Thursday, September 17, 2009

Capello issues Three Lions warning

Fabio Capello feels England should make the World Cup final next year, but has warned the squad that form in the qualifying group will mean nothing when they arrive in South Africa.

England sealed their place in the 2010 World Cup with two games to spare in Group Six thanks to a crushing 5-1 win over Croatia at Wembley, making them one of the favourites to lift the ultimate prize next summer.

Capello’s men are one of three teams in European qualification with 100 percent records, the others being Holland and Spain, and again the 1966 champions are being talked about as potential winners of the 2010 World Cup.

England fans have seen a number of false dawns, with the Football Association building up the 2006 squad as the ‘Golden Generation’ who would win the top international trophy.

But many supporters feel that Capello has brought not just belief to the camp, but some much needed discipline to an undoubtedly very talented group of players.

The Italian believes his squad can make it to the showpiece in Johannesburg on July 11 although, as ever, the former AC Milan boss is not getting carried away.

Capello admitted: "I know the expectations will rise, but those eight games mean absolutely nothing now.

“I know all about England's history, but the most important thing when you go to the World Cup is the physical condition of the players. The best players have to be fit."

And the dream for 63-year-old Capello……to play his home nation Italy in the final!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Can an African Side Win the World Cup on African Soil?

FIFA's Under-20 World Cup starts on September 24th from Egypt, the third time the tournament's been held on African soil.

Can one of the African countries involved make their way into the final?

Today, friend and football expert Tom Legg dissects the African team's prospects.

You might remember Mr. Legg from his previous post about the Top 10 Youngsters at the 2010 World Cup, a blog favorite.

This post comes courtesy of Tom's new blog, 'The Dust Diaries,' about African football and issues concerning the continent. Please make sure to check it out!

And now, Mr. Legg, please take the stage ...

'On the 24th September the FIFA Under 20 World Cup kick off in Alexandria, Egypt. It’s only the third time the tournaments been hosted on African soil since its inauguration in 1977. For years the tournament has been, without question, the prime scouting event for European clubs wanting to run the rule over some of the most promising player in the world.

The tournaments record speaks for itself; in the past the Under 20 World Cup has seen the making of some of footballs most famous names. Two years after Tunisia 1977 a certain Diego Maradona dazzled crowds in Japan and lead a superb Argentine side – equipped with Golden Boot winner and modern day River Plate hero Ramon Diaz – to victory. The 1983 tournament saw the Dutch challenge lead by a young Marco Van Basten, but it was a surprisingly functional Brazilian side who took the spoils with the likes of Bebeto and Dunga. Legendary centre back Fernando Couto and midfielder Paulo Sousa helped Portugal to victory in 1989; Joao Pinto, Abel Xavier, Rui Costa and Luis Figo helped the Portuguese make it two in a row on home soil in 1991. A strong African contingent in Australia 1993 saw players like Rigobert Song, Marc-Vivien Foe and Sammy Kuffour catch the eye of European scouts, while Barcelona’s Seydou Keita was the man on everyone’s lips at Nigeria 1999. Finally, who can forget Lionel Messi’s stand out performances in Holland 2005 where he lead his country to victory, made a clean sweep of the individual honours and prompted an immediate promotion into the Barcelona first team by then coach Frank Rijkaard.

Brazil and Argentina have dominated every tournament since 2001, with the Argentines winning three of the last four. This year promises to be a different affair. The tournaments most successful side Argentina are absent after a horrible showing in CONMEBOL Under 20 tournament in Venezuela, this coupled the recent success achieved by both Nigeria and Ghana at Under 17 level has rightfully resulted in both African countries starting this years tournament with a quite belief that they both have the capabilities available to go all the way.

There are five African sides participating in Egypt this year, only the European region has more participants with six. Hosts Egypt qualify automatically with the remaining four; Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa and Cameroon all qualifying through the African Youth Championship that was held in Rwanda earlier this year.

It’s the side that took the trophy in Rwanda earlier this year – Ghana – who go into Egypt 09′ as strong contenders for the Under 20 title. The Black Satellites are a well balanced and settled side, lead by the experienced and popular coach Sellas Tetteh. Defensively the side rely on the organisational skills of Panathinaikos’ defender Jonathan Mensah; a towering centre back with excellent positional skills and aerial ability. Mensah will be called upon to reel in both attack-minded full backs Daniel Opare and David Addy in the transition and ensure defensive partner Samuel Inkoom hasn’t gone walkies.

The midfield will be controlled by Sampdoria’s Rabiu Mohammed; strong, tall and smart, the central midfielders occasional – but well timed – gallops forward will offer a different dimension to the Ghanaians attack. The creative reigns will be held by the “Ghanaian Giggs” Ishmael Yartey. Heavy billing for the nineteen year old, but after his excellent start to the season on loan at Beira-Mar (Ishmael is contracted to Benfica), scoring three goals in five games (starting only one of them), he may well live up to the hype. A quick and skilful winger with a keen eye for goal, he has the potential to make a massive impact on the tournament. Last, but most defiantly not least is the Ghanaian goal machine Ransford Osei. Currently on loan with FC Twente the Ghanaians target man is stronger, smarter and sharper than a year ago and considering he scored seven goals in five games in Rwanda, the prospect of him being any better should striker fear into the eyes of opposing defenders. Fantastic in the air, beautifully balanced and lethal in front of goal, Steve McClaren should be encouraged to sign the striker permanently before bigger European sides come sniffing. Other notable members of the Ghanaian side are; Daniel Opare, Abeiku Quansah, Sadick Adams and Agyemang Opoku. Despite being drawn in a tough group with Uzbekistan, England and Uruguay, most still expect the Black Stars to qualify… and then take on the big boys from South America in the second round.

Africa’s next best hope is Nigeria. The Super Eagles have had a difficult few months after a faltering performance in Rwanda where HSV striker Macauley Chrisantus (the star of the Under 17 World Cup) was distinctly off pace and some rather unimpressive displays from the side as a whole that left the Super Eagles stuttering to a third placed finish. Never-the-less this side should not be underestimated, the squad are the current Under 17 World Cup holders and with one of Africa’s finest young coaches in Samson Siasia at the helm anything is possible.

The side will have to do without some key figures in injured striker Macauley Chrisantus, centre back Kingsley Udoh and 17 year old striker Ganiyu Oseni. Samson has called up Aberdeen winger and former England youth international Sone Aluko, Bayelsa United striker Stanley Ohawuchi and Kano Pillars midfielder Mo Shehu Shagari. Nigerian fans expect a good showing in Egypt and their hopes rest on the shoulders of youngster central midfielder Rabiu Ibrahim. Dubbed the new ‘Okocha’ by Nigerian journalists after his superb performances for Nigeria in the 2007 CAF Under 17 tournament in Togo and FIFA Under 17 World Cup in Korea; both of which Nigeria won. The sides number 10 is equipped with a low centre of gravity, combined with fantastic vision and a seemingly bottomless bag of tricks, he will be the creative heartbeat for the Nigerians. To compliment the adventurous Rabiu in midfield, Nigeria will deploy AS Monaco defensive midfielder Lukman Haruna to balance the side.

Lukman’s role in the side is crucial; with midfielders Rabiu, Alfa and Ikande committed in attack it will be up to the tall central midfielder to delay the play during the transition from attack to defence and allow his fellow midfielders time to recover their shape behind the ball. At just 18 the commanding midfielder has already broken into the Monaco first team and his employers will no doubt be fending off interest from potential suitors around Europe after the tournament. The concern for Nigeria lies in their defence; the loss of Kingsley Udoh has not been addressed and Samson’s refusal to include centre back Alex Nkume in the squad has baffles many journalists in Nigeria. They have also been drawn in a difficult group alongside Fran Merida’s Spain, Venezuela and minnows Tahiti.

Defensive problems certainly don’t blight neighbouring county Cameroon. The Young Lions participation in the FIFA Under 20 World Cup marks a end to their ten year no-show in FIFA’s premier youth tournament. The man behind the resurgence in Cameroonian youth football is Alain Webo. A self-taught coach who has already tasted success in Cameroonian domestic football but will undoubtedly face his biggest test in Egypt. Cameroon’s strength is there defence and understanding to stick to a rigid defensive system. Goalkeeper and captain Francois Beyokol is already number one for club side Canon Yaounde and the athletic goalkeeper will be expected to control the defensive shape of the side. The side’s main outlet from defence will be from left back Charley Roussel Fomen who was signed by OM Marseille, after his impressive performances in Rwanda, as the long term replacement for Taye Taiwo. Despite being athletic and powerful in attack – ala Taye – its Charley’s recovery runs and defensive positioning that will be a cause for concern as the Young Lions prepare to face far stiffer opponents than they did in Rwanda. Cameroon’s attacking threat will be carried by PSG’s attacking midfielder Victor Cedric Nkoum and FC Basel front man Jacques Zoua Daogari. The latter being the most impressive of the two, Jacques, who struck four goals in five games during the African Youth Championships. Blessed with an explosive turn of pace, he will cause headaches for group opponents Korea, USA and Germany.

The two other African participants are hosts Egypt and South Africa. The advantage for the latter country is that they have been drawn in the competitions most open group alongside UAE, Honduras and Hungary. South Africa surprised even their own supporters with their performances in Rwanda, but many observers feel this tournament will be a step too far for the unbalanced South African’s. Despite having an array of interesting attacking options in Phumelele Bhengu, Dylon Classen and exciting Feyenoord striker Kermit Erasmus the side rely too heavily on centre back captain Ramahlwe Mphahlele to organise the defence strategy. They can be slow in transition and even if they qualify from Group F I cannot see them progressing any further than the Round of 16. As host country, Egypt will be under an enormous amount of pressure to qualify from the group stage; but with Paraguay, Italy and Trinidad and Tobago their opponents this hurdle will most likely prove too difficult to overcome. The Egyptians shining light is 20 year old Al-Ahly striker Mohamed Talaat who grabbed two goals in three game in Rwanda, despite there being a distinct lack of creativity in the players behind him.

Return to the title question; Can an African side win the World Cup? One of the biggest factors that will determine the answer to such question is the climate. Unlike South Africa 2010, where the tournament will be played during the milder months of June and July, the Under 20 tournament is being played in Egypt amid a scorching heat wave. Matches have been scheduled for 1500, 1745 and 2030 with the temperature falling from a sweltering 35 degrees in the afternoon to a bracing 24 degrees by nine at night. The heat will clearly benefit the South American and African countries whilst in turn pose a real problem for the side from Europe. Germany in particular face two energy sapping fixtures at three in the afternoon and then their final group game against Cameroon which is scheduled for 1745.

Much like the FIFA World Cup, an African side has never won the Under 20 World Cup. But there is real hope that on October the 16th, in Cairo, history will be made.'

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

2010 World Cup Tidbits: Where We Stand in Africa

It's been some time since my last post so let's catch up on some news from the 2010 World Cup and African football, shall we?

First off, some self-promotion ... my post on Africans in the UEFA Champions League from earlier today ... don't you dare miss it!

- Are you interested in the upcoming African Cup of Nations in Angola? Well, you should be. Here are photos of their stadiums being finished in time for the tournament in January.

- Is Togo's Emmanuel Adebayor in trouble for taunting Arsenal's fans after scoring a goal against them with new club Manchester City? Looks that way. What was he thinking, anyways?

- Here's a nice little primer from about African football. Nothing new, but what the hey?

- A Ning African football social networking site? Yes, please. Let's join ...

Finally, let's catch up on the state of affairs in African qualifying for the 2010 World Cup, courtesy of FIFA.

Two matchdays remain in the third and final round of African qualifiers. Who's in and who is out?

Which teams are already through?
With four wins out of four, seven goals for and none against, Ghana’s progress in this third qualifying round has been flawless. With qualification secured, the Black Stars can now aim to build on their debut performance at Germany 2006.

Which teams are out?
Still winless after four games, Rwanda (Group C) and Sudan (Group D) are no longer in the running for the big event in South Africa. Despite faring somewhat better, Mali and Benin are in the same situation in Group D, as are Guinea and Malawi in E.

The permutations

Group A: This is by far the most open of the five groups with all four teams still in with a shout, although Cameroon are in the driving seat after their recent back-to-back wins over second-placed Gabon. If they beat Togo, and Morocco win in Gabon on the next matchday, the Indomitable Lions will join Ghana in the finals. For the other three teams, their fate is out of their hands.

Group B: Two solid performances against main rivals Nigeria (0-0 in Rades and 2-2 in Abuja) mean that Tunisia will qualify if they record a home win against Kenya in October and Nigeria fail to beat Mozambique. The Super Eagles will need to win their two final matches and hope other results go their way if they are to finish top.

Group C: Twenty-three years after their last FIFA World Cup appearance, Algeria have never been closer to a return to the world stage. With an unblemished home record (three wins out of three), the Fennecs need only to better Egypt’s result on the next matchday to wrap up qualification. Failing that, all will be decided when they face off against the Pharoahs in November.

Group D: With Ghana safely through, all that remains is for Mali, Benin and Sudan to battle it out for second place in the two outstanding rounds of fixtures.

Group E: Although qualification is not yet a mathematical certainty, with 12 points out of 12, Ivory Coast have done all the hard work. A single point from their two remaining games, in Malawi and at home to Guinea, will be enough to see the Elephants through, four years after their maiden FIFA World Cup.

What about second and third place?
This last round of qualifiers in Africa doubles as the qualification tournament for the 2010 African Cup of Nations. The top three teams in each group will book their passage to the finals in Angola in January, just a few months before the FIFA World Cup itself kicks off. Algeria, Ghana and Ivory Coast are already assured of a place, while the others still have everything to play for in the last two matchdays.

Africans in the UEFA Champions League

Today is Matchday One of the world's biggest club football tournament, the UEFA Champions League.

Super clubs like England's Manchester United and holder FC Barcelona of Spain will battle it out with Europe's elite clubs for the right to call themselves the continent's best team.

Who will win the title? I haven't the faintest clue. It's a wide open field. Could be one of the two aforementioned or it could be Arsenal, Inter Milan, Real Madrid or Chelsea, who all will be fielding mega-squads for this year's competition.

One thing that is certain is the glut of African talent on display at this year's tournament, beginning with the juiciest tie of the first matchday: Inter Milan against holders Barcelona.

Never mind the fact that Inter coach Jose Mourinho once worked for Barca or that Swedish striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic just made the move from Internazionale to Barcelona, swapping places with mercurial Cameroon striker Samuel Eto'o.

These are two giants of European football and favorites to take the big prize.

Barca are likely to play their African midfielders, Ivory Coast's Yaya Touré and Mali star Seydou Keita, while Inter counters with former Barca star Eto’o, who will be desperate to prove the Spanish club wrong when they said he was passed his best.

Ghanaian international midfielder Sulley Muntari will also be a key figure for Mourinho’s side, who despite their dominance of Italian football the past few seasons have yet to make an impact in the Champions League.

Another Mali midfielder, Momo Sissoko, has not recovered from injury in time to feature for Juventus against Bordeaux, who have a Malian of their own in midfielder Abdou Traoré.

South African left-back Tsepo Masilela will make his group stage debut with Israeli club Maccabi Haifa when they host German giants Bayern Munich.

Nigerian striker Obafemi Martins (above) has made a good start to his career with Bundesliga side Wolfsburg and he will be looking to continue that as they host Russian club CSKA Moscow. Also in the Wolfsburg side is Algerian Karim Ziani. CSKA will feature Niger striker Ouwo Moussa Maazou, as well as Nigerian defender Chidi Odiah.

Swiss side FC Zurich have the unlucky fate of facing Spanish giants Real Madrid, who have started the season in red-hot form. Zurich have Nigerian forward Tico in their ranks, while Real will feature Mali midfielder Mahamadou Diarra.

Marseille, who host struggling AC Milan, have a plethora of African talent from which to chose from, including Nigerian left-back Taye Taiwo, the Senegalese trio of defenders Souleymane Diawara and Pape M'Bow, as well as striker Mamadou Niang (Marseille's captain).

But that's not all. Marseille also have Burkina Faso's Charles Kaboré, Ivory Coast striker Bakari Koné, Cameroon midfielder Stéphane M'Bia, as well as his countryman, defender Charley Fomen. Lots of African talent at Marseille's disposal, eh?

Chelsea host FC Porto in a battle between two teams who have been managed by Mourinho, with the English Premiership club relying heavily on their African talent, namely Michael Essien (Ghana), John Obi Mikel (Nigeria), Didier Drogba (above) and Salomon Kalou (both Ivory Coast). Thanks to Mourinho's keen eye for African talent, Chelsea have been one of Europe's most progressive clubs in scouting Africa. They'll need their African contingent to come up big in order to progress.

Liverpool may give a run to Moroccan youngster Nabil El Zhar as they host Hungarian side Debrecen, while Cameroon star Jean Makoun will be a key man for Olympique Lyon when they entertain Italian side Fiorentina.

South African midfielder Macbeth Sibaya will be suspended when his Russian side Rubin Kazan travel to Dynamo Kiev in the Ukraine, who have Pape Diakhate (Senegal), Ayila Yussuf (Nigeria) and Badr El Kaddouri (Morocco) on their books.

Sevilla and their African contingent containing the Ivory Coast trio of Dider Zokora, Arouna Kone and Koffi Ndri Romaric, as well as leading striker Frederic Kanoute (above) from Mali, will host Romanian side Unirea Urziceni, who have Guinea-Bissau international Bruno Fernandes on their books.

Ivory Coast international Arthur Boka should feature for his German side Stuttgart when they host Scottish champions Glascow Rangers, for whom Algerian midfielder Madjid Bougherra plays.

Moroccan international Jaouad Zairi should play for Greek side Olympiakos as they entertain Dutch side AZ Alkmaar, who have Zairi’s compatriot Mounir El Hamdaoui in their ranks.

Finally, Belgian side Standard Liege have Dieudonne Mbokani (DR Congo), Mohamed Sarr (Senegal) and the Ivory Coast duo of Moussa Traore and Gohi Bi Cyriac. They are at home to Arsenal, who will feature another Ivorian in Emmanuel Eboue and Alexandre Song of Cameroon.

As you can see, there is a plethora of African talent on display in Europe's Champions League. One could almost say the Cup passes through Africa on it's way to the holder! Should be an exciting, interesting competition. May the best team (Barcelona) win ...

(Many thanks to MTN African Football News for their help in this article.)

Thursday, August 27, 2009

2009-10 UEFA Champions League Draw

I've been accused of being too Euro-centric in the past ...

But Europe's where the money goes and where the best players in the world play. So cut me some slack, eh?

Here, the full draw for the 2009-10 UEFA Champions League ... looks like a good one ...

Group A: Bayern Munich, Juventus, Bordeaux , Maccabi Haifa

Group B: Manchester United, CSKA Moscow, Besiktas, Wolfsburg

Group C: AC Milan, Real Madrid, Marseille, FC Zurich

Group D: Chelsea, Porto, Atletico Madrid, Apoel FC

Group E: Liverpool, Lyon, Fiorentina, Debreceni

Group F: Barcelona, Internazionale, Dynamo Kiev, FC Rubin Kazan

Group G: Sevilla, Rangers, VfB Stuttgart, Unirea Uriziceni

Group H: Arsenal, AZ Alkmaar, Olympiakos, Standard Liege

Who gets out?

Just looking at it now, here are my predictions ...

A - Munich, Juventus
B - Man U, Wolfsburg
C - Madrid, Milan
D - Chelsea, Atletico
E - Liverpool, Fiorentina
F - Barcelona, Inter
G - Rangers, Sevilla
H - Arsenal, Olympiakos

Basically, a whole lot of the same ...

What do you think?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Road to 2010 Tidbits

It's been some time since I've written a post.

Well, since yesterday. But before that, it'd been a month. So here are some links and tidbits to interesting stories around the world of football as pertains to the 2010 World Cup ... 288 days away!!!

- Can Argentina defeat Brazil on September 6th in a World Cup qualifier? Diego Maradona's men desperately need the match. They're currently 4th in South American qualifying and could miss out on the Cup ...

- Did the scenes at yesterday's Carling Cup match between Millwall and West Ham hand the 2018 World Cup to the United States? I've no idea, but why not?

- Are recently back-to-work South African construction workers happy and proud about building stadiums for the 2010 World Cup? This PR piece from FIFA would have you believe that ...

- Who's winning the 2010 World Cup? Brazil, maybe?

Come back for more tomorrow ... I know I will!

Nigerians Dropped from Squad for Lying About Age

Nigeria have dropped 15 players from their Under-17 World Cup squad, following tests to determine the ages of team members.

Nigeria are the hosts of the tournament, which kicks off at the end of October. The Golden Eaglets, as Nigeria's U-17 team is known, play in a group against Germany, Argentina and Honduras

The move to test the players came after football's world governing body FIFA announced plans to carry out tests during the tournament itself.

Coach John Obuh now has a squad of 23 players remaining for the event.

Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) spokesman Ademola Olajire told the BBC the move to drop the 15 had been taken after the results of the tests were discovered.

"The decision was taken because the NFF was concerned with the preservation of Nigeria's good image," said Olajire.

NFF President Sani Lulu Abdullahi said the decision to drop the players would not prevent Nigeria from the defending the title they won in South Korea two years ago.

"We had 38 players in camp and some of them failed [age tests]," he was quoted as saying.

"[But] that does not mean that we do not have a team that will represent us at the World Cup - we still have a good team."

Nigeria have won the Under-17 World Cup three times, in 1985, 1993 and 2007.

(Story from the BBC)

MY POV: Wow, tough luck. But does this also shed bad light on Nigeria's past performances in '85, '93 and '07? Could some players from those squads have also lied about their ages?

I mean, 15 of 38 players were older than 17 ... how old were they, anyways? 28? 29?

Bad ... real bad ...

Spurs ace set for England chance

Aaron Lennon looks like being handed a call-up to the England squad for the qualifying clash with Croatia and in the process, will look to stake his claim for a place in the 2010 World Cup team.

The Tottenham winger has been in sparkling form in the first few weeks of the new Premier League season, starting all three games and scoring at West Ham, something which hasn’t gone unnoticed by Fabio Capello.

The Italian has been spotted at almost every Premier League ground in the last three weeks and Spurs’ good start to the campaign will have helped several of their players stake a claim for an international berth.

Jermain Defoe is a certainty to be included in the squad for the friendly with Slovenia on September 5 and the World Cup qualifier against Croatia on September 9, while Peter Crouch should also be included.

Capello is known to be a fan of another Spurs player, Tom Huddleston, who has also made an impact in Tottenham’s 100% start to the season.

But it’s Lennon who is being tipped for a recall for the Three Lions, as he looks to add to the 11 caps he has won to date, especially as the battle for the wide positions seems to be in the balance ahead of next year’s showpiece in South Africa.

Theo Walcott has previously been the first-choice down the right for Capello, but injury problems mean the Arsenal man has not played for the Gunners this season and will miss the upcoming England games.

With David Beckham still currently playing the US and looking more like a substitute option, Lennon’s main competition appears to come from Aston Villa duo James Milner and Ashley Young.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Road to 2010 Final Update

I'm back from my summer vacation!
We're a mere 289 days from the start of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

Not much time to get myself there.

I started this website about 2 and a half years ago with the idea of getting myself to the World Cup Final. That hasn't changed.

So the Big Push starts now.

Sure, I could just buy the tickets and make my way out there. But what fun would that be?

My goal and vision is to raise money for a pertinent football charity in Africa, make my way out there and chronicle my experience, watch some amazing football, meet some incredible people and have a great time.

I've been lazy. I've been complacent. There's no doubt about that.

But I'm determined to give it my all in this short amount of time. I'm committed to getting to Africa and to raising some money.

I hope you'll help me.

I hope you'll enjoy the journey.

I hope I'll meet some of you on the way to South Africa.

And I can't wait to watch some goose-bump inducing football along the way!

Stay posted for more frequent updates and a different approach as I make my final push to the World Cup finals next year ...

South Africa, here I come!

Free Tickets to 2010 World Cup!!

Want a free ticket to the world's biggest sporting event, the 2010 World Cup?

FIFA has launched a fund to give away 120,000 free tickets to poor South Africans for the 2010 World Cup.

MY POV: Now why didn't I move to South Africa and become a citizen when I had the chance?

The tickets will given to people involved in social development in the country as a reward for their efforts.

"The tickets will enable people who would never have had a chance to attend the World Cup games to see the event," said Danny Jordaan, chief of the LOC.

Fifa already set low prices for South Africans, starting at US$17 compared to US$80 for international tickets.

But with more than a quarter of the work force unemployed, and many of those who do have jobs earning US$10 a day or less, even cheap seats are out of reach.

Some 40 000 tickets have been allocated to construction workers who are building stadiums to be used for the tournament but other citizens must pay to watch the matches.

"I urge those who can afford to buy tickets to go and buy them now, the free tickets are targeted at very specific people," said Jordaan.

The second phase of ticket application is closing on November 16.

It will be the first time the World Cup is played on African soil.

Kenya Wasting a Huge Opportunity Ahead of the 2010 World Cup?

Kenya needs to get their act together.

The country's had an abundance of problems the past few years.

From two competing football leagues to a FIFA suspension, the people running Kenyan football can't seem to figure out how to make football work in their country.

It's a pity, too. The 2010 World Cup is an economic bonanza waiting to happen.

The East African nation could gain financially from teams planning to come to the country to acclimate themselves before proceeding to South Africa for the 2010 finals.

It's strategically placed to attract teams who want to take advantage of the high altitude and visit world-famous tourist sites ahead of the tournament.

However, due to a lack of adequate international stadiums and never-ending political strife, there could be problems.

Football Kenya (FKL) technical director Patrick Naggi said Kenya, being a tourist hub in Africa had shot itself in the foot through its approach at marketing itself and the failure to upgrade its sports facilities to attract teams.

"We have not done enough as a nation. There is too much bickering among the politicians over petty issues," said Naggi.

"Instead of working together to compliment their efforts, they are busy fighting each other. Our football has also taken the same route. We are all to blame."

The Kenya government has pumped 30 million shillings (225,000 dollars) towards the maintenance of the national stadiums, of which there are two - both in Nairobi - which can be adjusted to international standards.

The Sports Minister Helen Sambili is due to name a high-level committee, composed of officials from her office and the ministry of tourism to look into exploring ways to exploit the World Cup to the country's advantage.

But one top official in her ministry conceded that time was running out.

"The concerns are well-founded and understandable since the World Cup is just less than ten months away. We have to move very fast," Benjamin Sogomo, the new chief executive of the Sports Stadia Management Board (SSMB) told AFP.

One of the main objectives the committee will be tasked is to convince some of the top teams to base themselves in Kenya prior to the tournament.

But although Nairobi is only four hours away from South Africa, the inadequate training facilities may put the whole process into jeopardy.

Due to the favorable climatic conditions, the national teams of Cameroon, Ghana and Nigeria, have in the past opted to hold their training preparations in Kenya before traveling to play their away qualification matches.

But this appears highly unlikely before the 2010 World Cup as competition from the neighboring countries such as Mozambique, Angola and Botswana, which have already embarked on massive construction in readiness for the big event, may sway their national federations to move away.

But Naggi believes Kenya could still have attracted national sides from South America and even Europe, especially the Italian and German teams because of the huge business investments in the Kenyan coastal region, owned and managed by nationals from the two countries.

"I am sure a team like Brazil would be very keen to come here. They show a lot about Kenya in Brazil," said Naggi, who spent three months in the South American nation training as a football coach in 1999.

"Coming from sea level, they would have taken advantage of our high-altitude and by the time they move to South Africa, they will have gained in their performances over the other teams.

"The two countries also share the same multi-ethnic backgrounds and the diversity of the natural resources and heritage. But unlike them, we don't have the numerous training grounds and stadiums they would require to set up their training camp here," he added.

With the exception of the Nyayo National stadium, which is currently under suspension from FIFA for failing to meet its safety standards, the only other world class facility is the Moi International sports centre, on the northern outskirts of the Kenyan capital.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Ferdinand fear factor

Rio Ferdinand is rated doubtful for England’s World Cup qualifier with Croatia and the doubters will start to question whether his position in the heart of the defence might be in doubt.

The Manchester United centre-back will be sidelined for at least two weeks having picked up a thigh injury, which kept him out of his club’s Premier League opener against Birmingham.

Ferdinand’s latest injury comes off the back of a shaky performance in England’s 2-2 draw with Holland, in which his poor back-pass led to Dirk Kuyt’s opening goal.

The 30-year-old will undergo a scan to gauge the full extent of the problem, but Fabio Capello will want him to have some Premier League action under his belt before that visit of Croatia to Wembley on September 9.

If he is not able to do that, then it is a safe bet the Three Lions coach will decide to look elsewhere for a partner for skipper John Terry.

Many would argue that Ferdinand, if fit, would still be a first-choice partner for the Chelsea man, but the pressure has been put on the United star to maintain a top level of performance.

West Ham’s Matthew Upson looks the most likely man to push Ferdinand for that central defensive berth, while Tottenham’s Jonathan Woodgate, Aston Villa’s Curtis Davies, Everton pair Joleon Lescott and Phil Jagielka and Bolton’s Gary Cahill all harbour hopes of making it on the plane to South Africa.

Upson has certainly impressed when handed his chance in the national team, ending on the winning side in 13 of his 15 caps – in fact the former Arsenal and Birmingham man has not lost a competitive game with the Three Lions.

The 30-year-old is still the subject of speculation over his club future, which Capello will hope won’t have a detrimental impact on his good recent form as England look to cement their place as one of favourites to lift the trophy next July.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

I'm Not Gone ...

The blog hasn't closed up ... I've just needed to take a slight hiatus.
I'll be back in no time with the Road to 2010. Hang tight ... I'll be back before you know it!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Spurs link-up lifts Defoe 2010 hopes

Jermain Defoe started 2009 as England’s seventh choice striker, but the Spurs man has seen his fortunes turn around and is now fully focussed on being selected for next year’s World Cup.

Despite scoring almost a goal every other league game in his time at Portsmouth, the 26-year-old failed to settle on the south coast and returned back to Spurs in January for a second spell at White Hart Lane.

The latest link-up with Harry Redknapp, after working with the manager at West Ham and Pompey, has boosted Defoe’s confidence and the striker is looking to hit the ground running in the upcoming Premier League campaign.

Although he only started eight league games in the second-half of last season due to injury, Defoe is eyeing a regular place this time around and the arrival of ex-Pompey team-mate Peter Crouch will only help his international claims.

Defoe, who scored twice in June’s 6-0 win over Andorra, admitted: “There is plenty of competition but it does not bother me. I know what I have to do to get to the World Cup and I will do whatever it takes to get on that plane.

“It's a massive season with the World Cup at the end of it and especially after what happened to me last time when I didn't go. I want to make sure I am on the plane this time. The prospect of getting there fires me on even more.”

If the tournament was next month, Fabio Capello would almost certainly select Defoe to be part of the squad for South Africa – should the manager take five strikers.

Wayne Rooney is the only certainty with Crouch, Emile Heskey and Defoe looking like the next three in line. It seems a good football bet that Michael Owen’s move to Manchester United will push him up the list, while Gabriel Agbonlahor and Darren Bent need to show more improvement to stake their claims.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Owen move improves England’s chances

Michael Owen’s summer switch to Manchester United will have delighted Fabio Capello and looks like it could be the catalyst to England international football success in South Africa next summer.

Quite rightly in many people's eyes, Capello has not selected Owen since being appointed as England boss and has always stated that he would only pick players who were playing regularly for their club.

The former Liverpool man endured a nightmare spell at Newcastle, with injuries restricting his time on the pitch, and his stint on Tyneside came to an end when the Magpies were relegated last season.

Despite Owen’s former glories, Capello stuck to his plan and picked in-form players who were impressing in the Premier League and that handed chances to Emile Heskey, Peter Crouch and Jermain Defoe.

But despite each of those three doing enough to stake a claim for a place, many still see Owen as the man who can end England’s 44-year wait for a major trophy.

No-one though, including Owen himself, could have thought that he would be joining the champions this summer, but the shock free transfer move looks to have reignited his World Cup dream.

Not only will playing for United bring him more to the attentions of the Three Lions leader, but it will also see him team up with his potential strike partner at international level – Wayne Rooney.

Old Trafford colleague Gary Neville certainly feels it couldn’t have worked out any better for Owen, saying: “Anybody who plays for Manchester United over a season has a great chance of getting into an international team, no matter whether it be England or any other country.”

The 2010 tournament is realistically Owen’s last chance of World Cup success and someone with 40 goals in 89 appearances for his country can’t be ignored.

The striker’s last goal for England was, amazingly, way back in September 2007, but his goal-poaching instinct will certainly make Capello’s squad even more feared if, as expected, they qualify for South Africa.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

South Africa Getting Bad 2010 World Cup Press Overseas

South Africa just can't catch a break. 

First the country's workers go on strike, possibly delaying the start of the 2010 World Cup. 

Now, anxiety and agitation over overseas press coverage of South Africa. 
Everyone knows the 2010 host country has social ills such as crime. But can someone spin some positive here? Please? 

Pierre van der Hoven, CEO of marketing company Southern Africa Direct, thinks the one-sided reporting on South Africa by the foreign media is damaging to the country's brand.

"Clearly we cannot expect the foreign media to put South Africa in a positive light ahead of the 2010 World Cup - we simply have to do it ourselves," Van der Hoven said, reacting to an article that appeared in the UK Sunday Times this weekend. (To read the article in question, please click here.)

It portrayed South Africa as a xenophobic nation flooded with starving refugees, where regular power outages are experienced and traffic lights are not maintained. (Two days earlier, the Times had another article about South Africa and their problems ahead of the 2010 World Cup. Read that here.

The article, "Starvation kills hopes of South Africa's rubbish-tip refugees" read: "Incomers hoping for opportunities from the 2010 Football World Cup are instead finding xenophobia, poverty, poor wages and squalid death."

"As the bread basket of the continent where poverty is a real issue, no one will deny that immigration is an ongoing issue in South Africa, but this article is one-sided and not factual," said van der Hoven. 

"It is not true that FIFA have their doubts about South Africa hosting the 2010 World Cup and many of the issues the author is referring to have long since been resolved. It is typical of the misrepresentation Africa continues to endure in the international media."

Sunday Times Africa correspondent, Dan McDougall, writes that strikes by underpaid immigrant workers are causing work on the World Cup stadiums to "grind to a halt" and that FIFA has voiced fears "over the preparations for what will be the largest sporting event in Africa's history."

"One particular concern is the state of the power grid. Power cuts are still common in most main cities. There are concerns about the wider infrastructure. In Johannesburg, street and traffic lights do not work in large parts of the city and routine maintenance has all but ceased," he writes.

Van der Hoven asked: "Has Mr McDougall even visited Johannesburg? Where does he get his facts?"

Van der Hoven's company, Southern Africa Direct, broadcasts positive and informative content on southern Africa on TV in the UK and worldwide on the internet.

"We have to show South Africa in a positive light, through articles, videos and TV productions. We have to tell our stories ourselves - because no one else is going to."

MY POV: Van der Hoven is right. But does he know how hard that job is going to be? Look at what some commentators on the online article wrote ...

"It is clear that some are just not capable of self-governance especially in Africa," commented Frank of Los Angeles.
"Why is anyone surprised by all this!" wrote PR of Manchester.
"I think this is one world cup I'll give a miss," wrote Peter K of Vancouver.

The misconceptions are hard to ignore and even harder to get past, unfortunately. 
Honestly, the only way I can see these ideas about Africa changing is by getting people to visit Africa. Isn't that one of the points about the 2010 World Cup? Getting people to come to South Africa and experience it for themselves? 

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

More on the South Africa Worker's Strike

As mentioned before, thousands of South African construction workers walked off their jobs today over pay disputes.

Here, more about the story including some interesting quotes from the Associated Press ... 

South African construction workers went on an indefinite strike Wednesday at stadiums being built for the 2010 World Cup -- a move that could derail Africa's historic first World Cup tournament.

Thousands of workers at stadiums across the country put down their tools after wage negotiations deadlocked earlier this week. Workers are demanding a 13 percent pay increase while employers are offering 10.4 percent.

The strike could delay completion of flagship projects such as the Soccer City stadium in Johannesburg and stadiums in Cape Town and Durban. Other stadiums in smaller towns have also been affected.

The venues need to be completed by December to meet deadlines set by the game's ruling body FIFA before the tournament kicks off in June 2010.

Lesiba Seshoka of the National Union of Mineworkers, which represents construction workers, said 70,000 workers were involved in the strike, which would continue until employers met their demands.

He said the union was not worried about the completion of the stadiums -- that was a concern of the tournament's local organizing committee.

"We are worried about our families getting food, not a rich man buying a ticket to watch a game," he said.

Joe Campanella, from the South African Federation of Civil Engineering Contractors, which represents construction companies, said only 11,000 workers took part in the strike.

He has said the deal offered by employers amounts to a 65 percent increase, including benefits.

However, the unions have complained that some workers are earning about $1.50 an hour and others $5 a week. Workers in South Africa are supposed to earn a minimum wage of about $200 a month.

The strike has been criticized for jeopardizing South Africa's chances of hosting a successful World Cup -- a monthlong event avidly watched by hundreds of millions around the world.

But the Congress of South African Trade Unions, which represents the country's largest trade union federations, has come out in support of the construction workers and says the dispute is not targeted at the World Cup.

"COSATU, and the construction workers, are as passionate about the 2010 World Cup as anyone, and will do everything possible to ensure its success. But we will not tolerate the stadiums being built by workers who are underpaid or working in dangerous or unhealthy conditions," the organization said in a statement.

Danny Jordaan, chief executive of the local organizing committee, said the strike would soon be resolved and was confident the stadiums will be completed on schedule.

"The construction workers have been the lifeblood of the 2010 FIFA World Cup project. Their hard work has ensured that we are on track to meet our deadlines and that our stadiums will be among the best in the world next year," he said in a statement.

Patrick Geqeza, a shop steward at the Soccer City stadium in Johannesburg, said he understood the importance of having the World Cup in South Africa and completing the stadiums in time.

"We feel bad about going on strike," he said, but added there was little alternative.

2010 World Cup in Doubt?

Oh oh. Looks like the the 2010 World Cup in South Africa could be in for a bit of trouble. 

A large-scale strike in South Africa has led to renewed fears that stadiums will not be ready for the 2010 World Cup. Some 70,000 construction workers in South Africa have gone on strike, halting work on stadiums being built for the Cup.

The workers are reportedly seeking a 13 percent pay rise and there are worries that a prolonged strike could jeopardize key projects such as the 94,000-seater Soccer City stadium in Johannesburg.

Stadiums in Cape Town and Durban are also facing a race against time to be finished by the deadline of December set by FIFA, world football's governing body.

Six entirely new stadiums are being built for the World Cup, while four are being modernized, along with a host of other infrastructure projects to help cope with the influx of nearly half a million football fans to South Africa next June.

Danny Jordaan, head of the World Cup organizing committee, said he respected the right of the workers to strike but felt the dispute would be resolved without affecting the construction schedule.

"The construction workers have been the lifeblood of the 2010 Fifa World Cup project," he said in a statement.

"Their hard work has ensured that we are on track to meet our deadlines and that our stadiums will be among the best in the world next year."

Correspondents say if the strike continues projects such as the high-speed rail link between the airport and Johannesburg will be of greater concern than the stadiums. The rail-link is scheduled to be operational just two weeks before the tournament starts.

MY POV: This is exactly the type of news you DON'T want to hear one year before the world's biggest sporting event. Time if of the essence, especially for infrastructure projects like the high-speed rail link. 

Get it together, guys!!! No need for this type of infighting with the event so close! 

Can you imagine what would happen if the World Cup was pushed back or delayed because of all this? 

Not pretty, folks ... 

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Are You Scared to Travel to South Africa for the 2010 Cup?

Are you scared to make your way to South Africa for next year's 2010 World Cup? 

I'm not. I'm sure many people aren't. 

But unfortunately, some people are. 

The facts remain that crime is a problem in the African nation. Still, I'm sure everything will be done to protect fans and supporters from any harm. 

Unfortunately, even that can't sway some from swirling the flames of fear. 

In this article, Taylor makes her case for not attending the World Cup. 

Sensationalist rubbish? You decide. 

I, for one, will try to enjoy the people, the country and the football. 

Crime exists everywhere. I live close to New York City and some people will have you believe every one in the city carries firearms. That's not the case. And I'm sure that won't be the case come next year at the world's biggest sporting event. 

You don't know what you're missing, Ms. Taylor. Open your mind and give South Africa a chance! 
"Awe-inspiring landscapes, cosmopolitan cities, beautiful vineyards and amazing wildlife – the Rainbow nation offers something for everyone, where the people and culture are as diverse as the landscape. Africa's southernmost country has long been the inspiration of travellers the world over ... "

So says the blurb introducing South Africa in a typical holiday brochure. Few readers could fail to be enticed – well, at least until they spotted the prices – but most will also ask themselves the questions: What about the crime? Is it safe? Happily, South Africa seems to do tourism, particularly high-end tourism, pretty well, and the answers in the overwhelming majority of cases are a resounding: It won't affect you and Yes.

I've never been but would love to take a typical Cape Town/Garden Route-type holiday. What I would definitely balk at, though, is touring as a fan at next year's World Cup – an event, with the final 12 months away, we are counting down to. Indeed, having done a bit of research on the subject, I know I'd be absolutely terrified.

Such fears are often as much about perception as statistics, but unfortunately the stats – not to mention much anecdotal evidence – confirm that football fans like me are right to be more than a little scared. After all, this is a country in which approximately 50 people are murdered every day.

Let's start where the UK government would like us to, with the official Foreign Office travel advice. As a fairly regular visitor to the Middle East, I know this can sometimes seem unnecessarily alarmist but, even so, the South African advisory is still capable of making the most well-travelled England fan think twice.

Here are some selected excerpts. "South Africa has a very high level of crime including rape and murder." "In all areas of South Africa you should be cautious when out after dark." "There have been a number of incidents involving foreigners being followed from Johannesburg airport to their destinations by car and then robbed, often at gunpoint." "The standard of driving is variable and there are many fatal accidents." Meanwhile, "vigilance" is demanded "at all times" in Durban.

So far so cheery. Then there was the recent news that G4S, the world's biggest security firm, has declined to work at next summer's World Cup. Nick Buckles, the organisation's chief executive, took that decision after revealing that G4S rated South Africa more dangerous than Iraq and Afghanistan.

Of course, much violence occurs in the townships but, looking in from the outside, a major problem appears to be the lack of public transport. Where are the wonderful train services that helped Germany 2006 run so smoothly? After reporting on last month's Confederations Cup, the journalist Gabriele Marcotti wrote: "Public transport is generally poor and, besides, most foreign tourists are told not to take buses and trains."

Quite apart from recounting a late-night incident with a shadowy, gun-toting man – probably involved in security rather than crime – while driving in Johannesburg, Marcotti wrote of some long, unpleasant drives in the dark after covering matches. Commenting on the lack of dual carriageways and lit highways in certain areas, he described negotiating one road heading towards Jo'burg as "like snorkelling in a sewer filled with squid ink". Shortly afterwards came the sad news that a German journalist had been killed in a car crash while driving back to his hotel after attending a Confederations Cup match.

Talking of the Confederations Cup, remember that players from both the Egyptian and Brazilian teams returned to their hotel rooms after victories over, coincidentally, Italy to find they had been robbed. No matter, though; in March Danny Jordaan, the chief executive of the 2010 World Cup, issued a "100% guarantee" that there would not be "a single" security breach or attack on any team or official attending Africa's first such showpiece. "We'll have 41,000 extra police and 86,000 added [security] personnel," he said.

Those guests who attended a Fifa draw in Durban in November 2007 may take some convincing. They were shocked when Peter Burgstaller, an Austrian ex-professional footballer, was shot dead while on his hotel golf course. Meanwhile, another hotel guest was mugged en route to breakfast and journalists covering the event were advised to venture out only in groups.

Moving on, for the moment, from crime, there is also the HIV issue. Latest stats indicate that just over 18% of South Africa's adult population is infected. Considering that prostitutes always prosper during World Cups, you do not need to be a rocket scientist to detect the looming dangers.

There is a huge political investment in Africa's inaugural World Cup proving a resounding success, and you suspect those Fifa delegates who recently gave the country eight out of ten in terms of preparations could be in peril of believing their own spin.

Deep down, there must be some VIPs pacing Fifa's corridors of power who harbour nagging regrets that Egypt or Morocco did not pip South Africa and win the vote. Indeed, one or two might just regret that the event was not switched to Australia when, some time ago, football's international governing body arguably had the chance to do so.

Personally I'd have preferred the 2010 World Cup to have gone to Egypt. Yes, it would have been very hot (although it's a dry heat) and it would, in places, have been dirty and ultra-chaotic, but it would also have been friendly and welcoming. And, in terms of crime, Egypt is extremely safe. Eyebrows would doubtless have been raised at the potential for organisational mayhem, the nightmarish Cairo traffic and the downtown air pollution, but surely if the Egyptians could build the pyramids they could host a World Cup.

Moreover, staging football's biggest and best event in a key centre of the Arab world might just have helped ease tensions between the international Muslim community and the west while simultaneously weakening the Islamic fundamentalists growing hold over hearts and minds.

Instead, though, South Africa has a wonderful opportunity to change prejudices and perceptions. And, I sincerely hope, prove doom-mongers like me horribly wrong.

Mourinho Causes Stir in Nigeria

Inter Milan coach Jose Mourinho has long been a strong advocate of African football, buying the rights to such players as Ghana's Michael Essien and Nigeria's Salomon Kalou at Chelsea and Ghana's Sulley Muntari at Inter. 

Now, the Special One is in Nigeria as a special guest of the Kwara Football Academy (KFA). And his three-day visit is causing a major frenzy among Nigeria's soccer-mad followers.

Fans turned up to greet the former Chelsea boss and the rest of the delegation despite the fact that he arrived two hours later than announced.

"It is a great landmark in the history of Nigerian football as well as the KFA," Nkechi Obi, CEO of Premium Sports Marketing Services told BBC Sport.

"He is here with other coaches and trainers to conduct seminars and coaching clinics for indigenous coaches. We are positive that his presence will benefit the talented players in the academy and hopefully attract interest from international clubs throughout the world. Football fans, media and everyone involved with football will enjoy photograph and autograph sessions with the 'Special One' on this trip."

The trip facilitated by DanJan Sports is widely seen as an opportunity to expose the Kwara Football Academy to the rest of the world.

"The KFA epitomizes what a perfect football academy truly is and Gestafute are happy to be associated with them," David Omigie of DanJan Sports explained.

"We have seen what the visit of Manchester United and Portsmouth gave to Nigeria as a country in the past. The coming of Mourinho and KFA will bring a lot of positive attention to football in the country once again.

Former Nigeria coach Clemens Westerhof is the director of the Kwara Football Academy which is in Ilorin, the capital of Nigeria's Kwara State.

MY POV: Love the work Mourinho has done in Nigeria and the exposure his visit gives to African football. For more on the Kwara Football Academy, please visit their website. 

Friday, July 3, 2009

An Interview with Danny Jordaan

No, I didn't conduct this interview. I only wish I did.

(If anyone has connections and can hook me up with Mr. Danny Jordaan, the chief executive of the South African World Cup organizing committee, I'd be happy to do it.)

Alas, I'm but a poor blogger in New York. But one day, I promise.

This interview was conducted by Keir Radnedge for

I include it here as it's insightful, full of meat and provides a clear eye of where South Africa believes they are, one year before the world's biggest sporting event.

Take a look at it here or click the link above.

Q: What targets did you set yourselves at the outset?

DJ: We have two priorities. One is event success and one is onfield success. Onfield success is the responsibility of the national team and in countries which have hosted the World Cup and done well this has been a very positive experience – France winning in 1998, Germany and Korea reaching the last four in 2006 and 2002 and the English still talk about their win in 1966.

Q: After the Confederations Cup, where do you think you stand in terms of event success?

DJ: We are very happy from an organisational standpoint. We have achieved everything we set out to do so we will now have a full debrief and then we will start on preparing for the World Cup next year. As for the South African team we also saw a good performance, which is something we have not seen for a long time. There was structure, discipline and the ability to play with credibility against the best teams in the world. However the question of getting the ball in the net remains a challenge.

Scale of difficulty

Q: What will change at the World Cup compared with what has been on view at the Confederations Cup?

DJ: We are looking forward to the 2010 World Cup through the eyes of the Confederations Cup. We have to use the experience of the Confed Cup to understand the scale and complexity and difficulties ahead. In size the World Cup is a vastly different proposition.

Q: What are the positives for next year?

DJ: One factor concerns the stadia. For example, we have played the Confed Cup in existing stadia in Ellis Park (Johannesburg), Rustenburg, Bloemfontein and Pretoria. But people should know that these are our worst stadia – the six best, the new ones, are to come. They are spectacular. Also, the common use of of stadia will not be a complicating issue next year as it has been this year with the British Lions tour running parallel to the Confederations Cup.

Q: How will fans, next year, find the transport arrangements?

DJ: Transport, we know, is an issue. We introduced a park-and-ride system here to bring fans to the stadia and it had some teething problems with people arriving late at the games and then having to wait for a long time after matches. It was a new experience for South African fans but for the later games things were smoothed out.

This raises the issue of co-ordination with the host cities because local transport is their overall responsibility. We will have 1,000 extra buses and extra aircraft so we can move the fans who want to follow their team. We have signed contacts with bus suppliers and we know that is one area in which we have to focus.

Q: Are you still worried about African fans’ habit of turning up very late at a game, just before kickoff?

DJ: I’m happy to say that over the two weeks of the Confed Cup we saw a significant improvement in terms of the early arrival of fans. It’s all about behavioural change. But then, here at the Confederations Cup around 90 per cent of the fans have been South African. The World Cup is different. The vast majority of the fans will be foreign and the late flow of fans into a ground will not be an issue then.

Stadia debate

Q: Is there a concern that some of the new stadia will turn out to be “white elephants”?

DJ: This stadia issue is a long debate. South Africa wants to bring back the Rugby World Cup and, in the case of Cape Town, matches would be staged in the new stadium and not Newlands because the infrastructure in these old stadia are no longer up to the standard needed to host major international matches any more.

A stadium normally has a lifecycle of between 30 and 70 years but, beyond a certain point, it is false investment to continue upgrading. Once the commercial partners who buy naming rights go to the new stadium it is very difficult for anyone to stay in the old stadium because it’s about revenue generation.

Look at what happened with Wembley in England. The debate lasted years with clashes between realists and the traditionalists who had wanted to keep the old, twin towers. The same thing will happen in South Africa but, ultimately, people will realise, as with Wembley, that the old stadium does not suffice any more. Then it will be clear to everyone that the old stadia may be rich with history and tradition but they don’t meet international requirements.

Q: Security is a major concern for foreign officials and fans because of South Africa’s domestic crime rate. What is being to allay people’s fears?

DJ: We have invested huge sums of money in security through both the South African Police Service and stewarding at the stadia. In the outer perimeter around a stadium security is the responsibility of police but inside the inner perimeter you have private security security and inside the stadia the stewards. You cannot turn a policeman into a steward and these thing are well defined.

We also have a VIP protection force for people such as FIFA president Sepp Blatter. This country has hosted 146 international events so it’s not for first time we’ve faced this challenge and I can say we have never had a major incident.

Q: Will all the tickets be sold?

DJ: Yes, of course. This is the World Cup, the most popular sports events on the planet. Already all the tickets which have gone on sale have been oversubscribed many, many times over.

Q: What reaction have you had from the teams who came here for the Confed Cup?

DJ: Overwhelmingly we have had positive feedback from the teams, the media, the broadcasters, commercial partners and from our own fans? I think this event been a revelation in terms of the interest but we are not going to waste time celebrating the pluses: we are going to study the debrief and then knuckle down to ensure we deliver the sort of World Cup we want - the first World Cup in Africa, the one which Sepp Blatter and Nelson Mandela had in their heads and have brought to reality.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Ivory Coast Tops in Africa - July 2009

FIFA's July 2009 world rankings are out and in Africa, Ivory Coast's Elephants reign supreme.

The Elephants are 18th in the world, up 20 places from last month. They've now over taken last month's African #1, Cameroon, who slipped to second, 29th in the world.

This matches Ivory Coast's highest ever position in the FIFA table. Go on, Elephants!

Ivory Coast's two wins in 2010 World Cup qualifying in the last month helped them move into the number one position in Africa.

They were also aided by Cameroon's poor performance in the same campaign so far.

The Indomitable Lions suffered a disappointing draw with Morocco.

Elsewhere, African champions Egypt and World Cup hosts South Africa both moved up two spots. Egypt is now #6, 38th in the world. South Africa is #13, 70th in the world.

Good performances at the Confederations Cup have seen both Egypt and South Africa improve their rankings.

The Pharaohs dropped out of the tournament at the group stage but their win over the reigning world champions Italy gave them plenty of points.

South Africa moved after strong losing performances against Spain and Brazil.

Gabon are also big climbers this month - going up to third in the African rankings and 30th overall, thanks to their big win over Togo in 2010 qualifying.

Sierra Leone are the biggest fallers - dropping 40 places to 125th in the world.

The bottom three? Djibouti, Comoros, and the Central African Republic.

Do these countries even play matches??

For the full table, please click here ...

Oh Oh! 2010 World Cup in Trouble Again?

Just when we thought South Africa was in for smooth sailing until next year's World Cup, here comes some disheartening news.

According to Reuters, South Africa's biggest union said 50,000 construction workers would launch a strike over pay starting next Wednesday, halting work across the economy including on stadiums for the 2010 World Cup.

Not good.

"A strike action is set to begin on July 8," said Lesiba Seshoka, spokesman for the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) which also represents construction workers.

"Its not just the World Cup stadia that will be affected, we are talking about power stations, hospitals, roads and the like. It will last until they (the employers) come to their senses and offer a 13% wage increase for one year."

MY POV: In this economy? 13&?!? Wow.

The NUM wants a 13 percent rise over one year while employers have offered a 10 percent hike.

Employers have balked at the demands, citing the global economic downturn.

As well as World Cup infrastructure, the construction strike could halt work on the mass transit Gautrain high-speed rail project, power stations, an airport, a refinery, a coal terminal, hospitals, highways and mining projects.

The employers' organization said it would ask the courts to bar a strike, saying an agreement between the parties blocks the union from striking before the end of August this year.

"The strike is premature. We are looking into the possibility of getting a court order to stop this this week," Joe Campanella, spokesman for the South African Federation of Civil Engineering Contractors, told Reuters.

Soccer's world governing body said it was confident South Africa would deliver on its World Cup commitments.

"FIFA has full trust in the host cities and the government in the delivery of their commitments regarding the stadiums," FIFA's media department said.

There was no immediate comment from the government on the news of the strike, but earlier on Tuesday it said the remaining stadiums to be used for the World Cup were nearing completion.

MY POV: Uggh, what a disaster. Right after the Confederations Cup, no less.
The good thing is that they're not far apart. 13% vs. 10% ... they should get this ironed out.
Talk about negotiating power, though ... 'Give us what we want, or the 2010 World Cup shuts down.'

You have to hand it to them. They know what they're doing.

Monday, June 29, 2009

What Did the 2009 Confederations Cup Teach Us?

It's all over. The 2009 Confederations Cup is in the books and Brazil reigns supreme as the greatest team in the world.

Ok, maybe not. Or maybe so ... Hard to tell. What does the Confederations Cup really mean?

One thing the Cup does is serve as a dress rehearsal for the 2010 World Cup. This year's version surely showed the world what to expect come next summer: Raucous crowds, vuvuzelas and exciting play.

What else did we learn?

Here are five things we've learned from the Confederations Cup according to the Guardian's Johnathan Wilson, who was on the ground in South Africa.

#1 and 2 are interesting: Spain can be beaten and it's cold in the winter time in South Africa. Fair enough.

What do you think about #3? The world wide introduction of the vuvuzela?

"Those African trumpets?" Xabi Alonso said with a look of genuine disgust. "They make a terrible noise. I don't think it's a very good idea to have them on sale outside the grounds. Here's a piece of advice for Fifa: they should try to ban those things. It's not distracting but that noise is a bit annoying."

It seems like an innocent enough comment. Why, after all, shouldn't Alonso complain if something irks him? But it prompted fury among South African fans and was, it seems, part of the reason why the home crowd got behind the US in their semi-final victory over Spain. "South Africa is a noisy country," blasted a leader in the Daily Sun. "Foreigners should get used to it." A letter in the same paper, meanwhile, accused Alonso of being a modern-day conquistador.

You may know that the idea they're connected to the myth that baboons are killed by loud noise is farcical. You may know that they've only really been around for four or five years. You may despair of people who tell you that they're part of African football (they're not: I've been to three African Cups of Nations and heard the drumming of the Beninois and the Ivorians, the trumpets and trombones of the Nigerians, even the banjo-playing of Ali, the grinning and omnipresent Tunisian, but I'd never heard a vuvuzela until a fortnight ago). You may be driven slowly insane by them. But it's probably best not to mention it.

As far as I'm concerned, the noise kind of fades into the background once the play starts. I'm ok with them.

Wilson's 4th thing learned is that Brazil is pretty good. Kinda knew that already.

#5 is interesting. South Africa's almost ready. But not quite.

Two stories: a) driving back from Bloemfontein to Johannesburg, we ran out of fuel a couple of miles outside Soweto at 4am in a thick and swirling mist.

We walked to the nearest toll plaza, and were rescued by a short man with a moustache called November. He had no reason to help us but willingly hotwired his own car (I think), turned his hazard lights on and drove the wrong way up a slip road to get to a petrol station. His was merely an extreme example of the general welcoming attitude on the part of locals, fans and stewards.

b) After an excellent steak at the Melville Grill, I got a lift back to Sandton, where I was staying. I got out of the car, and went through the security gates, only vaguely aware of two vehicles screeching to a halt in the driveway. It was only the next day I found out what had happened next. The first car contained a white couple, in clear distress. The driver of the second car, who was black, leapt out, remonstrated angrily with the driver of the first, and then pulled a gun from a hip holster — at which the friend who had given me a lift sped off.

As he admitted, his first thought was that this was one of the car-jackings for which Johannesburg is notorious. Only later did it dawn on him that a carjacker probably wouldn't bother with a holster, and the likelihood was that the man with the gun was a plain-clothes police officer. But how on earth would you tell?
I can only rely on this journalist's view point and other man-on-the-ground reports I've read, such as this one from the BBC's Simon Austin.

So? What do you think?

ESPN To Make Huge Committment to 2010 World Cup

According to the great EPL Talk soccer news site, ESPN have announced their plans for next year's 2010 World Cup.

Expect wall-to-wall coverage of the world's biggest sporting event, with all of the network's World Cup coverage from on-site in South Africa, totaling more than 65 hours of original content.

Not only that, there will be a nightly World Cup Live show (30 minutes) shown on ESPN's family of networks and pre-match, halftime and post-match shows, shown on ABC, ESPN or ESPN2.

Sounds like ESPN is going all out to show a great World Cup.

What do you think?