Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Premier League Destroying African Football?

Cause and effect. It's something we learned about as young kids.

Now, we get to see cause and effect in motion in the world of professional football.

The cause: The rise of African football, coupled with the advent and wide use of satellite teleivion.

The effect? The crippling of the African game.

What causes one to be so successful is also it's eventual downfall.

This report by Andrew Walker of the BBC draws light on the strange conundrum of African soccer.

Matches between English Premier League sides are widely watched across Nigeria.
But as the popularity of the English game goes up, the domestic game slips.

As an executive for a local club says, "Whenever we play at the same time as an Arsenal game, nobody shows up."

In a country of 140 million people, where crowds will stop and watch amateurs playing in the park, professional league games struggle to get more than 20,000 paying fans to come on match days.

What can be done?

Please read the entire article by the BBC here. Here's a small preview.

Tony Collins is from Anambra State in south-eastern Nigeria - and he supports Manchester United. "I like Man Utd because they're winners. Actually I like any club that wins in Europe. Nigerians like winners, we're simple people. Nigerian clubs? Can you really compare? They're rubbish, I don't waste my time with that."

Only one or two teams have the following to sell out their home grounds, says Ismaila Lere, sports editor at the Daily Trust newspaper.

"When you look at the stadiums you'll find that the stands are virtually empty, while the bars and the joints that have satellite TV are full. People will pay to watch the Premier League on TV but not to watch Nigerian football live," he says.

The trouble started back in the early 1990s, he says.

Economic reforms meant many teams went bust and were not able to pay their players.

Those players started looking towards Europe for employment.

Initially, they went to Italy and Germany.
Most Nigerians first got wind of the Premier League when Celestine Babayaro joined Chelsea in 1997.

"In the 1980s, I was the only person in my area who was watching English football," Mr Lere says. Now Nigerians are, like most of the world, obsessed with the English Premier League.

But in Nigeria the obsession is now going too far - after the Champions League final in May, seven people in Nigeria died in clashes between Manchester United and Chelsea fans.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

African Football at the 2008 Olympics

The 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, China are but a few weeks away.

The men's Olympic Football Tournament looks like it will be a hotly contested competition, with countries like Argentina, Holland and the United States seeking Olympic gold.

Africa will be well represented with three formidable squads in the 16-team tournament for the gold medal.

Former gold medalists Nigeria and Cameroon are joined by newcomers the Ivory Coast.

Cameroon and Ivory Coast were assured of qualification as far back as November 2007, with victories in their penultimate games to ensure that they couldn't be overtaken by the other contenders in their respective groups.

Cameroon triumphed in a tough section in which Morocco were their major rivals, finishing their campaign with a 1-0 win at home over Botswana, surprise qualifiers from the preliminary knockout rounds.

Serge Ngal, the Portugal-based striker knocking on the door of selection to the national side, got the only goal for Cameroon's U-23 side in their win to ensure they finished four points clear at the top of Group C.

Cameroon were the last African side to win men's football Olympic gold, winning at the Sydney Games in 2000. This time around, they're considered the weakest of the three African representatives at Beijing 2008.

Ivory Coast are the team to watch.

They finished a comfortable five points clear at the top of Group B. The Elephants' U-23 side boasts several players who are also part of the star-studded senior Ivorian squad, which reached the last four at the recent African Cup of Nations in Ghana.

They lost their opening Group B game against Zambia but then won the next five to stride into the Beijing Games.

Captain Gervais Yao Kouassi, better known as Gervinho, a regular in French side Le Mans, has been an impressive performer along with Chelsea striker Salomon Kalou, who was drafted in for the key qualifier against Zambia last year, when he scored to help ensure qualification.

Meanwhile, Sekou Cisse, who plays his club football in the Netherlands, scored both goals in the Ivorians' last match, a 2-1 away win over Senegal in Dakar in March.

Yet it is Nigeria who are expected be the most charismatic of the African representatives.

The Eagles stormed into the 2008 Games after a 3-0 win over South Africa on Wednesday. The Group A match in Abuja marked the return of Olympique Marseille defender Taye Taiwo and the debut of Everton striker Victor Anichebe, who came off the bench to score Nigeria's third goal.

Taiwo had earlier broken the deadlock in the first half before South African defender Thapelo Tshilo put through his own goal to double the Super Eagles' lead in Abuja.

The African squads won't have an easy go at it.

The Ivory Coast is in Group A along with Argentina, Australia and Serbia.

Nigeria sinks their talons into Holland, Japan and the USA in Group B.

And Cameroon tries to get past Italy, South Korea and Honduras in Group D.

Here are all the teams scheduled to be at the 2008 tournament for Olympic Gold. The competition begins August 6th with the champion crowned August 24th. Men's teams are allowed to augment their squad with three players over the age of 23.

Qualifiers for Beijing 2008
CONMEBOL: Brazil and Argentina.
UEFA: Netherlands, Belgium, Italy and Serbia.
CAF: Ivory Coast, Cameroon and Nigeria.
OFC: New Zealand.
CONCACAF: Honduras and the United States.
AFC: Australia, Japan and Korea Republic.
Host nation: China.

Please click here for groups, standings and schedules.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Witchcraft Rears Its Head Again in African Football

We talked about juju, the art of African witchcraft about a year ago on this blog.

Back then, we stated that
it has long been common for soccer teams to turn to witchcraft, or juju, to gain a competitive edge. Teams might, for example, summon witch doctors to cast spells on opposing teams. Because of the secrecy surrounding such practices, it's difficult to tell how widespread they are in Africa today.

Today, news that the Council of East and Central Africa Football Association (CECAFA) has promised to wage a battle against the use of Juju by member clubs.

"Any team that tries to express or show signs of practicing witch-craft or juju will be penalized, because we do not believe such practice can improve football in our zone," a news release stated.

For as long as anyone can remember, juju has been prevalent in African football and there is no sign of it going away.

Incidences of the use of external forces, other than the true science of football are a common feature in African football.

A vivid example occurred in Rwanda in a league match between club sides Rayon Sport and Atraco.

During the match, one player spent the entire game not only protecting his goalkeeper but also his 'magic stick' that he had planted in the goal.

MY POV: I'm not touching this subject with a ten-foot cattle prod.

But it's certainly an interesting subject and one feature of African football that fascinates me.

Surely there are interesting rituals in Western sports?

In the United States, ex-baseball player Wade Boggs of the New York Yankees used to eat chicken at a specified time every day. Every day, no matter what!
Can anyone think of any other strange rituals from sports?

Friday, July 18, 2008

Egyptian Derby: Al Ahly v. Zamalek

African football often gets pushed aside in the international footballing press.

It's either too foreign to most journalists or not interesting enough for their tastes.

That's one reason today's piece about the Al Ahly-Zamalek derby in the Guardian was such a pleasure to see.

The article doesn't paint the most flattering image of Egyptian football, the reigning kings of Africa. It describes senseless violence, nationalism and a deep hatred between the clubs.

But it also exposes what football means to many people: an escape from the hum-drum of every day life.

As many of you know, Al Ahly is the most successful club in African football. They've won the last four league titles (33 in all), two of the last three African Champions Leagues and enjoyed a record-breaking 55 match unbeaten run.

Zamalek are pretty successful themselves, having also won 5 African Championships (tied with Al Ahly for most on the continent).

Reporter James Montague braved the insanity to cover the most recent contest between the two squads, which is set to be contested again this weekend in the African Champions League group stages this weekend.

Not that he wasn't dissuaded from going. Upon arrival to the Cairo airport, a cherry taxi driver asked where he was going. When told he was off to the derby, the driver said "Do not go. You will be killed."

Heady stuff indeed. To read the article, click here. Here's a free sample.

When I arrived at the Cairo International Stadium, it was clear the authorities weren't taking any risks. The concourse leading to the stadium was swamped with black-clad riot police and plain-clothes officers, randomly hauling out supporters and taking them away to be searched. It felt more like temporary, localised martial law than a football match. Inside, Ahly's Ultra group was already in fine voice, hours before the kick off.

"Ahly was the first ever [football club] to be 100% Egyptian so it is very nationalistic but Zamalek has changed their name so many times we sing: 'You used to be half British, you guys are the rejects'. In Arabic it's the plural of 'Small dirty houses,'" explained Asad, the organisation's leader. "The two biggest political parties in Egypt are Ahly and Zamalek. It's bigger than politics. It's more about escapism. The average Ahly fan is a guy who lives in a one bedroom flat with his wife, mother-in-law and five kids. And he is getting paid minimum wage and his life sucks. The only good thing about his life is that for two hours on a Friday he goes to the stadium and watches Ahly. That's why it is such an obligation to win every game. It makes people's lives happy. We are probably the only club in the world where we [the fans] expect to win every single game."

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

West Ham 'Keeper's Holiday in Kenya

It's not often that a professional footballer uses his time off from the game to give back to the community.

Much too often, the footballer is involved in a transfer saga, a money dispute or something worse.

So it was with great respect and admiration that I read this article in Saturday's Independent newspaper about the exploits of West Ham goalkeeper Ron Green's volunteering holiday in Nairobi, Kenya.

Instead of 'boring myself on different beaches' as Green puts it, he wanted to explore and see parts of the world he might not otherwise see.

So he made off to Kenya, a country recently embroiled in political violence.

Once there, Green's view on life changed. His perspective shifted and one might say he grew great admiration for the people in the slums of Nairobi.

Here's a small excerpt of the article. For the entire article, please click here ...

I would be able to experience something different, something that I could learn from, appreciate a whole different level of life. And, most importantly to me, perhaps I could even use the status of a Premier League footballer for some good.

Playing professional football you surround yourself in a bubble. For 11 months of the year you don't have a choice of truly experiencing real life. Having left school and gone straight into football, I have played almost every day of my adult life. As far as lives go, I admit I have a pretty great one. But as far as life experiences go, it has been of fairly limited scope.

In a similar way, life as a footballer is self-focused. It can be easy to take for granted the life that you lead. Focusing on the negatives, not appreciating what you have, things that anyone in the western world could be guilty of. As a footballer you live on challenges, whether they are set by fans, managers, media, the opposition or yourself. This summer I wanted something to challenge the habits, thoughts, and beliefs that I had built into myself after 12 years of full-time football.

So around Christmas last year I approached a number of charities with my thoughts on how I wanted to use my summer break. Amref (the African Medical Research Foundation) came across as positive and active and saw my interest as an opportunity they could make something of: to use football and, in particular, the popularity of the Premier League as a vehicle to spread their Aids, HIV, health and peace messages.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Eto'o to Play in Uzbekistan? Huh?!?

Ok, here's another news item you'll need to sit down to read ... and no, this isn't an April Fool's joke.

According to news reports,
Uzbekistan League side Kuruvchi claim to have reached a deal to sign Barcelona and Cameroon striker Samuel Eto'o.

The Catalan giants have laughed off the news.

Eto'o, who has been told he is not part of new coach Pep Guardiola's plans, is expected to leave the Nou Camp this summer and has been linked with moves to Serie A and the Premier League.

On Monday morning, though, the Uzbekistan League leaders announced in an official statement on their website that they had landed the 27-year-old forward on a six-month deal.

The news was confirmed by Kuruvchi sporting director Bahtier Babayev, who said Eto'o will sign with the club later this week.

"Eto'o will arrive in Tashkent on Thursday and he will sign a contract with our club, at least up until the end of 2008," Babayev said.

"The term of the contract will depend on our performance in the AFC (African) Champions League. We will play Saipa in the quarter-finals and Eto'o is our main purchase before the knockout stage of the tournament. If we can agree with the player, he will continue to play for our club in the future."

Babayev also insisted that the seemingly unlikely transfer had been made possible due to good relations between the Primera Liga side and the Tashkent club.

"The defining moment of the transfer was not money, but the friendly mutual relations between the management of our club and Barcelona," he said.

"The personal friendship between presidents of the clubs has noticeably lowered the transfer fee."

Barcelona denied any knowledge of the move.

An official spokesperson for the Nou Camp side said: "Nobody at the club knows anything about this. I don't think it's very likely."

MY POV: So wait, Eto'o won't play for Tottenham Hotspur because they're ‘a mid-table club and I need more’ but he'll play for the Uzbekistan super powers, who finished second in last year’s national league??

No offense, but who is making this stuff up??

Friday, July 11, 2008

2 Years to 2010 World Cup Final

Time flies when you're having fun!

I'm still not over the euphoria of Spain winning Euro 2008 and what do I see?

That today is July 11th.

Which means we're a mere 2 years away from the World Cup Final, a game that will decide the world champion of professional football.

Time flies.

I have a more concrete idea of how to get there. Definitely more concrete than I had this time last year.

Now, I better get my butt in gear! There's no time to waste!

Check back for more updates on my journey to the Final ... two years away!!! I can't wait!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Free Tickets to 2010 World Cup?!?!?!

Sit down before you read this ... This made my mind boggle this morning.

According to this website, whose information has been substantiated by the FIFA website, 120,000 ordinary African soccer fans will receive free tickets to all games during the tournament, including the World Cup Final itself.


I need to file for citizenship NOW!!

According to the website, 'World Cup 2010 tickets go on sale in early February 2009 and will be offered in a succession of "phases," designated by categories. ... Category 4 tickets will comprise 15 percent of total World Cup tickets and will be sold only to low-income residents of South Africa. The 120,000 complimentary tickets will be drawn from the Category 4 inventory, enabling unprecedented numbers of South African residents to attend the mammoth event.

The South African local organizing committee (LOC), together with groups and organizations such as FIFA and various commercial partners, will distribute the free tickets as part of a program for social initiative. "All South Africans contributed to bringing the FIFA World Cup to our country. So it is only befitting that we make tickets available to the ordinary fans at affordable prices," CEO of the LOC, Dr. Danny Jordaan, said in a statement.'

Wow. I didn't know about this. What does FIFA have to say about this?

As part of the overall ticketing operation, 120,000 category 4 tickets will be allocated to this ticket fund, which will offer them on a complimentary basis to fans in South Africa so that they can witness the world’s largest single-sport event at first hand. The ticket fund will consist of a certain number of tickets for all matches, from the opening game right up to the final.

The tickets will be distributed free of charge by FIFA, the South African LOC and FIFA Partners adidas, Coca-Cola, Emirates, Hyundai/KIA, SONY and VISA to South African residents through a special programme that will form part of a social responsibility initiative and act as a “catalyst" for sustainable change.
David Will, the chairman of the ticketing sub-committee, expressed his satisfaction with the overall ticketing strategy: “Together with the South African local organising committee, not only have we managed to provide a low-price category and a well-balanced price range but also to innovate by creating a special ticket fund. These arrangements take account of the importance of the FIFA World Cup and cater at the same time for the needs of fans in South Africa.”

Consider yourselves informed ... now who is going to help me get South African citizenship????

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

FIFA FINALLY Says Something About Zimbabwe

Leave it to FIFA to wait for the most opportune time to condemn a despot.

Today, South Africa 2010's organizing committee finally came out and said the 2010 tournament and the continent need peace in Zimbabwe. You think?

FIFA general-secretary Jerome Valcke and Danny Jordaan, the chief executive officer of the South African organizing committee discussed the economic and political crises in neighboring Zimbabwe.

South Africa is the main regional power and has been accused of doing too little to push for reform in Zimbabwe. Some activists have even threatened a campaign similar to the pressure Olympic host China has faced over Tibet.

MY POV: Read this great editorial from the New York Times for more about this movement.

Jordaan, though, said Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, accused of killing political opponents and ruining a once vibrant economy, was resisting South African President Thabo Mbeki's "quiet diplomacy" as well as more vocal international criticism.

"It's clear that Mugabe has ignored everyone, including Mbeki," Jordaan said. "Why must South Africa be singled out when he ignores the whole world?" MY POV: Because you're the regional power and your influence could stifle Mugabe's dictatorial ways.

He said he hoped for a diplomatic breakthrough soon.

"Before we come to 2010, we must have a stable Zimbabwe," Jordaan said. "It's in all our interests." MY POV: Sorry for being cynical, but it sounds like once their bank accounts are involved, they finally care about the Zimbabwe situation. SA officials know that if the situation in Zimbabwe continues to persist, their World Cup could be affected. So now they care ...

Tournament organizers have already felt the impact of Zimbabwe's turmoil, he said. South Africa needs all the hotel rooms it can get, and Jordaan envisions some soccer fans spending their nights in neighboring Swaziland and Mozambique. High-end hotels in Zimbabwe's Victoria Falls area would also be ideal, but Jordaan said they aren't on the list because of Zimbabwe's predicament.

Valcke was asked whether FIFA was using its influence to encourage Mbeki on the Zimbabwe question.

"The World Cup is a huge leverage, but there are limits," Valcke said. "The World Cup doesn't give you the power to push President Mbeki to say anything other than what he wants to say .... We can just say that we are concerned ... and we have to find a solution."

MY POV: I don't think this is the last we'll hear of this situation. Football is the people's game and something is bound to boil over should this Mugabe situation persist. The Zimbabwean people, the South African people and anyone that cares about the situation there will make their voices heard loud and clear.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

More Trouble for South Africa 2010

With today's news that the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth has been removed as a venue from the 2009 Confederations Cup schedule on the heels of FIFA president Sepp Blatter's comments last week, the South Africa 2010 project has lived through a bad week.

Regardless, FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke seemed optimistic after the 2010 Local Organizing Committee's Board meeting held in Johannesburg on Tuesday.

"We (FIFA) are happy with the progress made by South Africa so far," said Valcke.

"All the deadlines we set have been reached and met. We are confident that South Africa will be ready to host a hugely successful event in 2010."

He stated that remarks made by FIFA president Blatter during the recent Euro 2008 Championships were not meant as a threat to South Africa.

"The president (Blatter) made it clear that only a catastrophe would prevent South Africa hosting the 2010 spectacle. We had a problem in 2003 in China when an earthquake forced FIFA to move the Women's World Cup to the United States. Only that type of disaster will force FIFA's hand on South Africa. One must realise that FIFA organize 20 world cups in four years."

"The main event is the men's World Cup which is the diamond that pays for all the other events and we cannot allow anything to happen and lose out as the other tournaments which are mainly used for development of soccer will suffer."

Valcke declined to disclose which country had been chosen should South Africa suffer a major tragedy. MY POV: USA? Or as one commentator on the last post indicated, Germany??

"There are only two people at FIFA who know the name of that country. One is the president and the other is me. I am not at liberty to disclose any details."

Unfortumately, the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium will not be ready for the World Cup dress rehearsal, the 2009 Confederations Cup. South Africa's 2010 World Cup Local Organizing Committee chairperson Irvin Khoza said the stadium would be ready in time for the 2010 Cup.

"We were forced to remove the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium from the Confederations Cup as we could not get a guarantee that it would be ready by end of March 2009 despite phenomenal progress being made," said Khoza.

"It was the only new stadium we intended using for the Confederations Cup. It will definitely be ready well ahead of schedule to host the 2010 World Cup."

Valcke agreed: "There was only one decision we could take after listening to the report on the progress of Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium today and that was we could not take a risk.

"Therefore the stadium will no longer be part of the Confederation Cup. The event is a big test and allows us to correct any faults before the hosting of the World Cup."

MY POV: It still sounds like these guys are talking out of both sides of their mouths.
Again, I think confidence in the SA project is what is needed, not veiled threats.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

USA World Cup in 2010?

Since the time FIFA president Sepp Blatter announced that the 2010 World Cup would be staged in South Africa, people have wondered whether the Cup would actually be held in the African country.

Will South Africa be able to host the World Cup? Will people travel to a country riddled with crime problems for the biggest sporting event in the world? Will companies invest in the African nation?

2010 World Cup organizing committee chief Danny Jordaan has worked hard to squash negative assumptions, assuring everyone the World Cup in South Africa (SA) will be a huge success.

Still, Blatter has again stirred controversy by saying that SA could still lose the rights to host the 2010 World Cup in the event of a catastrophe. MY POV: What catastrophe?

However, Jordaan downplayed the concerns.

"I have spoken to Blatter and he reaffirmed that only God can prevent South Africa staging the World Cup in 2010," Jordaan said. "Blatter has gone out of his way to bring the 2010 World Cup to South Africa. It makes no sense for him to say he has another plan. Obviously FIFA must have a plan if we suffered a major natural catastrophe, but that is all."

Yet, Blatter keeps talking about a contingency. And there are problems.

According to the Zimbabwean, 'a group of committed and professional Zimbabwean journalists and friends from around the world who have come together to start the first physical newspaper for Zimbabweans in exile', there are growing fears that Zimbabwe's economic and political crisis could impact negatively on the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

This is the warning of analysts who believe the problems in President Robert Mugabe's country could spill into South Africa and the rest of the region, and thus make the region volatile ahead of the global football fiesta.

Zimbabwe Exiles Forum (ZEF) director Gabriel Shumba said the prevailing situation did not bode well for the hosting of a successful event.

"The possibility of a civil war is very high (in Zimbabwe), which can only mean that the Zimbabwe issue will in practice impact massively on the region as a threat to regional peace," he said.

So where does the USA fit into all this?

According to boston.com, the USA could step in should South Africa be declared unable to host the Cup. (Yes, I'm having a little fun with the picture above ... I am American, by the way.)

"I would be a very negligent president if I didn't have a Plan B ready for the 2010 World Cup," Blatter said in an interview in Vienna Sunday.

A decision on confirming South Africa as the first African country to play host to the World Cup will be made following the Confederations Cup, scheduled for June 14-28, 2009.

Eight countries will participate - Brazil (South American champion), Egypt (Africa), Iraq (Asia), Italy (World Cup), South Africa (host), Spain (Europe), the US (CONCACAF), and an Oceania representative.

Stadium construction delays and security fears have raised concerns that South Africa might not be capable of hosting the event.

"We will decide after the test of the Confederations Cup and only a catastrophe would put the alternative plan into effect," Blatter said. "The World Cup is a logistical challenge and South Africa wants to shows the world it is able to do it."

The US is among the few countries capable of hosting a World Cup on short notice.

MY POV: I understand Blatter's need to make contingency plans for the Cup. But does he need to talk about it every month?

Does he really think this instills confidence in the people of South Africa?

Look, we all know the problems hosting a World Cup in South Africa present.
From SA crime to regional difficulties, everyone involved knew hosting a Cup in SA wouldn't be easy.

But as Jordaan has said many times in rebuttal to Blatter's comments, the money is streaming in, the stadiums are being built and the infrastructure is growing.

Why harp about the need for contingency in every public comment about the 2010 Cup? How come Blatter didn't do this with Germany 2006 or Korea/Japan 2002? Why haven't we heard criticism of Brazil 2014? Brazil's soccer federation and soccer infrastructure is in shambles. Crime is just as rampant in the South American nation. Why no talk of a contingency there?

If FIFA wanted SA to prove their worth in 2009 with the Confederations Cup, I wish they had just named the USA the host of the 2010 Cup from the beginning.

I see SA having to pass a 'quiz' in 2009 as a slap in the face. They're doing what needs to be done. Why keep examining every fiber of their build-up? Does anyone in FIFA have confidence in SA?

What do you think? Please leave comments and opinions.

Eto'o's Shirt Costs a Lot of Money

Who knew that obtaining Samuel Eto'o's shirt would cost so much money?

The story begins here: Tanzania lost a hard-fought encounter against Cameroon 2-1 in recent World Cup qualifying. Tanzanian defender Nadir Haroub gave away his jersey to Cameroon star Samuel Eto'o after the game in Yaounde. It's tradition, you know?

The local media praised Haroub and said his performance was the reason Eto'o was keen to swap jerseys with him.

But the Tanzanian Football Federation (TFF) didn't see it that way. TFF bosses were clearly not amused by the gesture and told Haroub that part of his allowance would be used to replace the jersey.

The team's management insisted that Taifa Stars players were not allowed to give away jerseys as the federation could not afford a new set of jerseys for each match.

But following criticism from the media and fans alike, the TFF has backtracked and said the player would not be punished. The decision has been reversed ...

"It's obvious he couldn't say no to Eto'o," said TFF president Leodegar Tenga.

"It was a wise decision to give his jersey to such a famous player. This will make our country known," he added.

A fund-raising drive was already underway with fans donating money to help Haroub meet the cost of replacing the jersey.

MY POV: Times are tough around the world these days. Even the simple football tradition of swapping shirts isn't exempt.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

African FIFA Rankings

FIFA have just released their new world ranking table and there are some surprises.

Coming in at first place is newly crowned Euro 2008 champions Spain, who knocked former #1 Argentina off the top with their exceptional performance in Austria/Switzerland.

Argentina had held the top spot since October 2007. This is Spain's first time at the top of the table.

How did our friends in Africa do?

The African table tells an interesting tale.

Cameroon retained their place as Africa's highest ranked side in the latest rankings.

The Indomitable Lions are still ranked at 13 in the world while Ghana, who are second in Africa dropped four places in the overall ranking to the 20th position.

This follows the Black Stars 2-0 defeat at the hands of Gabon in the World Cup qualifiers last month.

There were some big African movers on the global rankings after a month of 2010 World Cup and African Cup of Nations qualifiers.

Swaziland leapt 38 places overall and Cape Verde are up from 109th to 85th. Big movers!

But the biggest movers are Burkina Faso (flag above), their 100% record in the 2010 qualifiers so far has taken them from 111th in the world to 64th - a move of 47 places.

Some other countries and their rankings include Angola, who slipped 6 places to 61st, Kenya, who leapt 23 places to 92nd in the world and Sierra Leone, who are now 137th in the world after going up 26 places.

The ranking system is based on international results over the past four years with more points awarded for wins in major tournaments.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Africa's Greatest Ever Player Retires

We've had this debate many times before: Who is Africa's Greatest Ever Player?

I haven't a clue, although I could list the usual suspects.

One of the men who would make most everyone's Top 10 list has just called it quits: Jay-Jay Okocha.

On Thursday, more than 20,000 fans came to pay their respects to one of the greatest African footballers of all time at his testimonial game.

Okocha, who twice won the BBC African Footballer of the Year award, is retiring after 18 years in football.

Despite torrential rainfall a big crowd witnessed a star-studded game that saw a Super Eagles XI beat a World XI 2-1.

Stars including Nigerian star Kanu, Joseph Yobo, El-Hadji Diouf and Benjani Mwaruwari all played in the game at the Warri Township stadium in Delta State, Nigeria.

The 34-year-old Okocha played for both sides during the match and scored for the Super Eagles XI, which also included Taribo West and John Utaka.

"It's a day of joy considering the achievements and adoration in my football career but also one of sadness as I am leaving a game that brought me fame and fortune," an emotional Okocha said after the match.

"I thank the clubs and fans where I have played as well as team-mates and of course the Nigerian public for their love and support throughout my career."

Current Nigeria coach, Shaibu Amodu, who coached Okocha at the 2002 Cup of Nations in Mali, was full of praise for the talented midfielder.

"Okocha is a model professional on the pitch, on the training field and off the pitch," Amodu said.

"The national team have missed him as he has such a huge influence in big games. The fact that the stadium is packed is a total reflection of how much he is loved in the country."

Former South Africa and Leeds United captain Lucas Radebe revealed that he had to leave his sick wife behind in South Africa to honor Okocha.

"I pleaded seriously with my wife to let me be here. Okocha was a recognised maestro in African football and the continent will surely miss him," he said.

After footing the bills for the testimonial, the Delta State government in south-western Nigeria have also renamed the Ogwashi-Ukwu stadium the Jay-Jay Okocha Stadium.

A fitting end for a classy player ... I doubt I'll get a testimonial at my current job when I'm handed a pink slip.

Adebayor's Triumphant Journey

Now that the Euro 2008 championships are behind us (thank you Spain!!!), it's time to look forward to the wacky season, otherwise known as the summer transfer period.

Players will be moving left, right and center with big names rumored to be going to new clubs and bigger names actually making the moves.

One of these names is Arsenal striker and Togo superstar Emmanuel Adebayor.

The 24-year-old is now a household name in the football world, his meteoric rise aided by a string of scintillating displays for English Premier League side Arsenal.

Now Barcelona want him and if the news is to be believed, he's on his way to Spain.

Today, we present an article posted on the BBC last week about Adebayor's stunning rise to the Premier League and his triumphant return to Togo last month.

It's an interesting look at the modern footballer but also a glimpse into Adebayor's soul. As article writer Farayi Mungazi puts it, 'for a man with little education, he projects himself with consummate ease and is unfailingly polite. He reminded the cynic in me that not all professional footballers are arrogant millionaires with egos that match the size of their pay packets.'

Please read the article here and take a look at this snippet here ...

I think a lot of people know me just on the pitch," Adebayor says.

"They don't know where I come from and they don't know how I began."

"I put in a lot of hard work to be where I am today, but I'll never forget what it was like when I was young.

"Life was very difficult, and I told myself that I only had one chance to survive and that was to be a footballer."

Adebayor did not enjoy school, skipping classes to play football - though now, on his "tour of hope", he encourages children to stick to their studies.

He sees it as his chance to give something back to Africa's youth.

When he left Togo for France to embark on a professional career in 1999, not many would have foreseen that a football superstar had been unleashed.

"When I was going to Europe, I remember what my mother told me at the airport; she said: 'Manu, you see where we're living, you must go to France and do something good because we need your help.'"

He has now built her a huge, double-storey mansion in Lome, which is surrounded by shacks and run-down buildings.