Friday, October 31, 2008

African Final Preview: Al Ahly-Coton Sport

Tomorrow's first leg of the African Champions League final is a classic case of David v. Goliath.

On one side, we have the expertise and experience of Egypt's Al Ahly, who are chasing a record-breaking sixth Champions League title and playing in their fourth successive final.

On the other, we have Cameroon's Coton Sport, who didn't even exist when Ahly were just beginning to win titles.

Coton reached the league phase for the first time this year and have gone on, against all expectation, to advance to their first final.

The club was only founded in 1986, and ascended into the top flight of Cameroonian football in 1993. By that time Al Ahly had already won one continental championship and three straight African Cup Winners' Cups.

Rarely has there been such a gulf in experience between two teams contesting the final of the continent's showpiece club competition, but it is not an unrealistic mismatch. Indeed Al Ahly's hopes of establishing new landmarks for the African game will be under severe threat from a Cameroonian side who have grown in confidence and ability as the competition has unfolded over the year.

Al Ahly stumbled at this block last year against a team they were heavily favored against.

Considered certainties to overtake fellow five-time winners Zamalek of Egypt after forcing a 0-0 first-leg draw at Etoile du Sahel of Tunisia last year, Ahly came horribly unstuck at home to lose the second leg 3-1.

Angry home supporters then vented their fury by hurling missiles and abuse at the Ahly players when they collected their runners-up medals.

But a year later Ahly are back in the showpiece of African club football against opponents no one outside the dusty north Cameroon cotton town of Garoua gave a chance of going so far.

Al Ahly host Sunday's first leg in Cairo seeking a decisive advantage to take to Garoua, in the arid north of Cameroon, where the second leg is to be staged on November 16. But coach Manuel Jose says it is ironic that his team fare better away from home, freed from the burden of expectation imposed by their passionate fans in the Egyptian capital.

The Portuguese, who has been at the Al Ahly helm for their last three Champions League triumphs, said on the eve of the game: "Away from home, when we are not under pressure, we perform well. But at home there is a lot of pressure from the supporters."

Al Ahly know it is vital to win the first leg and take an advantage to Garoua, where they have never played before and will find conditions to be tough.

"Ahly have the best footballers in Africa so we should go for a win whenever and wherever we play," continued their coach. The Egyptians are still sweating over the availability of captain Ahmed Hassan and Angolan winger Gilberto, who sat out their last league game to avoid aggravating a groin problem.

Here's where another disparity exists between the two sides.

Ahly supplied five Egyptians and two Angolans for the 2008 African Cup of Nations while no Coton Sport footballer made it to Ghana.

Ahly superstars like silky midfielders Mohamed Aboutraika and Mohamed Barakat and Angola-born goal predator Flavio Amado are instantly recognizable far from their Cairo base.

But no one outside Cameroon and his native Niger knew of Daouda Kamilou until his seven-goal haul in the Champions League this year lifted a veil of international obscurity.

Coton Sport Franco-Ivorian coach Alain Guedou is upbeat about his team’s chances.

“We have the keys to success. We will fight as much as we can to win the title, but I believe we are not far from achieving our objective,” he said.

But there is no shortage of confidence in the Coton Sport side. Baba Ousmaila , who was Man of the Match as the team warmed up for the final by beating Aigle Dschang 4-2 in the Cameroon Cup Final at the weekend, says the players are ready to make history.

“The victory over Aigle was important, but it is now in the past for us,” Baba told the club’s official website.

“All the players can think of now is the Champions League final.

“We know Al Ahly are a very big club and a very good team, but now Coton Sport’s time has begun. This is the moment we will gain our first Champions League trophy, we all firmly believe that.”

After a rather slow start in the group phase of this year’s competition, they stepped up their challenge with their home ground, the 35,000-capacity Stade Omnisports Roumde-Adja, proving to be a fortress. It was there that Enyimba and Power Dynamos met their Waterloo.

Coton Sport have already made history as the first club from that country to reach this stage of the competition since 1980 when the famous Canon Yaoundé won the last of their three titles.

They made easy work of Power Dynamos in the semi-finals by winning 5-0 on aggregate. After snatching a lone goal victory in Harare, they showed they were truly at home by spanking the Glamour Boys of Zimbabwe 4-0 in the second leg.

Coton Sport have dominated the Cameroonian scene since 1997.

They owe their rise to the top of the African football pile within such a short time to solid funding and organization.

Founded in 1986, they reached the final of the now redesigned CAF Cup in 2001 and have posted eight appearances in the Champions League with their best outing coming in 2004 when they got to the third round of the elimination series.

They have won the Cameroonian league nine times and were consecutive winners the past five years. They have also lifted the FA Cup four times in the last five years, winning their latest just this past weekend.

Besides parading several Cameroonian players, they also have on their books players from Niger including first-choice goalkeeper Kassaly Daouda and 20-year-old striker Kamilou Daouda. Kamilou is the team’s leading scorer in the Champions League and both he and his compatriot are already top transfer targets with the goalkeeper reportedly on his way to Turkey.

Besides that, they have a very special supporter in Cairo for their game, none other than Indomitable Lions legend Roger Milla.

Milla won worldwide acclaim back at the 1990 World Cup in Italy when he led Cameroon to the quarterfinals, scoring four goals along the way, before returning in 1994 as a 42-year-old for a less successful tournament in the USA.

His appearances in the United States World Cup made him the oldest man to feature at a World Cup finals.

So what happens now? Let's find out and see! Should be a good one no matter what.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

USA '94: Not that bad??

We (ok, me ... ) here at Road to 2010 have been watching football for a mere 11 years as an avid fan.

Call me a neophyte but it's been long enough to have seen some incredible European finals (my team Valencia in 2000, the '05 classic in Istanbul between Liverpool and AC Milan), some wicked goals (Zidane in 2002, David Bentley's smacker today), some awesome World Cup games (Italy-South Korea in '02) and the ultimate - Spain winning Euro 2008.

Before that, I didn't follow football. Sure, it was here and there, popping up on TV now and again. But here in the USA, we watch American football and baseball, basketball and pro wrestling.

'Soccer' is for the rest of the world ... and let them have it, for all we care.

That changed for a month in 1994 when the USA hosted the biggest tournament in world sports - the World Cup.

Honestly, not that many people in the States cared. Sure, the Italian-Americans in New York and the ... Irish-Americans in New York (I'm in New York, by the way) cared.

But the rest were focused on the impending baseball strike and the upcoming NFL season.

For this and many other reasons, USA '94 is considered one of the worst World Cups in history.

But wait ... today's Guardian Unlimited has an interesting article from writer Rob Smyth saying the '94 Cup wasn't quite as bad as we imagined ...

Maybe he's right. I wouldn't remember. I watched Brazil win a putrid final against Italy in the heat of the Rose Bowl in California and thought, 'What's all the hub bub about?'

Now look at me ... obsessed, in love and totally consumed by 'soccer'. Funny how time makes us think differently about things ...

Here's a small excerpt from the article. Clink the little blue line for more.

Then there were the little details, the one-liners that embellish the plot. In what may turn out to be the longest paragraph ever, we'll attempt to list them. The late kick-off times in England, nirvana for the freaks, geeks and insomniacs; Barry Davies doing his only World Cup final; Martin Dahlin and Andersson proving that direct football could be both thrilling and classy (Sweden were the tournament's top scorers with 15); the haircuts, from Yordan Letchkov legitimising baldness to Alain Sutter's uber-Fabio mane, Tony Meola's Shep-from-Fargo greaseback, the Happy Days side-parting of Mexico's Zague, Alexi Lalas's - well what exactly was that? - and, of course, future Reading keeper's Borislav Mikhailov's syrup; Romania, the World Cup's best loose cannons since ever (and to think it could have been Wales); the Americans' cool but hangover-baiting home kit and their hideous away kit; Rashidi Yekini's throatlump-inducing celebration after scoring Nigeria's first World Cup goal; a dead rubber given significant life by the record-breaking of Roger Milla, the oldest World Cup goalscorer, and Oleg Salenko, the first man to score five goals in one World Cup game; the story of Italy, who went closer to the precipice than James Bond in almost every game but kept surviving; Clive Tyldesley's absurdly extravagant pronunciation of 'Dooooooomidrescu'; Romario slithering magisterially through a non-existent space between two defenders only to eventually have his shot cleared off the line in the semi-final against Sweden; the bravest decision in managerial history, by Arrigo Sacchi, when he took Roberto Baggio off after Gianluca Pagliuca was sent off against Norway; the magnificent certainty of Dunga's spot-kick, the eighth and penultimate in the final, which put Brazil in the lead for the first time and was the first example of the 'captain's penalty'; the glorious meltdown of John Aldridge and Jack Charlton; the brutality and Hitchcockian suddenness of Leonardo's elbow on the USA's Tab Ramos, an incident that has become more unfathomable as we have got to know him subsequently; Greece being so inept that they allowed Argentina to have a four-on-one attack in the second minute of their first-ever World Cup game; Viola's 14 minutes of fame; a group of death so tight that Mexico, Italy, Ireland and Norway finished on the same points and with the same goal difference; the forgotten contribution of Daniele Massaro, the only non-Baggio to score for Italy in the tournament and the other man besides Baresi and Baggio to miss in the final shoot-out; and a performance of such comic ineptitude from the referee Jamal Al Sharif in the Mexico v Bulgaria match that even Trevor Brooking eased himself away from the splinters of the fence to call it: "(An) absolute scandal ... I cannot find words to find the stupidness of that decision".

It wasn't all bad, was it.

Best Current African Player?

So who is the best African footballer right now?

The debate rages ...

Over on MTN African Football, one of the premier African football news sites and sponsor of both the African Cup of Nations and African Champions League, there's a vote updated daily tracking the Top 20 African players in world football.

So who is #1 right now?

That would be Egyptian striker Amr Zaki, currently on loan from Egyptian squad El Zamalek with English Premier League side Wigan.

The guy's on fire, having scored 7 goals in just 9 games with the Latics. Not bad ...

People are raving about the 25-year old international.

Wigan chairman Dave Whelan compared him to a certain former English international:
When you look at this lad and his build, he is the same height, weight, everything about him, he is like Alan Shearer. He has the same confidence when he gets the ball, he knows where the goal is, he doesn't need to look up, he has this instinct. Strikers like that have an instinct as to where the goal is. You can't describe it, you can't give it to anybody.
That's a very nice compliment!

Numbers 2-5 are Didier Drogba, Egyptian Mohamed Zidan, Samuel Eto'o and Arsenal striker Emmanuel Adebayor.

No surprises there.

The Toure brothers, Yaya and Kolo, come in at #5 and #6 with the injured Michael Essien at #8 and Sevilla scorer Frederic Kanoute at #10 ...

So? What do you think? Who is the best right now???

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Diego Maradona New Argentina Coach

Now that Alfio Basile has stepped down as Argentina coach, who is being asked to take the reigns of the Albicelestes?

None other than the greatest football player of all time - Diego Maradona.

According to reports out of Argentina, the 'Hand of God' maestro is set to be unveiled as the new new coach of the Argentina national football team.

The news follows a meeting between Maradona and the Argentina Football Association (AFA) president, Julio Grondona, this evening in Buenos Aires.

The former Boca Juniors, Napoli and Barcelona star is now 47 years old and despite being on his death bed a few years ago, has made a quick recovery to re-appear on the national and international stage.

Sergio Batista, coach of the Argentina under-20 side, was believed to be in the frame for the position as well, but Maradona's iconic status - many believe he is the greatest footballer to grace the game - looks to have been the deciding factor in swaying the AFA's decision.

The appointment would be deemed risky given Maradona's numerous personal problems and limited experience as a coach in just two brief stints at Argentine club sides Racing Club de Avellaneda and Mandiyú de Corrientes.

MY POV: Risky? RISKY?!? Is there a strong enough word to describe the risk attributed to handing the reigns of one of the world's greatest teams to one of its most unstable icons?

While it's true that Maradona graced the footballing stage with his presence, the rampant excesses of his life tell the story of an undisciplined, immature man.

Hopefully 'El Pibe' has cleaned up his life enough to lead Argentina to the World Cup.

One thing is certain: The Argentine national team just got a whole lot more interesting!!

Being a Barca Supporter Gets you Jail Time?

Kind of a weird story coming out from Morocco ... but bear with me ...

According to news reports, an 18-year old Moroccan schoolboy was jailed for insulting the country's king after replacing the monarch's name with that of his favorite football club FC Barcelona.

He altered the phrase "God, The Nation, The King" on the school blackboard to read "God, The Nation, Barcelona".

FC Barcelona says it has appointed a lawyer to look into whether they can help the boy, within the framework of Moroccan law.

The BBC's James Copnall in Rabat says it is not completely clear whether the court felt the remarks about the football club or other apparent insults to the king were the problem.

The Moroccan justice ministry has not commented on the case.

The family of the boy, Yassine Belassal, is appealing against the ruling, and his father told local news papers he was preparing to write a letter to King Mohamed VI asking for a royal pardon.

An internet campaign is also under way to have Mr Belassel freed.

Earlier this year one man received a three-year sentence for creating a mock Facebook profile of the King's brother, before receiving a royal pardon.

Last month, another man was jailed after suggesting that some royal practices did not help the development of the country.

He was cleared on appeal following a media outcry.

MY POV: I'm definitely not a Barcelona fan, but I doubt I'd ask for jail time for any of the club's supporters ... well, on second thought ...

Tough case and I'm unsure about what this says of Morocco's legal and free speech system ... maybe, that it's null and void? Let's see how this plays out.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Major Name Wants to Coach in Africa

Today, word that current AC Milan coach Carlo Ancelotti wants to coach an African country at the 2010 World Cup.

The 48-year-old, who has participated in three World Cups, is keen on playing a role at the 2010 event to be held in South Africa.

Ancelotti is contracted to Milan until 2010 but insists he wants to be involved in the World Cup in two years' time.

"I would like to coach an African national side at the 2010 World Cup," Ancelotti said.

"I took part in the 1986 and 1990 World Cups as a player and in 1994 as assistant to (Arrigo) Sacchi and there is a fascinating atmosphere which I would like to experience again.

"Africa is producing talented players - players from that continent have great technical and physical resources.

"Maybe they are just lacking a bit of organization, but maybe I can arrive and put things right, no?"

Ancelotti led Milan to the Champions League in 2003 and 2007 and the Serie A title in 2004 after joining them in 2001 from Juventus.

As a player, he helped AC Milan win two Serie A titles and two European Cups, and he is one of only five men to have won the Champions League as both a player and a coach.

In 2007, he signed two-year contract extension to keep him at Milan until 2010.

MY POV: Very nice to read Ancelotti's desire to coach an African side. I'm sure his experience and technical prowess would be welcomed by an African nation.

Any suggestions as to where he could go?

Friday, October 24, 2008

Recession? What Recession? World Football's Just Fine

We talked a few days ago about how South Africa's preparations for the 2010 World Cup were unaffected by the current world economic meltdown.

Today, FIFA president Sepp Blatter said FIFA’s finances are in a ‘privileged to comfortable’ situation and world soccer’s governing body had not yet suffered any impact from the global finance crisis.

Good to know the recession can't touch football, eh?

“We received a detailed analysis of the potential impact and can say that we are now in a situation that could be described as between privileged and comfortable,” Blatter told a news conference following a two-day executive committee meeting.

“For the time being we have not lost money and are well equipped to face up to the current crisis thanks to our financial policy which involves a diversification of assets and very low exposure to currency or foreign exchange volatilities.

“We also have 95 percent of our budget already under contract and have managed our costs. The diversification of our portfolios and our television contract partners gives us cautious optimism for the future.”

Blatter announced that FIFA had bought insurance cover providing protection for up to $650 million in the event that either of its next two World Cups in 2010 and 2014 had to be canceled, postponed or relocated.

“We also had insurance for the 1998, 2002 and 2006 World Cups so this is not any kind of judgment on the organization of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa,” FIFA general secretary Jerome Valcke told the news conference.

“We are on time to deliver both the (2009) Confederations Cup and the World Cup in South Africa and this insurance is only to deal with the threat of attacks or natural catastrophes.”

MY POV: Two things ...

1.) Great to hear that football's financially secure. But do you think people that are struggling to make ends meet really care at this moment?

2.) Once people's priorities come together, do you think going to expensive football matches, etc. will be at the top of their list?

I'm happy FIFA's diversified and kept their house in order. But should this economic situation continue into 2010, I think we could hear a different tune coming from Mr. Blatter's mouth.

Football will suffer. Of that there's no doubt.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Drogba: 2010 Africa's Best Chance

Enigmatic Chelsea and Ivory Coast striker Didier Drogba thinks the 2010 World Cup will be Africa’s best chance to win the tournament when South Africa host the tournament.

“I think this World Cup in Africa is very important, for the continent, not only for the Ivory Coast and not only for me,” the Chelsea star said.

“This will be the best chance for an African team to win the World Cup but it’s not going to be easy. We still have to qualify and it’ll be a big battle as the teams are tough.”

The Elephants, who played at the 2006 World Cup in Germany, have reached the final phase of African qualifiers from which five teams will qualify for the World Cup.

Drogba also said he was glad he stayed at Chelsea after being linked with both Milan clubs in the last transfer window amid speculation he would leave the English Premier League club.
He developed a close relationship with former Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho and media reports speculated that he would follow the Portuguese coach when he took over at Inter Milan.

But Drogba said, “This (Chelsea) is the club which suits me best. I think, because this is the only club where I won all the titles I have now and, yes, I’m happy to be here and stay with my friends.”

Drogba has seen little action under Chelsea’s new manager Brazilian Luiz Felipe Scolari, recovering from knee surgery after the season began.

He then suffered another knee injury against CFR Cluj in the Champions League in Romania two weeks ago.

MY POV: I think the only reason Drogba's happy he stayed at Chelsea is because no one bothered to pony up the money to sign him ...

I'm also not so sure this is Africa's best chance at World Cup glory.

I think the pressure to perform in front of the home fans may derail some African teams.
They may be looking to impress so much that it'll cost them in the end.

All this talk is premature until the five African nations in the 2010 Cup are known. Until then, everything is up in the air ...

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

2010 African Cup Qualifying Now Set

The draw for the final round of qualifying for the 2010 World Cup and Africa Cup of Nations took place today in Zurich, Switzerland.

So what happened?

African champions Egypt were handed what many would consider to be the best of the five group draws.

The Egyptians will face Algeria, Zambia and Rwanda in Group C as they attempt to reach their third World Cup finals.

Cameroon, the highest ranked African country, were drawn against Morocco, Gabon and Togo.

Ghana will face Benin, who have cruised through the qualifiers to date, as well as Mali and Sudan.

Nigeria will face Tunisia, Kenya, and Mozambique, while 2006 World Cup finalists Ivory Coast will meet Guinea, Burkina Faso and Malawi.

The 20 remaining African nations were drawn into five groups of four teams each.

The five group winners qualify directly for the 2010 World Cup finals, while the first three in each group will go to Angola to contest the African Cup of Nations in the same year.

Hosts South Africa qualify for the World Cup automatically, but were knocked out of the African Cup of Nations at the first group stage of qualifying.

The final round of qualifying matches will begin in March 2009.

So, how about some analysis?

BBC Sport was so kind as to offer us a breakdown of the groups vying for a spot in the first African World Cup. Here are some excerpts ...
Group A is a Francophone affair, and a tough test for any team hoping to make it to the World Cup in 2010.
Cameroon may be Africa's top-ranked side, but they will know there is no easy passage through a group which also includes Morocco, Gabon and 2006 World Cup contenders Togo.

Cameroon boss Otto Pfister knows all about Togo. He lead them through that chaotic campaign in Germany and will now meet his old charges as he tries to lead the Indomitable Lions to South Africa and Angola.

Gabon will be fired up to try and embarrass their illustrious neighbours and Morocco are looking for a resurgence under new coach Roger Lemerre.

There is no free passage to 2010 from Group A.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Save Your Money to Get to 2010 World Cup!

With news that the economic vitality of South Africa 2010 in the face of a worldwide economic meltdown is good, word that fans better start saving their cash should they wish to attend the World Cup in approximately 600 days time.

An article in England's The Sun lays it all out for fans wishing to see the Three Lions in South Africa - should they make it ...

For no-frills fans:
Those on a shoestring who fly economy, stay in budget accommodation and take cheap seats at the matches would need to amass £3,372.76 – which means they need to put away £169.76 per month.

At today's rates, that's about $5,626.91 total or $283.21/month.

Yikes!!! That's economy class ... going on the cheap!

Now, if you have some disposable cash or tucked some money away before every bank in the world collapsed ...

Those looking to fly business class, staying in luxury accommodation and taking premium stadium tickets will need to amass a whopping £11,174.79 - and squirrel away £562.46 per month.

That's $18,645.44 total or $938.42/month ...

Better call that rich uncle of mine ... oh wait, I don't have one ...


World Cup Not Affected by World Economy?

Apparently football's greatest tournament isn't affected by world economics ...

According to Danny Jordaan, president of the South African organizing committee, the world economic crisis will only have a "limited impact" on preparations for the 2010 World Cup.

Jordaan said stadium construction costs had gone up by 10 percent compared with the initial budget, due to the rising cost of steel, concrete and exchange rate variations.

"These increases were calculated some while ago and all costs are now frozen. There will therefore not be an impact on our stadium budget," he added.

"No one in the world can say they are not affected by the world economic crisis but its impact should be less on our country. What worries us the most is the long term consequences and the quicker we get through this, the better. We are keeping an eye on what is happening but as I speak there is not a serious or direct impact on World Cup preparations."

MY POV: Well, at least something is immune from the pressures of the world economic crisis. Why not let it be football? Of course we all know that the Cup's attendance figures may suffer and the South African economy may be impacted a bit during the games.

But it's nice to know there's a stable constant in this world: football.

Something tells me that people will pay out of their nose no matter their economic situation should their country make the Cup ...

Monday, October 20, 2008

Is South Africa Back?

South Africa has been under the microscope for many reasons these past few years.

Certainly the eyes of the football world are focused on the nation as they prepare for the 2010 World Cup. But one aspect of South Africa's build up to 2010 has lagged behind: the national football team.

Having been eliminated from the 2010 African Cup of Nations in Angola, the team is now squarely focused on putting up a good performance at the World Cup.

Optimism is the word of the day in South Africa after Bafana Bafana won their third consecutive match on Wednesday night - a 2-1 win over Ghana.

While a friendly victory over a mainly second-string Ghana team should not allow the team to get carried away, the win has re-instilled a feel-good factor in the South Africans.

Added to earlier victories against Equatorial Guinea and Malawi, the run of results has certainly eased the pressure on Brazilian coach Joel Santana (pictured above) - for now.

A clearly relieved Santana revealed after the match that he had now identified 70 percent of the squad that will play at next year's Confederations Cup.

He singled out striker Bernard Parker and Russian-based central defender Matthew Booth, who returned to the side after a three-year absence.

"This is a very important player," Santana said of 22-year-old Parker whose second-half winner against Ghana was his third international goal in as many games.

"He is taking advantage of his opportunities. He has a good way of doing things and is disciplined. It is good for us and for the team," Santana said of the current leading goalscorer in South Africa's top division who will be spending the next week on trial with Swedish side Malmo.

"More important than the win is that we are on the right track. A lot of the players are getting better and we are starting to put together a team for the Confederations Cup," the Brazilian said.

Assistant coach Pitso Mosimane was also clearly happy with the team's progress.

"The boys are stroking the ball around very nicely and they are growing in confidence with every game. Irrespective of what team you beat, winning creates a healthy atmosphere in the camp," he said.

Mosimane also paid tribute to striker Benni McCarthy in the team's resurgence.

"He has such a positive impact on the team. Whenever he's around you can see the spirits lifting. The players, particularly the younger ones, all look up to him because of his class and what he has already achieved. The fact that we performed so badly in the four Nations Cup qualifiers he wasn't around for tells a story."

With friendlies against Namibia and Cameroon in November, as well as high-profile ties against Germany, Holland, Portugal, Chile and the Confederations Cup penciled in for 2009, Bafana Bafana will be looking to improve further before they host the biggest showpiece in the game.

MY POV: South Africa really wants the Bafana Bafana to do well in the 2010 World Cup. While their wins have been against minnows and second-rate squads, one can only hope the nation's resurgent optimism in the team gives new life to their play.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Al Ahly Advance to play Coton in African Final

So it's Egypt's Al Ahly against Cameroon's Coton Sport for the African Champions League title.

Al Ahly ... they're pretty successful, eh? They're in the final courtesy of a 1-0 victory over Nigeria's Enyimba on Saturday.

The five-time champions beat the Nigerian side by the same aggregate score after Angolan Flavio headed home compatriot Gilberto's corner after 26 minutes.

The lead was no less than Al Ahly deserved after opening the scoring after 14 minutes only to see Mohamed Barakat's goal wrongly disallowed for offside.

Bidding to reach their first final since 2004, two-time champions Enyimba rarely troubled the Egyptian defense.

'The People's Elephant' arrived in town with all eyes on striker Stephen Worgu, the leading Champions League scorer with 13 goals this season.

He is reportedly being chased by Al Ahly yet only threatened their backline once, when wriggling past two defenders before driving an angled 15-yard shot wide after 70 minutes.

Enyimba struggled to create chances, playing well until the final third where their quality deserted them, and Al Ahly keeper Amir Abdelhamid did not have a shot to save until the 55th minute.

On the other hand, Al Ahly largely dominated, creating a multitude of chances which would have made for a less tense evening.

Mohamed Aboutreika was the first to threaten after 11 minutes, his acrobatic volley from near the penalty spot bravely headed clear by Enyimba defender Uga Okpara.

Fifteen minutes later, Flavio scored the only goal of the two-legged semi-final as he lost his marker before glancing home Gilberto's corner from 6 yards.

Al Ahly's lead should have been doubled after 34 minutes, but Ahmed Sayed somehow failed to connect from two yards out when a cross was knocked across the face of the Enyimba goal.

Eighteen minutes from time, Aboutreika wasted another chance to extend Al Ahly's lead, volleying another fine cross from Gilberto horribly over from close range.

Al Ahly, who will be in the final of Africa's premier club tournament for the eighth time, become only the third side to reach four straight finals.

Al Ahly are bidding to win a record sixth title, currently boasting five trophies - the same as bitter Cairo rivals Zamalek.

Coton Sport reach African Champions League final

We haven't blogged about the biggest continental competition in Africa, the African Champions League, for some time. Here's an update ...

Cameroonian side Coton Sport became the first Champions League finalists from Cameroon in 28 years after destroying minnows Dynamos of Zimbabwe 4-0 on Saturday in Garoua.

The home side advanced on a 5-0 aggregate thanks to their 1-0 win in the first leg of the semi-final clash in Harare two weeks ago.

Coton Sport had a great start with Sebastien Koua scoring just one minute after the kick-off to double the aggregate advantage. The goal lifted Coton's hopes of emulating compatriots Oryx Douala, Union Douala and Canon and conquering Africa.

Dynamos recovered to have the edge territorially in the first half but the 'Harare Glamour Boys' could not score.

When Jacques Zoua added a second Cotons goal seven minutes after half-time the 1998 runners-up realized their great run was coming to an abrupt end.

Any doubt about the outcome was dispelled on 65 minutes when Niger national team striker Daouda Kamilou scored his seventh Champions League goal this season, a feat bettered only by teenage Enyimba striker Stephen Worgu.

Baba Ousmaila claimed his fifth goal of the competition 14 minutes from full-time as Dynamos wilted under constant pressure, with goalkeeper Willard Manyatera saving the Zimbabweans from a heavier loss.

The first leg of the final will be staged in Cairo or the south-eastern Nigerian city of Aba over the weekend of October 31-November 2 with the return fixture in Garoua two weeks later.

The other semifinal pits Egypt's Al Ahly and Nigeria's Enyimba.

The game is evenly poised at 0-0 following the first leg in Nigeria two weeks ago.

Apart from a one-million-dollar first prize, the African champions qualify for the FIFA Club World Cup during December in Japan, where Manchester United will be among the contenders.

600 Days to 2010 World Cup

600 days separate us from the start of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

The first ball starts rolling in the 19th FIFA world championship on June 11th, 2010 in Soccer City Stadium, Johannesburg culminating in the final July 11th on the same field.

The counter to your right counts down the days until that final match ... a mere 630 days away ...

There's so much work to do ...

Monday, October 13, 2008

20 Teams Advance in African Cup Qualifying

With 607 days until the opening of the 2010 World Cup South Africa, African Cup qualifying is heading to its final stage.

20 countries advanced into the final round of African qualifying for the 2010 FIFA World Cup after an eventful weekend.

Along with the perennial crop of heavyweights, including nine previous Cup participants, the likes of Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda and Sudan also progressed, indication of the constantly shifting power balance on the continent.

Unfortunately, Senegal is out following a 1-1 draw at home to Gambia on Saturday.

Diomansy Kamara, who plays his club football for Fulham in the English Premier League, believes the failure marks the end of a generation for the Lions of Teranga.

"There will now be three years without competition until the next qualifiers and for many of the players who are over the age of 28, it means the end of their international career," he explained. "From the beginning of the qualifiers things did not work out for us."

We'll miss Senegal and their insatiable energy and enthusiasm.

The Democratic Republic of Congo also miss out after a 2-1 loss in Malawi.

As Zaire, the country qualified for Germany 1974 to become Africa's first sub-Saharan side to compete at the World Cup. But although they have come close since, it remains their only appearance on the sport's grandest stage.

Mozambique had little hope of making it to the final phase of qualifying, even after they had beaten Botswana in Gaborone on Saturday in one of only three away wins of the weekend's 22 African preliminaries.

Coach Mart Nooij revealed they were only told that Sunday's sequence of results had fallen perfectly in their favor, and allowed them to qualify as the last best runners-up, when they got back to Maputo after a long day's travel.

"It was a narrow escape but I think we played well in all six of our qualifiers. We didn't have much luck in the first three games but if you are willing to play offensive football then in the end it pays off," said the Dutchman.

The 20 sides will go into the draw in Zurich on October 20, when they will be divided into five groups of four. The group winners qualify directly for South Africa 2010, and the top three in each section will reach the CAF African Cup of Nations Angola 2010.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Nice Article about African Cup Qualifying

With the final stages of the 2nd round of African World Cup qualifying upon up this weekend, here's a nice article from ESPN's Jon Carter about this weekend's games.

Click the link for the full article ... below's a free preview ...

African teams have raised the bar at the World Cup in recent tournaments and with Ghana impressing in Germany in 2006 and Senegal having made the quarter-finals in 2002, the expectations of the continent are high. Especially with the next showcase event set to take place in South Africa.

Yet, of all the regions in contention for 2010, the African section of qualifying regularly throws up surprises. Minnows Togo were the shock of 2006, despite failing to register a point once they arrived at the competition, and this year the likes of Rwanda, Benin and Burkino Faso all look well placed to progress to the next round of qualifying.

While it is exciting for such sides to be given the chance to test themselves in the world's biggest football tournament, their presence could come at the expense of some of the continent's more dominant forces.

Firstly, and most incredibly, is the situation of Ghana after their impressive run to the knockout stages in 2006. The Black Stars dispatched the highly fancied Czech Republic in Germany, but have looked a shadow of their former selves as they have struggled in their qualifying group.

African World Cup Qualifying

As the final weekend of the second round of African World Cup qualifying draws near, only Cameroon, Benin and Nigeria have guaranteed their place in the third and final phase.

The 12 group winners and the eight best second-placed sides will stay in the hunt for a place at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. So what's at stake this weekend?

Everything! With the help of's trusty African Cup qualifying guide, let's take a look at the scenarios ...

Take into account that countries that finish level on points will be separated by: goal difference (GD), goals scored (GS) and then head-to-head record. Also worth noting is that results against the bottom side in each group will not be taken into account when the best second-placed sides are being decided. Confused? I am too ... anyways, here goes ... The 12 groups of African Cup qualifying are as follows:

Group 1: Lying in second spot and four points behind already-qualified Cameroon, none of Cape Verde Islands' other group rivals can match their nine-point tally. However, a win away to Tanzania this weekend would greatly increase their chances of qualifying as one of the eight best second-place sides.

Group 2: Though Kenya (10 points) and Guinea (8) are in pole position, Zimbabwe (6) are still in with a shout. Anything other than a reverse on Guinean soil would ensure Kenya qualify in first place, though defeat for Robert Nouzaret's Guinea would leave them hoping already-eliminated Namibia can deny visitors Zimbabwe all three points.

Group 3: Benin are already safely through and Niger are out of the running. Jostling for second place are Angola (GD +1) and Uganda (-2), currently on seven points apiece, who welcome Niger and Benin respectively.

Group 4: Guaranteed a third-round berth, Nigeria are set to host second-placed Sierra Leone on Saturday. Currently on seven points, three ahead of South Africa, three points for Sierra Leone would send them through to the next round, providing Equatorial Guinea remain in last place. The 2010 hosts, meanwhile, would still fail to qualify even with a win against the struggling Nzalang Nacional.

Group 5: Only a defeat away to Gabon and a Ghana victory over Lesotho can deny Libya a first-place finish. Should that scenario come to pass, the trio would be level on 12 points, their final positions decided by the previously outlined criterion. So, while the Libyans would appear to be well-placed, it could still go either way this weekend.

Group 6: Algeria (9 points) can guarantee their involvement in the next phase with an away win against Liberia, who are marooned in bottom place. Over in the Senegalese capital Dakar, meanwhile, Senegal and Gambia, level on eight points, are both chasing a victory that would seal top spot in case of an Algerian slip-up.

Group 7: Boasting a three-point lead at the top and an excellent goal difference, Côte d'Ivoire are unlikely to have lost their grip on first place after the visit of closest challengers Madagascar (6pts). And in case of defeat, the Madagascans could even find themselves edged out of second spot, depending on the result when Botswana (5pts, GD -4) host Mozambique (5pts, +1).

Group 8: A Moroccan win at home to Mauritania by any margin would take them ahead of current leaders Rwanda. Even if a one-goal success brings the sides' level on points and goal difference, Morocco will have the edge on goals scored.

Group 9: With both Burundi and Seychelles out of the running, all that remains is to see who finishes first and second between Burkina Faso and Tunisia. The Burkinabe travel to face Burundi with a three-point lead over the Carthage Eagles and a goal difference of +7 compared to +3. The Tunisians, however, who will host the Seychelles, are still well-placed to qualify either as group winners or one of the best second-placed sides.

Group 10:
By some distance the most open group, all four teams still have a mathematical possibility of qualifying in first place. Leaders Mali (9 points), who welcome fourth-placed Chad (6), appear to hold the best hand, given their superior goal difference and goals scored record. Third-placed Sudan (6), meanwhile, could knock Congo (9) from second spot with a win.

Group 11: Swaziland (4 points) will overtake Zambia (7) in top spot with a victory away to Germany 2006 qualifiers Togo (3). The Togolese, currently last in the three-team group, need all three points to stand any chance of taking a best second-place berth.

Group 12: Needing just a draw to ensure qualification in first place, reigning African champions Egypt (12 points) are not expected to come up short at home to Djibouti, bottom after five defeats from five games so far. Things could barely be tighter between Malawi and their visitors this weekend Congo DR, both on nine points. The away side are currently marginally ahead on goal difference and goals scored, but a win for either in Malawi's largest city Blantyre could seal a best second-place berth.

Monday, October 6, 2008

South Africa Ahead of the 2010 Cup

I'm back. Again. Hopefully for good this time.

Anyways, South Africa. Host country of the 2010 World Cup. Enigmatic country going through some difficult change at the moment.

According to new South African president Kgalema Motlanthe (pictured, above) and ruling party leader Jacob Zuma, South Africa will meet all the deadlines set by FIFA and are on course to host the “best World Cup ever” in 2010.

The assurance was issued against a background of a domestic political drama in South Africa that saw the ruling African National Congress, headed by Zuma, oust Thabo Mbeki as head of government and replace him with “caretaker” president Motlanthe.

Taking office on September 25, Motlanthe re-appointed highly-respected finance minister Trevor Manuel but deputy minister Jabu Moleketi, a key figure in World Cup preparations, was not on the list of re-appointed members of the executive.

According to the September 26 statement by Mothlanthe and Zuma, FIFA president Sepp Blatter told the new president in a telephone conversation: “I want to thank Mr Motlanthe for taking the time today to personally inform me about the situation, as this underlines the importance of the 2010 FIFA World Cup to the South African government. I was pleased to hear from him that the 2010 FIFA World Cup is fully supported by all political and governmental authorities and that everything will be done to make 2010 an unforgettable success."

Blatter assured Motlanthe of FIFA's “100 per cent support and assistance in the preparations as well as FIFA's full confidence and trust in South Africa's organisational capabilities”.

In an article posted September 27 on, reporter Peter Pedroncelli wrote: “the political situation has transitioned smoothly to the normal state of affairs, with the new president eager to keep all matters running on the right track. The dust has quickly settled and the future is bright for a nation of proud football fans that appreciate the great honour and responsibility which comes with hosting the greatest show on earth. South Africa will be ready. The world will be proud!”

In an interview with South African daily The Citizen on September 26, government spokesperson Tiyani Rikhotso said: “As government we remain optimistic that South Africa will host a successful World Cup in 2010… the political changes will not have any negative implications for next year's Confederations Cup and the 2010 World Cup”.

Local Organizing Committee chairperson Irvin Khoza has confirmed that an urgent meeting would be held to determine the impact of changes to government personnel as a result of Mbeki’s departure from office.

“Right now we are consulting with the ministries. It is important to say that the ministries have not resigned, and the government guarantees were signed by the ministries and not the individuals,” Khoza told Africa News.

MY POV: While reading these assurances is wonderful, the fact of the matter is that South Africa is facing some upheaval.

In an article printed in October 6th's New York Times, writer Barry Bearak paints a gloomier picture.

The actual changing of the guard was orderly enough, but months of behind-the-scenes back-stabbing have made many South Africans long for days more abundant with moral clarity, including those fretful about a figure as polarizing as Mr. Zuma.

The past year has been especially unnerving, with one bleak event after another, and it is more than acidic politics that have soured the national mood. Economic growth slowed; prices shot up. Xenophobic riots broke out in several cities, with mobs killing dozens of impoverished foreigners and chasing thousands more from their tumbledown homes.

The country’s power company unfathomably ran out of electricity and rationed supply. Gone was the conceit that South Africa was the one place on the continent immune to such incompetence. The rich purchased generators; the poor muddled through with kerosene and paraffin.

Other grievances were ruefully familiar. South Africa has one of the worst crime rates. But more alarming than the quantity of lawbreaking is the cruelty. Robberies are often accompanied by appalling violence, and people here one-up each other with tales of scalding and shooting and slicing and garroting.

The poor apply padlocks in defense. The rich surround their homes with concrete and barbed wire — and there are suggestions that more are simply fleeing the country.

“On our street alone, just that one small street, three of the husbands in families were killed in carjackings or robberies,” said Antony McKechnie, an electrical engineer who a month ago moved to New Zealand. “If we had stayed and something had happened to any of our three children, we would never be able to forgive ourselves.”

Rich and poor, black, white and mixed race: their complaints may differ, but the discontent is shared. Polls show a pervasive distrust of government, political parties and the police.

I've expressed ultimate confidence in South Africa's abilities to host the World Cup. But will this political upheaval finally unnerve the nation enough to endanger their confidence? Let's hope not ...