Albert Ebossé, the Algerian league’s top striker last season, was killed by a stone thrown from the stands during a match on Saturday in Tizi Ouzou. It was hurled by someone in a section of the stadium occupied by supporters of his own team, JSK.
The Algerian authorities have opened an investigation on this senseless killing. Meanwhile, the Tizi Ouzou stadium is closed until further notice.
Born in 1989 in Douala, Cameroon, Ebossé stood out on the pitch for his physical size, scoring ability, and unbreakable spirit. In a series of tweets, the Algerian football analyst Mezahi Maher described him as “one of the best I’ve seen in the Algerian league. [He] Seemed invincible against the nastiest defenders. That air of indestructibility further adds to the shock.”
Widely respected by teammates and the media in Algeria, Ebossé embodied the hemle (Bassa for “pride”) so revered in Douala, as Ntone Ndjabe explained in a terrific World Cup preview of the Cameroon squad published in the Financial Times.
When, during a match in Sétif, spectators spewed monkey chants at him, Maher recalled, Ebossé remained composed and focused. Later in the match he soared above the defenders to score on a powerful header. Ebossé celebrated by doing a “monkey dance” for the crowd. Hemle.
His 17 goals in 2013-14 attracted the attention of several European clubs. However, with a daughter born just one week ago and a year left on his JSK contract, Ebossé decided to stay put: “Tizi Ouzou is special. Here I feel as if I’m with my own family in Douala.”
It was a member of his “family” who killed him.
Spectators went beyond the usual gamesmanship at Sierra Leone’s practice in Yaoundé, Cameroon: chants of “Ebola, Ebola” rained on the visitors. “You feel humiliated, like garbage, and you want to punch someone,” said John Trye, a reserve goalkeeper, speaking to Jeré Longman of The New York Times (click here to read the article).
Two months ago, Sierra Leone had reached number 50 in FIFA’s world ranking–an excellent result for a country ranked 183rd in the Human Development Index. Coached by Johnny McKinstry, an ambitious 29-year-old from Belfast, the team seemed poised to qualify for the 2015 African Nations Cup before the catastrophic Ebola outbreak in West Africa.
The Confederation of African Football decreed that Sierra Leone’s Nations Cup home qualifiers had to be played outside the country. When the team journeyed to Lubumbashi, Democratic Republic of Congo, to play a “home” match against the DRC, midfielder Khalifa Jabbie reported that “they treated us like aliens.” In Abidjan, the Ivory Coast players opted for fist-bumps with their opponents instead of shaking hands; fans in the stands taunted the visitors with “Stop Ebola” signs and insulting chants (see photo above).
Already facing stiff competition in a qualifying group that includes Ivory Coast and Cameroon, the itinerant Sierra Leoneans lost matches and became demoralized. “The players tried their very best but sometimes what the mind’s willing to do, the body simply can’t anymore,” said their Irish coach. Making matters worse, a couple of weeks before Sierra Leone’s away match in Cameroon, McKinstry was fired with a curt email from the sports ministry, which then fought publicly with the country’s Football Association over the selection of his successor.
While Sierra Leonans have much more serious matters to deal with than sport, the stigma and fear associated with Ebola is also denying emotional solace to a nation generously endowed with football passion and patriotism. As their new coach, Atto Mensah, put it, “This is the only way we can make people happy. We owe them joy.”
An international group that includes the last two FIFA Players of the Year, Nadine Angerer (Germany, @NAngerer) and Abby Wambach (USA, @AbbyWambach), is demanding organizers switch the six venues from artificial turf to natural grass, the only surface that’s ever been used in the men’s World Cup finals.
While FIFA guidelines state that the world body “will always prefer a perfectly manicured grass pitch to an artificial surface,” the 2015 tournament is set to be played exclusively on plastic pitches. Through their legal counsel, the players are demanding their right to “Equal Playing Fields.”
“By singling out women for differential and unequal treatment,” states the official letter (click here for full text) to FIFA President Sepp Blatter and the Canadian organizers, “you not only subject the world’s top players to heightened risk from an array of turf-related injuries, but you also force them to experience the legally cognizable indignity of playing the game’s most important event on what your organizations admit to be an inferior surface.”
At the time of writing, neither FIFA nor the Local Organizing Committee have issued a public statement in response to the players’ demands. But few aficionados would disagree that if the 2015 Women’s World Cup were to be played on natural grass it would be an important victory for gender equality and the beautiful game.
Filed under: The Players
JOHANNESBURG—As of July 26, Ephraim “Shakes” Mashaba is officially South Africa’s new national team coach. Mashaba fills the void left by the exit of Gordon Igesund, whose contract was not renewed for reasons that have yet to be explicitly stated by the South African Football Association (SAFA).
Much of the media coverage in the build up to Mashaba’s appointment had suggested that Bafana Bafana, as the national team is known, were going to be under the guidance of a foreign-born coach. Among the names circulated were Carlos Queiroz of Portugal (an ex-Bafana coach), Stephen Keshi of Nigeria, and Frank Rijkaard and Dick Advocaat of the Netherlands.
SAFA President Danny Jordaan said “The appointment of Shakes Mashaba was a unanimous decision by the NEC (National Executive Committee).” (He did not indicate whether or not Mashaba was the first choice; but the general opinion seems to be that Shakes was chosen after Queiroz’s financial demands were deemed to be excessive.)
Mashaba is a strong candidate for the head coaching job. In the 1970s and 1980s he played for Orlando Pirates, Moroka Swallows, and Swaraj, and then became one of South Africa’s most accomplished homegrown coaches. In fact, this is not Mashaba’s first stint as Bafana head coach. He held the full-time position from 2002 to 2003 and prior to that he was briefly caretaker coach in 1992 and 2001. Mashaba is undefeated as Bafana head coach. (Mashaba also coached the Swaziland national team, Isihlangu, from 2008-2010, and Venda club Black Leopards from 2004-2008).
But where Mashaba has distinguished himself is coaching South Africa’s youth national teams. He has been in charge of the under-17 (amaJimbo), under-20 (amaJita), and under-23 (amaGlug-Glug) and enjoyed good success with these sides, including amaJita’s victory in the COSAFA Youth Cup in Lesotho last December.
Reactions to Mashaba’s appointment from South African football experts have been largely positive. Former Bafana coach Clive “Mad Dog” Barker enthusiastically endorsed Shakes’ return. “He’s good guy and it just shows that good guys do come first sometimes. I’m right behind him and I think he’s going to produce the goods,” Barker said. “It’s fantastic that he’s a local coach and he’s got an ability to work with young players,” he noted.
Filed under: The Players
Part 2 of my interview with Boyzzz Khumalo (part 1 is here) opens with a description of the harrowing injury that prematurely ended his Major League Soccer career.
Boyzzz reflects on the inherent fragility of professional sports, the importance of higher education for life after soccer, and his extensive youth coaching experiences in both Soweto and in Michigan.
Boyzzz’s deeply personal commitment to community upliftment comes through in a detailed discussion of the challenges and hopes for the Umhlaba Vision Foundation. Anyone interested in getting involved or learning more about Umhlaba can send email to boyzzzkhumalo80 AT gmail.
Thabiso “Boyzzz” Khumalo grew up in Soweto, South Africa, around the corner from the homes of two Nobel Peace laureates: Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Like so many boys in the land of apartheid, he spent every moment of free time playing soccer and dreaming of becoming a professional player overseas. Unlike most of them, however, Boyzzz fulfilled his dream
On July 22, I sat down with Boyzzz for an interview on the campus of Michigan State University. We’d been hoping to do an interview ever since we met in November 2013 when he visited my “Sport in African History” seminar for a screening and discussion of Invictus.
This week was an especially opportune time to chat about Boyzzz’s sporting life because on Sunday, July 27, Lansing United, his current team, travels east to New Jersey to play a National Premier Soccer League semifinal against New York Red Bull Under-23.
How does a young man from Soweto end up playing in Michigan? In part 1 of our interview, Boyzzz shares memories of anarchic pickup games in Soweto; his first experience in the U.S. during a youth tournament that would change his life; and then scoring his first MLS goal for DC United.
Boyzzz also discusses the work of the Umhlaba Vision Foundation–a nonprofit organization he founded in 2007 with two South African friends. The goal of Umhlaba (meaning “world” in the Zulu language) is to change the lives of young Sowetans by creating a positive development environment through sport and education and bringing student-athletes to the United States. For more information about the foundation please email Boyzzz (boyzzzkhumalo80 AT gmail).
Don’t forget to come back tomorrow for part 2 of the interview!
36 hours have passed since millions of Italians watched the national team get eliminated from the World Cup after a 1-0 loss to Uruguay.
Here in Italy, the media and the pundit class have joined ordinary fans in criticizing the team. First in the line of fire is Cesare Prandelli, the coach, rightly taken to task for dubious roster selection, poor match management, improvised tactical changes, and an inability to bind together a group of “senators” (i.e. veterans) and relatively inexperienced youngsters. His resignation in the aftermath of the Uruguay loss, came not a moment too soon for many Italians.
Balotelli, the only player in the squad with potential to be a game-changer, has also come in for plenty of criticism. Reading the papers, watching endless debates on TV, and talking with fans, it appears that many Italians, including vocal defenders of Super Mario, are disappointed with the star striker’s weak performance. Sadly, some racist Italians have taken to the web and social media to insult Balotelli for his blackness.
But I wouldn’t go so far as saying that Balotelli is being blamed for the World Cup debacle. Honest observers recognize that the failure of Italy’s 2014 World Cup campaign has multiple causes, not least the pathetic 0-1 loss to Costa Rica last week. As historian John Foot explained in an excellent column, there is a structural rot in Italian football that needs to be addressed. From corruption and mismanagement to suffering youth systems, club rivalries, and outdated stadiums; the list of major problems is quite long and vexing.
While this analysis is legitimate, there seems to be a consensus among Italians (and not a few neutrals) that the loss to Uruguay was an outright robbery perpetrated against an ordinary team.
The first half of Tuesday’s match was played evenly, with Italy rarely in trouble. Pirlo had a dangerous free kick saved by Muslera and Verratti distinguished himself as the best player on the pitch, weaving in and out of Uruguay’s workman-like midfield with creativity and dynamism. With a draw enough to see the Azzurri through to the next round, Italy was in control.
Then, a few minutes into the second half, the Mexican referee, Rodriguez Moreno, decided the match. In an inexplicably absurd decision, he sent off Marchisio with a straight red card for a normal tackle that showed no malice and, at best, deserved a yellow. What made this refereeing decision so outrageous is that previous Uruguayan fouls of a similar ilk had not been punished with any cards.
Moreno’s call transformed the match. With nearly the entire second half still to play in the heat of Natal, the Azzurri were a man down, less able to deal with fatigue, and psychologically shaken. Uruguay, on the other hand, seized on the opportunity and began dominating the match. Even so, only two goal-scoring chances came out of this advantage.
Perhaps dissatisfied with the outcome of his earlier outrage, Moreno then took center stage again. Suarez, the recidivist, sunk his fangs into Chiellini’s shoulder and then fell to the ground, theatrically, as if felled by a sniper’s bullet. The referee awarded a free kick to Italy, but did not send Suarez off despite Chiellini showing Suarez’s dental mold chiseled into his shoulder area. Surprisingly, the assistant referee provided no assistance.
Two things happened at this point. Instead of playing the final 12 minutes or so 10 vs 10, the Azzurri had to labor on a man down with players cramping and visibly tiring. Then, 100 seconds after the Suarez bite, the Italians lost their concentration defending the corner kick that produced Godin’s winning goal.
Most Italians recognize the 2014 national team was an ordinary one. Fans and pundits admit that Balotelli, Immobile, Cassano, Thiago Motta, De Sciglio and others put in sub-par performances. But people also know a robbery when they see one. And the culprit was Rodriguez Moreno. Curiously, another referee named Moreno (from Ecuador) also sent the Italians home from the 2002 World Cup. He is currently serving a long prison sentence in the United States for smuggling drugs.