Saturday, February 2, 2008

This Guy Lived My Dream

Brian Furtig got to live one of my dreams.

While I sit here cutting and pasting articles about African football, all the while closed to watching the Cup of Nations (I will watch my first complete match tomorrow), Brian traveled around Ghana and got to experience the atmosphere of the Cup.

Frutig, a law student at William & Mary School of Law and a Chelsea FC season ticket holder who has lived in the United States and the United Kingdom, wrote a fan’s journal during the African Cup of Nations tournament.

He's back in the States today and in his New York Times blog post, shares his thoughts on his experiences in Ghana.

I want to be back in Africa, back in Ghana. Not here in Williamsburg, Va., trying to focus on the contours of probable cause with regard to the issuance of warrants and the definition of dependent relative revocation in Trusts and Estates law. Given the choice between my status quo reality and the next chapter of the African Cup of Nations…

Fortunately, the rhythmic drum beats, songs and smiles of Ghanaians remain at the front of my consciousness after 10 sometimes hectic days in Accra, Kumasi and Sekondi. Even memories of long, hot bus trips, inhaling dust while walking along side roads and fighting through misinformation concerning transportation and tickets are fond memories. How I wish I were still there, especially with the drama of the quarter-finals, which start Sunday.

Each game is surrounded by interesting questions: Will the injury to Kolo Toure make the Ivory Coast vulnerable? Will Guinea be competitive without Pascal Feinduono? Will Ghana be spurred on by the support of the nation, or will the team be burdened by the weight of expectation and fear of what will happen if the Black Starts fail? Will Cameroon continue to ride the goal scoring of Samuel Eto’o, or will unconvincing Tunisia continue to do just enough? Will Egypt play like the defending champions? Will Angola reflect their standing as the popular underdog and continue their dangerous and efficient attacking play with Manucho looking like Manchester United found a bargain?

The match of the quarterfinals is Ghana vs. Nigeria. This is the game that every Ghanaian I spoke with did not want – both because of the rivalry with Nigeria and the fact that the Super Eagles are a continental power. Furthermore, I got the feeling that Ghanaians do not think they match up very well with Nigeria. While Nigeria have been disjointed going forward, their defense has still been hard to beat – even against Ivory Coast - with Joseph Yobo bringing his formidable form from Everton.

Ghana, similarly, have been hard to beat at the back, but their strikers have been profligate to say the least. They looked more dangerous against Morocco with Michael Essien pushing forward, but many Ghanaians believe that to win, Gyan or Agogo will have to put one in the back of the net. Otherwise, the Black Stars will be rooted in a defensive struggle against a physically imposing Nigeria; any mistake could mean the game. The pressure in the stadium will ratchet up as the game goes on and I’m not sure which team will feel the pressure more.

Egypt vs. Angola in Kumasi is the next most interesting game of the quarterfinals. I watched Angola on TV in Ghana and they looked very dangerous in attack and very efficient in front of goal. Angola is a popular choice among Ghanaians, but the Angolans’ style might just play to the Pharaoh’s strengths. Egypt beat Cameroon on the counter-attack, soaking up pressure and releasing quickly through Mohammed Zidan, Hosni Abd Rabou, and Amr Zaki. Egypt’s defense of Fathallah, Fathi, Gomaa, and Moawad are ably protected by Mohamed Shawky and will require a creativity from Angola I did not see. Conversely, while Zidan went missing against Sudan and Zambia, he is at his clinical-best running at retreating defenses – something he does equally well for Hamburg in the Bundesliga. With Mohamed Aboutrikka and Ahmed Hassan in reserve, the defending champs may have too many weapons for Angola to defend against.

I would be extremely surprised if Ivory Coast has much of a problem with Guinea. Pascal Feinduono was far and away the best player for Guinea in the first two matches, with all attacking threat going through him. Whether as a play-maker or from free kicks, he was the engine that made Guinea go. Losing one of the best performers of the tournament clearly hurt Guinea against Namibia and will be felt even more against Ivory Coast – a team who displayed its ruthless streak against out-manned Benin. The ghosts of CAN 2006 haunt the Ivory Coast and the Elephants will not underestimate their opponent.

Cameroon vs. Tunisia in Tamale is the toughest game to predict. Cameroon was beaten quite decisively by Egypt, but have overwhelmed lesser opponents Sudan and Zambia. Coach Otto Pfister has been displeased with the team’s transportation to Tamale, lodging and practice times and facilities. On the other hand, it is unclear what to make of Tunisia. The parity of Group D led the Ghanaians that I spoke with to believe that this was the weakest group. Between Samuel Eto’o’s search for his record breaking goal and the support of Ghanaians against a team from North Africa, look for Cameroon to pull through.

The drama of the group stages was something to behold – but the real test of nerves begins now. As the national song says, “we go do or we go die.” I wish I were there to witness it and share the experience with Black Star Nation.

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