Guest Post by Elliot Ross (@africasacountry)
1. This high-stakes knockout format might not be so bad after all. Qualifying groups are long, turgid affairs, especially the European ones, international football’s equivalent of the snoozetastic-but-moneyspinning UEFA Champions League group stages. Knockout football puts the big names at risk, as they should be. This past weekend was joyous.
2. Look out for the central African sides. I reckon DR Congo look a good early outside bet (remember current champions Zambia were 50-1 behind Burkina Faso and Libya before the 2012 tournament) and nobody will want to play Central African Republic — Egypt’s conquerors featured in this video — if Les Fauves manage to hold onto their slender 1-0 lead over Burkina Faso.
3. The Sudanese really know how to celebrate a goal. Watching big Sudan-Ethiopia games feels like being back in the 1950s. All we need is Ad-Diba to turn up with his whistle to referee the second leg.
4. Home advantage is everything. Just ask the Moroccans, the Angolans or the Cameroonians. On the flip side, it means all three of those teams will hold out hope of turning their ties around in October. It also means that despite their recent struggles Bafana Bafana can’t be discounted as serious contenders when South Africa host the tournament early next year.
5. Cabo Verde could have a big future in the African game, especially if they can prevent their top players from representing Portugal and other nations.
6. As Jonathan Wilson (@JonaWils) points out, Cote d’Ivoire’s defence looks a bit dodgy. Kolo Toure is seriously slowing down these days and former Dunfermline Athletic stalwart Sol Bamba might be a favourite of Sven Goran Eriksson, but he’s not the most positionally sound. Thankfully, Eboué has been restored by Sabri Lamouchi at the expense of the clunking Gosso. Hopefully, Seydou Doumbia will be next.
7. Papiss Demba Cissé is a genius. As the video above shows, the Senegalese striker scores goals most players wouldn’t dream of attempting.
8. Zambia have to be very careful in their second leg in Kampala. That encounter is going to be tense, and I’ve got a hunch Uganda will do a number on the African champs.
9. I miss Samuel Eto’o. What’s the price for his dramatic return in the second leg? If Eto’o does not show, then Cameroon look doomed. Whatever the internal drama behind this years-long row, it’s a dispute between a handful of soon-to-be-forgotten officials and one of Africa’s greatest footballers ever, and the result is to that a huge chunk of international matches is missing from his career and Cameroon are absolutely hopeless.
10. Remember the name: Christian Atsu. Is he the Ghanaian Messi? We don’t know but he looked tasty against Malawi and Porto’s scouts really know talent when they see it.
Guest Post by Chris Bolsmann (@ChrisBolsmann)
Four matches into the Premier Soccer League season and newly promoted University of Pretoria remain unbeaten. Even more surprisingly, Tuks, as the university side are known, are second on the table behind South African football giants Kaizer Chiefs. The name Tuks is derived from the institution’s original name: Transvaal University College, established in 1908. During a recent visit back to my hometown of Pretoria I watched Tuks play against city rivals Supersport United at the intimate L. C. de Villers Stadium. The uninspiring derby ended in goalless stalemate. Former national team goalkeeper, Rowan Fernandez pulled off a world-class save in the dying minutes of the game to earn Supersport United a point. This moment of brilliance was his only significant contribution but was enough to earn him the man of the match award.
I was an undergraduate student at the University of Pretoria during the volatile early 1990s. The University of Pretoria was an overwhelmingly white campus during this period with a substantial number of visible and active extreme right-wing students. It was a sign of the troubled times that the fascist Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (AWB) essentially barred Nelson Mandela from speaking on campus. My politics classes were attended by students who left leave their 9mm pistols on their desks to either intimidate progressive lecturers or students or both.
Between 1993 and 1998 I also played football for Tukkies in the local amateur leagues. We fielded two teams and were relatively successful during this period. Our home ground was one of two fields in the enormous L. C. de Villers sports complex. Training was on Tuesday and Thursday evenings after lectures and matches on Saturday afternoons. Sunday football was deemed to violate the Sabbath and thus prohibited. The university sporting authorities were passionate about rugby but not particularly interested in football. Rugby was played on many pitches and, of course, in an impressive rugby stadium that could seat 10,000 spectators. Soccer teams weren’t issued the university regulation kit nor were we acknowledged at the end of the year sports functions.
With this history in mind, it was great to watch Tuks play PSL football at the former rugby stadium in front of a small crowd that included many black students. How things have changed at the University of Pretoria! Many of the previously sacred rugby pitches are now football fields; the football club now has teams from under 6 all the way up to the professional team. Moreover, women’s teams and university residential hall teams also play competitively.
Why the university authorities have invested substantial resources into football is perplexing. Tuks football is not a money-making venture since it attracts few paying spectators. My sense is that the University of Pretoria sees a professional football team as a marketing opportunity that helps strategically reposition itself as a premier university for all South Africans. The university has changed from its heyday as the elite training ground for Afrikaner nationalists, but as with many of South Africa’s symbols, what do we make of Tuks’s badge featuring an ox-wagon on their white shirts? Will this powerful symbol of the Boer Voortrekkers of the 1830s be reappropriated and adapted for a new era much like the Springbok survived apartheid to remain the symbol of South African rugby?
South Africa’s Premier Soccer League is back in action. For the next nine months, we are assured of the thrills, spills, and glossy mediocrity of Africa’s richest domestic championship. Things are already getting interesting. Newly promoted Chippa United fired their coach just two games into their maiden PSL campaign and Mamelodi Sundowns walloped crowd favourites Kaizer Chiefs 4-1 in the MTN 8 quarter-finals before crashing to a 2-1 home defeat against lowly Maritzburg United.
Off the pitch, the heir-apparent to the Chiefs’ throne and incumbent team manager, Bobby Motaung (whose father, Kaizer Motaung, is the founder-owner of the club) was arrested and then released on bail in relation to allegations of fraud and corruption around the construction of the Mbombela Stadium used in the 2010 World Cup. It says a lot about the state of South Africa that the son of a multi-millionaire — and a wealthy man in his own right — is one of the people under scrutiny for illegal self-enrichment from an expensive tournament that was punted to economically uplift so-called ordinary men and women on the street.
The prelude to any forthcoming football season is typified by the movement of players, coaches and even administrators to new teams. While the top clubs made the obligatory headline-grabbing plunges into the transfer market, Bidvest Wits made the boldest acquisitions. (Formerly known as Wits University, “The Clever Boys” were bought by one of the country’s biggest financial companies a few years back.) Their long-serving coach departed, a new CEO was appointed, and a number of high-profile players signed. Could these moves mark the dawn of a new era for the Johannesburg club? Or will they remain little more than a mid-table team capable of an upset or two and an occasional run in a knockout tournament?
Probably the most notable new Wits recruit is former Bafana Bafana captain, Aaron “Mbazo” (“The Axe”) Mokoena. The player most likely to partner Mbazo in the centre of the defence is the man he replaced as national captain: Mbulelo “OJ” Mabizela. The progression of the two centre-backs’ careers could not be more divergent. Yet they seem to capture the different experiences and trajectories of players who emerged in the PSL, made it the Promised Land of the English Premier League, and then returned home to play out their days.
Both men were born in 1980. Mbazo was the first to make it to the professional ranks. After being discovered by the iconic manager Jomo Sono at the age of 15, he made his professional debut two years later, and soon he was in the national team. His ascension to Bafana Bafana, however, was shrouded in controversy. Caretaker coach Jomo Sono selected the unknown and unproven Mokoena for the 1998 African Nations Cup in Burkina Faso where Bafana Bafana were to defend their continental title. Jomo Sono is not only a club owner and manager, but also a player agent of note, and there were rumblings that his selection of Mbazo was largely influenced by his personal interests in the young defender. The rumblings proved to be accurate.
Guest Post by “Er Prof”
AS Roma was magnificent in Milan: glory, glory AS Roma!
Italian football’s Jedi, the holy man Zdenek Zeman, is now recognized as The Master not only in Rome, but in all of Italy. La Gazzetta dello Sport, the pink sports newspaper printed in Milan, which is, sadly, the most important Italian daily in terms of sales, is asking Andrea Stramaccioni, the youngest Italian coach now sitting on the Inter Milan bench, to learn the lessons imparted by Zeman’s AS Roma 3-1 thrashing of the nerazzurri on Sunday night.
The match wasn’t the typical Zemanian all-out assault I was used to watching 13 years ago during the Bohemian’s last stint as AS Roma manager. Sure, Inter’s Europa League qualifier on Thursday, which they played with only ten men for most of the game, partly explains their loss of pace in the second half. But the most important revelation of the game came from AS Roma’s new players, some of them very young and playing for the first time at the San Siro/Meazza, also known as “La Scala” of Italian soccer.
With AS Roma depleted in midfield — De Rossi came off after half an hour, Michael Bradley is out for a month, and Pijanic watched from the bench — the Greek Panagiotis Tachtsidis and the Rome-born wonder Alessandro Florenzi (both age 21) turned in amazing performances. They are two hugely promising young midfielders I was really curious to watch. Remarkably, instead of being intimidated by the grand San Siro stage, they played without any hint of fear. Both of them ran from the first minute to the last second of injury time. Florenzi, Tatchidis and Marquinho were more than mere replacements: incredibly efficient, they covered the entire pitch, giving space and opportunities for Totti to unleash the great Osvaldo and wreak havoc on the Inter defense.
Totti was incredible, heroic. He served a terrific cross that Florenzi (in photo above) headed in for the first goal and then midway through the second half dished a wonderful assist to Osvaldo, who spooned it over the keeper to score the second. Marquinho, De Rossi’s substitute, finished Inter off with a great goal nine minutes from time. Meanwhile, Inter had equalized without merit through a deflected shot by Cassano right before the halftime break. The only negative news came from Mattia Destro, the 21-year-old striker making his debut with the giallorossi. The tenacious marking of Nagatomo stifled him, the Japanese being one of the few Inter players able to do something against the mighty AS Roma.
In the end, the match stood out as a lesson in tactics from the oldest serie A coach to the youngest. As I look forward to the match against Bologna at the Olimpico this weekend, my ears are still ringing with the chant of AS Roma supporters on the San Siro terraces: “Corete, scappate, ariva lo squadrone gialllorosso, giallorosso” (run, flee, the great yellow-and-red team is coming; video sample here).