••• BOLAS & BANDEIRAS •••

CAN 2010 — Group A

Posted in Uncategorized by Steven Villereal on January 9, 2010

ANGOLA


Obviously being the host nation holds certain advantages, and the Angola team will play all of their matches in Luanda at the new 50,000 seater Estádio 11 De Novembro (named for the day when Angola declared independence in 1975 and the Portuguese fled the capital). The Palancas Negras are under the command of Portuguese coach Manuel José, who has spent the last 6 years leading Egyptian superclub Al-Ahly to a handful of league titles as well as thrice winning the African Champions League crown. He has only been in charge since May, but is a high-profile appointment for the modest Angolan national team (currently #95 in the admittedly meaningless FIFA ranking, running just behind Iceland, China, and Moldova). Just over half of the squad come from the Angolan domestic league, with 5 players from Luanda’s Angolan league champs Petro Atlético— surely a pumper-upper for the local crowd…that is if any local supporters can afford tickets/wrest them from the bureaucratic talons of FIFA’s African Suits. The opinion of various men in the street?: excitement about the domestic league players, cliches about having to WORK HARD, and a bit of doubt cast on the extent of the time the team had to gel & prepare pre-tournament:

The name most familiar to lily-white European ears is striker Manucho, one time Manchester United signing who is making a bit of a slow start of things in his new gig at Valladolid. Other notables include Ze Kalanga, another Petro alumnus whose performances in Angola’s shock 2006 World Cup qualification secured him a move abroad to Dinamo Bucharest. As one of those men in the street noted, Angola look good in the ponta da lança AKA man the in the hole department…but elsewhere?

MALI

Although Mali failed to qualify for the 2010 World Cup, on paper they would appear to be one of the strongest teams here at the cup. There is a particular wealth of talent to be found in midfield, inlaid with sparkly jewels Mahamadou Diarra (Real Madrid), Momo Sissoko (Juventus), and the more offensively-minded Seydou Keita (Barcelona). Up front they feature Sevilla’s Freddie Kanouté, the 2008 African Footballer of the Year who is pacy, 6’4″, and a business-like finisher. They’re coached by Stephen Keshi, who captained the Nigerian squad in their 1994 World Cup appearance, and whose only management experience came with Togo, who he guided to qualification for the 2006 World Cup.

Let’s just say that the Mali team must be strong, composed, and project their talent and experience as firmly as the Wassalou-style chanteuse seen above. What they don’t need is, as below, for Kanouté’s silkly skills to be smothered out by a soundtrack of insidiously pedestrian riffage and whining.

MALAWI

This is only the second time Malawi’s Flames have qualified for the CAN, and their hopes don’t look particularly sparkling considering the pedigree of some of their group opponents. In their six qualifying games they managed to not-lose just twice…although these included their sole win against champions Egypt and a 1-1 draw with Ivory Coast. Nearly all of Malawi’s players come either their own domestic league or the lower divisions of South African soccer. Their standout player is most likely Josephy Kamwendo, an attacking midfielder who moved from the Danish league to South African’s Orlando Pirates.

In order to sneak out of a difficult group, Malawi is gonna need to harmonize and embody the spirits of collaboration and individual creativity as ably as these dancers:

ALGERIA

Les Fennecs won the 1990 Cup of Nations, but failed to qualify for the last two competitions in 2006 and 2008. They qualified for the ’10 World Cup in dramatic circumstances, dumping out hated rivals Egypt in a playoff.

The Desert Foxes have a highly technical team, with several prominent players (read: known in Europe) including Nadir Belhadj (Portsmouth), Hassan Yedba (Benfica/Portsmouth), and Karim Ziani (Wolfsburg). The team looks a bit striker-bereft, relying on goals from 34 year-old Rafik Saifi. They have recently called up the young striker Abdelmalek Ziaya, who has a prolific goal-scoring record in Algerian domestic soccer. Algeria may well be the favorites to get to the quarterfinals after Mali, and an impressive performance here could possibly even throw some buckets on the condescension conflagration in UK and hell even US press—certainly the former and mostly the latter have resisting seeing Algeria as possibly-troublesome groupmates come South Africa this summer.

One of many French-born Algerian players to be compared to Z******* Z*****is 25 year-old Mourad Meghni. After spending his youth in a balieue burning things, endlessly practicing his ball skills, and doing parkour style flips off the decaying concrete of failed modernism, he was finally granted bicameral accreditation as a Petit Zidane. He only made his debut for Algeria in August having represented France at youth level (including winning the 2001 U-17 World Cup).

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