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.)