Monday, September 22, 2008

New African Soccer and the Champions League Semis

I know, I know. I promised 31 straight days of posts and what happened?

Anyways, I'm here.
As you know, I also write for New African Soccer magazine.

What is that? According to the site:

New African Soccer Magazine is the only monthly English language magazine and ezine dedicated to African football.

We provide all the news and views, twists and turns of the beautiful game from an African perspective. As the football world turns towards the 2010 World Cup in South Africa we want to show how much Africa has to offer, from the Premiership superstars in England and the biggest leagues in Europe to the vital grassroots of the African leagues.

We have experienced correspondents throughout the world and we deliver exclusive interviews, contributions from star players, intelligent discussion and all the latest news and views from club and international football in Africa.

Good stuff, I promise.

I wrote a piece about the African Champions League semifinals for the site's blog, which I will post here as well.

Please make sure to check out the magazine. It is chock full of information and better yet, it's free! And I write for it!!

Here's the article ... I'll be back with more tomorrow.

Zimbabwe's Dynamos Harare are the surprise package in the semifinals of the African Champions League, continuing their Cinderella run to the title with a 1-0 victory over Zamalek of Egypt on Sunday.

Substitute David Shoko scored in the 88th minute to give Dynamos the victory in Harare and set up a semi-final clash against Coton Sport of Cameroon next month.

The win lifted the Zimbabwean side to nine points from six matches, three more than Asec Mimosas of Ivory Coast, who finished third after a 2-2 draw with Group A winners Al Ahly.

The last 8 teams in the Champions League are split into two groups of 4. The winner and runner-up of these groups advance to the semis.

Dynamos' match was briefly under threat, as their players walked out of camp on Saturday ahead of Sunday's game against Zamalek because of a bonus row.

The players were demanding 3 million Zimbabwean dollars each but due to a daily cash withdrawal limit of 1,000 dollars per person in the inflation-racked country, club officials could not pay the players on time.

Eventually all was settled and Dynamos dominated the match, with Zamalek goalkeeper Abdelwahad al-Sayed making a string of fine saves.

Al Ahly made sure of their qualification a few weeks back when they defeated Dynamos in Harare, creating an unassailable point gap between themselves and the other group members.

Nigerian club Enyimba FC of Aba narrowly advanced as they suffered an embarrassing 3-0 destruction from neighboring Cameroonian side Coton Sports on Saturday.

The result should have put the former two time champions out of contention, but TP Mazembe failed to defeat Sudanese club side Al Hilal in Khartoum. Both sides played out a 2-2 draw ensuring that they both crashed out of the competition.

Coton Sports will face Dynamos Harare in the first semi-final pairing, while tournament favorites Al Ahly will face Enyimba FC in the second semi-final encounter.

The latter is undoubtedly the clash that will garner the most interest, as both teams hold the most wins in the competition now.

The first leg of the semi-finals come up October 3-5, while the second leg comes up a fortnight later.

The winners advance to a two-leg final with the victors collecting US$1m and an invitation to the FIFA Club World Cup in Japan.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Tragedy in the Congo

Horrible news out of the Congo as accusations that a soccer player was using witchcraft (juju) during a match in eastern Congo sparked a riot that killed 13 people, a U.N.-funded radio station reported Monday.

Most of the victims were between the ages of 11 and 16, Radio Okapi said. They were suffocated as panicked crowds ran for the exits during the mayhem Sunday in Butembo in eastern Congo's North Kivu province.

Radio Okapi said police tried to control the violence at Matokeo stadium by firing into the air to protect their commander, who was hit in the head and wounded by fans.

The two local clubs involved were Socozaki and Nyuki System, the radio said.

Dozens of teenagers marched through Butembo's dirt streets Monday in protest, and the regional governor, Julien Mpaluku, paid a visit to the hospital.

Mpaluku said the government was investigating.

He made no mention of witchcraft, but confirmed that soldiers had fired into the air to calm angry crowds.

The shooting prompted panic instead, which became fatal "when the crowds all tried to leave at the same time."

"Most of the dead were children, only two or three were adults," Mpaluku said.

North Kivu has been the epicenter of violence between Congo's army and rebels over the last year which has displaced hundreds of thousands of people.

MY POV: So sad. My prayers go out to the victims.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Ethiopia is Out

Bad news for Ethiopia.

FIFA has announced that Ethiopia have been kicked out of the qualifying campaign for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

The results from all four matches played by Ethiopia to date in Group 8 are now void.

The Emergency Committee of football's world governing body suspended the Ethiopia Football Federation (EFF) on July 29th.

The EFF problems began in January when its general assembly fired the federation's president Dr Ashebir Woldergiorgis and elected Ahmed Yasin to replace him.

However, that January meeting was not recognized by FIFA, who together with the Confederation of African Football (CAF) then released a roadmap in February aimed at rectifying the situation.

The EFF had agreed to implement the roadmap, but failed to put it into action and was suspended six weeks ago as a result.

In August FIFA canceled Ethiopia's 2010 World Cup qualifier against Morocco that was due to be played this past weekend.

It means there are now just three teams in the group: Morocco, Mauritania and Rwanda.

Rwanda, who have completed their qualifying matches, top the group with nine points.

If Morocco beat Mauritania in the final group game they will go through as group winners thanks to a better goal difference or a superior number of goals scored.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

South Africa: It's Getting Bad

Now that South Africa have been eliminated from playing in the 2010 African Cup of Nations in Angola ahead of hosting the 2010 World Cup, many in the nation are blaming the South African Football Association (Safa) for their football development programs.

Safa chief
Raymond Hack doesn't respond kindly to these critics, calling them "idiots who do not know what development is."

It's getting nasty down in South Africa.

Safa has been under fire for its lack of development structures both from former coaches and the South African Parliament's sports portfolio committee.

Bafana Bafana have been performing dismally since 1996 when they were crowned champions at the African Cup of Nations. When former Brazilian coach Carlos Alberto Parreira joined the national team as head coach, he stated that much needed to be done by Safa to develop young players for 2010.

Referring to the nation's population, Hack quipped that each one of the 50-million Bafana Bafana supporters across the country always has something to say about the players and football development.

"If they know better, they should be the national coach. People like Neil Tovey [former captain], who has been fired many times as a coach, and Ted Dumitru talk nonsense and rubbish when they talk about the national team. Dumitru is a 78-year-old who watches English football on television and has failed as a national coach.
We have 52 Safa regions across the country and we train coaches who coach in those leagues. They select players for the regions and compete in competitions that we organize. People have no clue but just talk whatever they feel like talking," fumed Hack.

When Parreira took over as coach he was amazed at the lack of functional junior structures and suggested that leagues for under-16, under-18 and under-20 players be established.

Last weekend, Bafana Bafana lost 1-0 against Nigeria in a match that ended South Africa's dreams of participating at the 2010 African Cup of Nations.

This is widely seen as a disgrace for a country that will host the 2010 World Cup. On Tuesday, they lost 1-0 to Guinea in a match watched by about 2,000 fans. Ranked 70th in the world by FIFA and 16th in Africa, Bafana Bafana have had 11 coaches since 1992.

Cedric Frolick, deputy chairperson of the parliamentary sports portfolio committee, said Bafana Bafana's dismal performances are not doing justice to the majority of black South Africans who follow the game.

"Football is still seen as a black sport, but because of incompetent people it has become a laughing stock especially leading up to 2010. When you compare it with rugby and cricket, even those two codes are not doing well at the moment but at least you can see that there are development plans."

"We have always asked Safa about their development programs but until today we haven't gotten any answers ... We have competent people who can do the job better and I think they need to be given a chance," Frolick said.

He added that Safa will be invited to Parliament to explain why Bafana Bafana have fared so badly.

"Hack should stop saying that there is a plan for 2010 because it doesn't exist. Last year when we invited Safa to Parliament to present this plan they didn't, but instead sent us documents to read which we could not understand. We want to interact with them," said Frolick.

A fuming Hack responded that Parliament is not composed of football experts, saying their job is to facilitate and provide infrastructure."We gave them [Parliament] the documents and that was enough. Their job is not to question us on what and how we do it."

One of Hack's targets, former Bafana Bafana coach Dumitru, said the national team's poor performance over the years has caused "too much pain to the nation".

"It is not a matter of good selection, or style of play, or the Brazilian coach, but because we don't have the quality players to match the standard of teams like Nigeria, Cameroon and Ghana.

"We still call players that we did eight years back but who haven't helped the team perform better. Some players are not even playing for their teams, yet they are being selected," said Dumitru.

Dumitru said Hack should stick to finding sponsorships for the national teams and leave the technicalities of the game to the experts.

Luke Masomere, coach of Harare team Caps United, said it is not "normal at all" for a country of South Africa's size and importance to fail to qualify for Angola 2010. "This development doesn't augur well for 2010. It will kill local interest in the game."

Previous World Cup hosts France won the final in 1998, co-hosts South Korea reached the semifinal in 2002 and Germany reached the semis at the 2006 World Cup.

Masomere questioned why South Africa employed Parreira in the first place. "He struggled at the last World Cup in Germany with more talented players. South Africa has impressive local coaches, these are the guys that won them the cup in 1996," he said, referring to AmaZulu coach Clive Barker.

Masomere, who has also coached in Botswana, said the departure of Parreira had presented Safa with a "glorious opportunity" to have a local coach.

"That was a strange decision," he said of the decision to hire Joel Santana. "The results to prove that are there. Santana is a club coach, not a national coach."

MY POV: There is a whirlwind of disagreement over the direction of the South African game ahead of the 2010 World Cup. Many believe the blame lies with the people running the game. One would think the talent on the field could do better, but for some reason Bafana Bafana can't put it together.

Would it be a grave embarrassment should South Africa fail to make it out of the group stage in their World Cup?

I guess so. But at the same time, the Cup could induce more interest in the game, especially if it's seen as merely a 'black sport', as Frolick says above.

The Cup's coming and South Africa have many issues to deal with ahead of the games, from infrastructure to security. One can only hope that this issue doesn't cause the country more anxiety ahead of an already-anxiety inducing tournament.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Should South Africa Coach Get Boot?

Now that South Africa has been eliminated from the 2010 African Cup of Nations, will South Africa coach Joel Santana get the boot?

A South African newspaper editorial from the Cape Times doesn't seem to think so.

The South African Football Association must stay calm and resist the urge to fire coach Joel Santana after Bafana Bafana failed to qualify for the African Nations Cup in Angola in 2010.

Bafana lost 1-0 to Nigeria on Saturday, ending their hopes of sneaking in through the backdoor after a miserable campaign in Group Four. Yet Bafana were irresistible at times on a dusty and patchy EPRU Stadium pitch and played some of the best football seen by the national team for a long time. Yet they just could not find the back of the net.

The knee-jerk reaction now would be to fire the coach. The Brazilian coach has so far only managed to win one qualifying match. The 4-1 victory over Equatorial Guinea was also the only time Bafana managed to score in their campaign.

But Santana was always on a hiding to nothing after inheriting the team from his countryman Carlos Parreira only a month before the start of the qualifiers.

In his first international in charge, Bafana were outplayed by the Super Eagles in Abuja. They were played off the park that day and lost 2-0. After beating Equatorial Guinea, Bafana then travelled to Sierra Leone, where they lost 1-0 to the Leone Stars, drawing with them a week later in Atteridgeville. In both games they failed to score after creating numerous chances.

Bafana needed to win Saturday's game to stand a chance of qualifying. Ace goal-scorer Benni McCarthy was back after missing the first four qualifiers. Nigeria were depleted and looked ripe for the picking.

A couple of old faces were back and everybody in the Bafana team was quietly confident that they can pull-off their first competitive victory over the Super Eagles.

And they nearly delivered.

Bafana played out of their socks. It was probably one their best performances in recent times. But yet again poor finishing cost them the game. After nearly 20 shots at goal, you would expect that at least one of them would find the back of the net. But it was not to be.

Now people are calling for the coach's head after his team failed to qualify for their first Nations Cup since 1996. But what purpose would that serve?

Judged purely on results, Santana does not have a strong case. But appointing a new coach two years ahead of the World Cup and less than a year from the Confederation Cup would be counter-productive.

And what about the responsibility of the players? Santana can only do so much. Unfortunately he can't hold a player like Siyabonga Nkosi's hand while he is in the box.

On Saturday, Bafana played some breathtaking football at times. Tactically speaking, you could see that Santana had drilled the team the week before and that he has a vision for the team. For instance, he has been criticised for playing two defensive midfielders. Yet it did seem to work on Saturday. Kagisho Dikgacoi and Macbeth Sibaya created so much space for their attacking players it was almost embarrassing.

Unfortunately poor finishing and decision-making undid all the hard work. It was a shame, and the team must have been gutted after Nigeria scored with about probably their first shot on target.

The point is that firing Santana will be a step backward. He does have a vision and it seems the players are starting to buy into it. Saturday's statistics on possession and shots on goal makes a compelling case for how well Bafana played.

If they can learn how to finish and score goals, perhaps they will be able to compete with the likes of Nigeria. But at international level players should able to score goals. It is not up to the coach to teach them that.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Benin, Cameroon On to Second Phase

Benin overcame the formidable challenge of Angola on Sunday to join Nigeria and Cameroon in the last phase of African qualifiers for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

A 3-2 win in Cotonou for the small West African country came 24 hours after Cameroon had secured their progress by beating the Cape Verde Islands 2-1 in Praia.

Nigeria, who had already made sure of their berth at the end of June, kept up their 100 percent record with a 1-0 win over World Cup hosts South Africa, who are now virtually certain to miss out on the next African Cup of Nations in Angola.

The World Cup qualifiers are also serving as a tournament to determine the 16 finalists for the 2010 Cup of Nations, which is being held six months before the World Cup.

Striker Razak Omotoyossi scored twice for Benin to increase his tally of goals in the qualifiers to five.

Defeat for Angola leaves the 2006 World Cup finalists facing the prospect of early elimination.

Cameroon came from a goal down on Saturday to beat their island opponents with substitutes Achille Webo and Alain Nkong scoring for the Indomitable Lions.

Burkina Faso, Egypt, Libya, and Ivory Coast all need a single point from their last second-round group qualifiers next month to also advance.

Burkina Faso drew 0-0 at home to Tunisia in Ouagadougou on Saturday to keep up their three-point advantage in Group Nine while the Ivorians drew 1-1 in Mozambique on Sunday to stay three points clear in Group Seven.

Playmaker Mohamed Aboutrika scored a 31st-minute winner for Egypt as the African champions beat DR Congo 1-0 in Kinshasa on Sunday in Group 12.

Libya's 1-0 win over Ghana put them into top place in Group Five.

Gabon moved level with Ghana in second place after a 3-0 away win over Lesotho in Bloemfontein, South Africa.

Willy Endzanga scored a second-half winner for Congo as they beat Mali 1-0 in Brazzaville to ensure both sides share the leadership in Group 10.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Live World Cup Qualifying Scores

Here, the latest scores from the latest round of 2010 World Cup and African Cup of Nations qualifiers...

The joint qualifying campaign will decide which five teams will join hosts South Africa at the World Cup in 2010.

The qualification process will also decide the 15 teams who will join host Angola to take part at the 2010 African Cup of Nations.

From FIFA, some results from today .... Is South Africa out of the Cup of Nations already??

The already-qualified Nigeria maintained one of only two 100 per cent records in African Zone qualifying for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, and made it five clean sheets from as many outings in Port Elizabeth. Ikechukwu Uche scored the only game as the Super Eagles inflicted a 1-0 defeat on South Africa, who, although through to the next world finals as the Host Nation, are all but out of the running for a place at the CAF Africa Cup of Nations 2010.

Burundi kept their faint hopes of reaching the final phase of regional qualifying for South Africa 2010 alive, at least until later today, by eking out a 2-1 victory away to Group 9 tailenders Seychelles. Henry Mbazumutima and Claude Nahimana put the Swallows firmly in control, before a 63rd-minute Philip Zialor goal ensured a nervy finish for the visitors.

Burundi now need leaders Burkina Faso to beat Tunisia at home in the seciotn's other Matchday 5 game to have any chance of progressing. Seychelles, meanwhile, remain pointless with just one game left to play.

Kenya went three points clear of Guinea, who play in Zimbabwe tomorrow, at the Group 2 summit courtesy of a 1-0 reverse of Namibia, who are unable to advance.

Mauritius and Tanzania may have entered their Group 1 game with no chance of progressing to the next phase of African Zone qualifying for South Africa 2010, but that did not stop them serving up an enchanting first half at the King George V stadium in Curepipe. It produced five goals, all of them in a frenetic 22-minute period and four of them in favour of the Taifa Stars.

African Zone Qualifying, Matchday 5 results
South Africa 0-1 Nigeria
Kenya 1-0 Namibia
Seychelles 1-2 Burundi
Mauritius 1-4 Tanzania

Djibouti 0-3 Malawi
Libya 1-0 Ghana
Algeria 3-2 Senegal

Friday, September 5, 2008

Blatter to Visit South Africa Next Week

While most of the world is in qualification mode for the 2010 World Cup, the host country South Africa is also in 'qualification mode.'

FIFA president Sepp Blatter visits South Africa next week and organizers of the 2010 World Cup are confident the head of football's organizing body will like what he sees.

There's been talk of moving the World Cup from South Africa to another country more prepared to handle it, like the United States or Germany. So this visit by Blatter and his cronies takes on a significant measure of importance.

Will they like what they see? Will they deem the country fit to host the biggest sporting event in the world?

Blatter begins a four-day visit to South Africa September 14, during which he'll visit World Cup facilities in Johannesburg and Cape Town, World Cup Local Organising Committee (LOC) chief Danny Jordaan said.

"We have made tremendous progress and we hope to showcase this progress to him during his visit," Jordaan told journalists while wiping sweat from his brow.

While the news that FIFA might move the World Cup startled the local organizing chiefs, they're sure FIFA will like what they see this week.

"We are confident that we can host the competition. Long before 2010 all the (10) stadia for the competition will be ready," Jordaan said, adding that an expected change in government next year will not affect the game hosting.

General elections are scheduled to be held next year in South Africa.

Approximately three million tickets will be sold for the 2010 World Cup in which 32 teams will participate, the LOC head of legal and tickets department, Leslie Sedibe, said.

A total of 120,000 complimentary tickets will be handed out to FIFA and LOC officials as well as "builders" of the stadia, he said.

The World Cup, will be preceded next year by the FIFA Confederations Cup, to be staged in four stadia across South Africa from June 14 to 28 next year.

The draw for the Confederations Cup, will be made on November 22 this year and the tickets will be put on sale five days later, he also said.

An estimated three million people will be at the stadia for the World Cup's 64 matches while 30 billion people across the globe will watch the matches on the television, organizers said.

South Africa, which budgeted 30 billion rand (3.8 billion dolllars/ 2.6 billion euros) to host the World Cup, has recently requested a supplementary budget of three billion rand to meet the rising cost of materials from the government, Jordaan said.

"We have engaged government on a 10 percent increase on the World Cup budget. The increase is due to the effects of the global economy and the rising costs on our budget, including the rising cost of diesel" he stated.

MY POV: As I've stated before, it would be devastating to African football should FIFA move the Cup from South Africa. I'm more than confident Blatter and his henchman will like what they see next week. They better ... why wouldn't they??

Thursday, September 4, 2008

2010 African Qualifiers Are Confusing!

Interesting article from the Bangkok Post about how confusing the 2010 African World Cup qualifiers are. As they put it, 'FIFA and the Confederation of African Football (CAF) are on course to score an own goal' with their qualifier rules.

Basically, there's a situation where South Africa may have to lose or draw to make it to the next round (weird, I know. Play along).

South Africa spokesman Sipho Nkumane said the situation was strange, to say the least. "It is a difficult situation. How can we tell our players that they are not allowed to win a game? We will have to look at all the permutations after our game against Nigeria and then see what we have to do. The same situation could, of course, also arise in other groups."

A FIFA spokesman said that they worked on the premise that all teams would have to win games to ensure that they finished first or second.

"Teams have to win their matches if they want to make sure of winning their groups or finishing second. If South Africa do not win their game against Equatorial Guinea and Sierra Leone beat Nigeria, then they will probably not finish second at all.

"We will have to see the results of all the games to know all the different possibilities," he said.

So how did this happen? Here's the South Africa scenario.

In Group 4 of the qualifiers, where South Africa is close to being knocked out of the African Cup of Nations (the World Cup qualifiers also serve as the 2010 African Cup of Nations qualifiers), the 2010 hosts could be in a situation where they'll be eliminated if they win their final game against Equatorial Guinea.

After drawing and losing to Sierra Leone, Bafana Bafana face a do-or-die game against Nigeria this weekend. If they fail to win, they will certainly be eliminated from the 2010 Nations Cup.

If they win, much will depend on the result of the other game between Sierra Leone and Equatorial Guinea.

A victory for Sierra Leone will all but guarantee an early exit for the 1996 African champions.

A draw or a victory for the visiting side from Equatorial Guinea will keep alive South Africa's chances of qualifying for the finals of the 2010 Nations Cup in Angola, on condition they do not win their final game in Equatorial Guinea.

South Africa, who are currently on four points behind the already- qualified Nigerians, would move to seven points should they win. Sierra Leone would remain on four or move to five if they lose or draw to Equatorial Guinea.

Equatorial Guinea would move to four points (with a draw) or six (with a victory).

South Africa then faces Equatorial Guinea in their final game and would finish second if they win that game. In that case, however, Equatorial Guinea would in all probability finish last in the group and the six points that South Africa secured against them would be scratched, leaving South Africa with four points - too few to advance as one of the best-eight second-placed teams.

If, however, South Africa do not win, Equatorial Guinea could finish third and South Africa keep the three or four points they secured against them and as a result could advance to the next round with six or seven points.

Umm, WHAT??

From the BBC, a guide to African qualifying ...
The Confederation of African Football (Caf) has detailed a complicated formula to determine which teams progress to the second qualifying group stage for the 2010 World Cup and Africa Cup of Nations.

The 12 group winners in the first group phase and the eight best runners-up will advance to the second stage.

But a fair amount of mathematics will be required to discover those best runners-up.

One of the 12 groups has only three teams, and Caf wants to give the runners-up in that group a fair chance of qualifying.

So rather than simply looking at points gained and goal difference to determine the best second-placed teams, a re-calculation will take place.

The runners-up in Group 11, which has three teams will have their statistics unchanged.

But in the other groups, the points and goal difference that the second-placed teams had against the fourth-placed team will be erased.

These new totals will then be used to determine the eight best runners-up, using points gained and then goal difference, then goals scored.

Caf says that a play-off match will take place in November should there be a tie for the eighth best runners-up spot.

Second stage

The 20 teams that qualify for the second group stage will be drawn in five groups of four teams.

The group winners qualify for the 2010 World Cup, but should hosts South Africa win a group, there will be a recalculation to determine the team that goes to the World Cup.

All results against South Africa would be erased and a new table calculated.

The first three teams in each group will qualify for the 2010 Nations Cup.

If Angola reach the second group stage, the three teams drawn in their group will automatically qualify for the Nations Cup.

MY POV: I dunno about you, but my head hurts reading the above.
How about we just wait and see what happens this weekend, OK??
Why couldn't they make this more straight forward? Yikes ...

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

African World Cup Qualifiers

With Europe getting their World Cup qualification schedule under way, I thought it'd be fitting to see where Africa is in their drive to South Africa. Remember, the Africans started their Cup qualification months ago. 

So how fares Africa? 

Apart from Nigeria who have already booked their place into the next stage out of Group 4, the qualifiers remain very contested with many surprises expected this weekend.

Group 1: Cameroon will make sure of top spot if they beat Cape Verde Islands in Praia on Saturday. But what on paper would seem a routine assignment for a team of the Indomitable Lions' status is far from a straightforward task. The Cape Verdeans have proven feisty opponents, and also have hopes of making it through to the next phase. Three wins in their four matches to date demonstrate the remarkable progress achieved by Portuguese coach Joao de Deus. The meeting between Mauritius and Tanzania in Curepipe is of academic interest only.

Group 2: The outcome of this group will likely be determined on the final matchday in October, but Kenya and Zimbabwe will be seeking to use home advantage to maneuver themselves into favourable positions. The latter have been told they need to tighten up on discipline if they are to beat Guinea in Harare on Sunday. "This game is like a cup final," said Zimbabwe's Brazilian coach Valinhos. Kenya, who share the group lead with Guinea, will expect to beat Namibia at home.

Group 3: It is a crunch weekend for Angola, whose dreams of a second successive trip to the sport's showpiece event will end if they lose in Benin on Sunday. Black Antelopes coach Luis Oliveira Goncalves departed for Cotonou in determined mood. "We will throw away caution, we are going for victory," he declared. "It is going to be a hard game and Benin are difficult adversaries, but our objective is to win." Uganda's hopes of staying in contention also rest on avoiding defeat when they visit Niger, who have yet to collect a point in the campaign. Benin lead on nine points, two clear of both Angola and Uganda.

Group 4: Nigeria have already banked pole position, but still have pride to play for when they meet South Africa in Port Elizabeth. The Super Eagles squad for Saturday's game has been depleted by injury, while South Africa have doubts over the fitness of key striker Benni McCarthy. Sierra Leone will strive to unseat the South Africans from second position when they entertain Equatorial Guinea in Freetown on Saturday. Equatorial Guinea lost three successive qualifiers in June, and have appointed former Spanish international Vicente Engonga as their new coach.

Group 5: The top-of-the-table battle between Libya and Ghana is one of the main attractions of the weekend's packed programme, pitting Faouzi Benzarti's ambitious charges against the formidable Black Stars. The Ghanaians have recalled Stephen Appiah after a nine-month absence, although they will be hindered by the absence of defender John Mensah, which could dictate that Michael Essien operates at the back. Libya have put in extensive preparation for Friday's match in Tripoli, scoring nine goals in two friendlies last month. Gabon, three points behind the top two, will keep their hopes alive if they beat Lesotho.

Group 6: Algeria may be former continental champions and two-time FIFA World Cup participants, but their reputation has suffered in recent years. Failure to win at home to Senegal in Blida on Sunday will sharpen their decline, and all but end hope of reaching South Africa 2010. Rabah Saadane has assembled his strongest squad in years, largely owing to the returns of Brahim Hemdani and Nader Belhadj, but the coach admits it will nevertheless be tough against the Lions of Teranga. "The quality of our play and our behaviour on the field must be at the highest level," said Saadane. Gambia are still eying a ticket to the next phase, and will be fancied to beat Liberia in Banjul on Saturday, a result which could move Paul Put's impressive squad joint-top of the section.

Group 7: After a slow entry into the qualifying rounds, Ivory Coast have steadily gathered steam. With 8 points in 4 games, Ivory Coast is 3 points better than Botswana, who reside in the second spot. Mozambique, with 4 points and Madagascar, with 3 points, still have a chance with two playing days to go.

Group 8 : The group top spot is being contested between Morocco and surprise package Rwanda, each with 9 points. Ethiopia with 6pts can still hope but Mauritania, with 0 points have been eliminated. Rwanda are turning heads, rivaling the North African giants in what was seen as a group Morocco would easily win when the draws were made.

Group 9 : The Stallions of Burkina Faso are surprising group leaders with 12 points, outsmarting 2004 African Champions Tunisia. The North Africans are 3 points shy of the Stallions, who may be determined to go all the way. Burundi (3 pts) and Seychelles (0 pt) are already eliminated.

Group 10 : After the disqualification of Chad by the Confederation of African Football (CAF), the group has been thrown wide open. Leaders Mali (6 pts) as well as Congo and Sudan (3 pts) could still make it to the next round. Frédéric Kanouté’s side seem to have the better option in the group.

Group 11 : This is another group of three teams, which is maintaining its suspense. Swaziland (4 pts), Zambia (4pts) and Togo (3 pts, with a delayed match) are locked in a struggle. The team that better manages the situation will surely come out on top.

Group 12 : The Democratic Republic of Congo sparked some life into African football after their satisfactory performance at the 2006 African Cup of Nations in Egypt. The Simbas are in good form and are topping the group (as a result of a better goal advantage than Egypt). Both nations have 9 points. Malawi is still in the running with 6 points but Djibouti are out with 0 points and a –21 goal advantage after 4 playing games.

For full group standings, please click here. 

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Ghana Denies Match Fixing Allegations

In yesterday's post, we talked about allegations that the 2006 World Cup match between Brazil and Ghana was fixed.

Today, a strong statement by the Ghana Football Association (GFA), who say they are going to take legal action against Canadian author Declan Hill and his publishers over claims the Black Stars 2006 World Cup clash with Brazil was fixed.

The GFA is denying claims made in Hill's book 'The Fix' that has been serialized in the German news magazine Der Spiegel.

The claims are that an Asian betting syndicate influenced the result which led to Ghana's 3-0 loss to Brazil in the second round in Germany.

The football association has also lodged a complaint with the Ghana Police Service to investigate the matter in view of the allegations made against the FA and players of the senior team.

"Without prejudice to the foregoing, we have decided to seek the advice of our lawyers on any further cause of action that may be available against Declan Hill, and publishers of the defamatory statements."

Randy Abbey, a GFA spokesman, said that as much as it was a serious allegation, the FA would not jump to hasty conclusions but will read the book before investigating.

"We have to investigate the matter because it is a very serious allegation on the credibility of our country and our players," Abbey said in an interview.

"Since we are yet to read the book to know its detailed contents with regards to Ghana, making any definite conclusions would be jumping the gun, but we are not taking it lightly despite we being innocent."

The book has accused players of the Black Stars of taking less than US$1,000 each to lose the game against Brazil, a claim Abbey describes as a bizarre and serious indictment on the integrity of Ghana's world star players who featured in the match.

"It is unbelieveable that our world-class players who have served Ghana with integrity all along would throw a game for less than US$1,000 each when they stood the chance of getting US$700,000 collectively for winning the game. We have not had any such experience with our players in the past, and those making these allegations should be ready to face the music if it is found to be a hoax."

Hill claims in his book that large sums of money had been bet on Brazil winning by at least two goals, and a former Ghana international acted as an intermediary.

His work, which took three years to be published and which saw him visiting Ghana, said the research showed that a former Ghana international, Abubakari Damba, had acted as the middleman between Ghana's players and the head of a betting syndicate in Bangkok.

Declan also made inquiries about reports that some betting agents had tried to infiltrate Ghana's senior female football side, the Black Queens camp during their World Cup campaign in China last year.

MY POV: A strong declaration by the GFA. Really, what choice did they have? They needed to say something.

Still, an internal investigation needs to take place. Maybe some FIFA monitoring and maybe some independent council to further investigate are in order

Honestly, is anyone surprised? Not that Ghana is involved, but that match fixing takes place?
Let's hope these allegations are proven incorrect, for the good of the game.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Ghana-Brazil 2006 World Cup Match Fixed?

I've been away from the blog for a bit too long. That's life.

So today, Day One of a little project I'm going to undertake, where I post on the blog for 31 straight days. So dear reader, stick with me.

Today's big news, besides the ongoing transfer talk and the huge acquisition of Manchester City by a United Arab Emirates business group concerns the accusation of match-fixing at the 2006 World Cup in Germany.

According to German weekly news magazine Der Speigel, the 2006 World Cup knock-out stage match between Brazil and Ghana was influenced by an Asian betting syndicate. What do we mean by influenced?


The magazine reports large sums of money had been bet on Brazil winning by at least two goals and a former Ghana international acted as an intermediary.

Ghana lost the last 16 round match 3-0 in Dortmund on June 27, 2006 which put Brazil into the quarter-finals, where they lost to finalists France.

The information in Der Spiegel comes from Canadian investigative journalist Declan Hill, whose book about betting on sport around the world is published in German on Tuesday.

Der Spiegel also claim their investigations show two matches in Germany come under suspicion after huge sums were placed on them by a Malaysian who has been convicted of attempted match-fixing.

According to the report, William Bee Wah Lim placed 2.8 million euros ($4.1 million US dollars) with Asian bookmakers on Kaiserslautern losing a first-division match at Hanover in November 2005.

As a result of Hanover's 5-1 victory, he won 2.2 million euros.

Lim placed almost 4 million euros on Karlsruhe beating Sportfreunde Siegen in a second-division match in August 2005. Karlsruhe won the game 2-0.

A Frankfurt court gave Lim a two years and five months prison sentence in June 2007 after he was convicted of attempted match fixing in the German regional league and Austria's first division.

He was released on conditional bail, but has since left the country and a warrant for his arrest was issued in January.

The German Football Federation (DFB) have said they will investigate Der Spiegel's allegations concerning the two Bundesliga games in 2005.

"DFB and the German League have so far no reference points that the matches mentioned are to have been manipulated," said a statement on the DFB website.

"Immediately after becoming known of the suspicious factors DFB president Dr. Theo Zwanziger and German League president Dr. Reinhard Rauball affirm both federations aim at a comprehensive clearing-up of the affair.

"Already on Saturday morning an inquiry was started to look into the games concerned."

German football endured the most serious crisis in its history in 2004 when referee Robert Hoyzer admitted having received 70,000 euros to influence the results of 23 matches, mainly second and third division games, between April 10 and December 3, 2004.

MY POV: This would be absolutely devastating news. No one wants to see professional football turned into professional wrestling, especially at an event as big as the World Cup.
If this story is true, all the work FIFA's undertaken to prevent this very situation will be for naught. An immediate inquiry needs to be undertaken, much like Germany's doing, to make sure world football isn't polluted by gambling syndicates.

I found this excellent interview on Der Speigel's website with the author of the book, Declan Hill. Here's the whole interview. I've included a small excerpt. It's a riveting account of Hill's attempts to track down the characters involved in the scandal. It reads like a James Bond 007 spy thriller.

SPIEGEL: You have spent three years investigating the international betting mafia. Have you lost all pleasure in football?

Declan Hill: I love football the way one loves a woman, but by now I ask myself quite early on in a match, whether there is anything suspicious going on. There are no precise statistics about betting manipulation in football, of course, but it is shocking how often people in the world of betting talk about matches that have been manipulated – not just in Asia or Eastern Europe, but also in the major football leagues, such as in Germany, and even during world championships.

SPIEGEL: On June 27, 2006 the match ended 3:0 for Brazil.

Hill: The Ghanaians played as though they were putting their whole heart into it, but then there were a number of stupid mistakes: passes didn’t succeed, the defense was careless, the team collected three stupid goals. After the game I was in the stands in Dortmund with tears in my eyes because I was convinced, at least emotionally, that the match had been fixed. I phoned Chin from the stadium: “I didn’t believe you, but you are a genius.” He said: “How can I be a genius if I earn so little money with this?”

SPIEGEL: Did you speak with (Ghana Captain Steven) Appiah about the accusations?

Hill: Not just with Appiah, but also with the goalkeeper Richard Kingson and other national players too. They all assured me that they were completely unaware of the manipulation of the team in Germany. However one of the players did admit that he had been approached by Asian betters in 2004 during the Olympic Games. And they all said that Appiah was the captain of the team and that you would have to talk to him. I then met with him in an industrial area in Accra. We talked in his car and he said that he had been approached a number of times in the course of his career and that he had taken money too. The first time was in 1997 during the under-17s World Cup in Malaysia and also in 2004 at the Olympic Games in Athens; however he had been given money in order to win games, not to lose them. He had then shared the bonus among the players.

SPIEGEL: Ghana’s team captain, who was until recently signed to Fenerbahce Istanbul, says that he has accepted money from third parties twice during his career?

Hill: That’s exactly what he says. I had trouble comprehending this, so I spoke to him again over the phone, and he repeated his account.

SPIEGEL: And during the 2006 World Cup in Germany?

Hill: He was approached there too, but he says that he refused. I also asked him whether the Malaysian had gone to other players too. He replied: “Yes, I think he did the rounds.”