cup & I believe the world needs it to be a success.
Here's the article:

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."

COLONIAL LEGACY

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.

Monday, June 4, 2007

The Road to Ghana 2008


Three former champions, Cameroon, Ivory Coast and Morocco inched closer to booking their place at next year’s African Cup of Nations tournament, Ghana 2008, after convincing victories during the weekend qualifiers.

Four time winners, Cameroon and Ivory Coast maintained their 100% records in Groups One and Five courtesy of 5-0 and 2-1 victories over Madagascar and Liberia respectively, while Morocco beat Zimbabwe 2-0 to stay clear at the top of Group Twelve.

The trio need at least a point from their last games to become the first batch of teams to qualify for the 26th edition of the continent’s showpiece football event.

However, the thrill of the weekend qualifiers was eclipsed by the death of 12 fans in a stampede at the Konkola stadium during the Zambia – Congo Group Eleven clash.

Reports have it that three women and nine men were crushed to death as fans rushed out of the stadium after Zambia’s 3-0 victory. President Levy Mwanawasa has ordered an inquiry into the stampede which also left dozens injured.

The Cranes of Uganda produced the biggest shocker of Match Day Four qualifiers, bagging a 2-1 victory over Nigeria in Kampala, while South Africa and Tunisia also took giant strides towards qualification after managing 4-0 victories over Chad and Seychelles, respectively.

Here's a rundown of the Group action, courtesy of the Confederation of African Football's website.

Group One

Ivory Coast hammered Madagascar 5-0 to maintain their clean sheet in the group and boosted their quest for the single slot.

A brace from Dutch based striker Arouna Kone and a goal each from Salomon Kalou, Didier Drogba and Yaya Toure ensured the maximum points at the packed Bouake stadium.
Elephants captain and reigning African footballer of the year Drogba described the scenery at the stadium.
“It was beautiful. We are very satisfied to have made a complete victory.”

Group Two

Defending champions Egypt were surprising held to a 1-1 draw by Mauritania in Nouakchott in one of the shocking results of the weekend, but still remained at the summit of the table.

The Pharaohs stunned the home crowd, scoring first on the quarter-hour mark through Ahmad Hassan before Johan Langlet ensured a point for Mauritania with the equalizer in the 70th minute.
In Kigali, Abdul Hakizimana’s 83rd-minute goal gave Burundi a 1-0 win over Botswana, despite the former shifting the game away from home.

Group Three

The Super Eagles of Nigeria retained the top spot despite a shocking 1-2 loss to Uganda in Kampala.
The Cranes gave thanks to striker Geoffrey Massa, who won two penalties which were converted by David Obua (52nd minute) and captain Ibrahim Sekagya (65th minute) which annulled John Utaka’s first half opener.

Nigeria coach Berti Vogts is optimistic of victories in the remaining games to ensure automatic qualification.
"We will try to win our remaining games against Niger and Lesotho to qualify."
But his counterpart Laszlo Csaba blamed his players for conceding an easy goal in the first half.

"We gave away a cheap goal in the first half” but commended his boys for the excellent display in the second half.
Bottom placed Niger also recorded her first win in the qualifying series as they beat Lesotho 2-0 at home.
First half strikes from Hamidou Djibo and Souleymane Saka was all Niger needed to achieve that feat.

Group Four

Tunisia routed Seychelles 4-0 in Rades on Saturday, jumped to the summit of the group and a step closer to their 13th Nations Cup appearance.
Midfielder Issam Jomaa opened the goal party in the 30th minute before Esperance striker Kamel Zaiem struck twice to extend the Carthage Eagles' grip on the tie.
Etoile du Sahel striker Amine Chermiti grabbed the last goal with a header in the 80th minute.
Sudan kept the chase on the Carthage Eagles as they thrashed Mauritius 3-0 in the other match of the group.
A brace from Richard Gastin and one from Faisal Al-Ajab was all the Desert Hawks needed.

Group Five

Four-time champions, the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon maintained their hundred percent record in the campaign after a 2-1 win over Liberia in Monrovia.
The Lions, who need just a point from their next game to qualify for next year’s finals, scored first through Stephane Mba after 12 minutes.
Three-time African best footballer, Samuel Eto’o made it two in the second half before Stephen Mennoh grabbed a consolation for the Lone Stars in the dying embers of the game.
In the other game, a brace from Harouna Niyonzima ensured a 2-0 victory for Rwanda at the expense of Equatorial Guinea, earning the victors their first points of the campaign.

Group Six

The Palancras Negras of Angola kept their hopes of a fourth Nations Cup appearance on course after a 1-1 draw against Eritrea in Asmara.

The Angolans, one of the continent’s five representatives at the 2006 World Cup went down to an Elias Ali Abubeker strike after 17 minutes.
Substitute Norberto Mulenessa Maurito equalized for the visitors in the 61st minute, as Angola remain in contention for a place at the finals.
Swaziland were held to a barren draw by Kenya, a result which meant the latter crashing out in the race for a place in next year’s finals.


Group Seven

The Teranga Lions of Senegal, leaders of Group Seven, went unscathed at the top despite being held to a 1-1 draw in Tanzania.
The Taifa Stars went up through Nizal Khalifan on the quarter-hour mark as he lobbed the ball over Senegal goalie Tony Sylva before Demba Ba earned the visitors a point in the second half.

Brazilian-born coach of the Taifa Stars, Marcio Maximo was full of praise for his boys after the wonderful display against the highly fancied Senegalese.
"I am proud of my boys. Senegal were favourites but we showed what we are capable of."
"We deserved victory, but we still have a chance to reach Ghana next year provided we win our next game," He said.

Burkina Faso suffered a humiliating 0-3 loss to Mozambique, which saw the latter moved to the second spot in the group.
Dario Moteiro opened the scoring before playmaker Manuel Tico Tico added two later in the game to seal victory.


Group Eight

Algeria stayed clear at the top as Cape Verde forced them to a 2-2 draw on Saturday.
Algeria's Madjid Bougherra opened the scoring in the first half before Cape Verde drew equal through Manuel Sanchez in the second half.
Rafik Saifi increased the tally for the Desert Warriors in the 85th minute before Mashado Blanco rescued a point for the Blue Sharks on the stroke of full time.
Algeria now has eight points from four matches, three adrift of Guinea who were also held 2-2 by Gambia.

Group Nine

The Hawks of Togo edged past Sierra Leone’s Leone Stars by a lone goal in Freetown to keep their qualification hopes alive.
Togo, without several key players including Arsenal striker Emmanuel Adebayor made victory certain courtesy a second half strike from Yao Senaya.
Second place Mali’s hope of giving the Hawks a hot chase at the top was dashed by Benin who held the former to a 0-0 draw in Porto Novo.
Mali still lie second, three points behind Togo, who have nine.

Group Ten

Namibia and Ethiopia both grabbed surprise 1-0 wins over the weekend to keep the group open.
Namibia edged past Libya 1-0 in Windhoek thanks to a first half strike from Germany-based Collin Benjamin, giving them their second win of the campaign.
A 30th minute strike from Saladine Said gave the Walya Antelopes of Ethiopia their second win of the qualifying series as the licked DR Congo 1-0.

This is the most open group in the qualifiers as any of the teams has an equal chance of picking up the automatic slot.

Group Eleven

The Bafana Bafana of South Africa thrashed bottom placed Chad 4-0 in their 200th match since returning to international football and also maintained their hundred percent record in the campaign.
Despite the absence of England-based striker Benni McCarthy, defender Nasief Morris opened the goal harvest with the opener in the 13th minute from the spot kick after Sibusiso Zuma was brought down by the Chad goalie.

Zuma then doubled the lead after 23 minutes before making it three ten minutes later.
Substitute Siyabonga Nomvete put the icing on the cake with the fourth goal later in the game.

The Chipolopolo of Zambia beat Congo 3-0 in the other match of the group.
Local hero Collins Mbesuma broke the deadlock early in the first half, before Congwe Chalwe sealed victory with the final later in the second half.

Twelve fans were reported dead in a stampede after the game as fans forced their way out of the Konkola Stadium in Chililabonbe.
Zambia coach Patrick Phiri said the tragedy had sucked away the euphoria after the victory over Congo.
"This national tragedy has taken away the mood of victory and now, instead of celebrating, we are mourning."

Group Twelve

Two early goals helped Morocco beat Zimbabwe 2-0 to claim firm control of the Group.
Marouane Chamakh opened the scoring after just three minutes before Youssef Hadji sealed victory with the second 23 minutes later.

Morocco needs at least a point from the next game to cement a place at the finals.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Ready Or Not, Here It Comes

In case you didn't know, the next FIFA World Cup is being staged in South Africa.

Xan Rice, the East Africa correspondent for The Guardian, grew up in South Africa and wrote this interesting piece about his country's readiness for the Finals.

Here are some random quotes. Ready or not, the Cup's coming.

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).