U.S. Has Tougher Qualifier Against Panama but Earns a Point
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My journey from Brooklyn, New York January 4, 2007 to the World Cup Final match July 11, 2010 in South Africa. How will I get there? I have no idea. Join me as I travel around Africa, write a book, make some friends and watch the beautiful game!
... the fact is (Cameroon) were utterly dismantled, the Egyptians' clever passing and movement making the Indomitable Lions look oafish. While it's true that Cameroon have improved since then, largely thanks to the emergence of (youngster Alexandre) Song, so too have Egypt - not least because of the return to fitness of Mohammed Aboutreika, the Al Ahly playmaker whose balance, intelligence and probing have made him the classiest player of the tournament.
With their slick five-man midfield and smart attackers such as Amr Zaky and Mohamed Zidan, Egypt are experts at pulling teams apart. They won't constantly lob crosses into the box the way Ghana did, instead they will create holes and thread their way through them. Andre Bikey's suspension will make that task even easier. Wael Gomaa will shackle Samuel Eto'o and Hassan Shehata will become only the second manager to win back-to-back titles.
“Cameroon-Egypt will not get people to the stadium,” Jerry Ayensu, a sports commentator for local channel Metro TV, said. “I mean, some will come, but there will be no atmosphere. You’ve seen Ghana games, how colorful, how loud, how much feeling in the Ohene Djan Stadium. Sunday will have very little of that.”
It is a final, though, so even if the Ghanaians are too saddened to care, other parts of the continent cannot wait. In Yaounde, the celebrating began right after the Indomitable Lions’ victory and will only ramp up on Sunday.
In Cairo, the traffic might actually subside for 90 minutes when everyone stops to watch the game. (There are events elsewhere, too. A friend working for an NGO in Juba, Sudan, has organized an educational match-viewing party. “We’ll watch some football and hand out some condoms to help fight the AIDS epidemic,” she said.)
What will be lacking in atmosphere, the Egyptian side might be able to make up for in performance. Coach Ali Hassan Shehata’s Pharaohs are awesome, capable of breathtaking creativity and teamwork. They calmly and collectively destroyed the impressive Ivorians the other night.
Striker Amr Zaky is a poacher and tricky playmaker Mohamed Aboutreika could be mistaken for a Brazilian. The attack has now notched 14 goals in five games, including a 4-2 drubbing in the group stage against the same Cameroonians they will meet on Sunday. In back, they are organized and goalkeeper Essem El-Hadary is right now my vote for the Golden Ball award.
With all these players, odds are the Egyptians will defend their title on Sunday and add to their record tally of five Nations Cup trophies.
Ghanaians are not moving with a spring in their step this morning - their dream of lifting the Nations Cup trophy remains just that.
For the 600 fans who crowded into a square in central Ho to watch the Black Stars take on Cameroon's Indomitable Lions on a big screen, an earlier cloud burst set the tone for the tears to follow.
"I am not happy about what they did," Stanley, a 12-year-old boy, exclaims passionately after the 1-0 defeat.
"They tried but - but they didn't try hard to score a goal."
As the music blares out from giant speakers to try and ease the aching hearts, some are more philosophical.
"I still have hope - this is not the end of the world and there is nothing we can do," a young man called Joseph said.
Others still believe there is still something worth fighting for.
"We're going to pray and correct our mistakes for the next match so we can win third position, which will be played on Saturday," says a man aptly named Courage.
Few expected Ghana to err against Cameroon and the arguments and debates continued in Tank Rank square for hours.
"We had problem with the defence and midfield too. We have to have more skilful scorers to be able to break and penetrate that wall. That is our problem," says Anthony, a worker at the Volta Region Hospital.
Both semi-final results are what Ghanaian football fans least wanted and this raises the question about whether attendance will be reduced for Sunday's final in the Accra stadium - Egypt v Cameroon - and at the big-screen arenas around the country.
"No, I won't watch, because I'm sad," a teenage girl says on the verge of tears.
She seems most upset that Laryea "Rasta Man" Kingston - the Ghanaian midfielder was not selected for the match.
"As Ghana has been defeated I think the tournament will not be interesting any more. Me personally I don't think I'll follow it anymore," another man says.
But Anthony, in a more sporting frame of minds, says: "Football is a game, either you win or you lose. So each and everyone should go to the stadium on Sunday."
On the eve of the match, police across the country warned fans to contain their enthusiasm and not to over celebrate following several fatalities after Black Stars' victories.
This morning they'll be hoping they didn't jinx the result.
There were two Super Bowls happening in the world on Sunday — the one in America with the Giants of gridiron football, and the one in Africa with the two giants of African football: Ghana vs. Nigeria. Both games were amazing.
No rivalry anywhere on the continent is as intense as the one between the Black Stars of Ghana and the Super Eagles of Nigeria, and when they met Sunday at a packed Ohene Djan Stadium in Accra, a berth in the African Cup semifinals was on the line. Nigeria went ahead 1-0, but Ghana rallied on goals from Chelsea’s Michael Essien and, while down a man, from Nottingham Forest’s Junior Agogo to beat the Super Eagles for only the second time in tournament history, 2-1. Highlights are here:
The victory was not only huge for Ghana in the tournament, it was huge in the Ghanaian imagination. As the Accra Daily Mail put it, “Wow!“, and within hours of the Black Stars’ triumph over their West African rivals, this song was cooked up (“These Nigerian suckas think they can come here and score, so we discipline them”). That was a response to this Nigerian joint, which was recorded before the game and told how “When Nigeria catch Ghana we go hammer them”.
As it turns out, it was the Super Eagles who got hammered, or, as The Guardian of Lagos put it, the Super Chickens.
Meanwhile back in Ghana the celebrations went on unabated. In Tamale, according to Ghana News Agency, citizens “of all ages went into joyful celebration with the noise pervading the air as though the people of Dagbon were celebrating their annual fire festival“, even as, elsewhere in the country, “Fans go gay in Sekondi”. Finally, if you think Ghanaian news organization are above gloating over knocking off Nigeria, have a look at this page and think again.
I want to be back in Africa, back in Ghana. Not here in Williamsburg, Va., trying to focus on the contours of probable cause with regard to the issuance of warrants and the definition of dependent relative revocation in Trusts and Estates law. Given the choice between my status quo reality and the next chapter of the African Cup of Nations…
Fortunately, the rhythmic drum beats, songs and smiles of Ghanaians remain at the front of my consciousness after 10 sometimes hectic days in Accra, Kumasi and Sekondi. Even memories of long, hot bus trips, inhaling dust while walking along side roads and fighting through misinformation concerning transportation and tickets are fond memories. How I wish I were still there, especially with the drama of the quarter-finals, which start Sunday.
Each game is surrounded by interesting questions: Will the injury to Kolo Toure make the Ivory Coast vulnerable? Will Guinea be competitive without Pascal Feinduono? Will Ghana be spurred on by the support of the nation, or will the team be burdened by the weight of expectation and fear of what will happen if the Black Starts fail? Will Cameroon continue to ride the goal scoring of Samuel Eto’o, or will unconvincing Tunisia continue to do just enough? Will Egypt play like the defending champions? Will Angola reflect their standing as the popular underdog and continue their dangerous and efficient attacking play with Manucho looking like Manchester United found a bargain?
The match of the quarterfinals is Ghana vs. Nigeria. This is the game that every Ghanaian I spoke with did not want – both because of the rivalry with Nigeria and the fact that the Super Eagles are a continental power. Furthermore, I got the feeling that Ghanaians do not think they match up very well with Nigeria. While Nigeria have been disjointed going forward, their defense has still been hard to beat – even against Ivory Coast - with Joseph Yobo bringing his formidable form from Everton.
Ghana, similarly, have been hard to beat at the back, but their strikers have been profligate to say the least. They looked more dangerous against Morocco with Michael Essien pushing forward, but many Ghanaians believe that to win, Gyan or Agogo will have to put one in the back of the net. Otherwise, the Black Stars will be rooted in a defensive struggle against a physically imposing Nigeria; any mistake could mean the game. The pressure in the stadium will ratchet up as the game goes on and I’m not sure which team will feel the pressure more.
Egypt vs. Angola in Kumasi is the next most interesting game of the quarterfinals. I watched Angola on TV in Ghana and they looked very dangerous in attack and very efficient in front of goal. Angola is a popular choice among Ghanaians, but the Angolans’ style might just play to the Pharaoh’s strengths. Egypt beat Cameroon on the counter-attack, soaking up pressure and releasing quickly through Mohammed Zidan, Hosni Abd Rabou, and Amr Zaki. Egypt’s defense of Fathallah, Fathi, Gomaa, and Moawad are ably protected by Mohamed Shawky and will require a creativity from Angola I did not see. Conversely, while Zidan went missing against Sudan and Zambia, he is at his clinical-best running at retreating defenses – something he does equally well for Hamburg in the Bundesliga. With Mohamed Aboutrikka and Ahmed Hassan in reserve, the defending champs may have too many weapons for Angola to defend against.
I would be extremely surprised if Ivory Coast has much of a problem with Guinea. Pascal Feinduono was far and away the best player for Guinea in the first two matches, with all attacking threat going through him. Whether as a play-maker or from free kicks, he was the engine that made Guinea go. Losing one of the best performers of the tournament clearly hurt Guinea against Namibia and will be felt even more against Ivory Coast – a team who displayed its ruthless streak against out-manned Benin. The ghosts of CAN 2006 haunt the Ivory Coast and the Elephants will not underestimate their opponent.
Cameroon vs. Tunisia in Tamale is the toughest game to predict. Cameroon was beaten quite decisively by Egypt, but have overwhelmed lesser opponents Sudan and Zambia. Coach Otto Pfister has been displeased with the team’s transportation to Tamale, lodging and practice times and facilities. On the other hand, it is unclear what to make of Tunisia. The parity of Group D led the Ghanaians that I spoke with to believe that this was the weakest group. Between Samuel Eto’o’s search for his record breaking goal and the support of Ghanaians against a team from North Africa, look for Cameroon to pull through.
The drama of the group stages was something to behold – but the real test of nerves begins now. As the national song says, “we go do or we go die.” I wish I were there to witness it and share the experience with Black Star Nation.
African football has over the years served up its fair share of compelling rivalries, but Ghana versus Nigeria outshines them all.
These two nations just love to knock the living daylights out of each other (in anything), but more so on a football pitch.
In my opinion, their rivalry is the one by which all others are measured and the Africa Cup of Nations will heat up on Sunday when they collide in a quarter-final tie in Accra.
As one Ghanaian journalist put it on TV the other day, "this is the only game that matters to every Ghanaian".
There is, indeed, something tasty about a confrontation between these two West African neighbours - particularly at the Nations Cup – where more than bragging rights is at stake.
“We Nigerians just love to beat Ghana even though they taught us the game in the first place,” said Segun Odegbami, a member of Nigeria’s 1980 Nations Cup winning side.
We can argue endlessly about the football pedigrees of these two arch-rivals but there can be no question about the interest and passion this fixture invokes in both countries.
So, come Sunday, fans in both countries will decorate their faces, put on their national colours and perform whatever rituals needed to spur their teams to victory.
There is no bad blood between Ghanaians and Nigerians – just a deep-rooted desire to be regarded as both the regional and continental top dogs.
There is an element of respect to this rivalry, though, with Nigeria envying Ghana’s four Nations Cup titles and Ghana envying the success of Nigerian players abroad.
Sunday will not be the first time these two teams have met at the Nations Cup – they have confronted each other five times at African football’s flagship tournament.
Their last meeting was as recent as the 2006 finals in Egypt where the Super Eagles won 1-0 in the group stage, to add to their previous victories in 1984 and 2002.
Ghana’s only win came at the 1992 finals, courtesy of a magical goal from Abedi Pele, but the Black Stars have not beaten their rivals in a competitive fixture since.
Not surprisingly, I have lost count of the number of Nigerians who gleefully point out that “history is against Ghana” going into Sunday’s showdown at the Ohene Djan stadium.
Overall, the two teams have met 59 times. Ghana lead with 24 wins to Nigeria’s 16, with the other 19 matches ending in draws.
That said, there is no point in denying the fact that the 60th confrontation sees the Black Stars take on a Nigerian side that looked extremely vulnerable in their group campaign.
But one cannot help having the impression that despite their woeful form thus far, the Super Eagles are still capable of turning this Nations Cup on its head.