Saturday, May 31, 2008

African World Cup Qualifying Offers No Surprises

Sounds like it was a ho-hum day for African World Cup/Cup of Nations qualifying, save for Malawi's 8-0 destruction of Djibouti.

There were no major surprises in the afternoon's eight games, with continental powerhouses Cameroon and Togo winning their respective engagements to take early leads in their groups.

Let's give the fine folks at the chance to break it down for us, shall we?
(Well, they provide the facts, I provide the meat. Work with me, people!)

According to, the game of the day had Togo defeating Zambia 1-0 on a goal by Adekamni Olufade in the 16th minute. Why so good, FIFA?

As in many of the other sections, the headline clash in Group 11 came on the very first day, with the Sparrowhawks of Togo taking on the Copper Bullets of Zambia. Despite being forced to play at the Ohene-Djan Stadium in the Ghanaian capital of Accra due to the suspension imposed on their home ground in Lome, Henri Stambouli's side took a big stride towards securing top spot in the group.

Olufade put them in the driving seat 16 minutes in and that is where the Germany 2006 finalists stayed to clinch a vital opening-day win. With only three teams in the pool following Eritrea's withdrawal, Togo will be anxious not to drop points when they take on a beatable Swaziland team on the road in their next game.
Not a bad win for a team forced to play away from home ...

The surprise of the day saw Tanzania draw perennial pushover Mauritius 1-1.
Minnows Mauritius made a mockery of the 104-place gap separating them from Tanzania in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking when the two sides met at the National Stadium in Dar es Salaam. The visitors even had the audacity to take a first-half lead before the Tanzanians, pushed on by their excitable fans, eventually levelled things up. The hosts could not find a winner, though, leaving the islanders with an early advantage in Group 1.

Like the old adage says, you never know what'll happen once the ball is rolled out. That's why they play the games. Good going, Mauritius!

Here are the rest of Saturday's results:

Malawi 8-1 Djibouti
Namibia 2-1 Kenya
Botswana 0-0 Madagascar
Cameroon 2-0 Cape Verde Islands
Rwanda 3-0 Mauritania
Togo 1-0 Zambia
Tanzania 1-1 Mauritius
Uganda 1-0 Niger
Senegal 1-0 Algeria
Morocco 3-0 Ethiopia

For more, please click on the link above ...

It's just getting started, folks! Hang in there!

Friday, May 30, 2008

African World Cup Qualifiers to Begin

And so we're ready to go on the Road to 2010, with 22 matches set to kick off this weekend in African World Cup and Cup of Nations qualifying.

After last year's preliminary round, 47 teams in 12 groups are now trying to grab just 20 places in the final qualifying stage.

Here is a quick breakdown of the groups and the qualifiers.

Only 44 nations are in action this weekend after the match between Sudan and Chad was postponed due to political tension between the two neighbors, while Swaziland get a bye this weekend after the withdrawal of Eritrea.

must recover from a self-inflicted wound Saturday to have a realistic chance of a second consecutive appearance at the World Cup.

The Hawks host Zambia in the Ghanaian capital, Accra, because of a four-match home ban owing to crowd violence that left two Mali footballers injured after a Cup of Nations qualifier in Lome last year. (MY POV: Very bad incident that scarred Mali and Togo. Hopefully we won't have a repeat of that anytime soon.)

With Group 11 reduced to three countries following Eritrea's withdrawal, the two fixtures between Togo and Zambia seem certain to determine who finishes top in a group that also includes minnows Swaziland. (MY POV: Even though Togo aren't playing at home, I expect them to get through ...)

With two fewer games, it will be almost impossible for the second-placed team ending among the best eight runners-up in the 12-group second round and advancing to the final qualifying phase.

Togo have only just secured the services of French coach, Henri Stambouli, who has done something of a u-turn this week to take charge of the Hawks after indicating he was going to manage a third division club in his homeland.

Chipolopolo (Zambia's national team is nicknamed Chipolopolo (the Copper Bullets) as copper is one of the southcentral African nation's main exports) have also turned to a Frenchman in former Ghana assistant coach Herve Renard as they seek a place among the elite of world football for the first time.

Senegal, whose shock qualification for the 2002 World Cup was followed by a stunning run that took them to the quarter-finals, launch their Group 6 campaign at home to fellow fallen giants Algeria. (MY POV: How great was that thrashing they gave defending champions France in the first match of the '02 Cup?)

Failing to progress beyond the first round at the 2008 Cup of Nations had severe repercussions as coach Henri Kasperczak and 29 of 40 national football federation officials resigned.

The lack of competitive football within the country since last September has been cushioned by coach Lamine Ndiaye naming an entirely foreign-based squad.

One big name missing is prolific scorer Mamadou Niang from French club Marseille, who has opted out owing to disillusionment with the Teranga Lions.

Also missing are long-serving Habib Beye, Lamine Diatta and Papa Bouba Diop, who have been axed for a match Fulham midfielder Diomansy Kamara says has to be won.

"When you play at home you always need to win and we have a very good chance because the team that confronts Algeria will be a strong one," he told BBC Sport.

Cameroon and Morocco are other big football nations in action Saturday and home advantage should ensure they get off to a winning start in groups they look capable of winning without undue difficulty.

The Indomitable Lions of Cameroon, runners-up to Egypt in the Cup of Nations in February, host Cape Verde in Group 1 which is rounded out by improving Tanzania and outsiders Mauritius.

Morocco, under Fathi Jamal (until French coach Roger Lemerre takes over on July 1), entertain poor travelers Ethiopia while Rwanda host Mauritania in the other Group 8 fixture.

The season in Europe has taken a toll already with the likes of Didier Drogba, Yaya Toure, Benni McCarthy and Obafemi Martins missing out on the first exchanges this Saturday and Sunday.

Drogba is injured and Toure out after a back operation for the Ivory Coast's opening game against Mozambique in Abidjan on Sunday.

Striker McCarthy has withdrawn from South Africa's team for unexplained personal reasons ahead of their match against Nigeria in Abuja.

There are also several injury worries for Bafana Bafana with Everton's Steven Pienaar limping off during a 1-0 win over Swaziland in a friendly on Thursday evening.

Pienaar joins fellow midfielders Delron Buckley, Lerato Chabangu and Teko Modise on the casualty list ahead of the toughest fixture for South Africa.

The home side are without the injured Martins up front, giving an opportunity to 20-year-old Victor Anichebe for a competitive debut.

As well as Togo the Ivorians are among the five African teams that played at the 2006 World Cup finals in Germany who all start with a home tie in their respective groups.

Ghana take on Libya in Kumasi on Sunday, when Angola have a home tie against Benin in Luanda. Tunisia host Burkina Faso at Rades.

The first group phase will conclude in October after which the winners of the 12 groups advance to the next stage along with the eight best second-placed teams.

The second phase starts in November with the 20 remaining sides divided into five groups of four. The group winners will qualify for the 2010 World Cup.

MY POV: Finger-licking good stuff for the football fan here. With the Euro 2008 tournament beginning in a week's time, the football connoisseur will not be starved for first class action.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

USA World Cup 2018?

As the soccer community prepares for a USA-England friendly today at Wembley Stadium, word comes out that the United States may be prepared to bid for the 2018 World Cup finals.

England travel to Trinidad tomorrow before Sunday's friendly. The primary motivation behind the trip is to get on FIFA vice-president Jack Warner's good side and back the FA's (England's Football Association) World Cup bid.

Warner is also president of the North, Central American and Caribbean Confederation (CONCACAF). Warner has long indicated that he would prefer to see the tournament held in his region, and confirmation that the US is preparing its own bid to host the finals appears to damage the FA's prospects.

"We will be making a decision in the next two or three months, but we are looking very seriously at (making a bid)," said US Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati yesterday.

"I can't think of any reasons why we wouldn't bid for the tournament. We've done this before (1994) and been successful at doing it before. The bid process has become very competitive and whether playing a game in Trinidad has anything to do with that I am not sure. But I think the FA are more sophisticated than to think they are going to get Jack Warner's vote on the back of playing one game. There aren't any CONCACAF bidders at this point, and Mr Warner is the president of CONCACAF."

Only last year Warner described England as "an irritant" in an interview conducted with the BBC's World Service and said he'd "fight" moves to bring the competition to England for the first time since 1966. "Nobody in Europe likes England," he said.

He was more conciliatory in interviews earlier this year, but his long-standing belief that the 2018 tournament should be held in the CONCACAF region would suggest he will side with any bid mounted by the US.

While Major League Soccer (MLS) is just coming to prominence, the United States clearly boasts the infrastructure to host the finals with Gulati confident all rival bids from Europe can be deflected. "Clearly England will have a very strong bid, Spain and Germany would be formidable candidates," he said. "But we are going to focus on the quality in the US. There is no country in the world in a better position in terms of stadium facilities and size than us.

"We have got 50 stadia of 70,000 capacities capable of hosting the World Cup. We could have hosted the competition in 1998 in stadiums that didn't even exist in 1994, and the same goes for 2002 and not use any stadiums that existed in 1998.

"We are determined to finish what we started in 1994. We are the most diversified nation in the world. If Nigeria and Ghana played each other, it would sell out. If Australia played Costa Rica, it would sell out. When we staged a third-place play off between Sweden and Bulgaria in 1994 there were 85,000 people there. My point is that it is not a question of fearing any country. We think we'd have a great bid, great structure and a great landscape."

Gulati also hinted at the intriguing possibility that the Community Shield, the traditional curtain-raiser to the new Premier League season, could be held in the US in the future. Such a plan would reopen the furious debate over the Premier League's controversial scheme to play a 39th league match abroad, though it remains a possibility attractive to the American game.

"We hosted the Italian equivalent of the Community Shield in the mid-1990s," added Gulati. "It would be very different to holding a Premier League game, but we would consider it and be open to the idea."

MY POV: Interesting comments by Gulati. Looks like the USA is very adamant that they (we?) have the infrastructure, the manpower and the money to host the '18 tournament.

As an American, I'd love to see the World Cup in my backyard. Certainly, Gulati is spot on when it comes to comments regarding the stadia and the fact about our diversity.

Speaking of the Community Shield, it was announced today that the Italian Supercoppa between Roma and Inter Milan will be played at Giants Stadium this August. The game was played at Giants Stadium in 2003.

Still, one must think England will be strong competitors for the finals. What do you think? Who would you like to see hosting the 2018 finals?

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

African Stadiums OK For World Cup Qualifiers

Finally, some encouraging news regarding the safety of stadiums in Africa ahead of next month's World Cup and African Cup of Nations qualifiers.

All the stadiums under threat of being barred from hosting World Cup qualifying matches have been passed by FIFA.

Stadiums in Congo, DR Congo, Gambia, Namibia, Sierra Leone, Swaziland and Zambia will be allowed to host matches in next month after having upgrades or starting the necessary improvements demanded by FIFA.

But that's not the end of it.

FIFA, football's ruling body, has warned it might clamp down again if the improvements ordered are not in place by the start of the second phase of group qualifiers in November 2008.

"In order to play 2010 World Cup qualifiers in stadiums at the level of such a competition, FIFA took the initiative to inspect several stadiums in Africa in the past months," a FIFA spokesman said.

"Based on the inspections and thanks to the works already realized since then, FIFA has authorized that these stadiums be used for the preliminary competition matches of the 2010 World Cup. However, in most cases, FIFA has decided that the present authorization is conditioned by the mandatory completion of some works by the end of November."

In other words, get your house in order ... or else.

Many African countries were under the threat of having to move their upcoming home matches to neutral venues. Now only Lesotho and Togo are playing home matches outside their borders.

Lesotho have moved matches to Bloemfontein in neighboring South Africa because of renovations to their only national stadium.

Togo have been given a four-match home ban after violence at the last qualifier they hosted in last year's African Cup of Nations qualifiers, when supporters attacked Mali's players.

Togo, surprise World Cup finalists in 2006, have moved their matches from Lome to neighboring Ghana.

MY POV: This is great news. On one hand, FIFA's clamped down on unsafe football stadiums. They're protecting the most important asset in this equation: the supporter.

On the other hand, the host countries are forced to deal with the problem at hand: the inadequate stadiums. Renovations are made, FIFA inspects, FIFA deems the stadium safe and qualifiers proceed.

This is a classic win-win situation.

True, some countries can't afford the renovations. Some countries are dealing with issues far more important that football.

But then again, isn't that where the focus should lie? The problem at hand? Not the football?

Good job by FIFA. Let's hope the stadium issue gets more press as the qualifiers go on and no one has to set foot in an unsafe environment on the continent again.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Drogba and the Champions League Final

As one of Africa's greatest stars, Didier Drogba certainly demands our respect.

Not only is he a world-class athlete, but he's also a champion of human causes, specifically in his native Ivory Cooast.

It's with this in mind that I find what Drogba did on Wednesday's Champions League final so bemusing.

For those that don't know, Drogba was red-carded in extra time of the final for lightly slapping Manchester United defender Nemanja Vidic in the face. As Henry Winter of the Daily Telegraph puts it,

If a night crammed with heroes offered up one villain it had to be Didier Drogba, deservedly expelled for slapping Nemanja Vidic. If this brilliant target-man does now exit the Bridge of sighs, he leaves with his head held low. His act of stupidity robbed Chelsea of a regular penalty-taker, so ushering Terry into the firing line.

The rest, as we all know, is history. Terry slipped, the ball sailed wide. Manchester United celebrated European glory.

Today's features a wonderful editorial from regular writer Oliver Peterson which touches on some of Drogba's issues.

Many think the Ivorian's time at Stamford Bridge is done. Jose Mourinho could come calling soon and we all know of the affection Drogba has for the 'Special One'.

While some question Drogba's abilities for his incessant whining and play-diving, it's duly noted that when he wants to, he can be one of the more prolific strikers in the world.

So why sully that during the biggest game of your career and add fuel to the fire by slapping a rival player?

The red card was deserved. Now what happens to Drogba? Here's an excerpt from the article. To see the original, please click here.

No one doubts his ability. He is more than a handful. No centre back sees Drogba’s name on an opposition teamsheet and is filled with glee. His footballing ability is not the issue here.But why cheat? And yes, it is cheating. Even today. Even in this day an age where players of bygone eras would turn in their graves at what is deemed a yellow card. At the reaction of a top class player to his fellow professionals. At the win at all costs “it’s a business, not a sport” mentality which has infested our wonderful game - now so global and deep in talent. It’s because he can. If, in the era of cameras covering every angle of the game - a player can get away with constantly (in almost every game) acting, pretending and wining, then we are in trouble. The system is at fault. Players like Drogba would be suppressed in their attempts to sway referees by their misdemeanours if only the system would be tweaked in order to extend harsh punishments on these wrongdoers. ...

If, as is widely expected, Drogba takes his big ego and his pouting lip away from Britain, and into Spain or Italy, then so be it. Most real fans within these shores wouldn’t miss him. His followers are those who condone his actions. Not true football fans.

South African Violence

The anti-immigrant violence sweeping through South Africa has seen at least 42 people killed and more than 25,000 driven from their homes in 12 days of attacks.

The mobs causing the violence are accusing African migrants of taking jobs and fuelling crime.

Today, Danny Jordaan, the chief executive of the 2010 World Cup Local Organizing Committee, condemned anti-immigrant violence in South Africa. But he also insisted it would end before the tournament takes place. It better.

Jordaan said the level of scrutiny of South Africa after the recent violence was an inevitable result of hosting the World Cup.

"We can see the focus of attention on our country, for completely different reasons, both of them tragic," he said.

"Our standpoint is that this World Cup must be a celebration of Africa's humanity. Africa has too often been a continent of division, of wars, of humiliation. And certainly we condemn any situation that continues to inflict on African people humiliation, suffering, war, disease.

"So our position is crystal clear and we ask that every action must be taken to stop inflicting on displaced people further displacement. It's something that will pass ... South Africans are not xenophobic."

Jordaan reiterated his view that all the stadiums would be ready in time for the tournament.

However he conceded that finishing a new stadium in Port Elizabeth in time for the Confederations Cup in July next year was "a challenge."

MY POV: Jordaan must be given kudos for keeping his eye on the positive ahead of the World Cup. But South Africa is doing itself no favors by showing this side of itself to the world.

With rising fuel prices and the world economy teetering on recession, how many people will want to spend their hard-earned money to travel all the way to a country where they might be hurt, mugged or worse yet, killed?

South Africa needs to get tough about the violence that occurs there ... and fast. Two years will come around much faster than we all think ...

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Drogba's Love Affair with Mourinho

There are many subplots in today's all-English Champions League final in Moscow between Manchester United and Chelsea.

As far as we're concerned, we're happy to see African stars such as Michael Essien, Claude Makalele and Jon Obi Mikel get the chance to play on football's biggest stage.

But we all know who the star of Chelsea's show is: the enigmatic, charismatic Ivorian striker Didier Drogba. As Reggie Jackson of the New York Yankees once said, he's the 'straw that stirs the drink' ...

Today's New York Times 'Goal' blog has a wonderful article about Drogba and his man crush on former coach Jose Mourinho. It's an interesting read ... here are some excerpts ...

Drogba’s heart may belong to Chelsea’s former manager, Jose Mourinho, but his feet earned Avram Grant the Champions League final spot that eluded the Special One during his tenure at Stamford Bridge.

Beyond the goals, assists and shots, is Drogba’s compelling story, which is getting great attention in the news media leading up to the Champions League final Wednesday against Manchester United in Moscow. In large part it is because of the publication this week of Drogba’s autobiography, in French. The book, “C’était Pas Gagné”, adds fuel to the speculative fires that have burned around Drogba all season — he is unhappy at Chelsea, misses Mourinho, dislikes Grant and is headed to Italy as soon as the season ends. ...

Simon Kuper, writing for The Financial Times, says Drogba’s memoir takes on a peculiar emotional tone when the striker discusses his former manager, “the book’s tone shifts from merely overwrought to cheap romantic novel.”

The player’s feelings for the Portuguese tactician go well beyond respect or admiration; his love for Mourinho seems over the top to Kuper.

After Drogba scores in last year’s F.A. Cup final, thanks to Mourinho’s inspiring words, “Drogba hunts him down in the stadium’s catacombs, and they cry in each other’s arms,” reports Kuper.

The affection appears to be mutual. The Special One writes in the “pretentious preface” of the book, “Whatever, Didier will always be in my heart.”
Kuper: “Cue sunset over fields of swaying corn.”

MY POV: To read the entire article, please click here.

It's no secret that Drogba loved playing for Mourinho. The article suggests that Drogba and possibly Frank Lampard could follow Mourinho to Italy, where the Special One has said he'll coach next season.

Could today prove to be the Ivorian's swan song in Chelsea blue? The West London club's fans can only hope his goodbyes are peppered with the lifting of the Champions League trophy in the Moscow night. Drogba is truly one of the game's special players, diving controversies aside.

Today's game could go a long way to cementing Didier's legacy as one of the greatest African players of all time.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

More Problems for Kenya

Kenya just can't seem to get their act together.

Kenya's place in qualifying for the World Cup and African Cup of Nations in 2010 is under threat because of a recent court ruling, according to football's world governing body FIFA.

The Kenyan court decided that a group of administrators not recognized by FIFA should be considered executives of the Kenyan Football Federation (KFF).

FIFA says the individuals concerned were appointed by a previous sports minister, against its rules.

FIFA does not allow government interference in the running of the sport and says it wants immediate action to reverse the situation.

It also says the headquarters of the KFF, which FIFA paid for, has been "taken over by non-recognised individuals".

FIFA Secretary General Jerome Valcke imposed a deadline of 72 hours from Monday for its approved administrators to be registered.

If that is not achieved then Kenya's place in World Cup qualifying would be seriously under threat. Again ...

"In the absence of a swift stop this blatant interference in football internal affairs, FIFA will have to consider all options", Valcke wrote in a letter to the man it still considers to be the leader of the KFF, Mohammed Hatimy (pictured above).

"These latest events jeopardize the organisation of the forthcoming FIFA 2010 World Cup and CAF ACN 2010 qualifying matches."

Kenya are due to play Guinea, Namibia and Zimbabwe in their group, starting against Namibia at the beginning of next month.

MY POV: When will the people running the sport in Kenya get their act together? This sort of situation seems to take place every month in this nation.

While it's true that the nation's been involved in matters more pertinent than football the past few months, one would think the people running the sport would be able to do just that - run the sport.

Unfortunately, too many hands are in the cookie jar. Kenya can't seem to get it together and it may cost them in the end.

Sad, sad news.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

New African Soccer Magazine

I'm trying to do my bit here to promote the wonderful world of African football.

Unfortunately, there's only so much I can do from my remote corner of the world (New York City).

Luckily, there are good people out there doing great work to advance the Beautiful Game in Africa.

The writers of New African Soccer Magazine have an amazing offer for readers of this blog ... check it out! It's too good to pass up!

Click HERE HERE HERE to take advantage of this special offer ...

The above link will allow you to get a FREE 3 issue pdf subscription to New African Soccer magazine.

You will also be entered into a Prize Draw to win signed shirts from DROGBA, ESSIEN, TOURE, MUNTARI, BENJANI and more of your favorite Premier League stars.
We also have iPods to give away!

When you sign up you will receive access to the NAS archive and as soon as it's ready issue 10 will be winging its way through the electronic ether to you.

New African Soccer Magazine is the only magazine dedicated to African football from the Premier League stars to the grassroots of the African leagues. Take a look.

Take advantage of this offer ... Tell 'em Road to 2010 sent you ...

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Ghana Coaching Situation

So what's the deal with the coaching situation in Ghana?

Claude LeRoy is out, although we're not entirely sure why.

Now who takes over? Someone like Marcel Desailly?

Let's recap the situation:

* Claude LeRoy is out as coach of Ghana at the end of the month.

The Frenchman's contract was terminated a month early by the Ghana Football Association.
It had been due to run out at the end of June, but the GFA announced on Thursday that they had brought the date forward.

LeRoy took the Black Stars to third place at the recent African Cup of Nations, hosted by Ghana. They are also the top ranked team in Africa at the moment, according to FIFA's latest listing.

* So what happened?

"They offered me a new contract but I think it's the end of a chapter," LeRoy told the French news agency AFP. "I think I've given everything that I could give, I think it's for the best. Everyone thought I'd signed for another two years but no, the federation made me an offer, that's all," he said.

The GFA said it was confident of appointing a new coach in time for a May 23 friendly against Australia. Their 2010 World Cup and Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers begin at home against Libya nine days later.

* In an interview with the BBC days later, LeRoy didn't fully explain his strange decision to leave the post. Was he pushed out?

"It wasn't a problem of the terms of the new contract. I was very proud that they wanted to keep me," he added. He hinted that the break-up of his coaching team did affect his decision.

"My assistant [Sellas Tetteh] left for the under-20's and with Herve [Renard] my other assistant they couldn't renew his contract for financial reasons. We built a dedicated team of staff and as it wasn't possible to work with the same staff I think it was better to start on a new adventure."

He's unsure what to do next, though.

"I will see all the proposals that I receive and then I'll choose; it can be a club in Europe, it can be a national team in Asia, a national team in Africa, a club in Europe - maybe even in England," he explained.

* So what does Ghana do now?

Speculation has been rampant that former France and Chelsea star Marcel Desailly will take over.

The 39-year-old, who was born in Ghana, had in the past expressed interest in coaching the Black Stars but he's not interested right now.

"I am very flattered that fans and the media in Ghana want me to take up the post as the coach of the Black Stars but I have to say no for now," Desailly told BBC Sport.

"I have to put on standby the proposition of the people of my country and the massive media support."

Despite ruling himself out of taking over from Le Roy, the former defender is still confident of coaching the Black Stars in the future.

"My time will come," said Desailly, who helped France win the World Cup in 1998 and the European Championship in 2000.

"When it does I will give it my best shot and use all the experience I have gained in my career in Europe to take Ghana to the highest level."

Even though he is disappointed at Le Roy's departure, Desailly is optimistic about the Black Stars' future.

He said: "Le Roy has done a very good job with the squad by holding it together and also bringing in young players for the future.

"The base is already there for success because of the quality of the squad and I know the players can achieve great things for the country."

MY POV: Tough times for many African powers as Nigeria, South Africa and now Ghana have had to change coaches.

This is a normal part of the off-season, where organizations assess where they are and where they need to go. Still, odd to see so many big-name coaches leaving their posts.

Are federations jumping the gun some, letting coaches go too quickly?
Or are foreign coaches simply not suited to the African game, coming into situations they don't fully understand and overestimating their power?
An interesting debate, now that Nigeria fully lobbied for a domestic coach.

Let's see who Ghana chooses. Should be an interesting choice before their friendly May 23rd.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

The Craig Bellamy Foundation

West Ham and Wales striker Craig Bellamy has had an interesting career.
From spats with teammates to public wrangling with coaches and trainers, Bellamy has never been far from the spotlight.

It's with interest I saw the story of Bellamy planning to build a football academy in Sierra Leone to try to help develop the country's young talent.

There's a dose of skepticism, of course. What are his intentions?

But at the core of it, it's a very touching, heartwarming move.

Bellamy visited the war-torn country last year and was so impressed by the local playing talent that he vowed to help them improve facilities.

He has now set up the Craig Bellamy Foundation, which will start to build an academy in the capital Freetown.

"Because of the war, children haven't had any opportunity," he said.

"They haven't been thrown a football, they've been thrown a gun. Now we can give them a chance that their fathers or grandfathers never had. That's the buzz for me. I'm not looking to find and sell players. I'm not an agent. I want to make it clear that if any player does make it, any fee goes straight back into the academy."

Bellamy has reportedly invested nearly £650,000 (about $1,269,000) of his own money into the foundation and the academy is set to include 14 new leagues and 68 new boys' teams and employ 141 managers and coaches.

While improving the country's football is Bellamy's primary motivation, he also hopes the foundation will lead to more youngsters receiving health awareness education.

MY POV: This sounds like a riveting, exciting project. It's nice to see a footballer using his money for good instead of instant gratification. Many think Bellamy is a bit of a malcontent based on his history. But whomever he may be, he should be applauded for trying to help.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Africans in Major League Soccer

It's not often that I write about Major League Soccer, the American professional soccer league.

Even though it's in my own backyard, I don't get out to see it as often as I would like.

Truth be told, the soccer home of David Beckham has made strides in becoming a more international league.

Last season's aquisition of the free-kicking Beckham from Real Madrid helped some as has the international flavor of star players such as Claudio Lopez and Cuauhtemoc Blanco.

This season, two Gambian internationals have staked their claim to fame in MLS, featuring for the New England Revolution.

In this article from Yahoo's Martin Rogers, we get an inside look at the way the two Gambian youngsters, Abdoulie “Kenny” Mansally and Sainey Nyassi, have assimilated into the team.

Here's an excerpt. To read the entire article, please click the link above.

New England Revolution head coach Steve Nicol has already gained a reputation as the master of the Major League Soccer draft, snapping up unheralded college players and turning them into solid performers.

This season, though, Nicol and his coaching staff went a step further by introducing two unknown youngsters from a far away continent to boost New England’s start to the campaign.

Gambian youngsters Abdoulie “Kenny” Mansally and Sainey Nyassi suffered a series of problems – including visa issues, lost baggage and a huge difference in weather from west Africa to New England – after they were snapped up in the offseason. Their impact on the Revs has been immediate, helping the team rack up impressive victories over the two-time MLS champion Houston Dynamo and in-form Kansas City Wizards on the road.

“You expect there to be a period of settling in when lads come over to a different environment,” assistant coach Paul Mariner said. “But these two have hit the ground running and done very well straight away. They have got the right attitude and they are a pleasure to work with because we know we can help to develop their games to a new level.”

African Player of the Season

I found this interesting article on my mobile service.

I can't find it online, but you can click the above link and read the article anyways.

I think it's a fascinating look at 20 players around Europe of African descent who've shown their talent and set the continent ablaze!'s African correspondent Awenlimobor Sylvester is wittling the list down from 20 to 5 later this week.

What do you think? Who is the African Player of the Season? Check out the article above and have your say ... Here's a sampling of what Sylvester has to say.

Emmanuel Adebayor Arsenal FC (England) Togo

The Togolese striker has undoubtedly been the main threat up front for the Gunners this season, scoring some “unbelievable” goals from truly “unbelievable” positions. He is the presently the second-highest goalscorer in the English Premiership with 24 strikes so far. Surely Adebayor has shown character and consistency despite being in an underachieving Arsenal team.

MY POV: I wouldn't say he's consistent, but then again 24 goals is nothing to sneeze at.

Didier Drogba Chelsea FC (England) Ivory Coast

The big Ivorian was able to silence his critics - Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez the biggest one of them - with killer influence in Chelsea’s 3-2 UEFA Champions League victory over Liverpool. In truth, “the Drog” has not been as prolific upfront for the Blues as he was last season, but he surely is still as lethal as ever. Just ask Rafa.
MY POV: I love the guy but he's proven to be hot and cold this season. A move away from England after this season will surely fire up his engines once again.

Taye Taiwo OLM Marseille (France) Nigeria

The 23 year old Nigerian stopper became a prominent figure in the Nigerian Soccer scene during the 2005 WYC held in the Netherlands, and has not let down his followers since then. He has shown his trademark consistency with his French club this season, helping his team to some important wins this season with his equally famous long range strikes and great headers.

MY POV: I'll be honest and say I don't know much about Taiwo. But he sure sounds like a good player ...

Frederic Kanoute Sevilla (Spain) Mali

The Sevilla front man is currently Africa’s reigning king according to CAF, and he is also presently Africa’s leading striker in the Primera Liga: a position he has held for the past two years. This season isn't his best, but he's still cutting a mean figure in Andalucía.
MY POV: Here's another guy I think would benefit from a move away from his current club. He's been rumored to be seeking a move back to his old club Tottenham. With the Spurs approach for Valencia striker David Villa rebuffed, maybe Kanoute could return a saviour.

Yaya Toure Barcelona (Spain) Ivory Coast

He is another of the few bright sparks that can be picked out from the Catalan giants' almost awful season. Toure has been a solid force in the middle of the team, helping out with several incisive tackles and putting through fantastic passes as well.

MY POV: Awful season? I guess that's what 3rd place in Spain and a Champions League semifinal berth gets you these days. Still, he has been a bright spot in an otherwise lackluster season. Much was expected of Barca. They delivered little. But awful??

Monday, May 5, 2008

Eto'o Breaks Spanish Record

It's obvious to anyone that follows the Beautiful Game that Samuel Eto'o is one of the greatest strikers of all-time.

While it hasn't been the best of seasons for the Barcelona striker, the Indomitable Lion can at least be content with establishing himself as the African player with the most La Liga games to his name.

He's had a host of troubles while in Spain.

He's been the object of racist taunts. He called Real Madrid fans derogatory names after winning the Spanish title with Barcelona. He's been deemed a clubhouse 'cancer' by teammates and journalists.

But through it all, he's persevered and scored at an amazing pace, winning plaudits and championships along the way.

Eto'o spent 70 minutes on the pitch in Barca's 6-0 demolition of Valencia yesterday.
MY POV: For more about this game and more ranting about my beloved club Valencia, please check out my Valencia blog ...

Although he didn't add to his tally of 14 goals this season, he notched up his 242nd appearance in the Spanish first division.

He takes the 'record' from his compatriot Thomas N'kono, who wore the gloves for Barcelona's neighbors Espanyol in 241 games between 1982 and 1989.

Eto'o has played 106 games for the Catalan club since arriving at Barcelona in the summer of 2004.

In addition, he played three times for Real Madrid at the start of his career before moving to Real Mallorca for five seasons and 133 matches.

The question now is, how many more La Liga games will Eto'o play?
MY POV: I think he's gone after this season. Barca have seriously under-performed and many are blaming Eto'o and a lackluster Ronaldinho for their demise.

Barcelona have three games remaining this season, including a trip to bitter rivals and Spanish champions Real Madrid on Wednesday.

But Eto'o himself will be suspended after picking up a fifth yellow card against Valencia.
MY POV: Seems convenient that Eto'o picked up a yellow card ahead of Wednesday's Classico.
Now, Eto'o won't have to stand in line and salute the champions as per Spanish tradition, the pasillo, where the opposing team stands and claps for the champions.

"I did not know that if I was booked I would miss the game on Wednesday," he said. "I did not deserve it anyway and am angry that I cannot play in the game. It is always a great occasion and I did not want to miss it. I hope that they will look at it and take the card away."
Hmmm ...

There have been strong rumors in recent months that Eto'o may move during the summer,
with Italy's Serie A or the English Premiership being the most likely destinations.
MY POV: My money's on England. Chelsea, anyone??

However, Eto'o has been at pains to dismiss speculation about his departure.

"I want to carry on here next season. I have a contract here until 2010 and I think I'm going to see it out," said Eto'o last week.

"When you look at all the players we've got, I think we can go on to win further titles. I believe in this team. This season hasn't been either so good or so bad but I wouldn't use the word 'fiasco' that has appeared in the media."

Despite not winning anything with Barcelona this season, Eto'o has still achieved a stunning array of honors with his various clubs.

He won Champions League winners' medals in 2000 and 2006, with Real Madrid and Barcelona respectively although he didn't play in the final when he was at his former club.
MY POV: Thankfully. Real Madrid beat Valencia 3-0 in Paris in the 2000 Champions League final. If Eto'o played, it might have been 6-0 ...

The three-time African Player of the Year was part of the Barcelona teams that won the Spanish league title in 2005 and 2006.

He was also the Spanish first division's leading scorer in 2006 (the Pichichi), becoming the first African player to achieve such an accolade, and won the 2003 Spanish Cup while at Mallorca.

MY POV: There's no doubt Eto'o is a special talent. He's been through a lot in Spain and has always played exceptionally well.

But I do think his time in Barcelona is up. The squad needs major upgrading and Eto'o will likely look for new challenges.

A trip to England awaits ... stay tuned!