Thursday, January 31, 2008

Quick Cup Update

With today's 0-0 draw between Tunisia and Angola and with Senegal's drab 1-1 dead heat with South Africa, the field is now set for the quarterfinals.

Here's how it stands:

Ivory Coast-Guinea

If my predictions are correct, we'll see Ghana-Cameroon and Egypt-Ivory Coast in the semis, two absolutely mouth-watering ties.
Let's see how it plays out.

The tournament's leading scorer is Cameroon's Samuel Eto'o, who's racked up 5 in three games. Impressive!

Angola's Manucho, Egypt's Hosny Abd Rabo and Morocco's Soufiane Alloudi all follow with three tallies each.

There's a lot of Cup left! Stay tuned!

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Eto'o Breaks Record

Samuel Eto'o is the king of African football.

Today he became the highest scorer in Cup of Nations history when he converted a penalty in a 3-0 win over Sudan in their group finale.

The Indomitable Lions finish second in Group C behind Egypt with six points to go through to the quarterfinals.

Eto'o's 27th-minute strike took his tally at African Nations Cup tournaments to 15, overtaking the 38-year-old record of Ivory Coast's Laurent Pokou.

A bizarre own goal by Mohamed Ali Khider effectively ended the game six minutes later before Eto'o completed the scoring in injury-time, his fifth goal at the 2008 finals.

"We've been very efficient and scored 10 goals in the group stage, I don't know many teams who've done that," said Cameroon coach Otto Pfister.

"We totally dominated the first half and, although we did not put on a great show, I'm happy that we've qualified."

Kudos to Sudan, who didn't score a goal in the tournament, but gave their fellow countrymen something to cheer about after many war-ravaged years. I hope this tournament experience was a good one for them.

Over to Kumasi, where a last-gasp equaliser from Chris Katongo enabled Zambia to hold Egypt to a 1-1 draw.

But the result was not enough to rescue Zambia from elimination and confirmed Egypt as Group C winners.

Amr Zaki scored after 15 minutes in another solid display by the defending champions, who finished with seven points, one more than second placed Cameroon.

Egypt were caught out after a sustained period of pressure when Katongo blasted home from close range in the 89th minute.

Their next opponents have not been confirmed. Group D qualification comes tomorrow.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Nigeria Survives, But What Was Mali Thinking??

Nigeria survives to live another day, although it may be a short-lived experience.

With their 2-0 drubbing of Benin and Mali's inexcusable 3-0 loss to Ivory Coast (more on that later), Nigeria's Super Eagles scraped into the quarterfinals, where they'll meet hosts Ghana.

Nigerian midfielder Jon Obi Mikel, who plays for Chelsea said the team should savor today's victory some before thinking of their mega-encounter with Ghana's Black Stars.

"We are now all very happy and we want to enjoy the moment. Then we will have a good night and we'll think about this quarter-final clash against Ghana first thing in the morning."

Miracle? Some might say.

"We asked for something of a miracle and it happened," said forward Osaze Odemwingie, who is suspended for Sunday's match.

"We showed great mental strength. Rule us out at your own risk."

The victory for Nigeria sparked scenes of celebrations in the Super Eagles camp as the west African nation avoided elimination at the group stage for the first time since 1982.

Their goals today, scored by Mikel and striker Yakubu Aiyegbeni, were their first in the tournament.

I don't know about you, but their offense looks mighty anemic. They're going to have a very tough time with the host nation.

Bu what's up with Mali? They seem to have succumbed to the pressure and caved at the worst possible moment.

What was with their strange substitution at half-time of striker Frederic Kanoute for holding midfielder Momo Sissoko? They obviously weren't thinking Nigeria would score. Or were they settling for a draw (which would have sent them through), thinking if they didn't concede any goals, that would be good enough? Poor management, in my opinion. Mali's FA will have to re-think the job of coach Jean-Francois Jodar, who coached tentatively against a weak Ivory Coast side. The Elephants had already qualified for the quarters and were resting many players.

"We are extremely disappointed," said Jodar. "My team did not play at all in the first half and with a lot of attackers in the second half we still failed to find the goal."

Ivory Coast face Guinea in their quarter-final while Nigeria travel to Accra to face the hosts, who have a 100 percent record in the tournament.

Ghana coach Claude Le Roy told a news conference that he expected to be sacked if his side did not win the trophy.
"If we are not champions, I'm sure a new coach will come in my place," he said. "I understand my deal and that is to win the cup."

Tuesday's goals took the tournament's tally to 63 in 20 games but South Africa goalkeeper Moeneeb Josephs was not impressed, saying the ball was at fault.

"It makes goalkeepers look like idiots," he said. "It isn't that the guys have been scoring good goals, it's the ball which has been making the guys look good."

Oh, come now ... enough with the excuses.

It's been an exciting tournament so far. What do the rest of the matches this week have to offer? Stay tuned ...

Mark Gleeson - The Man I Want to Be

Everyone aspires to be like someone else.

For some, it's wanting to be Michael Jordan, shooting silky jumpshots in the NBA.
For others, it's Didier Drogba, shooting lasers into English Premier League goals.

I want to be Mark Gleeson.

For those that don't know, Mr. Gleeson is the pre-eminent African football journalist. He writes for Reuters and his encyclopedic knowledge of the continent's football is a virtual gold mine for football aficionados around the world.

Why do I want to be like Mr. Gleeson? For one, he's a working journalist. Two, he's writing about football in Africa. More than that, he's doing something he loves (or at least I think he does).

I think we'd have a lot to chat about. I'd just love to pick his brain for a few minutes (hours?).

Today, an article in the Guardian Unlimited about his work and his attempt at writing a history of African football.

I'll be the first to buy that book when it comes out!

Mark Gleeson is a living legend of African football, and probably the only man at the African Cup of Nations who has been photographed naked for the Serbian edition of Playboy. It was not full frontal, which is just as well as he's taller than Peter Crouch. It was just a picture of his big toe, with a palm tree in the background, but it was important to the editorial staff back in the Balkans to establish that Mark Gleeson was in fact a real person.

Why? Gleeson features in a couple of books by the former Observer columnist and renowned football author Simon Kuper, who wrote in particular of a wacky trip to Swaziland with Gleeson, who describes himself as "the anorak's anorak". Kuper's article was translated for Playboy in Belgrade and they wanted a number for Gleeson.

"They called and asked me 'Are you a real person?' I said yes, and they wanted photographic evidence. So that's where the big toe came into the picture."

He tells me this story during one of the highlights of any Cup of Nations, the biennial dinner with Gleeson. Fifteen years ago he started out on a quest to do what nobody has ever done, and build a record of football on this continent. His efforts are recognised by Fifa, for whom he is the official archivist for Africa, and without him nobody would know how many caps they have, how many goals they have scored in the African Champions League, and so on and so on. This sort of thing is taken for granted in Europe and elsewhere, but in Africa next to nothing is known. Or was, until Gleeson stepped in.

As an example, I tried to find out what I could about the first tour of Britain by a team from Ghana, then the Gold Coast, back in 1951. The only mention of that historic visit is a minute of an FA committee meeting in the Soho Square archives which reads "It was agreed to pay the Gold Coast AFA 17s 6d (87p) towards the costs of their tour." In Ghana there is nothing. When a researcher once visited the Nigerian FA records section/library he found a grand total of three publications.

Much of the evening's conversation revolved around Gleeson's garage back home in Cape Town. It holds his drum kit and other unimaginable treasures - if you like that sort of thing. He has photocopied team line-ups from years and years of matches in the top African club competitions. "CAF [the continental federation] burned the rest when they moved offices in Cairo recently," says a horrified Gleeson. He went with his wife to copy as much as he could before CAF moved.

He also has the complete record - and there is plenty of it - of the 'whites only' FA in South Africa that was suspended from world football, and piles of information, which took many hours of difficult research to unearth, on the 'blacks only' league, which was scarcely reported. He wants to compile a record of every game played in that league before football became 'mixed' in 1976.

He knows everything, and everyone. He tells of the Brits who played in South Africa years ago. "I saw George Best play at the Rand Stadium, a full house. Bobby Moore made plenty of visits, Johnny Haynes, Budgie Byrne. In one season, I think it was 1999, Budgie Byrne, his two sons and his son in law all coached teams in Cape Town in the SA League. He was at Cape Town Spurs, his son David at Santos, Mark at Hellenic, and Gavin Hunt, who married Budgie's only daughter, Karen, was at Seven Stars. Nine weeks in, David was sacked."

"Didn't David win a cap for South Africa," asks one of our well-informed dining companions. "No," says Gleeson. "He got an Under-23 cap at the age of 35, against the US."

Did you also know that Lucas Radebe played in goal for Bophuthatswana against a South African amateur XI? That Eusebio's dad was Angolan? That two brothers currently playing international football turn out for different countries, Uganda and Rwanda?

And did you know this: no team in world football is compelled to send its team lists to Fifa for archiving. There is no record of the line-ups for senior international matches - just scores and the venue.

"It's scandalous," says Gleeson, who is not your normal dysfunctional football nerd. He is a family man with children (most unusual in nerdland) and great company. "Now it's even worse than it used to be. Surely Fifa should recognise the value of this information. What are they playing at?"

He's invited me to see his garage during the 2010 World Cup. How can I say no?

Monday, January 28, 2008

Ghana and Guinea Through; Senegal Coach Quits

A scintillating night of action saw African Cup of Nations host Ghana go through to the quarterfinals along with Guinea from Group A.

Ghana beat Morocco 2-0 while Guinea managed only a 1-1 draw against an overmatched Namibia.

Midfielder Michael Essien scored a goal and set up another as Ghana finished their group with maximum points from three games.

So who will they play next? Ghana, who will stay in Accra for their quarter-final on Sunday, will face the Group B runners-up -- most likely Mali although it could be arch-rivals Nigeria. Could be a wild one.

In front of a packed crowd in Accra, Sulley Muntari set up Essien for the opening goal in the 26th minute with a quickly taken free kick that found the midfielder in enough space to score from close range.

The favor was returned when Essien ran at the Morocco defence in the 45th minute and slipped a pass for Muntari to net his second of the tournament.

"We decided before (the match) we were going to attack and attack. We decided to make more room for Essien to take charge and to come forward," Ghana coach Claude Le Roy said.

Morocco coach Henri Michel, who led Ivory Coast to the final of the last Cup in Egypt in 2006, said: "We now have to look ahead and build a new squad."

As for Guinea, they finished with four points, one ahead of Morocco, despite being held by Namibia, who took home their only point.

Robert Nouzaret's side opened the scoring through Souleymane Youla on 62 minutes only for Namibia to equalise 11 minutes from time courtesy of Brian Brendell's second goal of the tournament.

The only cheers in an almost empty stadium came from the volunteers and policemen celebrating Ghana's goals in Accra. Jeez, I would have LOVED tickets ...

Today also saw the first coaching change of the tournament, as Senegal trainer Henryk Kasperczak said goodbye after his team's shock 3-1 loss to Angola. The former Poland defender quit with one match to play in Group D and with his team still holding a mathematical chance of progressing.

"I'm the only one responsible for the results," he said. "There is still a small chance and I think the players will respond to the presence of a new coach."

Senegal have one point from two games and face South Africa on Thursday with assistant Lamine Ndaye taking charge. Tough times for Senegal, one of the pre-tournament favorites.

Qualification Status for Each Country in Cup of Nations

Every team has one more game left.
15 of the 16 squads come into the last game with a chance to head to the quarterfinals.

Here, a rough guide showing what each team needs to do.

In Group A, all four teams can still make it through to the quarter-finals, although Namibia have only a slim shot.

The Brave Warriors will need a big win over Guinea on Monday and then hope that Ghana can inflict a heavy defeat on Morocco for them to stand any chance.

Elsewhere, hosts Ghana need just a point from their final game with Morocco to progress.

However, if the Atlas Lions and Guinea win they will both be level with Ghana at the top of the table with six points.

If this is the case, then the top two places will be decided on goal difference from the head to head between the three teams.

Morocco will be out if they fail to beat Ghana and Guinea win their final game against Namibia.

But if Morocco and Guinea draw their final fixtures then the Syli Nationale will join Ghana in the last eight.

The winner from group A will go on to face the runner-up from Group B, which could be Ivory Coast, Mali or Nigeria. The winner will go on to face either Ivory Coast or Mali.

In Group B, Ivory Coast play Mali in their final group match on Tuesday - and having won their first two fixtures the Elephants are already assured of a place in the last eight.

Mali have four points from their first two games - and a point against Ivory Coast would guarantee them qualification in second place behind Gerard Gili's team.

Nigeria have one point from their first two fixtures but can still qualify.

For this to happen they need to beat Benin and rely on Ivory Coast defeating Mali. That would leave Nigeria and Mali on four points. Progression would then be decided on the tournament's qualification criteria.

The Super Eagles have yet to score but Mali have only found the net once - but if Mali lose and Nigeria win by two clear goals they will qualify.

Benin lost their first two games and cannot reach the last eight.

In Group C, Sudan are effectively out. They lost their opening two Group C games and come in with a goal difference of minus six.

That leaves Egypt, Cameroon and Zambia battling it out for the two qualification berths when Group C's final round of games takes place on Wednesday.

Egypt, with a maximum six points from their opening two games, will definitely go through with at least a point against Zambia.

If, however, the Chipolopolo beat Egypt and Cameroon are victorious against Sudan then all three teams will finish with six points and the tournament's qualification criteria comes into play.

In this instance it is likely that the group will be decided on the goal difference from the head-to-head games involving Egypt, Cameroon and Zambia.

However, wins for Cameroon and Egypt will see the Pharaohs top the group and the Indomitable Lions qualify as runners-up.

The winners of Group C will play the team that finishes second in Group D.

Finally, in Group D, Tunisia and Angola are in the driving seat, with both teams on four points.

The two teams meet in their final group game on Thursday and a draw would be enough for both teams to progress.

Senegal and South Africa meet in the other remaining Group D fixture - and both teams go into that encounter in Kumasi with one point apiece.

If either side are to qualify they must win their fixture.

If Senegal are victorious and finish level on points with Angola they will be eliminated as the Teranga Lions lost when the two teams met.

However, if they finish level on points with Tunisia (with whom they drew 2-2) it will come down to goal difference.

It is the reverse for South Africa, who will go out if they finish level on four points with Tunisia.

The only chance they have of going through is if they beat Senegal and finish level with Angola (with whom they drew 1-1). Then it would come down to overall goal difference.

(Thanks to the BBC for the pertinent info)

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Keta Sandlanders and Their Plea for Help

This, a story culled from the pages of the Guardian about local Ghanaian football club Keta Sandlanders, who are using the internet to appeal to fans around the world to help them survive and thrive.

Please check out the video on the Guardian's website about the Sandlanders. It's a beautiful look into the soul of an African football squad struggling to survive.

What they're asking for is 5 pounds from international fans to become 'members' of the club and keep them afloat. This, straight from the Keta Sandlanders website:

The Sandlanders approach is exceptional because we are making use of the marketing power of the Internet to offer an international platform to a talented but unrecognised side. This platform will be used not just to develop the club but also to benefit the local community in Keta. Annual club membership costs just £5, of this fee £1 goes directly to support local community initiatives and the remaining £4 is put towards sustainable team development. Members will be able to follow the fortunes of their club and community projects through this site and will be able to actively participate in the running of the club.

I don't usually do this kind of thing, but this seems like a nice cause.
Please check out their website, watch the remarkable Guardian video and get involved!

Namibia Also Asked to Throw Cup Match

Looks like Benin isn't the only squad being asked to throw a match.

Today, word that Namibia were approached to fix a match at the Cup of Nations, having been offered $30,000 per player to throw their final group game against Guinea in Sekondi on Monday.

"My players were approached by a man saying he represented a syndicate and offered them money to lose the game," Namibia Football Association president John Muinjo told Reuters in Accra on Saturday.

It follows a similar approach to Benin coach Reinhard Fabisch before the start of the tournament by an unidentified man, purporting to represent betting interests.

"The players came to me immediately to tell me and we've informed the Confederation of African Football of what has happened," said Muinjo.

"The players were offered up to $30,000 to lose the game. They were offered half in advance but told they had to be able during the game to manipulate the score on the instructions of the syndicate."

Pretty disgusting, if you ask me. At least the players didn't take the offer, instead relaying the news to their coach.

"I'm very proud that my players came to see me straight away. I warned them about the impact accepting these sorts of offers could have on their careers. They are a team who believe in fair play."

Namibia have lost their opening two games at the Nations Cup and have only a slim mathematical chance of reaching the quarter-finals. An investigation is pending.

Friday, January 25, 2008

What Happened? Nigeria On Brink of Elimination

Nigeria are in serious trouble.

The Super Eagles' African Cup of Nations hopes suffered another blow on Friday after a 0-0 draw with Mali left them floundering in their opening round group.

Nigeria are third in Group B with just a single point, three behind second placed Mali.

The draw sent Ivory Coast, who have six points, into the quarter-finals as the first team to qualify.

Nigeria, despite their star-studded attack, failed for a second straight game to score.

This begs the question: What happened to the Super Eagles?

Is it the coaching of Berti Vogts?
Is the talent pool just not deep enough?
Are the players simply not motivated?
Has the talent of other countries simply caught up to that of Nigeria?

Coming into African football as an outsider, I'd like to know. For years, Nigeria have been seen as the gold standard of the continent's footballing fortunes. But now, they're staggering like a punch-drunk boxer. They can't score, they don't play a free-flowing game and they look lethargic. What happened?

"I know it's not enough to have just one point from two games," said Nigeria's beleaguered coach Berti Vogts.

"We now have only one hope and that is the Ivory Coast and God. But to win we have to score. Our players tried but our final passing was poor. To win you have to score but it was a big problem today and in the last match," he added.

Nigeria's potential progress to the last eight will be out of their hands when Group B is concluded next Tuesday.

The Super Eagles must beat Benin while hope that the Ivorians overcome Mali at the same time. Mali need just a draw to ensure Nigeria depart home early despite having made it to the last four at each of the last four editions of the tournament.

I think it would be a big surprise if Nigeria went home early. The mystery continues ...

African Football Can Shine

As the action progresses in Ghana and the infrastructure settles into place in South Africa, there's more talk about the state of African football.

Gabriele Marcotti is one of the world's preeminent football journalists. He's an Italian sports journalist and presenter who has an encyclopaedic knowledge of world football. He has also written two books.

In Monday's London Times, Marcotti wrote a small piece about African football that's a very good read. Basically, he talks about how passionate Africans are for the game and how far they could go if the playing field was level.

Below, a small excerpt. Please click here to read the rest of the article.

There is a passion for national teams in Africa that easily surpasses most of Europe. Part of this is because most top African players are based abroad, which leaves the domestic leagues to serve as perennial feeder clubs. They know not to fall too deeply in love with their clubs because, if they do well, they will be raided by European teams.

At the same time, satellite television brings football from all over the world into African homes. And with domestic football often on the periphery, African viewers soak it up, to the point that they are easily as knowledgeable as, and usually far less parochial than, their European counterparts.

The other big factor is socio-historical. Forget the facile stereotypes, Africa is easily the most heterogeneous continent on earth, a place where more than 1,000 languages are spoken, where Islam and Christianity share the stage with hundreds of indigenous faiths and where, until recently, mass migration was limited, which meant that local communities tended to grow and endure independent of each other.

With all this passion comes pride. Pride that football is one of the few areas where Africa can go head-to-head with anyone in the world. Stripped to its essence, the game consists of men in boots kicking a ball. It is about as level a playing field as you can get in any pursuit, with the possible exception of athletics. And, with African teams coming close to matching the best in the world, you have to wonder what the continent could achieve if the fields were level in other areas as well.

Benin Coach Alleges Match Fixing Approach

Every tournament needs a little scandal. The African Cup of Nations has its first one. And it's not a good one.

Today, Benin coach Reinhard Fabisch said he'd been approached to fix his side's opening match against Mali.

"I was approached by someone in a hotel who said his name was Mr Andrews. He said he worked for people in Asia who were ready to pay $20,000 if I could manipulate the result of a match," Fabisch was quoted as saying by German media on Thursday.

"I told him if he didn't clear out immediately I'd call the police."

Benin lost the Group B match 1-0 after conceding a second-half penalty.

Fabisch is willing to give the Confederation of African Football the name and number of the man who claimed to be from a Singapore-based company. He's been given a 24-hour deadline to confirm his allegations about match-fixing.

BBC World Service's Richard Fleming said the news of the alleged incident could have major consequences for the tournament.

"There's more to this story than meets the eye," said Fleming.

"Fabisch is prepared to take this information to the authorities, who must surely act. If these allegations have any foundations at all then it's going to cast a huge cloud over the tournament."

The relative lack of money in African football made the tournament particularly susceptible to the problem, according to Fabisch.

"I was astonished that he had the guts to approach a German to fix a football match," he said.

"I think that African players are vulnerable to this kind of approach, because many of them don't have money. This is why poor countries like Benin are targeted."

"I cut him short and told him to leave. It doesn't help football. I assume that if someone approaches you like that, then they have that (money) in mind."

Benin next play Ivory Coast in Sekondi on Friday.

Ivory Coast Will Win

Hey, at least someone agrees with me about the Ivory Coast winning the African Cup of Nations. So I can't be that crazy.

In today's, writer Sulaiman Folarin says there is no reason the Ivory Coast can't make it to the final.

True, there's no reason. But there's no reason many of these squads can't make it to the final. Ghana is still alive. Egypt looks deadly. Nigeria is hanging around, although they look lethargic. And let's not count out Senegal.

As Folarin sees it:

After an epic battle between Africa's two top nations in Sekondi's Takoradi Stadium the Ivory Coast emerged victorious and the Nigerians were vanquished, and so there now seems to be no logical reason for the Elephants to leave the Gold Coast country of Ghana before the final game of this year's African Cup of Nations.

In fact if they do not drink from the cup this time around they will only have themselves to blame.

Time will tell. They certainly look stong. But what about their wobbly goal keeping?

Let's see if they make the final on February 10th. If they do, we'll all look like psychics.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Parreira Says African World Cup Victory Far Away

Back to the World Cup for a second.

Bold statements from South Africa coach Carlos Alberto Parreira today, who believes there is still a long wait ahead before an African team wins the World Cup.

Parreira, who has coached at five World Cups with four different teams including his native Brazil, said he thought Africa would need at least another three tournaments before they made the breakthrough.

"For 20 years, people have been saying it will happen at the next World Cup but looking at it now I think it will take more time," he told Reuters.

"Looking at it now, I think there is one team with real class which is Ivory Coast -- apart from this team, nobody has got what it takes to win a World Cup. Nigeria has lost this, Cameroon has lost it, Egypt have good players but there is something lacking -- maybe history and tradition. Ghana have good players but you still don't see that team with potential to win. I think it will need another three World Cups."

Hefty statement.

Parreira's team are housed in a modest hotel surrounded by dusty streets in Tamale, Ghana during the Cup of Nations but he refused to complain about the facilities.

"The stadium is world class, unbelievable, although I do not think this city was ready to host four big teams. The people here are very warm. The other day I went outside to a village and I was received by the chief with more than 50 kids around me."

Interesting ... what are your thoughts?

10 Reasons the African Cup of Nations is Great

This, a post on the excellent 'Who Ate All the Pies?' blog.

It's Top 10 Reasons Why the African Cup of Nations Is Better Than the World Cup. Some of them are very funny ...

1. Germany can't win it. (Very true)

2. Argentina can't win it. (Also true!)

3. Italy can't win it. (Indeed! They're smart people, these Pie writers ...)

4. Players feel free to shoot from everywhere on the pitch, probably because the standard of goalkeeping is slightly below that seen in the Women's World Cup. (Hmmm ...)

5. Moaning prats like Emmanuel Eboue, Didier Drogba and Obi-Wan Mikel have to leave England for a month. (Ha!)

6. Arsenal are forced to play with Swiss cloggers in central defense for a month (as a Spurs fan, that gives us some hope at least). (So they're Spurs fans, eh?)

7. It's gloriously unpredictable - you couldn't say that of the World Cup, when the same old teams always reach the final. (Also true ... wide open Cup this year!)

8. Referees appear to tolerate a ferociously brutal standard of tackling - witness Benin's assault on Mali; if that was a World Cup, Benin might have ended the game with seven men. As it was, they only had two players booked. Tremendous. (Is that bad refereeing?)

9. England can't go out on penalties. (Portugal can't beat them on penalties, either)

10. Did I mention that Germany, Argentina and Italy can't win it? (Ya sure did!)

Wide Open Cup of Nations

So now every squad has played one match and what's the outcome?

This is a wide open Cup of Nations. Any number of squads could win this thing, from Nigeria to Ghana.

Here, an article on ESPN's fine football website about the goings-on in Ghana.

Andrew Hush argues that, despite some rough fields and tough journalistic endeavors, the Cup of Nations hasn't disappointed. A small excerpt:

Off the field, from colourful fans through eccentric goalkeeping to inspired celebrations, much of what was expected has been delivered. Between the white lines, however, many of the pre-tournament storylines have, thus far, failed to play out as forecast. The only thing predictable, it seems, is this tournament's unpredictability.

I'd agree.

Thing is, I've yet to really watch a match.
Here in the States, it's beyond frustrating finding the match on television.
I managed to watch the Egypt-Cameroon match online, but I was at work and that link didn't last long.

There are rumors of places in and around Manhattan showing the games, but I can't leave work on rumors alone.

I think it's maddening that this tournament is this hard to find for a football junkie like myself. Maybe I haven't looked hard enough or maybe I've been lazy about it. But I'd think the organizers of this event would like to know the African footballing public in the USA (and there are a LOT of us, trust me) are watching their heroes play back home.

Then again, I shouldn't whine so much. Many countries in Africa aren't televising the event.

Still, I'd love to watch these games without having to revert into a stealth detective. It's ridiculous.

Until I can watch a match, I'll make due with the excellent online commentary I've read and the video highlights I find after games.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Cup of Nations Getting too Big?

This, an important read from our 'Eyes and Ears' in Africa, the acclaimed football journalist Mark Gleeson of Reuters.

Is the Cup getting too big? Mr. Gleeson, who is there covering the event, thinks so.

The African Nations Cup is growing too big for its own good, if the chaos surrounding the organisation in Ghana at the start of this year’s event is anything to go by.

With a larger cast of internationally recognisable stars and the teams improving in quality, the Nations Cup is now much more than just Africa’s premier sporting event; it commands considerable interest worldwide. The supporting cast around the event gets larger with each passing edition — the officials, the supporters, the journalists, the agents and those with commercial interest in Africa’s top event.

The title sponsors alone had 1,700 guests for the opening match, several hundred flown in from other African countries. The media numbers have now passed the 1,000 accreditation mark and the phalanx of agents and business people now dealing in the African game seemingly doubles with every tournament.

Have a read at the entire article here.

It's quite eye-opening.

Cameroon Crushed, Zambia Rolls and Links

Day 3 of the African Cup of Nations didn't disappoint.

First off, defending champions Egypt routed pre-tournament favorites Cameroon 4-2. Striker Mohamed Zidan scored a double and Hosni Abd Rabou also struck twice for the five-times African champions with Samuel Eto'o netting Cameroon's two at the Baba Yara stadium.

Here, highlights from the match ...

In today's other match, Zambia profited from James Chamaga's early goal to score a resounding 3-0 win over Sudan in their opening Group C match on Tuesday.

Fellow forwards Jacob Mulenga and Felix Katongo added goals in the second half at Kumasi's Baba Yara stadium to put Zambia top of the group with Egypt after the defending champions' 4-2 win over Cameroon in the earlier match.

Chamanga, put into the starting line-up in place of suspended captain Chris Katongo, took just one minute and 45 seconds to fire Zambia ahead.

No highlights just yet ...

But here, I do have highlights of yesterday's 1-0 victory by Mali over Benin.
Sevilla striker Frederic Kanoute scored a penalty 49 minutes in after Dramane Traore had been fouled by Alain Gaspoz.

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Now, on to some links ...

- First off, the link I posted in the last blog entry worked just fine for the Egypt-Cameroon match and failed to work for the Sudan-Zambia match.
No idea what is up there ... just keep trying, I suppose!

- Sports Illustrated writer Greg Lalas is onsite in Ghana and posted this interesting article after the first match ... good stuff, Mr. Lalas!

- The New York Times sent Brian Furtig, a law student at William & Mary School of Law and a Chelsea FC season ticket holder to Ghana. Here's his updates on the NY Times' Goal Blog. Speaking of which, the aforementioned Greg Lalas is also updating the terrific Goal Blog. Check them out. Fascinating insights.

- Regular commentator Chxta posted this on his excellent Chxta's World blog regarding his native Nigeria's match against the Ivory Coast.

Here, a small excerpt. Back with more later!

I now officially hate Jose Mourinho, and if the bastard is assassinated tomorrow, come and look for me. The attacking instincts that John Mikel Obi once possessed have been well and truly drilled away, and what is left is a Frank Lampard imitation. Mikel is still a good player, but he isn't mature enough to boss a midfield on his own, and it showed when Kanu was removed. Had Mikel been more mature, or more attack minded on another hand, the outcome may well have been different. Olofinjana tried his best, but he was out of his depth, and well, we've talked about Kanu before.

Cup of Nations Online!

I'm watching the Egypt-Cameroon game as we speak!
Here is the link someone sent in ...

I am at work so I can't enjoy the game as I'd like to, but at least we have a winner. And looks like a cracking game so far! More later ...

Monday, January 21, 2008

Morocco Cruise over Namibia and Ivory Coast-Nigeria Highlights

A first-half hat-trick from Soufiane Alloudi helped Morocco open their African Cup of Nations campaign with an emphatic triumph over Namibia on Monday. Here, highlights in French. I can't understand a word ...

And here, highlights of today's clash between Nigeria and Ivory Coast.

Dour Match Between Ivory Coast and Nigeria

I didn't get to watch this clash of African giants between Ivory Coast and Nigeria, but from all accounts, it wasn't the best representation of African football.

Here, a link to the Guardian Unlimited's minute-by-minute commentary on today's battle, won by Ivory Coast 1-0.

A second-half goal by Salomon Kalou gave the Elephants the 3 points.

The Chelsea striker netted on 66 minutes against the run of play to give the Elephants a dream start in Group B at the Essipon stadium.

Both teams struggled to play lively football in scorching heat, with the temperature reaching 35 degrees Celsius.

Star Ivorian striker Didier Drogba spoke out after the match.

"It is an important victory because we won against our main rival for top spot in the group," the Ivory Coast captain told a press conference.

"Nigeria were the most dangerous team and I think the most important (thing) has been done."

Drogba, who was doubtful for the match having just recovered from injury, said his personal circumstances did not matter. "Today, it's not about me, it's all about the team."

Nigeria coach Berti Vogts praised his team's efforts, saying they could hardly have done more.

"We have lost against the best team in Africa," the German said.

"But we will be back in the tournament. Two years ago, we lost the first game and we qualified for the knockout stage."

In 2006 in Egypt, the Super Eagles were also defeated 1-0 by Ivory Coast in the semi-finals.

On we go ...

Cup of Nations Links

Not too much here but some useful links I found as you attempt to watch the Cup of Nations.

I *may* have found a place in New York City. More on that later.

- First, the BBC is running a live text update/commentary service of the matches as they happen. So if you can't watch the matches, as least you can read the action as it happens ...

- Here, a website that claims to have a live feed of the matches. I haven't tried it yet, but feel free to let me know how it goes. One thing they do have is highlight packages of the games after they happen.

- A journalist from the Guardian Unlimited's first-hand account of yesterday's action between Ghana and Guinea.

Here, a small quote. After that, on to the heavyweight battle between Ivory Coast and Nigeria. Good luck watching the matches!

Before the game an unbelievably irritating stadium announcer who loved the sound of his own voice kept on and on and on when he didn't need to say a word. He told us the names of the teams, their nicknames, their shirt colours, who was in the VIP seats (despite the fact that we'd already heard their speeches), who the sponsors were, who the captains were and all sorts of other drivel.

He would not shut it, and was even still talking after kick-off. Just before the end he boomed 'Ladies and gentlemen...' and I thought we'd have to sit through it all again, he's going to tell us what the score is and which way the teams were kicking and explain the offside rule. Then Sulley scored. That shut him up.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Food at the Stadium and Juju in Ghana

Two quick bites from the news wires after Ghana's dramatic 2-1 victory over Guinea in the African Cup of Nations opener. (Notice the Ghanaian with the guinea fowls in his hands ... very clever!)

First off, interesting choice of food at the stadium. Instead of the usual hot dogs and hamburgers, Reuters reports the cuisine choice veered more towards deep-fried pieces of pig fat, including ears and snout. YUMMY!

Elsewhere, offerings included deep-fried fish heads, slimy-looking sardines served with huge balls of pounded cassava, spicy goat stew, fried dough balls, plus culinary leftovers from former colonial power Britain such as sausage rolls and meat patties.

Sounds pretty good actually!

Then, this harkens back to my article on juju back in May. Apparently, supporters are using juju and prayers to help out their national teams in Ghana.

Many churchgoers in the capital Accra went to Sunday services dressed in the red, gold and green national colors. Some pastors held special "cleansing" services to pray for a win for Ghana.

At the Resurrection Power and Living Bread Ministries Church in the west of the capital, head pastor Yaw Owusu-Ansah led the congregation in the chant "Total victory! Total Victory! Total victory!" to pray for success against Guinea.

Other fans turned to more ancient beliefs to invoke victory.

One group of singing, dancing fans near the Accra stadium carried a "juju pot" daubed in the national colors and containing a mixture of leaves and liquid.

"Its presence at the stadium will scare away all devils," one of the group, Kojo Saaka, said.

International and regional football authorities tend to frown on the use of black magic to try to sway games, but Saaka dismissed suggestions the "juju pot" could cause harm.

"This one rather brings luck and peace," he said.

Fascinating stuff!!

It's Here!! Ghana Wins Cup of Nations Opener

It's finally here! The 2008 African Cup of Nations opened this afternoon in Accra, Ghana with fanfare, celebration and a pulsating match between host Ghana and Guinea that ended with a Sulley Muntari wonder goal in the final minute giving Ghana the victory, 2-1.

The tournament opened with a colorful opening ceremony in the Ohene Djan stadium in Accra, Ghana's capital city. A capacity crowd of 40,000, most of whom were wearing the colors of the Ghana national squad, were treated to a bright, colorful display of traditional dancers from various parts of the country's regions.

In front of a number of VIPs, including Ghanaian President John Agyekum Kufour, FIFA president Joseph Blatter, CAF president Issa Hayatou and UEFA president Michel Platini, hundreds of dancers and acrobats staged a spectacular show.

In the blazing sun and accompanied by the beating of several huge drums, artists danced and performed for the enthusiastic crowd, who were also treated to a brief firework display.

President Kufour then opened the tournament, saying that Ghana was proud to host the Cup of Nations.

"Through the magic of television, the whole world will be watching Ghana and the African continent for the next three weeks," he said.

"We are proud to be hosting the tournament and to have welcomed so many people from different countries. Our government has spent a lot of money to ensure that the facilities are good to ensure that this tournament is a success. The best teams are here and I am sure that the tournament will be a huge success."

Then the action started. And from all accounts, it was a pulsating affair. (I *STLL* haven't found a place or internet site to watch the matches ... but behold the power of the Internet ... below are the highlights ... )

Ghana hit the woodwork three times, took the lead 10 minutes into the second half but in then end had to rely on a 25-meter bullet from Muntari to grab all three points at the Ohene Djan stadium.

The home side, whose best efforts came in the first half, held their lead for just 10 minutes before Guinea scored an equaliser and then threatened to spoil the home party in the final stages.

But Muntari (pictured below) delivered a goal following a forceful run just when the 45,000-sellout crowd seemed to be settling for a disappointing draw.

Ghana began brightly and Junior Agogo hit the post with a forceful header after 20 minutes.

Eight minutes later midfielder Michael Essien headed against the same post from a corner and in the 40th minute a snap effort from Muntari also cannoned back off the post.

The opening goal came from the penalty spot when Oumar Kalabane brought down Agogo and Seychelles referee Eddy Maillet pointed to the spot. Asamoah Gyan belted the spot kick high into the net.

Kalabane then made up for his error by grabbing the equaliser 10 minutes later from a corner, his header hitting the underside of the bar before bouncing in off Ghana goalkeeper Richard Kingson's shoulder.

Guinea could have snatched a win had Eric Addo not blocked Ismael Bangoura's late shot while Ghana substitute Dede Ayew's first touch of the ball was superbly saved by Kemoko Camara.

Good start to the tournament.

Tomorrow? Nigeria vs. Ivory Coast ... two African giants in an early battle for Cup supremacy!

Saturday, January 19, 2008

A First-Hand Report from Ghana

We here at 'Road to 2010' are honored to have a first-hand report of the scene in Ghana from New African Soccer Magazine's Jake Brown, who sent this to me mere moments ago. The article gives a great account of the goings-on in Ghana ahead of the 2008 African Cup of Nations.

After you read the piece, please read some info about their wonderful magazine.

With just one day until kick off, Ghana is gripped by Nations Cup fever. Jake Brown reports from Accra.

You can’t escape it. The football has arrived. As the last of the teams fly into Ghana to prepare for the 28th edition of the African Cup of Nations the excitement in this football-mad country is reaching boiling point.

In the nation’s capital it seems every billboard in town is about the Cup. In Ghana’s chop bars and drinking spots, on TV and radio, people can talk of little else. The central streets are lined with the flags of participating countries and the street hawkers laden down with Nations Cup merchandise. Before a ball has been kicked Ghana is Nations Cup crazy.

The continents showpiece tournament is back in Ghana for the first time since 2000. Since then the Nations Cup has grown and grown and this edition is set to attract more attention than any before.

Over a million people are expected to travel to West Africa to watch the continents show piece tournament. As the tournament looms large, Accra is abuzz.

On Wednesday Ghana’s Black Stars touched down at Kotoka international airport in Accra. They returned from their training camp in Dubai to be greeted by 100s of devoted fans decked out in the nation’s colours of green, yellow, and red. The fans gave their players a raucous reception and set the tone for what promises to be one of the most colourful and competitive editions of the African Cup of Nations.

The anticipation is palpable but it hasn’t all been plain sailing in the run up to the kick off. Supporters have complained about a lack of tickets for some games, particularly those involving Ghana. Touts have bought many of the cheapest tickets (£2/4Cedis) for the opening match and are now selling them on at up to twelve times their face value. Meanwhile down at the media accreditation centre journalists have faced long queues and chaos as the computer systems went down on Friday.

On Sunday the tournament kicks off in Accra when Ghana plays Guinea, in the newly refurbished Ohene Djan Stadium. The nation expects. “We’ll be too strong for them. Three zero that is the score-line” says Accra resident Jerry Seamegbe. That confidence is echoed everywhere you go.

It’s been 30 long years since the Black Stars won the Cup of Nations and the country knows this is its best chance in a long time to lift the trophy. Ghana demands nothing less than a record equalling fifth title.

But if Ghana is to lift the trophy come February 10th it’ll be no mean feat. African football today boasts some of the world’s greatest talents and at least half of the nations competing will feel they have a good chance of taking the title. It promises to be a feast of football.

The teams are here, the fans are waiting, and the world’s media have arrived. As all eyes turn to Ghana, let us hope that the play on the pitch can live up to the colour and passion of the fans off it. One thing is for sure, Ghana is ready to put on one hell of a party.

INSIDE ISSUE 9 of New African Soccer Magazine:

* An exclusive interview with Ghana coach Claude Le Roy.

* Analysis of all of the groups at CAN '08 and profiles of each team at the tournament.

* Captains Corner- NAS speaks to Stephen Appiah (Ghana), El Hadji Diouf (Senegal), Aaron Mokoena (South Africa), and Nwankwo Kanu (Nigeria) in the run up to Ghana '08.

and much much more...

New African Soccer is on sale in the UK, Ghana, and Sierra Leone. Or where ever you are in the world you can get it delivered to your door - SPECIAL OFFER ON P&P FOR ISSUE 9 -see the website for more details.

Look out for New African Soccer on sale at the stadiums at the Cup of Nations.

Alternatively you can download the PDF version for just £1!

Click here here here to go to their website ...

Please support the magazine! It's a great read!

More Comments by Sepp Blatter about the Cup of Nations

The controversy over the timing of the African Cup of Nations won't die down.

Europe's top clubs hate to lose their players for up to a month while the Cup of Nations is going on. Europe is in the middle of their domestic and international schedules, so it hurts when some of their top players leave for Africa's premier sporting event.

FIFA president Sepp Blatter had some choice comments about what he thinks should happen.

Basically, the Cup should be moved to June and July to accommodate the European clubs.

Well, that didn't sit well with Issa Hayatou, president of the Confederation of African Football (CAF), who said, "As long as I remain the president of CAF, the date scheduled for Africa's biggest soccer fiesta will remain unchanged."

Fighting words, indeed.

So today in Accra, Ghana, 24 hours before the opening match, Blatter made his case for the Cup being moved.

"Mr Hayatou wants the African players to be in their top psychological, technical and physical form at World Cups and above all at the 2010 World Cup (in South Africa).

"In 2010, the best African players based abroad are going to want to be at their best at the African Nations Cup.

"Then they're going to return to their clubs to fight for the Champions League, UEFA Cup, for a title or against relegation.

"Therefore they will perhaps be tired for the World Cup. To avoid that we should hold the African Nations Cup on alternate years to give Africa the best chance at the World Cup."

Makes some sense, no?

Commenting on the exodus of talent from the continent Blatter warned that for many players, the promise of 'making it' in Europe was often not all it seemed.

"We have to create professional leagues in Africa so that African players can make a living here," he said.

"I'm not talking about the Drogbas or Eto'os, but about the hundreds and the thousands of players attracted by false promises and by money promised by agents.

"They turn up somewhere, and then disappear. At the end of 2010 we should have answers to this problem so as to develop further African football's national identity.

"The federations and clubs have to set up a type of early alarm system because this is a new form of slavery."

He added it was essential that the 2010 World Cup left a lasting legacy for the continent.

"This is the key question. The 2010 World Cup is not just for South Africa but also for all of Africa."

Interesting. I agree wholeheartedly about creating African leagues.

What do you think?

Optimism in Ghana

There's a wave of optimism gripping Ghana ahead of tomorrow's opening match of the 2008 Cup of Nations.

Staging Africa's most prestigious sporting event will cast a positive international spotlight on the small but stable West African state when much of the world's poorest continent is still gripped by conflict, disease and poverty.

Organizers hope the event will also bring as much as $1 billion into Ghana's fast-growing economy, mostly through tourism, service and advertising sectors but also trickling down to taxi drivers and street vendors selling food and trinkets.

"Almost everybody, every community is benefiting," Ghana's Finance Minister Kwadwo Baah-Wiredu said in an interview with Reuters in London this week.

He said the country, which has hosted the African Nations Cup finals three times and won four times, would try to use the income to generate more economic activity and prepare to stage even more prestigious international events.

Ghana would bid in coming years to stage the African Games, the Commonwealth Games, the Olympics and the World Cup, he said.

"We are now in the spotlight of the world -- it's a rare image-building opportunity," said Fred Pappoe, vice-chairman of the Ghana Football Association (GFA).

He described the three-week tournament, which will be played in the capital and three other venues, as a "massive feast" for soccer fans and ordinary Ghanaians.

Excited crowds are already filling the streets of Accra, Kumasi, Sekondi and Tamale, many of them souvenir sellers anxious to make a quick buck by hawking an array of soccer jerseys, T-shirts, mugs and key-rings.

Buildings across the country, from government offices to shacks in the shantytowns, have sprouted Ghana's red, gold and green flag with its distinctive black star as Ghanaians hope their "Black Stars" team can win the Cup for a fifth time.

It's wonderful when sports can give people national pride, bring in a little much-needed money and instill confidence in the future.

Go get 'em, Ghana!

My Cup of Nations Predictions

As the footballing world awaits the opening match of the 2008 African Cup of Nations, I thought I'd throw my hat into the ring and offer a prediction of what I think will happen.

Mind you, I am an African football neophyte. I'm in the process of learning about the squads and the players.
But with my paltry knowledge, I think I know enough to make a decent estimate of what'll happen.

Of course, I STILL haven't found a place to watch the matches. I can't watch them online, as I use a Mac. So none of the web resources will suffice. So I'll cast my line into the water, hope I get a bite before tomorrow and am able to watch these matches ... they don't make it easy for us football fans in the States, do they?

Anyways, here is what I think will happen:

(In order of their finish)
Group A - Ghana, Morocco, Guinea, Namibia
Group B - Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Mali, Benin
Group C - Cameroon, Egypt, Zambia, Sudan
Group D - Senegal, Angola, Tunisia, South Africa

Then, this sets up these matches in the quarterfinals:

Ghana v. Nigeria
Ivory Coast v. Morocco
Cameroon v. Angola
Senegal v. Egypt

Mouth-watering match between Ghana and Nigeria, eh?
Ok, so who makes it through?

Ivory Coast

The semifinals look like this:

Ghana v. Senegal
Ivory Coast v. Cameroon

Wow ... major matches here.

So the final?

Ghana v. Ivory Coast

And who wins?

Ivory Coast

But that's just my opinion ...

Friday, January 18, 2008

Ghana Kicked Out of Hotel

How's this for home team advantage?

The Ghana football team have been thrown out of their hotel to free rooms for better-paying clients, South African media reported on Friday.

Kickoff magazine said that the hosts of the January 20-February 10th tournament were booked into the luxurious Labadia Beach Hotel at reduced rates some time ago.

The Black Stars left Ghana for training camp in Abu Dhabi and on their return found that their booking had been cancelled to give the hotel an opportunity to rent out the rooms at a better rate.

The team, who are considered one of the favorites for the tournament, have moved into another hotel. Hotels in Accra have been asking up to four times the normal rate for rooms for a stay during the competition.

What Does the Cup of Nations Mean to the Players?

"Many Europeans don't understand how big this tournament is," says Reading's Cameroonian defender André Bikey. "To Africans this is as big as the World Cup. In England you have cricket and rugby and other sports but in Africa football is everything. For us players it's a chance to give some joy to our people - our people don't care what we do at our clubs, only what we do for our countries is important."

That pretty much sums it up right there.

The African Cup of Nations means A LOT to these players and a lot to the fans.

Today's Guardian Unlimited features an article detailing what the Cup of Nations means to its star players.

Here's another great quote. Have a go at the article above.

The former Sierra Leone player and manager Leroy Rosenior strikes a similar note. "For Africans, representing our country means much more than it does to England internationals. When we go out on the pitch we're playing not just for money or our own reputations but for our families, our communities, for everyone. We're also very concerned about the legacy we leave, and letting people down is not a legacy anyone wants to leave."

The Cup starts Sunday. Can't wait!!!!

Best African Footballers

Today's Guardian Unlimited has a great article about the best players to come out of Africa.

This is a debate that sparks up every so often. Most of these players plied their trade in Europe, so this is one reason they're listed on so many 'Best of' lists.

What about the footballers that didn't play in Europe? The footballers that stayed on the continent and achieved fame there? I'd be interested to see that list.

I'll post the player's names here. Check out the article to see what's said.

1) Eusebio (Mozambique)(pictured)
2) Rabah Madjer (Algeria)
3) Samuel Eto'o (Cameroon)
4) Abedi Pelé (Ghana)
5) George Weah (Liberia)
6) Roger Milla (Camerooon)

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Cup of Nations Scheduling and FIFA's Reaction

*Note: For the duration of the Cup of Nations, I've put up Cup links and the full Cup schedule to the right. They're some goodies there, so make sure to check them out. Clogs the blog up some, but it's only for a few days. Enjoy! - C*

The war between the Confederation of African Football (CAF) and football's world governing body FIFA over the African Cup of Nations scheduling is heating up.

Earlier today, the CAF announced an earlier start to the 2010 African Cup of Nations in Angola. They'll start 10 days earlier, January 10 and run until January 31. This was done to appease European football clubs, who lose players during the event.

However, it will provide no relief for clubs in European countries who do not have a winter break, such as England, where more than 40 players at the 2008 event play their club football.

CAF have made it clear they will not change the overall timing of the Cup, which is held every two years.

Diverse climate conditions on the continent have been cited by CAF as the reason for not moving the finals to June or July.

Well, here comes FIFA chief Sepp Blatter to change all that around.
Mr. Blatter told the BBC that the Cup's schedule must be changed by 2016.

"This is a tradition, but one should now have the courage to go into the international calendar and see if it's not possible to deal with it," said Blatter.

"We put a target for 2016 that by that time the international calendar must be definitely in accordance with the interests of everybody."

Whose interest? Africa's? Or Europe's?

There would be the problem of a clash with the World Cup every four years, but Blatter suggested that the Nations Cup could be moved to odd years.

I don't know. Sounds like the beginnings of a war.

Senegal President Helps Out Cup Fans

I love Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade.

President Wade is lending his presidential jet to fans so they can fly to Ghana and watch Senegal's opening African Cup of Nations game, the Sports Ministry said on Thursday. Senegal play their opening Group D match against Tunisia on Jan. 23 in Tamale.

You think President Bush would do that for me?

"The supporters will leave on board the presidential plane, which will do two trips to Ghana on the 21 and 22 of January," the ministry said in a statement.

With many ordinary Africans unable to afford airfares and road transport across West Africa, dangerous because of poor routes and banditry, many fans risk missing the opportunity to see their sides in action.

Neighboring Guinea has canceled buses supposed to ferry fans to Ghana because of concerns about road safety in war-divided northern Ivory Coast.
Senegal, who beat Benin 2-1 in a warm-up match on Wednesday, has set up a camp in Tamale to accommodate some 425 fans.

The Sports Ministry will provide some money for living expenses for Senegalese who travel to support the national team: two million CFA francs ($4,469) for fans in Ghana and a total of five million for fans from Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Togo, Benin and Guinea Bissau.

So they're paying fans to go? Oh, is this a dream or what?

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Who Won't Be at the Cup of Nations?

We all know the big-name superstars that will grace the stage at Ghana 2008, familiar names like Didier Drogba, Michael Essien and Samuel Eto'o.

But who are the well-known athletes that won't be in Ghana starting this Sunday?

The BBC ran this interesting article today pinpointing some of the superstars who won't be gracing Africa's biggest stage.

For example, there are the players born in Africa who opted to play elsewhere, like Patrick Vieira (pictured), who hails from Senegal but plays for the French national team. Same goes for French teammate Claude Makelele, who was born in DR Congo but left for Europe at a young age.

Ivory Coast was badly hit as well, losing out on Arsenal and Switzerland defender Johan Djourou, and from French striker Djibril Cissé, whose father was an Ivorian international.

It's not only West African nations that have lost out. Algeria lost out on Zinedine Zidane, who is of Algerian origin. Good for France, not so good for Algeria!

Then there's the strange case of one of football's greatest players: Eusebio.

The legendary Eusebio played all his early football in his native Mozambique before moving to Portugal and eventually becoming one of the top goal-scorers at the 1966 World Cup.

Eusebio's case was a little different though: at the time Mozambique did not exist as a country!

Interesting article. Please take a look at the link above.

'The American' Gets Ready to Play for Senegal

Bouna Coundoul, a 25-year-old goalkeeper who has spent the past 11 years playing in the United States, is not American by birth. But his Senegal teammates call him 'the American' anyways.

Coundoul moved to the United States at age 14, played at Martin Luther King High School in Manhattan and the University at Albany, and is now the starter for the Colorado Rapids of the United States' Major League Soccer team.

He is the only M.L.S. player at the tournament and as veteran football reporter Jack Bell's article in today's New York Times says, Ghana 2008 may be “Bouna Time!”, a catch phrase Mr. Coundoul has thrown around often.

Coundoul's fighting Cheikh Tidiane N’Diaye to be the team’s No. 2 keeper behind veteran Tony Sylva of Lille in Ligue 1 in France.

Good luck and may “Bouna Time!” strike and not hurt anyone in the process.

How to Watch African Cup of Nations in the USA

I'm having absolutely NO luck finding a place to watch the matches here in New York City.
There are rumors of places uptown and in the Bronx, but I can't go on rumors alone ... unless someone wants to accompany me.

Anyways, I may have found a solution.

Telesud are offering all African Cup of Nations games online in the US and Canada.

If you go to their website, you'll see that the fee for a single match is $5.99, highlights are $1.99 and the entire group phase is $29.99.

Not bad!

Might be my only choice at this point ...

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

A Plethora of Nations Cup Previews

There's more information on the Internet about this year's African Cup of Nations than ever before.

That's probably due to the fact that so many Africans play in the big European leagues. But more than that, people want to see good football. And the Cup of Nations will certainly have a lot of that.

I *STILL* haven't found a place to watch the games in New York City. So if anyone knows a restaurant or bar showing the matches, please e-mail me at

On to the previews, headed by journalist Jon Carter, who has a robust and thorough preview over at ESPN's

Next comes fellow blogger Jonathan Fadugba's excellent preview at his new blog, Just-Football. The man knows his stuff.

Over at the Guardian Unlimited's football website we see journalist Paul Doyle's assessment of the games. He's doing a group preview a day for the next few days, so make sure to check back. He starts today with Group A.

The World Cup Blog has a solid preview of individual nations and is not to be missed.

And let's not forget the mighty, who have an entire section devoted to the games in Ghana.

And last but not least, there's About A Ball's decent preview of the upcoming games, done by 'graduates from the University of Hertfordshire and the University of Essex with the aim of providing good quality, original articles and features, as well as many other services (they) feel are not adequately supplied by other football sites.' Not bad ...

Also, don't forget to check out my previous article about Cup of Nations web resources, featuring news websites and other goodies.

There's so much information out there, I feel like my head's going to explode.

Now if only I could find a place to watch the matches!!

Cup of Nations Schedule Won't Change Soon

The African Cup of Nations falls smack in the middle of the European season.
As we've long reported, not too many footballing powers on the continent are happy about it.

Well don't expect things to change anytime soon.

Although future Nations Cups may start earlier in January to accommodate the complaints of European clubs, the Confederation of African Football (CAF) says it will not change the frequency or timing of the event.

"It is not even a matter for discussion," CAF general secretary Mustapha Fahmy told Reuters on Tuesday. "The tournament will stay as is it is. Even coaches from big European clubs, like Arsene Wenger and Laurent Blanc, have made it clear they understand that when they sign an African player there is a chance that every two years he will have to go to the Nations Cup," Fahmy added. So true ...

But to be fair to the European giants, CAF may start the 2010 finals in Angola one week earlier, officials said.

The next three tournaments are already set.

The 2012 finals will be co-hosted by Equatorial Guinea and Gabon and 2014 will be played in Libya.

Nigeria have been designated as reserve hosts for the 2010, 2012 and 2014 tournaments should one of the proposed hosts be unable to fulfill their obligations.

The timing of the Cup, which falls in Europe's mid-season, where most of the players ply their trade, has been heavily criticized by players and coaches, including the likes of Samuel Eto'o, Michael Essien and El Hadji Diouf.

CAF president Issa Hayatou has repeatedly said the Nations Cup cannot be moved to June or July because of the rainy season across central and western Africa.

The 2008 Nations Cup in Ghana runs from Jan. 20 to Feb. 10.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Photos of African Football Supporters

In my quest to learn more about African football, I've come across some fascinating bits of news and some stunning photos.

Some of the best photos I've seen are of African football supporters, who are some of the most colorful, energetic and passionate fans I've ever seen.

Today, I steer you towards Ghana Web. They feature a portfolio of supporter photos from the 2006 African Cup of Nations in Egypt.

Take a look. They are AMAZING photos!

How to Solve the Cup of Nations Dilemma

As many readers know, the African Cup of Nations' scheduling conundrum has provided me with much blogging material.

Today, an article from Football365's Justin Zehmke, who wonders where the problem lies. It's a scathing criticism of FIFA and it's leader, Sepp Blatter, accusing the world governing body of not caring about African football.

It's quite a passionate piece and required reading for followers of the African game. Have a go here or at the link above.

As we find ourselves on the eve of another African Cup of Nations, familiar problems are raising their heads. As the respective European leagues enter the business end of their seasons, African nations are faced with a familiar struggle to pry their players from the understandably reluctant grasp of their day-to-day employers.

With no clear policy forcing clubs into releasing their players, causing a situation where the likes of Samuel Eto'o will only join their national sides a week after the African based players, the competition already has the familiar taint of anti-climax about it.

I place the blame fully at the feet of FIFA, one of the most venal, money-grubbing organisations ever to get its hands on a sporting code. African football is only paid any attention around FIFA election times, when Sepp Blatter and his cronies make hollow promise after hollow promise, only to be forgotten about almost immediately.

The competition was originally scheduled during the European season because nobody in power saw any benefit in doing otherwise. In previous decades having an African player at a European club was a rarity, and in any case, they were never important players. Africa was allowed to plod on in its own fashion, with the competition receiving far less financial support from FIFA than its European counterpart.

Technically, of course, the competition is the responsibility of CAF (Confederation of African Football) but this organisation has learnt the lessons of corruption and mismanagement that so typify its parent organisation very well.

FIFA is notoriously opposed to change, most likely through fear that any rocking of the boat will expose the viper's nest of shady deals, rigged elections and stolen funds that make up its history. A case in point being Blatter's almost hysterical refusal to contemplate the introduction of technology to ensure fair results. Doing this would remove much of the scope to engineer competitions for maximum revenue. One thinks back to the extraordinary run of refereeing decisions that saw South-Korea reach the semi-finals of the Japorea World Cup.

Only a naif and eternal optimist would think that this was not a concerted marketing push to expand advertising revenue in Asia. I will eat my own foot if an African side fails to reach at least the semi-finals at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa due to some 'positive' refereeing decisions.

Thus calls to have the AFCON moved to a more convenient time, outside of the European league window, have fallen on deaf ears. The competition is not a big money spinner for the decision makers in world football, and in their shortsightedness they fail to envision it ever being one. After all, in the eyes of most Europeans, Africans are all far too impoverished to warrant being advertised to.

But football itself, regardless of who administrates it, is essentially dynamic and has refused to conform to expectations. Once European clubs realised that the stereotype of the African footballer as all flair and no application was patently untrue, players from the continent started flooding the European leagues.

There is hardly a big club left without a spine of African talent and, were one to compile an accurate list of the fifty best players in Europe, African players would undoubtedly occupy at least 25% of said list. And herein lies the current dilemma.

The AFCON has often been played in appalling conditions. Bumpy pitches, sweltering heat and poor facilities lead to injuries and, with some of the nations' FA's in dire financial straits, the chances of clubs getting compensation for a player injured on national duty are extremely slim, if not nonexistent.

Thus we have a situation where star players pick up a phantom injury days before the competition. One remembers Michael Essien being unable to play for Ghana in the 2006 tournament only to feature in a Chelsea match, apparently fully fit, less than 24-hours after Ghana's exit from the tournament.

As much as these types of deception rankle, they are completely understandable. After all, the club pay the player's wages regardless of whether he is injured or not.

Playing the tournament outside the European season will solve this problem instantly and have the added benefit of garnering a European audience that isn't distracted by their respective local leagues. This in turn will boost the revenue generated by the tournament, enabling it to become bigger and better.

This brings us to another issue. How do we get the world to take notice of the competition? The quality of football has often been poor, both through the absence of star players and because of some highly suspect selection policies.

After South Africa had won the competition at the first try following readmission, a strange thing happened to the selection of the national squad. The best players were not being selected and there was fierce opposition to including European-based players in the national squad. The reason for this? Money.

The continent's showpiece tournament has been corrupted into nothing more than a cattle market. In a country like South Africa, where the big clubs like Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates have immense amounts of clout with the national FA, the competition became a money-making opportunity.

Clubs would want their own players selected in the knowledge that the tournament would be teeming with international scouts looking for the next bright prospect. The competition became a seller's paradise. And, as there is no money to be made from a player already at a European club, the quality of the national side was sacrificed in pursuit of a quick transfer buck.

Conversely this has had the effect of devaluing the local leagues but that is an issue for another day.

South Africa is certainly not the only country on the continent to suffer this problem and, unlike the reluctance of clubs to release players, this problem cannot be solved by rescheduling the competition, although it may be mitigated slightly.

Despite all these issues we should certainly still look forward to a fascinating tournament and some exciting football. It will be difficult however, not to imagine what a bit of common sense and a commitment to the African game from those in power could do to make it even better.

Well, there's always Angola in 2010.