Thursday, September 27, 2007

Adebayor Speaks

Emmanuel Adebayor has quickly filled the shoes of the departed French international Thierry Henry at Arsenal.

The Togolese striker has scored five goals in his last two games and is maturing at a rapid rate. He's one of Africa's brightest young talents and may feature at next year's African Cup of Nations, if his differences with the Togolese football federation can be resolved.

Here, an interview conducted by ESPN's website and writer Bruno Salla. To read the original piece, please click here!

Q. Arsenal have been the target of many critics during the off season but now lead the Premier League with 16 points. Is this revenge for the team?

A. No it's not. We are just very happy. At the start of the season, people wouldn't give us a chance to finish ahead of Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea. We accepted it, but we really wanted to show those people that they were wrong.

We have a very talented team, that plays attractive football and which can win a trophy this season. Predictions don't interest me much, in May we will see who will be Champions.

Q. One of the main differences with last season is that Arsenal are competitive at home, impressive I should even say. What has changed?

A. The confidence. It is getting better and better each day, as last season we were struggling on the pitch due a lack of confidence. We started the championship with two or three draws and it affected us. We didn't know what to do, we were not playing intelligently. So far this season, the team is playing without pressure, just focusing on its football and with confidence. It is a good thing for the players and the coach. We are happy all together; we always try to go forward on the pitch with the desire to win.

Q. Does this make Arsenal a serious contender for the title this season?

A. It is too early to say that. The road is still very long. We just want to keep on improving and going one step further each game. We are playing very well currently and we learn a lot. Everybody has seen how mature we have been so far and now each player knows how to play for 90 minutes. Even when we are behind, we don't panic. We have to keep this dynamic. We control the ball, that makes everything easier and makes it more difficult for our opponents.

Q. When Thierry Henry left, it's fair to say some of the players and fans were expecting the worst. Were you also worried?

A. When Thierry left, I guess many players, like me, had doubts. Thierry was very important for the team and the club. He was carrying all the pressure on his shoulders when the team wasn't playing well, although he wasn't responsible for it he was the one that was criticised. And he was OK with that. He didn't complain. This season, there is no star in the changing room, if there's something wrong the whole team is criticised and not only one man. We are all in the same boat.

Q. Did you fear that Arsène Wenger would not extend his contract?

A. Yes. If he also left, then we would have been knocked out, like a hammer to the head. He stayed and that is great news, a relief. He is doing an excellent job.

Q. When talking about Henry's successor, people pointed out Robin Van Persie and Eduardo but not yourself. Did that upset you?

A. It's just part of a footballer's life I guess. You have to give the people the freedom to judge. And for most of them, it is still Robin or Eduardo, there's nothing I can say about that. I can only play well and we will see the outcome at the end of the season. Then we will see who has replaced Thierry. It is useless to say 'It's me' or 'It's him'. The squad is young; we are willing to win trophies together and not to think about who is going to be the new Thierry.

I don't ask myself too many questions, I'm focussed on the pleasure I can get from playing on the field. Against Tottenham, for example, I scored a beautiful goal and I was very happy afterwards. But gaining the three points for the team was the most important thing and we also achieved that.

Q. Are you back in your best shape after the injury troubles you have been through over the summer?

A. I was feeling really well physically and mentally before my injury in Austria. That was really hard to accept and to live with at the start. It really affected me. I knew I would miss the first two or thee games of the season and there's nothing more important than the summer's preparation. But now I'm back and I'm playing. I can't play three games a week yet as I'm not at 100% - perhaps only 80% I'd say. It will take some time but I will get there.

Q. Since the World Cup in Germany, you have been refusing to play with the Togolese team. What's going on and will you change your mind?

A. There were many controversies surrounding the bonus issue. The problems are still there and though we are trying to solve it will take time. When you are African you have to learn to handle these things (laugh). We have a very important game at home against Mali in October and we have to concentrate on winning to qualify for the African Nations Cup.

Update on South Africa's Progress to 2010

Two newsbits about South Africa and their struggles pre-World Cup.

First, South African national team coach Carlos Alberto Parreira took a swipe at his South African employers on Thursday after failing to secure players called up for an international against Botswana on Saturday.

Parreira called up 18 home-based players for the semi-final of the regional Cosafa Castle Cup in Atteridgeville, near Pretoria, but has had to make six changes to his squad after two clubs refused to release their players.

Major clubs Kaizer Chiefs and Moroka Swallows said they would not allow their players to take part as they have a cup match scheduled the same day. (Where are your priorities, people?)

This is despite the South African Football Association having previously asked the Premier Soccer League not to schedule any major games on the same weekend.

"It will be a big shame if the country does not realise where its priorities lie for the next two and a half years," said Parreira, referring to South Africa's hosting of the 2010 World Cup finals.

The Brazilian, who took his native country to the World Cup title in 1994, was brought in by South Africa at the start of the year to build a competitive team for the 2010 tournament.

"South Africa football needs to get it priorities right. I am angry, unhappy and disappointed about this lack of co-operation. These matches are vital for me to identify new talent for the future. There is a matter of principle at stake. I have come here not for the money but for professional work and the challenge. To do well in 2010, we must take advantage of all the international matches we have."

South Africa's FA had asked for the Sept. 28 date for the match against Botswana, hoping to take advantage of the fact the league might be able to switch around League Cup first round fixtures, scheduled for this weekend and next.
It requested clubs with players called up by Parreira be scheduled to play next week, but despite initially agreeing, the league went ahead and scheduled Chiefs and Swallows, who had key players in the squad, on Saturday.

Honestly, what is the South African FA thinking here? Do they want to field a competitive squad for the World Cup? What are the clubs thinking? Is the League Cup really as important as the biggest football tournament on Earth?

Shame on the South African FA for not understanding the impact of their decisions. They’ll rue the day they put their selfish self-interests ahead of the good of the South African game.

In other news, about 1,000 South African workers ended a strike on Thursday at a soccer stadium construction site for the 2010 World Cup, a union official said.

It was the second time in a month that workers at Cape Town's Green Point, one of 10 stadiums being built or refurbished for the 2010 tournament, had walked out.

"We have reached an agreement ... so we are all happy," Joe Brown, national co-ordinator for the Building Construction and Allied Workers' Union (BCAWU), told Reuters by telephone.

The workers went on strike last week to demand better travel benefits. Some threw stones and bricks during the illegal stoppage, injuring a police officer.

Brown said the employers had agreed to provide transport for workers to the site from nearby Cape Town train station and compensate them for past travel costs.

Organizers are under pressure to ensure that stadiums and other preparations are completed on time and have played down the prospect that the country's powerful labor unions could delay or block the effort.
South Africa has experienced a wave of industrial action this year, including a month-long civil servants' strike that brought services at schools and hospitals to a near standstill.

This is a volatile situation that could explode again at any time.
One can certainly understand the workers fighting for their rights. In this case, they have leverage as without the stadiums being built, there won’t be a World Cup.

Good luck to both sides of a hotly contested issue.

(Thanks to Reuters for the information in this article. What would I do without you??)

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Drogba Won't Leave & International Friendlies

Didier Drogba is a favorite of this blog.
I started off not liking the Ivorian international, but anyone who has read the blog knows his humanitarian side and skillful play won me over.

Now comes word that on the heels of Jose Mourinho leaving Drogba's club team Chelsea, the leading scorer of last season's English Premier League won't be looking to leave.

"I am not considering quitting Chelsea, I have a contract which I will follow through. I feel other players will feel the same way too," Drogba explained.

"I will decide on my next step of action when the time is right and I get an offer.

"As footballers we obey our contract and concentrate on building our career. We'll miss Mourinho though."

Not the highest endorsement, I know. But as least this will cool Chelsea fans' heads some, who thought the Mourinho supporters would look to jump ship with the captain.
Some international friendles involving our friends from Africa to announce.

First up, Mexico will host Nigeria at the Estadio Olympico Benito Juarez in Ciudad de Juarez on October 14th.

It will be the Super Eagles’ first trip to the central American country since the 1968 Olympics, when African countries participated at the games with full international sides.

Nigeria play Mexico for the third time, having drawn 1-1 at the Inter Continental Championship in Saudi Arabia in 1995 and again a few months later when Mexico won 2-1 in Dallas during the US Cup.
Should be fun.

Next up, my home country the United States flies to South Africa for a first-ever trip to the World Cup host nation for a friendly in November. Now this sounds tasty!

The match, the annual Nelson Mandela Challenge Cup, will be played at Ellis Park in Johannesburg on November 17th.

The game will be played just eight days ahead of the preliminary draw for the 2010 World Cup.

"It's a great honor to be invited to participate," US coach Bob Bradley said.

"South Africa has always had a talented team and the match represents an excellent opportunity for our players to travel and play in South Africa."

The Americans defeated South Africa 4-0 at Washington in 2000 in their only prior meeting.

It will be only the third match in Africa for the Americans, who lost 3-1 at Morocco in 1992 and 2-1 at Morocco in 1999 exactly eight years to the day before the scheduled South Africa match.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Essien Given Passing Lessons

File this under old news, as it's been reported everywhere.
But also, file this under strange news, because things like this should not be happening.

Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich gave Ghana's Michael Essien tactical instructions at the end of their 1-1 draw with Rosenborg last week, it has been revealed.

The Observer says employing striker Andriy Shevchenko as translator, the Chelsea owner instructed midfielder Essien, player of the year last season, to hit passes wide rather than through central areas where the Norwegians had compressed play.

Abramovich is expected to take an increasingly hands-on role in the team following the appointment of Avram Grant to replace Jose Mourinho and, according to several sources, will effectively select the side.

But Grant says he is in charge of the team and will pick his squad.

This is oh-so-bad for Essien, Drogba and the rest of the talented squad at Chelsea.

Love him or hate him, Mourinho was a technical genius. He also appreciated the African players, often noting their contributions to the squad.

Now, with Grant in charge (or is it Abramovich?), what will become of the team? How will they handle adversity during the season now that no one is there to deflect attention away from them when something goes array (see yesterday's match with Manchester United, for example)? What will they do with the African contingent that is leaving for the Cup of Nations come January?

A meddling owner is never a recipe for success. Grant would do well to shut the locker room door to the nosy owner. But will he have the nerve to do such a thing?

I believe Chelsea will rue the day they let a man of quality like Jose Mourinho go.

Portsmouth and their African Squad

Life has taken its toll and I haven't been posting as much as I want. Too much to do, not enough time to do it.

But enough about me. Let's catch up with some news. This item comes from the BBC and writer Ben Wyatt. It's about Portsmouth and their African contingent. To read the full article, please click here! The following is an excerpt of the enlightening article.

Having recently captured Senegal's Papa Bouba Diop, manager Harry Redknapp has signed up an array of the continent's talent.

Fratton Park is now home to the all-Nigerian strike force of Nwankwo Kanu and John Utaka, Ghana's midfield maestro Sulley Muntari, Mali defender Djimi Traore, Cameroon's Lauren and Zimbabwe forward Benjani Mwaruwari.

Despite this assistant manager Joe Jordan denies the existence of an 'Africa specific' transfer policy.

"The players we have brought to the club are there because they are the best we could find for their respective positions.

"As long as the players who come into the club apply themselves we are glad to welcome them," Jordon added.

It's refreshing to hear a manager talking about the qualities of the players, not specifically where they're from. I wonder how the club feels about the upcoming African Cup of Nations?

Friday, September 21, 2007

Al Hilal Start African CL Semis With 2-1 Win

A quick update on the African Champions League first leg semifinal between Al Hilal of Sudan and Tunisia's Etoile Sahel from our friends at Reuters.

Nigerian pair Ndubuisi Eze and Kelechi Osunwa handed Al Hilal of Sudan a 2-1 home win over Tunisia's Etoile Sahel in their African Champions League semi-final first leg on Friday.

Eze struck his seventh goal of the competition in the 61st minute before the unmarked Osunwa headed in a cross from Al Hilal's third Nigerian import, Yusuf Mohamed, five minutes later.

Etoile, trying to reach their fifth African club competition final in as many years, had taken a first-half lead after a poor clearance from Hamuda Bashir allowed defender Radhouene Felhi to score from close range.

A 1-0 win in the return leg next month would take Etoile through on away goals.

On Sunday, Al Ittihad of Libya host holders Al Ahli of Egypt in their semi-final first leg.

Al Ahly Scrapes Towards History

The biggest club competition in African football continues this weekend with the first legs of the semifinals of the African Champions League.

First off, Al Ittihad of Libya take on defending champions Al Ahly from neighboring Egypt in Tripoli on Sunday. The Libyans have already upset the script by reaching the final four in their first year of participation in the group phase since the format of Africa's top club competition was changed 11 years ago.

Al Ahly are seeking to set new standards for the continent's annual club competitions.

No club has won the Champions League three times in a row.

Ahly are chasing the distinction this year and, at the same time, hoping to win Africa's top club title for a record-breaking sixth time.

The Egyptians have had a tough week of preparation with a derby match against arch rivals Zamalek on Monday, which they won with a first-half goal from Mohamed Aboutrika.

The other semi-final sees Al Hilal of Sudan vs. Etoile du Sahel of Tunisia.

The semi-final second legs will be played on the weekend of October 5th.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Football's Impact on Iraq

This is an article by Steven Wells printed in today's Guardian, the wonderful newspaper from England which in my opinion also boasts one of the best football websites around.

It's about football being used as a weapon in the war on terror. As the byline says, The battle for hearts and minds has taken on a sporting dimension, but the US army has found soccer is more than just a load of balls.

It's not the nicest piece in the world, but it states the fact of the matter: football is being used as propaganda in the war on terror. But it's not really working.

Have a read and see how impactful football can be in people's daily lives, war or otherwise.

Iraqis love soccer. Just how much they love soccer stunned some US troops. "Forget bowl season, the World Series, March Madness, and the Super Bowl, they don't care," wrote Michael, a pro-war soldier blogger in 2005. "They have more passion for the game of soccer than we ever thought of having for [American] football or baseball... In every mission I've been on, I've never once failed to witness a game of soccer."

Then Mike had a great idea. The US military should hand out soccer balls. Thousands of soccer balls. Soccer balls with names of US corporations or the faces of wanted terrorists on them. "Imagine thousands of Iraqi kids kicking around a ball with [Abu Musab al] Zarqawi's likeness on it. That would be a beautiful sight."

But Mike - a self-described "big dreamer" - didn't stop there. If soccer balls could win ordinary Iraqis over to freedom and democracy, then why not to Title IX style sports feminism as well?

"We could start an Iraqi women's soccer movement. Why not? I want to be able to give a soccer ball to that shy little girl standing behind the boys, watching her angelic face become a bright shining light as I reach over the boy's heads to place a ball into her hands. Of course there will be so many balls that the boys standing in front of her will have already received one. Maybe one day they can field an Iraqi women's Olympic soccer team. They could make their entrance onto the world stage at the 2012 Summer Olympics in New York City."

We need now to skip quickly over the inconvenient fact that women's soccer actually flourished under Saddam Hussein (and that the 2012 Games were awarded to London). And that women's games were shown regularly on Iraqi TV. "No one thinks that sports are just for men", Nadia Yasser, the captain of the Iraqi women's soccer team, told the New York Times in 2002 a year before the invasion and occupation.

Anyway, blogger Mike then googled "operation soccer ball" and - well blow me down - was amazed to discover that (kinda like at the end of the song Tie A Yellow Ribbon) hundreds of his fellow grunts had already had exactly the same idea.

After all, if the Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton, could not the War in Iraq be saved on the soccer fields of Baghdad? Give them balls - the theory ran - and their hearts and minds will follow.

As a result there are now probably more US-donated soccer balls in Iraq than there are depleted uranium shells - and that's a hell of a lot. The Pentagon was quick to jump on the soccer bandwagon. There are countless Department of Defense press releases and armed-forces newspaper articles, all written in a relentlessly upbeat Catch 22-speak in which victory is always and endlessly just one free soccer ball away.

On YouTube you can watch: troops with mad skills banging balls about with Iraqi urchins. Troops slinging balls out of choppers, and handing out balls to thrilled children. You can also read about troops handing over out-of-date Ipswich Town shirts to obviously delighted villagers.

Soccer even seems to have been integrated into the basic training of some units. "Our marines have to be able to be aggressive and hostile one moment and the next moment be able to play soccer with the kids on the street," said Lt. Gen James Conway, commander of the US Marines' First Expeditionary Force in 2006. Curiously those war-supporting neo-con wingnuts who'd previously bashed soccer as foreign, un-American and socialist, noticeably failed to condemn this soccerfication on the US war effort. Still, it must rankle with the die-hards.

The Greeks and Romans left us with athletics, boxing, wrestling and the Olympics. The British Empire gave the world cricket, basketball, baseball, golf, tennis, competitive skiing and all the footballs. But the new American empire - despite dominating world culture in so many other ways - looks likely to leave as its sporting legacy the square root of bugger-all.

The US attempts to use soccer have met with mixed results. And it's not just the fact that every single time an Iraqi soccer player sees a microphone, they use it to condemn the US occupation, including the captain Younis Mahmoud.

A blogger for recently witnessed a ball giveaway that turned sourin Fallujah.

In Afghanistan donated balls caused outrage when it was discovered they were emblazoned with a quote from the Qur'an contained in the Saudi flag.

And in an article published on in February, a veteran described how a 2004 attempt to hand out balls went awry when it was discovered that all the balls were deflated. The troops were ordered to hand the balls out anyway, the officer in charge reasoning that recipients should be damn grateful to be getting any balls at all. Unfortunately, the Iraqis were not terribly impressed with the gesture. "They were like, 'What are you doing? What are we supposed to do with this?'" says Garett Reppenhagen. "Kids were wearing these soccer balls as hats. They were kicking them around. They were in trees. They were floating in canals. They were everywhere. There were so many soccer balls."

"Wow" wrote one reader. "Talk about a sorry metaphor for the whole stupid war."

China's Link to Africa

What is China's interest in Africa?
Is it political? Financial? Social?

Much has been made the past few months about the Chinese government's heavy involvement in Africa. The New York Times has dedicated an entire section to China's deepening economic and political ties with Africa.

There's certainly something there. With that in mind, news came today of the Zambian and Chinese governments signing an agreement for the construction of a 40,000-seat stadium in northern Zambia.

The stadium, which will be constructed in Ndola in the Copperbelt province, will cost an estimated $70 million.

Sports minister Gabriel Namulambe said the country's biggest-ever stadium will be ready before the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

"The signing ceremony marks the beginning of the construction works," he announced at the signing ceremony in Lusaka.

"This country will benefit from South Africa's hosting of the 2010 World Cup if the stadium is completed.

"I am calling upon the private sector to come on board because we need a five-star hotel next to the stadium."

China's financial involvement in Africa is very interesting.
But if it benefits the people of the continent, is it a bad thing?
A win-win situation.

Monday, September 17, 2007

African Team Names

I've always been fascinated by the nicknames of some of the African squads. Black Stars, Elephants, Super Eagles and Pharaohs are some of the more colorful nicknames one will find for a football team.

But there are others. 'Eyes and Ears' Mark Gleeson of Reuters recently posted on the Reuters Football blog about some of the other wonderful stage names used by African clubs. To read the original post, click here!

We all have our favourite teams, but how many support a club just for the name?

Creativity in Africa knows no bounds when it comes to baptising football teams and within the continent, the tiny kingdom of Swaziland has no equal. My favourites were always Ten and One Young Dribblers, who had a brief sojourn in top flight football in the southern African country.

Then there are Eleven Men in Flight, a much more successful club who even got to play in the African Cup Winners’ Cup. They finished runners-up in the Swazi league a decade ago but sadly have since been relegated.

Sadly, Cape Coast Mysterious Dwarfs lost their premier league status in Ghana last year although Hearts of Oak are one of the continent’s giants. Not only are they among the oldest clubs, they have had Sir Stanley Matthews play for them and also won the African Champions League in 2000.

In Botswana, Mosquito Selibe-Phikwe just dropped down to the third tier of their league, showing little bite in a season in which they won just five of their 22 matches. But Naughty Boys just missed out on promotion to the top flight.

Two season ago, Touch and Go took the uncertainty out of the game and finished last in Namibia’s premier league standings to disappear back to the anonymity of the northern town of Otavi.

Elsewhere, I also look out for the results of Surinam’s Robin Hood and Joe Public in nearby Trinidad and Tobago. But they don’t come close to Ten and One Young Dribblers, who I am determined to watch live if I can find what happened to them.

Great article, Mark.
Now where can I find myself a Cape Coast Mysterious Dwarfs kit??

Africans Excel in Europe, Led by Adebayor

African players showed talent and agility this weekend on the world stage, scoring epic goals and stunning volleys around the European leagues.

The most memorable goal of the weekend goes to Arsenal's Emmanuel Adebayor. His strike capped a 3-1 victory for Arsenal in their north London derby clash at Tottenham Hotspur, his unstoppable volley whizzing past England goalkeeper Paul Robinson. He had earlier scored with a header to make it 1-1. To see the goal, click

In other English top flight matches, Portsmouth's all-Nigerian strike-force of Nwankwo Kanu and John Utaka caused Liverpool's defense problems throughout their match at Fratton Park but Kanu missed a first half penalty.

In the English league's second division, former Nigerian captain Jay-Jay Okocha made an impressive debut for Hull City in their 1-1 draw at home to Stoke. The 34-year-old former Bolton player has returned to England after a season playing in the Middle East with Qatar SC.

In Spain, Mali forward Frederic Kanoute scored two goals on Sunday as Sevilla notched a 4-1 win over Recreativo Huelva.

Cameroonian midfielder Daniel Ngom Kome scored for Valladolid in their 2-1 loss at Valencia, his first goal for over a season cancelled out by Fernando Morientes' equalizer and David Silva's late deflected winner. (For more on this and Valencia, check out my Valencia blog!

Nigerian Kalu Uche of Almeria scored once and had a goal wrongly disallowed as his newly promoted side lost 3-1 at Real Madrid.

In the French Ligue 1, Ivorian star striker Aruna Dindane scored the only goal of the game from the penalty spot as his Racing Lens team beat AS Nancy 1-0 at home.

In Lille, Moroccan striker Marouane Chamakh was sent off in his Bordeaux team drew 1-1 on the road.

In the German Bundesliga, Tunisian defender Karim Huggui scored the opening goal for Bayer Leverkusen as they won 2-0 at home against VfL Bochum.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Another African Championship?

According to the BBC, the Confederation of African Football (CAF) has announced that a new competition will begin next year, called the African Championship of Nations.

Another championship?

It will be played between national teams, but only players who are based in their home country's domestic league will be eligible.

Stars playing in Europe and even those who have moved to other African leagues will not be allowed to take part.

The tournament will be held every two years.

"We strive to give to the local African players the possibility to showcase their talents and abilities, but also to bring to a higher level the national championships in Africa, and to boost their importance," said CAF president Issa Hayatou.

Qualifying matches will take place next year, and eight teams will play at the finals in 2009.

The host country will be chosen from the qualifying nations.

Sounds like a great idea. But what about fixture congestion?

1000 Days to the 2010 World Cup

It's almost here! Can you feel it?
Ok, not *almost* here, but on its way ... slowly but surely, the opening of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa is creeping up on us.

How am I getting there? I have somewhat of a clue (look at some of my previous posts on this subject under 'Trip to Africa') but I'm still not entirely sure. For the purposes of intrigue and mystery (and because I have no answer to this), I'll just say that more time is now being freed up to concentrate on this.

Anyways, 1000 days! This, a press release from Ndaba Dlamini of the Johannesburg News Agency regarding the plans in place to commemorate the countdown to the World Cup in South Africa.

To read the original article, please click here!

THE 1 000-day countdown to the 2010 Fifa World Cup™ will be marked on Saturday, 15 September at several celebrations around the country. They are aimed at upping the excitement quotient and getting all South Africans to rally behind the tournament.

In Joburg, a concert in Newtown will mark the start of the official countdown to the kick-off of the 2010 Fifa World Cup™. Among others, musicians Dozi, Amanda Strydom and the Soweto String Quartet are expected to perform.

The World Cup kicks off on 11 June 2010 and South Africa's preparations are already way ahead compared to Germany a thousand days before the last World Cup, in 2006.

Speaking about the thousand-day countdown at Safa House on Thursday, 5 September, Danny Jordaan, the chief executive of the Local Organising Committee (LOC), said commendable strides had been made in preparing for the event.

"The [1 000-day mark] signifies the start of the operational phase of the preparations, a period where we start moving and getting ready for the Confederations Cup."

Already, the LOC had selected the nine cities that would host the 64 matches to be played during the World Cup. Five stadiums that would host the Confederations Cup had also been selected.

Johannesburg plays host to the opening ceremony, and the first and final games.

A Host City Forum, a meeting composed of all the host cities, had also been set up, Jordaan said. "The forum meets once a month to [give] their monthly reports concerning their preparations for the World Cup. We are very happy to say that we are satisfied with the progress all the cities are making so far."

Host city and stadium construction contracts had been signed and the rights protection committee, composed of the national government, Fifa and the LOC, had been set up, he added.

"We are also proud to say construction of all 10 stadiums has started and construction of most of the stadiums is well ahead of schedule. People have to look just across the road to see the progress." Jordaan was referring to work on the 94 700-seat FNB Stadium, which is expected to host the opening ceremony and match as well as the final match of the World Cup.

Soccer City, the venue for the final, is being upgraded and work is well ahead of schedule.

There are five new stadiums under construction and Jordaan said this posed a big challenge. Yet South Africa would be on record as the first World Cup host country to finish building five stadiums in time for the tournament.

"As we move into the operational phase, the Fifa World Cup and the Confederations Cup match schedules have been finalised. A number of commercial sponsors have been secured and we expect more sponsors to come into the fold. Currently, 98 percent of the broadcast rights have been sold."

State support had been commendable and R17,4-billion had been allocated by the national government to renovate and build new stadiums. In addition, it had assigned R3-billion for support infrastructure around stadiums.

"This is Fifa's World Cup, and there are so many organisations, countries [and] high-profile personalities who have put their weight behind the staging of the event, and we cannot afford to disappoint," Jordaan said.

Tim Modise, the LOC's chief communications and marketing officer, said a number of celebrations had been lined up for Saturday, 15 September to "galvanise South Africans behind the hosting of the tournament".

"The events are a way to inform organisations, institutions and all stakeholders involved in the hosting of the World Cup that we are on course to host a successful World Cup event. This is also an opportunity to give the host cities a chance to say how far they are with preparations."

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Barcelona and Inter Milan Speak Out on Club v. Country

The debate continues. Which is more important? Playing for your club or playing for your country? As you know, with the 2008 African Cup of Nations due to begin in January, many Africans playing in Europe will have to leave their squads mid-season to represent their country.

We've covered this often in the past. Today, two reports of big clubs making their feelings known over this issue.

First, Barcelona.

Barcelona president Joan Laporta said on Tuesday that national teams should pay clubs for the use of their players.

"It's a disgrace that we have to let our international players go to national teams and we don't receive any compensation," Laporta told the Spanish club's Web site (

"The national teams are doing business using our footballers. It's an issue being looked at by UEFA and FIFA but I don't see a willingness to resolve it when they could do something immediately. If they don't resolve the situation we'll have to consider not releasing our players for international duty."

Strong words from the Barca president. Will this affect Samuel Eto'o in his comeback from injury and his play for Cameroon in the Nations Cup?

Then this, from Inter Milan, whose Director of Sport Marco Branca told L'Equipe's Web site ( on Tuesday that he believed midfielder Patrick Vieira was at risk for injury in Wednesday's Euro 2008 Group B qualifier against Scotland in Paris because he has just recovered from a hamstring injury.

The Serie A champions also expressed concern about Vieira's fitness before Saturday's 0-0 draw with Italy in Milan, which the France captain played from start to finish.

"I have never chosen between club and country. If I'm all right I play for one and for the other," the 31-year-old midfielder told a news conference later on Tuesday.

"If Inter prefer to speak via newspapers instead of telling me what they think, it is their problem. I don't usually talk about this sort of thing in the newspapers. I'm disappointed."

The issue won't go away and it's one that effects Africa specifically, what with their scheduling of the Cup of Nations smack in the middle of the European season.

What can be done to rectify this and appease the countries? A fee system? Compensation of some sort?

More on this soon ...

FIFA Women's World Cup: Nigeria & Ghana

The FIFA Women's World Cup is now underway in China.

The heavy favorites remain the Unites States, with teams such as Sweden, China, Norway and Germany not far behind.

Africa sent two representatives to China in hopes of winning the gold, Nigeria and Ghana.

Courtesy of, here are team capsule looks at both squads.

I've included the first few paragraphs. For more, please click the link at the bottom of the paragraphs ...

Nigeria has long dominated the women's football scene in Africa, but they now have their sights set on making their mark on the global stage.

The Super Falcons were crowned African champions for a fifth time last November, keeping up their monopoly of the continental game, but they have not been able to translate that dominance into success at the FIFA Women's World Cup or the Olympic Women's Football Tournament.

It has also not been through a lack of exposure because Nigeria are perennial competitors in all of the top events. They have been to every FIFA Women's World Cup since 1991, but only once managed to finish in the top eight. For more, please
go here!

This year sees Ghana's Black Queens head to the FIFA Women's World Cup for a third successive time, but still very much in the role of Africa's second force.

With Nigeria maintaining their stranglehold on African women's football, Ghana's ambitions in China will be to escape from the shadow of their fellow west Africans and establish their credentials at the highest level of the women's game. Ghana have, in truth, already made some progress towards achieving that goal by finishing higher than Nigeria at the last FIFA Women's World Cup in the USA in 2003, where the Black Queens were 12th and Nigeria second from last in 15th place.

Ghana will go to China with plenty of experience, both on the field and in the dugout, where a former coach of the men's side, Isaac Paha, takes charge of the team. Paha also captained Ghana in his playing days. On the playing side, the team that qualified for the 2007 FIFA Women's World Cup includes almost half of the squad that competed in the USA four years ago. For more, please go here!

Good luck to Ghana and Nigeria on their journey in China and the 2007 Women's World Cup!

South Africa Won't Cut Social Programs for 2010 WC

South Africa has their priorities in order.

Unlike the US government that keeps cutting taxes and social institutions, their South African counterparts will not scale back social programs to fund construction of stadiums and other facilities for the 2010 soccer World Cup.

Danny Jordaan, chief executive of the South African World Cup organizing committee, told reporters today the government would absorb the 17.4 billion rand ($2.42 billion) needed to build and refurbish 10 stadiums as well as other World Cup costs without raiding education and health budgets or other key sectors.

"This event does not come at the expense of social programmes," Jordaan said after he and other officials provided an update on South Africa's preparations to host the first FIFA World Cup played in Africa.

"What this event has done is create jobs," he said, adding that the government expected significant economic and social gains from increased tourism and other spin-offs from the soccer championship.

The African National Congress (ANC), which has ruled since apartheid ended in 1994, is under growing pressure to improve delivery of water, electricity and other basic services to millions of poor residents, most of them black.

Thousands of people have taken to the streets of townships and shantytowns to voice anger over poor service delivery and the government's failure to dramatically improve their lives as promised when it took power.

In some cases crowds have attacked and even killed local ANC officials.

The country's World Cup organizers said that the tournament would be a catalyst for economic development, helping to expand South Africa's tax base, build skills among workers and showcase its attractions to investors and tourists.

They expect 9.8 billion rand in tourist revenue and a further 7.2 billion rand in tax revenue to be generated by the event and an undetermined amount in economic benefits from improved infrastructure.

South Africa is also upgrading its poor transport system and building hotels to accommodate 450,000 overseas fans who are expected to visit for the month-long tournament, which begins on June 11, 2010.

The World Cup will improve many lives in South Africa. The organizers seem to be doing a good job of keeping expectations high, morale high and confidence on a roll.

They better deliver.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Nigeria win Under-17 World Cup in Dramatic Fashion

Congratulations to Nigeria, FIFA Under-17 World Cup champions for a third time, beating Spain 3-0 on penalties in Sunday's final after a goalless 120 minutes.

Spain missed their first three penalties, and the Flying Eaglets converted all of theirs, through Matthew Edile, Daniel Joshua and Ganiyu Osei.

The victory gave Nigeria their third under-17 world title, having won the tournament in 1985 and 1993.

It was only the fourth time in 12 Under-17 World Cup tournaments that the title was decided on penalty kicks.

The result proved another disappointment for Spain, which has reached the final three times without a championship. (Why does Spain underachieve in every major tournament?)

Macauley Chrisantus was voted the second-best player of the tournament, behind Germany's Toni Kroos.

The Nigerian also won the tournament top-scorer award, with seven goals.

Ghana's Ransford Osei was the second-top scorer, finding the target six times.

Ghana had to settle for fourth place after losing 2-1 to Germany in the third-place play-off match.

Osei pulled the Black Starlets level, but Germany scored the winner two minutes into second-half stoppage time.

13 Countries Qualify for African Cup of Nations

Thirteen countries booked their tickets to Ghana 2008 this weekend as qualification for the African Cup of Nations neared the finish line.

Guinea, South Africa and Zambia sealed their places on Sunday.

They join Angola, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Morocco, Namibia, Nigeria, Senegal, Sudan, Tunisia and hosts Ghana, who already secured their places.

The final three places at the showpiece of African football will be decided next month when Groups Two and Nine are completed.

African champions Egypt must avoid defeat at home to Botswana on October 12 to clinch Group Two's automatic ticket for the tournament in Ghana.

If the Pharaohs lose that game in Cairo then their southern African opponents will qualify for the competition for the first time.

Togo and Mali, who share the top spot in Group Nine with nine points, meet in the decisive game where both must effectively win to qualify.

Third-placed Benin could yet qualify as one of the best runners-up if they win away in Sierra Leone.

If victory eludes the Squirrels, then Uganda will qualify for the first time since 1978, having already reached 11 points with a plus five goal difference.

Zambia captain Chris Katongo grabbed a hat-trick within the opening 20 minutes, profiting from a series of defensive errors as South Africa imploded in their Group 11 game in Cape Town.

"It was a disaster, it was not our team out there," said South Africa coach Carlos Alberto Parreira after the defeat, which saw Zambia come from three points back to win the group on a head-to-head count.

Tunisia, the 2004 hosts and winners, are also through as a best runner-up with 12 points, after finishing second in Group Four following their 3-2 defeat in Sudan.

Namibia netted a late winner in Addis Ababa to beat Ethiopia 3-2 and snatch top place in Group 10 after leaders, the DR of Congo were held to a 1-1 draw at home by Libya.

Both games were played on Saturday.

Manu Kaputose scored to send Namibia to only their second Nations Cup finals appearance as they came from 2-1 down going into the final 10 minutes.

The Congolese miss out on the finals after qualifying for the last eight successive tournaments.

Guinea's 4-0 win over the Cape Verde Islands saw them make sure of top spot in Group Eight on Sunday.

Senegal went one goal better in a 5-1 thumping of Burkina Faso in Dakar on Saturday to win Group Seven.

The Ivory Coast, without injured captain Didier Drogba, drew 0-0 in Gabon to finish top in Group One.

(Special thanks to the BBC for the information in this article.)

Friday, September 7, 2007

Two African Teams Out of 2010 World Cup

Two nations have dropped out of qualifying for the upcoming 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

The Central African Republic and Sao Tome e Principe have pulled out of qualifying. No details were given as to the reasons for the withdrawal of the two countries.

FIFA said in a statement it had changed the draw for the opening round of African qualifying matches, in which the 10 lowest ranked teams had been paired.

Swaziland and the Seychelles have now been handed byes into the group phase.
Madagascar will play the Comoros Islands, who are making their World Cup debut, and Sierra Leone take on Guinea Bissau in two-legged ties next month and in November.

Djibouti will meet Somalia in a single play-off match in Djibouti on Nov. 17. Somalia have had to forfeit home advantage because of the civil war in the country.

The winners of the three ties will join 45 other countries in the group draw, to be made in Durban on Nov. 25.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Barcelona Look to Keep Eto'o From African Cup of Nations

We knew this would boil over at some point. The old 'club-vs.-country' debate.
Who is it more important to play for: the club that pays your bills? Or the country that feeds your passions?

Word comes out of Spain today that Barcelona are looking to keep currently injured Cameroonian striker Samuel Eto'o from playing in next year's African Cup of Nations.

The 26-year-old had a successful operation last Saturday on his right leg and will be out for three months.

Eto'o is expected to return to action in January, three weeks before the start of the tournament in Ghana.

Barcelona president Joan Laporta says they will be negotiating to avoid losing the striker for national duties after his recovery.

"He must first play for Barcelona before the other teams," said Laporta.

The three-time African player of the year spent five months on the sidelines last season due to a right knee injury.

The Cameroon striker's absence will at least solve coach Frank Rijkaard's selection headache at Barca for a while.

Rijkaard has the task this season of deciding between a quartet of top forwards - Eto'o, Ronaldinho, Lionel Messi and recent signing Thierry Henry.

This issue could boil over and cause more pressing headaches for the Catalunyan club in the near future.

Stay tuned. The debate over the timing of the Cup tournament continues.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Ghana Suffer at Under-17 World Cup

The cruel hand of defeat touched down on Ghana's head yesterday.

Ghana's run in the FIFA Under-17 World Cup in South Korea ended at the hands of Spain, 2-1.

The game was tied 1-1 after 90 minutes, and with a penalty shoot-out looming, Spain scored with four minutes of extra-time remaining for the victory.

Sadick Adams had pulled the Black Starlets level in the 80th minute, after Daniel Aquino had given Spain the lead at the 67th minute.

But Bojan scored in the 116th minute, and Ghana were unable to respond.

The game was a hard-fought and evenly-balanced affair.

Two-time winners of the tournament, Ghana had knocked Brazil out in the second round of the competition.

Africa's hopes now rest on Nigeria, who play Germany on Thursday in the other semi-final match.

Best African Player Ever Back in England?

The debate has raged for years. Who is the best African player of all time?
Many consider Nigeria's Jay-Jay Okocha to be on top of or near the top of this list.

Yesterday, Okocha returned to England, signing a pact with Hull City of England's Championship. The Football League Championship (often referred to as The Championship for short) is the highest division of The Football League and second-highest division overall in the English football league system after the Premier League.

Okocha, who had been playing in Qatar, said his faith brought him back to England.

"I always ask God if it is his will, and if so, then let it be. That's the message I got and that's why I'm here at Hull," he said.

"My faith comes before anything. It has also taught me to respect people for what they are and who they are."

Okocha spent four years playing for Bolton until his release in July 2006, and has been playing in the Middle East with Qatar SC.

Okocha joined Bolton from Paris St Germain in July 2002 and made 106 Premier League starts for the Trotters, scoring 14 top-flight goals, in his four years at The Reebok.

Since being released by Bolton, Okocha was also linked with a move to Australian side Sydney United.

He announced his retirement from international football after the African Cup of Nations in February 2006, but was recalled to the Nigeria squad later that year after they suffered injury problems.

Okocha, who appeared in three World Cups, won over 70 caps with Nigeria.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Under-17 World Cup and Eto'os injury

The FIFA Under-17 World Cup is turning into an African talent show, with both Ghana and Nigeria advancing to the semifinals of the all-star event.

The Nigerian Golden Eagles will face Germany in Wednesday's semi-finals after the Europeans thrashed their rivals England 4-1 in a quarter-final match on Sunday. Nigeria defeated Argentina, 2-0.

Ghana and Spain will meet in the other semi-final, Ghana advancing with a 2-0 victory over Peru and Spain defeating France 1-1 and 5-4 on penalties.

Good luck to the African squads as they advance towards the finish line!


Cameroon striker Samuel Eto'o is to be sidelined for three months after undergoing surgery on his right thigh on Saturday.

Eto'o, who plays for Barcelona, partially tore his thigh tendon during a friendly against Inter Milan on Wednesday.

He is likely to miss virtually all the Champions League group stage as they face Lyon, Stuttgart and Rangers in Group E.

Doctor Ramon Cugat, who performed an hour-long operation on Eto'o, said the striker couldn't resume training for "at least two months".

Cugat said surgery was necessary because the muscle bore most weight when a player took a shot.

"A professional player cannot risk this muscle. Without it, he cannot function properly," Cugat said.

The three-time African player of the year spent five months on the sidelines last season due to a right knee injury.

The Cameroon striker's absence will at least solve coach Frank Rijkaard's selection headache for a while.

Rijkaard has the task this season of deciding between a quartet of top forwards - Eto'o, Ronaldinho, Lionel Messi and recent signing Thierry Henry.

In Barcelona's opening game of the season against Racing Santander last Sunday, Rijkaard left Henry on the bench until he replaced Messi in the second half.

The game ended scoreless.

Good luck to Eto'o, one of Africa's shining stars, in his recovery.