Thursday, March 27, 2008

Egypt Keeper Feels the Heat

Sometimes winning trophies is not enough.

Ask Fabio Capello all about that. He's won the Spanish championship twice with Real Madrid and been fired right after the celebrations both times ...

This time, it's Egyptian goalkeeper Essam Al Hadari who is feeling the heat.

Al Hadari was instrumental in helping Egypt win their second consecutive African Cup of Nations title this past February.

So even though Egypt lost to two-time World Cup winners Argentina 2-0 in Cairo yesterday, why was Al Hadari being booed so vociferously?

Well, his fall from grace probably began right after he tried to join Swiss club FC Sion in late February without the consent of his current club, Al Ahly, the most successful team in Egypt.

Al Hadari, 35, had sought to terminate his contract in line with Article 17 of FIFA's transfer regulations which allows players to cancel their contracts after a "protected period".

Al Hadari had hoped that, because of his extended service at Ahly, he would be allowed to end his contract and move to Sion for a compensatory payment of 270,000 euros, the equivalent of the rest of his contract with the Cairo club.

After being unveiled as a new signing by Sion and agreeing a deal until 2011, Al Hadari returned to Egypt at the start of the month when it became clear he could not make the move because he had not given Al Ahly the required notice period.

Confusing, no? Basically, he tried to leave and Al Ahly said no.

The move has sparked an unprecedented wave of anger from club supporters and a rare, though unsuccessful, intervention by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to ease the tension.

During the match against Argentina, large sections of the crowd at Cairo stadium booed Al Hadari every time he touched the ball.

And when his ill positioning allowed Argentine defender Nicolas Burdisso to score the second goal, many grabbed the opportunity to gloat.

"I whistled every time he touched the ball and will do this at every game for the national team as long as he is still playing," 31-year-old Al Ahly supporter Sherif Abdel-Rahman told Reuters.

"He (Al Hadari) has erected a wall between himself and the Al Ahly fans, and this wall will never be brought down," said Egyptian FA Vice President Ahmed Shoubeir.

Many supporters still call for the goalkeeper to be expelled from the club and others said he should never be allowed to play for Egypt again.

Egyptian media have given what they described as the "Al Hadari crisis" front-page treatment next to stories about nationwide bread shortages.

The situation could become unbearable for Mr. Al Hadari, if it isn't already so ...

African Squads in Midweek Friendlies

Much of the world played World Cup qualifying last night.

Others played friendlies in preparation for the 2010 World Cup.

Africa was no exception as the continent prepares itself for the much-anticipated 2008 Beijing Olympics and the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

First up, African champions Egypt were beaten 2-0 by the world's top ranked side, Argentina.

A full strength Egypt side, including controversial keeper Essam El Hadary, conceded two goals in the last 20 minutes to go down to the South American giants.

But in Pretoria, the upcoming World Cup hosts, South Africa, secured a deserved 3-0 victory over their own South American opposition, Paraguay.

In the process, striker Benni McCarthy became his country's top international goalscorer.

In other matches, Ghana lost to Mexico 2-1.

Ghana took the lead in this game, held at Fulham's Craven Cottage ground in London, but they were not able to hold on to it.

After a goalless first half, Michael Essien gave the Black Stars the lead with a driving shot from outside the area, which went in off the post.

But Mexico equalised in simple fashion, when Ghana's substitute goalkeeper, Patrick Antwi, slipped as he prepared to deal with a back pass.

Carlos Salcido punished his mistake.

Four minutes from time, Ghana captain John Mensah hauled down Adolfo Bautista in the box and Mexico's Pavel Pardo stepped up to convert the penalty and give his side the win.

Also, Morocco bounced back from their dreadful Cup of Nations campaign with a 4-1 win over Belgium.

It was a first win for stand-in coach Fathi Jamal, who took over after the departure of Henri Michel.

"After our dramatic exit in the Africa Cup, this really feels great. It has been a long time since we played like this," Morocco playmaker Mbark Boussoufa said.

Tunisia met Ivory Coast in France, and came away with a 2-0 win.

Goals from Tijani Belaid and Radhouane Felhi gave Roger Lemerre's side victory, although the coach is soon to leave his post.

Liberia scored a surprise 2-0 win over Sudan in Khartoum, in their first game under new coach Antoine Hey.

The first result of the day was a 1-1 draw between Uganda and Libya in Kampala.

Caesar Okhuti put the Cranes ahead in the 48th minute, with the equalizer coming in the 90th minute from Younes Shidani.

DR Congo and Algeria were in France for another match taking place near Paris.

Dieumerci Mbokani put the Simbas ahead in the 35th minute, but a late penalty converted by Kamel Ghiles meant the game ended 1-1.

Tanzania's game against Mozambique was canceled due to heavy rains at the old national stadium in Dar es Salaam.

Mozambique turned down a proposal to have the match played on Thursday.

Elsewhere, Zimbabwe beat Botswana 1-0 in Gaborone, with the goal scored by Cuthbert Malajila.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

2010 World Cup Qualifying Continues

Besides there being international friendlies this week (England v. France and Italy v. Spain jump to mind), there's also the matter of 2010 World Cup qualifying.

Ahh yes, the glory of the World Cup ... that's why I'm here, no?

Anyways, we're not talking about the best of the best playing in qualifiers this week.

We're talking about some of the worst teams in world football.

Montserrat meet Surinam in a one-off CONCACAF (North and Central American region)preliminary round encounter Wednesday that will be played in Trinidad & Tobago as neither country has a stadium considered suitable by governing body FIFA.

Running Montserrat's team has become a complicated exercise since a 1995 volcanic eruption which forced more than half the island's people to move abroad.

The eruption buried the capital Plymouth and reduced the population from 12,000 to 4,700.

"Most of our players are over in England as refugees," assistant coach Cecil Lake told FIFA's Web site ( "We still have a few players left here on the island but most had to leave. We maintain a database though so we know pretty much where everyone is."

The English contingent include two semi-professionals, Junior Mendes of Conference side (fifth division) Aldershot Town and midfielder Wayne Dyer of Northern Premier League (seventh division) Hednesford Town.

Yikes ...

As for other games, U.S. Virgin Islands visit Grenada in another one-off tie while Aruba try to overturn a 3-0 first leg deficit when they travel to Antigua & Barbuda for their return match.

Montserrat, U.S. Virgin Islands and Aruba are joint 202nd and last in the FIFA rankings, sharing the dubious honor with American Samoa, Guam and East Timor.

So don't expect much here ...

CONCACAF's lowest ranked teams are involved in the preliminary round while the higher-ranked sides such as U.S., Mexico and Honduras have a bye to the second round in June.

The U.S. will destroy Barbados or Dominica who meet in Bridgetown on Wednesday after drawing their first match 1-1.

St Kitts & Nevis need to overturn a 3-1 deficit at home to Belize to earn the right to lose to Mexico.

Anguilla will attempt to keep the score respectable in Washington against El Salvador, the only one of the teams in action on Wednesday who have played at a World Cup, after losing the first leg 12-0.

The World Cup. You gotta love it ... who said the NCAA Tournament was the place for cinderellas??

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Staggering Cost of 2010 World Cup

We all knew the 2010 World Cup in South Africa would cost many millions of dollars to stage.

But who knew it would cost this much?

According to Cup organizers, the 2010 World Cup could cost South Africa $3.7 billion.
You didn't read that wrong ...

$3.7 BILLION!!!

Original estimates had been as low as $295 million, but costs have risen steadily.
You think???

So why the rise in costs?

A bigger building program and rising costs for raw materials have contributed to the expanding budget.

New stadiums in Cape Town and Durban were added to the construction plans after the initial bid.

Also, the government's been using the tournament to help fund transport infrastructure and other services.

$2.5 billion has been allocated to infrastructure development.

It's an amazing amount of money ...

Will it be worth it?
South Africa better hope so ...

Sunday, March 16, 2008

2010 World Cup Update from Danny Jordaan

This, an article printed a few weeks back in England's great Guardian Unlimited sports section.

It's an interview conducted by Satish C. Sekar, who runs the wonderful Empower Sport magazine, which is a magazine dedicated to the important issues around sports and human justice.

Here, he interviews the CEO of the South African local organizing committee for the 2010 World Cup Danny Jordaan, who opens up about his projections for the Cup and how his country is doing in the build up to the world's greatest sporting event.

To read the original article, please click here. The article is reprinted here as well for all to read ...

Satish C Sekar: When you were bidding for the World Cup, you said you wanted it to help promote South Africa. Since winning the bid, has the country benefited as you'd hoped?

Danny Jordaan: Absolutely. In 1990 Mandela walked out of prison and in '94 we had our first democratic elections and one of the things that we had to make sure of is that we wouldn't be forgotten by the international community. We wanted to ensure that South Africa must be discussed at the dinner and lunch tables of the big business companies of the world. We decided to follow a major event strategy. We hosted the Rugby World Cup in 1995, the African Cup of Nations in 1996, the 1998 World Athletics Championship, the 2002 Cricket World Cup, all in order to sustain a developing consciousness of a united nation in our country. We also had the cricket Twenty20 World Cup last year. We made a bid for the 2004 Olympics but lost out to Athens. We made a bid for the 2006 World Cup but lost out to Germany and now we are hosting 2010. That has achieved two things: firstly, South Africa was not forgotten after 1994; secondly and perhaps more importantly, through hosting all of those major events there was infrastructure improvement in our country ...

Just sporting infrastructure?
No. Airports have been expanded, hotels have been built, direct investment has increased and, of course, we've seen an 11% annual growth in tourism. Last year we went beyond seven million foreign tourists, so I think that through hosting major events we have been quite successful in keeping the focus on our country and developing South Africa because in most countries the period of liberation or democracy is followed by a decline in the infrastructure, especially those countries that went through the decolonisation process. In our case from 1990 to 2008 the infrastructure in our country has improved and investment has gone up.

In terms of the 2010 World Cup, are all the stadiums on schedule?
Yes. The main stadium, which will have a capacity of around 80,000 is set to be completed on time and on budget by October 2009 - although, in fact, it's currently running ahead of schedule. The ones that are being used for the 2009 Confederations Cup will be finished by the end of this year. All in all, we're building five new ones, upgrading one and have four others. The total cost of the stadiums, transport and other infrastructure is 15bn Rand [£1.02bn].

What's going to happen to the stadiums after the World Cup?
One of the advantages we have in our country is that rugby and cricket are big sports, so between football, rugby and cricket I think that use of the stadiums will ensure that the stadiums are commercially viable. We are looking to see how we can share the facilities. Football itself is not strong enough

One of the biggest concerns potential visitors have ahead of 2010 is the South African crime rate. How are you going to ensure fans are safe?
If crime is so high in our country, how do you explain the fact that there were seven million tourists last year? How do you explain the fact that every aircraft to Johannesburg from London is full?

So there's no real security problem in South Africa?
We have crime, but so do you in Moss Side in Manchester, in Leeds and other places we read about. There is crime everywhere. If somebody can tell me that there is no crime in London, then at least we have discovered the British path to heaven. But we have also showed that it is safe in South Africa. The England soccer team played there. The England rugby team came to play here. Why would it be different if two million come for a tournament like the World Cup? Why? I cannot understand that. We just hosted the Twenty/20 World Cup. Manchester United came to South Africa. Barcelona was here last year. Brazil, Argentina, Germany, Holland, Sweden and Denmark have all played here. I don't know why we can have all of these major internationals here but somehow somebody knows it's not going to be safe. Yes, we have crime. There are socio-economic challenges - the lack of housing, education, etc, but we are dealing with those things. We are safe.

South Africans are presumably very excited about hosting the World Cup -are you going to ensure ticket prices are accessible for most of them?
The cheapest tickets in Korea were $50US; in Germany they were $US26. The cheapest ticket in 2010 will be US$20 - that category will be for South Africans.

How much will equivalent tickets cost for, say, England fans?
We've approached the federation about this. It seems to us that if you just sell tickets, then you have people arriving in the country with no one to take care of them, so if you want to have good organisation, then the travel agents should meet their guests, take them to the hotel and make sure that arrangements are taken care of. I've been talking to travel agents to look at the prices - but what's for sure is that they won't be able to buy the cheap category of tickets.

How will you stop them buying the cheap tickets off South Africans?
I don't want to go into details but we have procedures in place to stop that.

Finally, then, what do you think would constitute South African success on the pitch? An African team must get to the final of the World Cup at least. African teams have never got to a semi-final before. All African teams must at least reach the second round - all six of them, and we should have at least two in the last four. That requires a lot of preparation and a lot of planning.

So you think an African country can become world champions in 2010?
I think so, even though they will be tired. The African Cup of Nations will be in January and February and then the players will have to go back their clubs until around May and at the end of May and the World Cup will start on June 11. I think some of the countries will need to take a decision about which to prioritise - the ACN or the World Cup - because otherwise they may face burn-out.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Blatter Finally Makes a Point

It's not often I agree with FIFA President Sepp Blatter.
But for once, he has a point. Albeit a slight one.

Speaking at a FIFA technical committee meeting in Zurich, Switzerland, Blatter said national team coaches should come from the same country as the players. He'd like foreign coaches to be banned from national teams.

Ok, he has a point. He was specifically talking about his friend, German Berti Vogts, whose spell in charge of Nigeria ended poorly at last month's African Cup of Nations.

Blatter suggests that Vogts' inability to stay in the west African country during his reign could have been responsible for Nigeria's worst Cup display in 25 years.

"My old friend Berti Vogts was in charge of Nigeria and he didn't even live in the country - that surely can't be the correct way to proceed?," Blatter asked.

"Vogts was not living in Nigeria because he said his players weren't there. But to feel a team you must feel the country."

Only four coaches out of the 16 teams at the recent African Cup of Nations were from the countries they were leading.

This can't be good.

Of course, nurturing different styles of play is a good thing. Having the Dutch style of play fostered into the Barcelona system, for example, has set the club ablaze. It's also allowed players from the club to incorporate that style of play into their national squads.

The argument centers on whether it's healthy to have a foreign coach train natural born players. Can they co-exist? Will the players be as motivated by a foreigner?

Yes and no.
On one hand, being exposed to different styles of play is a good thing.
On the other hand, one needs to relate to one's players. How better than by speaking the same language and coming from the same soil?

At the very least, foreign coaches should live in their coaching nation. How does a player get motivated by an absent teacher? It makes no sense.

"In Africa recently, many of the countries competing in the Cup of Nations had foreign coaches. But all have now gone," Blatter said.

"Of course, national associations are free to choose who they believe is the right man but I do think that the cause of international football would be made stronger with indigenous coaches. I cannot believe that it is possible to properly bring young players into international football and motivate them and bring improvement through a translator."

"I will bring it to the Technical Committee on Monday. If we had such a rule maybe it would impact on the freedom of the associations. But we can take up this matter."

It's an interesting suggestion. At least the matter should be investigated.

Friday, March 7, 2008

10 Best Dives of the 2006 World Cup

Diving is an art. When done well, it can frustrate the opposition and lead to dubious goals.

When done poorly, it can complicate matters for your club, cause cards to be shown and lead to suspension and head-shaking aggravation.

Today, I present to you the 10 Best Dives of the 2006 World Cup ... some of these are plain silly. Some of them (like the #1 dive), led to the furthering of a nation's ambitions and eventually to a World Cup championship.

While I don't advocate diving, one has to say that diving is an integral part of the game.

I don't like it. But some of these sure are funny ... have a go.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Africa's Best Ever Player to Call it Quits?

Who is Africa's greatest ever player? This has always been a hotly contested issue.

I've attempted to answer that question many times before with no success.

Today, one of the candidates for Best African Player Ever said he's seeing the end of the road.

Hull City's Nigerian midfielder Jay-Jay Okocha says he is likely to retire from football at the end of the season.

The former Bolton star, 35, has started 10 games since joining the Tigers in September 2007 but wants to quit while he is still at the top of his game.

Okocha told BBC Radio Humberside: "I am just thinking until the end of this season. Who knows what will happen but now I think that will be me done. After Hull that is it, I feel that this is my last bus stop."

What? No MLS?

Okocha has ruled out staying in football immediately after retiring, and will instead concentrate on business commitments.

"I don't think I will go into coaching for now. I would like to try some other things, there are a lot of things to do and I will try to start a new life, a new challenge and I'm looking forward to it."

The midfielder said he would not turn his back on his homeland Nigeria if they were to ask for his help. Jay-Jay won 59 caps and scored eight goals for Nigeria in his international career.

He added: "If they need my help it wouldn't be nice of me to turn that down. I would be ready to come and help. I think now we need local indigenous people that have played the game and know what it takes to be a winner and people who have the same mentality as the players to take the players on and bring the best out of them."

And how ...

So to Jay-Jay, we say thanks. Your exploits will be long remembered ...

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Update on El-Hadary Transfer

Last week, we told you about Egypt goalkeeper Essam El-Hadary's transfer from Al Ahly to FC Sion. Things weren't going too well.

Al Ahly didn't want to let him go. FC Sion said they had a deal in place. The usual transfer battle being played out, this time with Africa's best goalkeeper in the middle.

Well we finally have some resolution.

El-Hadary is back in Egypt with Al Ahly.

The best goalkeeper in the recent African Cup of Nations signed a four-year contract with Swiss Super League club FC Sion earlier this season without the approval of his current employers Al Ahly which caused shockwaves in Egypt and a huge dispute between the two clubs.

The Swiss were hoping that the player could move on the basis of a landmark ruling by world sport's highest court, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), but the Egyptians weren't having any of it.

So the keeper was introduced by FC Sion in a press conference on Thursday morning. But today, El-Hadary confirmed his return to Cairo.

"I made a stupid mistake and I decided to return to Al Ahly" the 35-year-old said.

"I talked to a lawyer and understood that I stand no chance of moving to Sion without the approval of Al Ahly" El-Hadary admitted.

"I was motivated by the move to Europe but I hope that the Ahly officials will understand my situation."

The Cairo based club refused to comment on the situation but confirmed that El-Hadary will be meeting with the club's football committee before taking any action.

Updates to come. Sticky situation. Can't blame the guy for wanting to go to Europe, but maybe he should have read the fine print first.