Friday, August 22, 2008

Olympic Gold For Nigeria?

Nigeria squares off against Argentina in Saturday's Olympic gold medal final and while the game is a repeat of the 1996 gold medal match that Nigeria won 3-2, can the Super Eagles' offense deal with Lionel Messi and the Albicelestes this time around?

Argentina are favored after their 3-0 destruction of Brazil in the semi-finals.

But Nigeria's "Dream Team" also put in an impressive performance in their semi-final victory over Belgium 4-1.

Argentina boast the skills of Spanish-based trio Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero and Fernando Gago.

But Nigeria have their own quality attackers in Peter Odemwingie and Victor Obinna Nsofor backed up by wingers Chinedu Ogbuke Obasi and Solomon Okoronkwo.

"We have to play like (coach Samson Siasia) told us, and not have everyone trying to do something special," Hertha Berlin striker Okoronkwo said.

"We have to play simple and conserve energy."

Truth be told, it's how the Nigerian defense handle the mercurial Messi that will determine the outcome of the game.

"We have to make sure we don't give them room to operate," coach Siasia said.

"Messi is going to be a handful, we know that. But if you shut off the supply to Messi, it makes it more difficult for him."

It was Messi who sparked Nigeria's downfall in the final of the 2005 FIFA Under-20 World Cup in Holland when he earned and converted two penalties in a 2-1 win.

"It's still fresh," recalled Siasia.

"We actually gave that game up ourselves with the two penalties. But this team has grown, and now we have more experience. I don't think we'll make the same mistakes twice."

Argentina football legend Diego Maradona, a regular at their games in Beijing, is forecasting a 2-0 win for his team in the final.

"Hopefully it will turn out how I say, so that the boys can win the gold medal, because they deserve it," he said.

"But be careful, Nigeria are a good team, we have to respect them, but I am very confident in this team, and in 'Checho' (coach Sergio Batista)."

Argentina are looking to defend the title they won in the 2004 Athens Olympics.

Nigeria is hoping to add to their impressive array of international accolades which include 1996 Olympic gold and the 2007 Under-17 World Cup.

It's been bedlam in Nigeria as fans celebrated their advancement into the gold medal match.

When Nigeria scored the fourth goal against Belgium in the semifinal, policemen in the capital's police headquarters celebrated so loudly the building shook.

People gathered around every available television set to watch the so-called "Dream Team" play, mainly made up of under-23 players.

The roar when each goal was scored could be heard out in the streets of the capital, Abuja.

Petty trader Idriss, known to his customers as "Old Man", watched the game through the window of the restaurant next door to his street side stall in the Capital's Wuse 2 area.

"When I can't see, other people tell me what's happening," he said.

Some of the other spectators by the window hid their faces and refused to speak for fear of being caught out of work.

Football fan Martins Stephens said the win had restored his faith in Nigerian football.

"I know we can go ahead and beat Argentina," he told the BBC.

MY POV: Should be a wonderful game. Go on, Nigeria!!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Africa in the Olympic Quarterfinals

While we lament the loss of the Nigerian Super Falcons in the Women's Olympic football tournament, praise must be heaped on the African men, who all swept into the quarterfinals of the men's Olympic tournament.

One thing we know for sure is that Africa will be represented in the semi-finals, as Nigeria take on Ivory Coast in the last eight. Cameroon advanced to play Brazil.

1996 gold medalists Nigeria advanced as winners of their group and were unbeaten after an opening draw with one of the pre-tournament favorites Holland, coupled with wins over Japan and the USA.

The Super Eagles are without several key players following the balmy club-vs. country rows that affected superstars such as Lionel Messi of Argentina/Barcelona.

Russia-based Peter Odemwingie is the only over-aged player in the squad after goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama and striker Ikechukwu Uche were not released by their respective clubs.

The lack of an experienced goalkeeper has already cost Nigeria as Ambruse Vanzekin's poor clearance led to a goal for Japan.

The Ivory Coast are making their first appearance in the Olympic football tournament and began their campaign with a 2-1 loss to defending champions Argentina.

The Ivorians bounced back from that defeat with an easy 4-2 win over Serbia and assured qualification with a 1-0 win over Australia.

Strikers Salomon Kalou and Sekou Cisse have lead the way for the Ivorian Elephants with two goals each , while midfielder Gervinho has scored one goal as well as assisting two.

The 2000 gold medalists Cameroon face a tough task in the last eight as they play Brazil.

The Brazilians have won all three of their games so far scoring nine goals and are yet to concede.

Cameroon have struggled to find the net in China with only two goals at the Games.

Georges Mandjeck has been both hero and villain for Cameroon, scoring a late equalizer in the opening game against South Korea that ended 1-1. But he was then sent off in a goalless draw with Italy.

The only other goal was scored by Stephane Mbia as Cameroon narrowly beat Honduras 1-0.

All the quarter-finals are on August 16th.

Good luck, Africa!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

2010 African Cup of Nations: Angola Prepares

It seems like just yesterday we were blogging about the finals of the African Cup of Nations tournament in Ghana.

But things move quickly in the world of football.

Today, news that the host nation of the 2010 African Cup of Nations, Angola, is confident their infrastructure will be ready in time for the tournament.

The Confederation of African Football (CAF) seems to agree after an inspection team dropped in and snooped around.

The country sees the football tournament as a catalyst for change.

Much of Angola's infrastructure was destroyed by a 27-year civil war. Therefore, it's seen by some as an ambitious choice to host the Cup.

After only six years of peace, many roads remain poor, some still have land mines in them, there are few hotels and the country is hard to to get to for tourists.

But things can only get better.

If the amount of building that is going on in the capital of Luanda and the other main provinces is anything to go by, the competition is definitely leading to a rebirth of facilities.

Manuel Mariano, Angola's director of information and publicity for COCAN (the Cup's organizing committee), told the BBC: "We are a country in re-construction. We are a country in movement; the war was over six years ago.

"And you can notice what the changes are, that this country is going through, from North to South, from West to East and in the center. Therefore this is a task that the Angolans will perform and, like the President says, we will have a successful Nations Cup."

All over the country, and particularly in Luanda, new hotels are being built, and key roads linking the provincial capitals are being rebuilt, largely by Chinese construction companies.

MY POV: The Chinese have a hand in many public works projects in Africa, don't they? There's been a lot made of this as the burgeoning superpower makes inroads in the last great untouched economic expanse in the world.

The Chinese built the new stadiums and have the contracts to build the four other new stadiums in Luanda, Lubango, Cabinda and Benguela.

The Luanda stadium, which is in a new area of suburban development about 15 miles from the city center, will seat 50,000.

According to the CAF inspectors, this project and the stadiums in Benguela and Lubango are all running to schedule.

The stadium in Cabinda, however, is proving a little trickier.

Cabinda's geographical location, part of Angola but an isolated province within the DR of Congo, has hampered the building work.

The project is running around 20 days behind schedule, although this time is expected to be recovered over the next few months.

More than 4,000 foreign visitors are expected to come to the 2010 tournament and a lot of work is being done to enhance the capacity of the regional airports and rebuild sections of the railway destroyed during the civil war.

One concern is access to visas for visiting fans. COCAN say it is now entering the second stage of tournament preparation and this will look at the logistics for tourists and transportation.

Tickets will be pre-sold, the committee said, and a lot of work is going on behind the scenes to prepare the country for the influx of visitors, the group added.

The CAF inspectors are due back in January. Until then, it's all hands to the cement mixers.

MY POV: Thanks to the BBC for the majority of this article.

Once again, football plays a part in restoring civic pride and establishing a sense of collective unity in a land ravaged by infighting.

One only hopes Angola gets their infrastructure in place before the Cup and everything goes smoothly.

2010 is shaping up to be quite the year in African football, no?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Eto'o to Stay at Barcelona

Now that Barcelona are done batting their eyes and flipping up their skirt to Arsenal and Togo Emmanuel Adebayor, they've settled into reality: Star striker and Cameroon international Samuel Eto'o is staying.

Didn't we know this all along? Did any of us really think he was off to play in Antarctica or whatever place he was rumored to go?

New Barca coach Pep Guardiola made it official today.

"When I was unveiled I said I was not counting on him but I also said we would treat him as any other player," he said.

"During the past two, three weeks, the past month that we have been together I have been very pleased with his performance. I only have words of praise."

Eto'o had been linked with a number of high profile clubs, including Inter, AC Milan and Arsenal.

But Barca couldn't find a suitor. So instead of marginalizing him a la David Albelda of Valencia fame, Barcelona did the wise thing and invited the scorer back.

Ahh, the transfer season ... also known as the 'silly season.'

Can't live with it, can't live without it.

Doesn't it feel that this season, in particular, was way more silly than interesting?

Let's just start the football already!

Nigerian Ladies Out of Olympics

We had an idea this would happen, but we're sad nevertheless.

The Nigeria women's football team, the Super Falcons, were beaten 3-1 by Brazil on Tuesday at the Workers' Stadium in Beijing in their final group game at the Olympics.

The result left the Nigerian women bottom of the group with three defeats from three matches, and eliminated from the tournament.

They also lost 1-0 to Germany and 1-0 to North Korea besides the Brazil loss.

Nigeria were first to score, with a 19th-minute penalty driven home by Perpetua Nkwocha.

But Brazilian starlet Cristiane went on to bag a first-half hat-trick, as Brazil finished top of the group.

Her first was a powerful header in the 33rd minute, then two minutes later she scored with a stunning overhead kick.

The hat-trick was completed at the end of the first half with a shot after she was unmarked inside the penalty area.

Nigeria tried a few long-range shots after the break, but the best chance of the half fell to Cristiane.

The Brazilian forced a finger-tip save from Nigeria keeper Precious Dede with a shot from the edge of the area in the 65th minute.

Nigeria were dangerous on the break with Sarah Michael and Ifeanyi Chiejine causing trouble for the Brazilian defenders.

The three defeats for the Super Falcons mean that they have failed to improve on the 2004 Olympics, where they reached the quarter-finals.

But in a very difficult group, they performed with credit, though their strikers often let them down.

Despite defeat, Super Falcons coach Jossy Lad said he was satisfied with the performance of his team. However, he blamed the strikers for the defeat.

“Before this event some people called this group the zone of death and you can see it is not easy to play against Brazil, Germany and Korea in the same competition. The girls gave their best.

“Against Brazil the problem was not that of luck but rather our attack failed to click. We created scoring chances but failed to utilize them. I am disappointed with the attackers because I worked so hard in this area.

“The players showed so much promise in training but failed to perform when it mattered most. Football is a crazy game, we gave a good performance but failed to get the results and so we are out.”

Maybe next time, eh?

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Women's Olympic Preview: Nigeria

Africa is sending only one nation to the 2008 Women's Olympic Football Tournament: Nigeria.

Nigeria are a dominant force in African women's football, winning the continental championship seven times. But when it comes to the world stage, the Super Falcons barely register a blip.

In five appearances at the FIFA Women's World Cup finals, two at the Olympic Football Tournament and three at the FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup, the Super Falcons have only managed to progress beyond the opening round on two occasions. Not the best results.

Their star player is Cynthia Uwak, a 21-year old striker.

Uwak, now 21, first burst on to the scene in 2006 when she scored four goals in as many matches to lead Nigeria to the quarter-finals of the U-20 Women's World Cup in Russia. Later that year, the powerful forward, mature beyond her years, went on to be short-listed for the FIFA Women's World Player of the Year award. Though she came in 11th in the final votes' tally, Uwak did manage to earn the CAF African Women's Player of the Year award.

She followed up that achievement by scooping the African award again in 2008, after playing a crucial role in a tense Olympic qualifying series against Ghana.

Despite Uwak's striking prowess, the Super Falcons can't seem to put it together.

They made it all the way to the quarter-finals of the U-20 Women's World Cup in Thailand 2004 only to lose out on penalties to eventual champions Germany. The African queens bowed out at the same stage in Russia two years later following a 2-1 defeat to Brazil.

They bowed out early at China 2007, when they drew with Sweden and went down to South Korea and USA. Luckily, the Nigerians recovered their poise to secure a ticket to Beijing 2008.

Their one and only qualifying defeat was a 1-0 loss to Ghana, a setback that did little to dent their reputation as the pre-eminent force on the continent. The aim now is to perform in Beijing.

"Qualifying for the Olympics is not an end in itself," said coach Jossy Lad. "It was only to be expected for a team of our status. We are continuing to make progress and I have a feeling the girls can go on and do great things at the Games. They are hard workers and they pay attention. If we can get our preparations right and set up some high-profile friendlies before the tournament, the fine blend we've got here could cause a real splash in the summer."

"We have a good team," Uwak said. "African footballers like to improvise and play the ball on the ground, and this team is not different. We can beat anyone on our day and we just need to play according to our style and instincts."

2004 and 2005 African Female Footballer of the Year Perpetua Nkwocha remains optimistic.

"I'm not afraid, neither are my colleagues. We are used to being in the toughest groups at the World Cup," she said.

They're in a very difficult group in Beijing, drawn with Brazil, Germany and North Korea in the women's 'Group of Death.'

Things haven't started out as they expected at the Games.

Although the opening ceremonies don't come until Friday, the soccer tournament is upon us.

Nigeria were beaten 1-0 by North Korea in their opening game of the Olympic women's football tournament.

Kim Kyong Hwa scored with a powerful shot inside the penalty area in the 27th minute of a game that North Korea dominated.

North Korea captain Ri Kum Suk put a penalty wide in the 43rd minute, while Ifeanyi Chiejine failed to connect with a cross in second half stoppage-time, an opportunity that could have given Nigeria a point.

With games coming up against Germany and Brazil, who were winners and runners-up respectively at last year's World Cup, Nigeria's chances of getting out of the group seem slim.

Absolutely, Positively Last Olympic Preview

We've done a few Olympic previews already: one yesterday and one about a week ago.

But with the Beijing Games mere hours away, I'd be remiss not to direct your attention to BBC Sport's Durosimi Thomas and his look at the African sides involved in the men's tournament.

General consensus favors a good showing by the African nations involved. Can they win the gold? I don't know. Thomas seems to think the young guns of the African continent will run out of luck this time around.

Argentina and Brazil must be the favourites for Olympic Gold, with European under-21 champions Holland also holding a big chance.

But the African challenge is strong, and all three teams from the continent can be expected to progress beyond the group stage.

Ivory Coast are the dark horses of the tournament, and they may well get as far as the semi-finals, as could Nigeria.

Nigeria beat Brazil in the semi-finals in 1996, before defeating Argentina in the final - a path that may have to be revisited if there is to be African gold again.
So there you have it. And with that, I promise to stop with the previews!!

But what about the women, you ask? Glad you did ...

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Can Africa Win an Olympic Gold Medal in Football?

The men's Olympic football tournament will be one of the most highly anticipated sporting events of the upcoming 2008 Beijing Games.

This year's tournament features three teams from Africa, with Cameroon, Nigeria and the Ivory Coast sending over their young, developing talent in hopes of Olympic glory.

We covered this topic in some depth in an earlier post. Now today, ESPN Soccernet journalist Sulaiman Folarin offers his take on Africa's chances. And really, he's a lot more qualified than I am at this point to offer a worthy opinion ...

Can Africa strike gold? Can the young talent at display in China come up big?

I don't know. I don't see why not ... African teams have won gold two of the last three times.
From my uneducated view, I'd say it's probable.

Folarin is an educated journalist whose opinion I value. He seems to think along the same lines.

Here's a small excerpt of his article. For more, please click here.

Of the three representatives, two teams; Nigeria in 1996 and Cameroon four years later, have finished with a Gold medal. The Ivorians, making their debut appearance this year, will hope to follow them when they send out a young and energetic team for the first game against Argentina.

The West Africans have a few mainstream names, but none in category of the Toure brothers; Kolo and his brother Yaya, and they could certainly use the services of Didier Drogba. But with coach Gerard Gili in charge of the team - a tactician with Ivorian football for over two years at all levels - the young Elephants have the potential to trample their way to the podium at end of the competition.

With the full commitment of young talents like Salomon Kalou pairing with the enterprising playmaker Gervais Yao Kouassi (popularly referred to as Gervinho), the Ivory Coast, up front, will be a threat to teams during the group stages and should be safely through to the knock-out phase.

With key players plying their trade in smaller clubs around Europe, fans should also watch out for Sekou Cisse and Kafoumba Coulibaly; two of the players that exemplify the potential of a team with relatively unfamiliar talent.

There are also the home grown players from some established local clubs; Asec Mimosas and Africa Sports. Both have been known not only to develop quality African players, but also prove themselves as quality opponents in the physical African club competitions.

But you cannot mention anything about physical football without pointing in the direction of Cameroon. The Indomitable Lions parade the most physical team in Africa, and probably the world. This style compliments Cameroon's pattern of play, although the Lions are probably the least skilled of the powerhouses on the continent.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Make Up Your Minds: Eto'o and Adebayor

Would someone make up their minds about these players already?

One day, Cameroonian striker Samuel Eto'o is not wanted by Barcelona, new manager Pep Guardiola saying, 'We are putting a team together and they (Eto'o and Ronaldinho, who has since moved to AC Milan) aren't in our thoughts but we'll see what happens."

And see ... and see ...

Earlier this week, it looked like he was off to my favorite club team Valencia. But then the sporting director said they didn't have enough money for him. Then, Barcelona thought about it and said, 'Hey, you know? This guy is pretty good.'

As Barca club president Joan Laporta put it, 'At one time we did think the most convenient thing was to change things in order to renew the team, especially in terms of the most important players, but I understand that nothing in this world is set in stone.'

But today, word that Eto'o is attracting interest from "four or five big clubs".

So no clubs in Uzbekistan this time?

As for prolific Togo striker Emmanuel Adebayor, one day he's leaving Arsenal to replace Eto'o, the next he's signing an extension to stay at the London outfit.

As the lanky scorer puts it, 'Now I can tell everyone that, yes, I will sign a contract," Adebayor told the club's official website.

"I never told anyone I would be leaving this club, never ever. I'm very happy we've found a solution."

Adebayor added: "I have three years left on my contract and I'm putting two or three years more, so I'm very happy being part of this family."

So I guess Barcelona didn't want to pay him the wages he wanted?

Compound the Eto'o and Adebayor rumors with the never-ending, mind-numbingly boring Cristiano Ronaldo transfer to Real Madrid and you have a bevy of ... nothing.

Don't you wish the football would start again and the transfer rumor nightmare would just end??