••• BOLAS & BANDEIRAS •••

CAN ’10: Quarterfinals! Angola-Ghana

Posted in Uncategorized by Steven Villereal on January 24, 2010

So, after all that faffing about in the group stages, it’s DOMINGÃO, a Super-CAN Sunday—it’s finally time for the African Cup of Nations KNOCKOUT ROUNDS. I know, the last time your BOLAS & BANDEIRAS editors proclaimed a game’s do-or-die status is was the sneaky handshake deal/borefest of Angola 0-0 Algeria—well I assure you nothing of the sort will transpire today!

By qualifying for the QF, the Palancas Negras have already equaled their best past performance, when they were dumped out by winners Egypt at this stage in 2008. Things are a bit different this go-round: they’re the host nations and they’re coached by one of the most successful coaches in African football history. Unsurprisingly, the showdown is massive news in Angola! They last faced Ghana in a friendly back in November, which ended 0-0…but surely this match has a BIT more at stake. The Estadio 11 de Novembro should be stuffed to it’s 50,000 capacity, and it’s expected that 14 million Angolans will tune in on TV & radio.

What about Ghana? Their team narrative remains the same: massive injuries throughout the squad, with midfield TALISMAN Michael Essien now also officially out. So it’s up to their U-20 World Cup-winning youthmen!

Head of the Ghana Football Association Randy Abbey has made claims of mindgames and intimidatory tactics on the part of the Angolan sports establishment & press (there were reports that a Black Stars bodypainting superfan was beaten by Angolan security?!), adding that “If it’s a new form of tactics, then they better think of breaking our legs as well”.

Ethnography of the terraces

Angola: Fernandes, Kali, Rui Marques, Zuela, Mabina, Stelvio, Xara, Djalma, Gilberto, Manucho, Flavio
Ghana: Kingson, Addy, Inkoom, Sarpei, Vorsah, Agyemang-Badu, Dede Ayew, Opoku, Asamoah, Haminu, Dramani, Gyan

No big changes for either team…Flávio returns for Angola, and left-sided midfielder Gilberto has overcome injury. For Ghana, tiny little stiker Opoku is the only change. Kickoff shortly!!! I’m going to soak up the atmosphere and train my eye on proceedings…update at Halftime!

ANGOLA 0-1 GHANA at Halftime! A somewhat measured first half, with both teams focused on keeping organized and hitting on the counterattack. Ghana’s goal came from some hot Asamoah-on-Asamoah action, when Kwadwo Asamoah lofted in a defense-splitting crossfield ball which Asamoah Gyan outraced Kali to and neatly finished. Ghana are actualizing their tactical plan a bit more astutely, doing a particularly good job of getting numbers back in defense. Not all confident play from The Black Stars though, who’ve had numerous defensive mixups between their CBs (Addy in particular) and keeper Richard Kingson. Manucho has had two golden chances to equalize, the less forgivable of the two coming just before halftime as he blazed over the bar when Flávio had worked hard to control a knocked down ball and tee him up.

Roughly 20 minutes left for Angola to do this…they are looking NERVOUS, with lots of misplaced passes in the final 1/3 of the field. They’re peppering in long balls that neither Manucho nor Flávio are successfully controlling. Manuel Jose has brought on Petro Atletico winger Job on for the dazed looking Stelvio…possibly throwing on a local crowd favorite to jazz up the locals. The crowd have seemed mildly shocked, as this is the first time Angola have been behind all tournament.

PUXXXXXXA! Manucho heads just over the bar when he AGAIN really should have scored…the youngster’s mental fortitude is not quite up to the occassion today. Ze Kalanga comes on as Angola throw on more offensive firepower. TUDO OU NADA!

+5 MINS ADDED TIME here! Capitão Kali has gotten forward here and has just missed out on two tasty opportunities…INTENSIDADE!

FIM DE JOGO: ANGOLA 0-1 GHANA! Congratulations to the Black Stars, who have dismissed the hosts. An extremely well-organized, if uninspiring, performance by Ghana…their youngsters had more resolve than creativity. Angola seemed more riddled with anxiety than supercharged with emotion, they were particularly wasteful from set pieces.

Adeus Angola

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CAN ’10: Group A CRUNCHTIME

Posted in Uncategorized by Steven Villereal on January 18, 2010

An East Coast bom dia to our hopefully burgeoning readership! It’s MLK day, so due to the Commonwealth of Virginia’s generous holiday schedule I am here to bring you coverage of the final day of Group A action. I need another coffee, but first let’s pay our respects (not just to coffee)…”that power that can make a way out of no way”:

If you want some CAN ’10 retrospective ruminations that don’t come from the BOLAS & BANDEIRAS inkwell, check out these two pieces by the Guardian‘s tactical boffin Jonathan Wilson: a look at which teams have gelled and which haven’t (with an eye towards Egypt) as well as an Angola-Algeria preview (employing a [justified?] Westerner-amidst-African-bureaucratic-chaos narrative frame).

OH LOOK! The squads have been announced already…what an excellent time to review some injury news!

ANGOLA: Carlos Fernandes; Jamuana, Mabina, Kali, Rui Marques; Zuela, Xara, Djalma, Gilberto, Ze Kalanga; Manucho

ALGERIA: Fawzi Chaouchi; Madjid Bougherra, Rafik Halliche, Abdelkader Laifaoui; Nadir Belhadj, Karim Matmour, Hassan Yebda, Yazid Mansouri, Karim Ziani; Hameur Bouazza, Abdelkader Ghezzal

So big news is defensive destroyer Stelvio is suspended for this game and 3-goal striker Flávio misses out with a knee injury (he’s on the bench however)—Flávio is replaced by Ze Kalanga. Angola’s other midfield powerhouse, Gilberto, is in the lineup despite being an injury worry.

Angola skipper Manuel Jose meditates before battle

Mali-Malawi is also kicking off at 11am EST, but that’s on the back burner for this intrepid journalist. Suffice to say I will keep you updated—Mali need to win and Algeria need to lose for the underperforming Eagles to qualify for the knockout stage.

EDITORIAL BIAS-WATCH
: There’s no match commentary here on my stream, so I am soaking up the atmosphere—’tis THRUMPING at the Estadio 11 de Novembro in Luanda. Hopefully I haven’t picked the wrong game to watch: it’s Mali 2-0 Malawi 3 minutes into that game!!!

0-0 at HALFTIME! It was an alternately sleepy and scrappy affair out there, with both teams understandably cagey what with their qualification hopes being on the line. The only thrilling football to speak of: a crucial close-range save by Carlos Fernandes at 22′ and Angola gradually gaining self-confidence and engaging in build-up play which could someday yield a goal! Djalma had a tasty chance (but shot directly at the keeper when he should have scored) at ~43′ after a silky offense sequence sparked off by right wing-back Jamuana’s (i thiiiink Angola are  playing a 3-5-2 formation?) flick-down of a long threaded pass. Aesthetic observation: I would love to sip a ginjinha with Maneul Jose…he seems like a highly entertaining and opinionated Old Cantankerous Portuguese Man!

Editorial impartiality out of the window?—FORÇA AS PALANCAS NEGRAAAAAS

In other Group A news, Mali still lead 2-0 over Malawi. Hmmm, a draw will see both Angola & Algeria qualify, gotta wonder what Rabah Saadane & Manuel Jose make of that? OOOOOK, cya y’all at the final whistle peep.

FULL TIME ANGOLA 0-0 ALGERIA! Well, I’d like that 45 of my life back, as both teams dawdled about and played for a draw. An utterly uninspiring 2nd half, as both Angola & Algeria qualify for the quarterfinals, with Angola winning Group A.

Though its MALI 3-1 MALAWI, Les maliennes are OUT!—Kanoute, Keita, et al. exit CAN ’10.

Like Algeria they had 4 points in the group, but with head-to-head goal difference the first tie-breaker, Algeria goes through owing to their 1-0 over Mali. As some angry comments on the internet have already stated, Algeria qualify having scored just 1 goal while Mali scored 7. The Malians are no doubt the sexier squad, but this editor is obligated to review some match footage of these combatants before arguing the ethics of qualification via aesthetic criteria!

Quarterfinals? Angola will play either Burkina Faso or Ghana (perhaps even Ivory Coast if Burkino Faso score a healthy win against Ghana tomorrow). Algeria will also…play one of those teams!

“Thanks for reading”/enjoy the holiday, where applicable!

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CAN ’10: Day 5 summary!

Posted in Uncategorized by Steven Villereal on January 14, 2010

So, all teams having played their debut matches, it’s time for the group stages to get gritty! A redacted pun involving the word “griot” Shall we review today’s CAN ’10 action in Luanda?!

MALI 0
ALGERIA 1

After the humiliation of handing Malawi their first-ever win at a Cup of Nations, Algeria buckled down and got themselves organized. Mali looked as listless as they did in their first 70 minutes against Angola, and a somewhat insipid offensive display here yielded just one shot on goal. It was a game of destructive midfield play and consistent tactical fouling (Mali 25 fouls to Algeria’s 21—a lot!). Perhaps predictably then, Algeria’s headed goal came from a set-piece about 40 yards out, given after a Yacine Bezzaz was hacked down while threatening to bring down a long ball.

Trop peu trop tard: Kanouté comes on for Mali an hour in

Freddie Kanouté started off the bench, and manage to brighten Mali’s star a bit when he entered the match an hour in—but clearly not enough to haul back an equalizing goal. Getting out of the group stages now looks slightly improbable for Les maliennes, and the task is none the easier as captain and Real Madrid benchwarmer M. Diarra is suspended for the final group match after getting his 2nd yellow card of the group stage. [WARNING: BACK OF ENVELOPE QUALIFYING CALCULATIONS] They need a win against Malawi this coming Monday and need Angola to beat Algeria (with whom they would lose the tie-breaker of head-to-head goal difference)—right? Your MLK holiday plans are thus set!

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ANGOLA 2
MALAWI 0

An-GOL-a continued to look spritely in attack, but managed to avoid a historic defensive/mental implosion this time around. Mabiná impressed in a wide role, Djalma again caused problems by taking on defenders, and captain Kali reverted to the commanding form he showed pre-meltdown against Mali. Angola’s 2nd came through a defensive error when Malawi captain and centerback Peter Mponda mponderously tried to dribble the ball out of the back. He was relieved of the ball by at the edge of the box by a hard-working Manucho, who calmly clipped over the keeper to make it 2-0.

Knacked???: Incisive crosser Djalma and 3-goal man Flávio

Inauspicious signs for Angola however, as they lost defensive midfielder Gilberto to a reaggravated  injury, and at 60′ Flávio went off on a stretcher with a tweaked hamstring. Djalma was also subbed after going down…if all these indeed turn out to be legit injuries, then Angola will find themselves stripped of some of their most impressive performers. [WARNING: BACK OF ENVELOPE QUALIFYING CALCULATIONS] A draw against Algeria on Monday will see them qualify, though a win will cement them as group winnners.

MEANWHILE IN CABINDA….CORRESPONDENT AUDREY GNASHES HER INCISORS YET DEEPER INTO THIS STORY!

Lara Pawson continues to be the best source of information on the events unfolding in Cabinda.  Following her staggering suggestion that perhaps the attack on the Togolese bus was NOT the work of FLEC, but instead a plot by Angolans intelligence agents to frame FLEC (giving them an excuse to label the independence movements as “terrorist” in the eyes of the world) she brings us the news that the bus driver is actually ALIVE?  And being hidden away somewhere?  WHAT?!  Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch reports that the Angolan government has begun indiscriminately jailing Cabindan civilians…

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Loving Carjackings

Posted in Uncategorized by audrey on January 13, 2010

On the eve of the host country’s second game, a lil detour into the still nascent world of contemporary Angolan cinema.

The earliest films in this “new wave”, which parallel Nollywood in their low-budget shooting and DVD-only distribution, were released in 2005, becoming the first movies in the history of Angolan cinema to attract a local African audience.  As Henrique Narciso “Dito”, the most lauded director to come out of this new movement, describes,

It is necessary to reproduce our reality on the screen instead of importing realities, cultures, histories, and values of other peoples.  We have to emphasize our languages, our histories.  Because the Angolan likes to see scenes of his everyday life reproduced in cinema.

Part of this everyday life?  According to Dito’s Alta Temperatura: Assaltos em Luanda II: global warming & … LOVING CARJACKINGS!  (see 1:10)

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Togo (really?) out? FLEC flacks captured?

Posted in Uncategorized by Steven Villereal on January 11, 2010

Togo's Decider: Gilbert Houngbo

Sooo, it’s Day 2, the Day After Day 1. In an on-again-off again saga that truly tested the wobbly journalistic legs of newborn BOLAS & BANDEIRAS, it looks like the Togo squad is officially out of the tournament. After the team’s emotional post-attack meeting in which they decided to soldier on in tribute to their fallen comrades, they were ultimately summoned home by Togo’s Prime Minister Gilbert Houngbo. Still, they expressed interest in returning to the Cup of Nations after a 3-day mourning period…however the possibility to this has now been nixed by tournament administrators.

I guess I can sympathize with the Cup organizers, who might be daunted by the last-minute juggling required to allow Togo a 3-day reprieve, but surely television schedules could be put on the back burner in light of this tragedy. The more disappointing decision comes on the part of Togo’s functionaries/sports bureaucracy. Maybe there was no consensus on what was best for the team, but clearly the players wanted to stay on and participate in the Cup, rather than leaving “like cowards” (as Alaixys Romao put it). You’d have to think it’s demoralizing (maybe even emasculating) for them to be so dramatically overruled by tut-tutting government types.

meanwhile…Correspondent Audrey sez:

Angolan press agencies are reporting that two members of the FLEC group that attacked the Togolese team have been captured “at the site of the incident, on the road to Massabi that links Angola and Congo.”

After the utter failure of their previous attempts to rouse international sympathy for their struggle, Friday’s attack can only been seen as an ill-advised publicity stunt. But as former BBC correspondent Lara Pawson describes, the political landscape in Cabinda has become increasingly murky over the past several years. If, in fact, the two captured members are indeed responsible for the attack, one can only hope they won’t be subject to the same “indiscriminate repression” and abuses that Human Rights Watch denounced the Angolan government for earlier this year.

(Misguidedly?) Letting your FLEC flag fly

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Eerie synchronicity

Posted in Uncategorized by 00000000 on January 10, 2010

…in this screen cap from Bernardo Bertolucci’s Prima della rivoluzione, which I made while watching the film 2 nights before the Togo bus attack:

The Independent has a piece about the FLEC, and their use of terrorism to renew interest in their cause:

Mark Schroeder, an Africa analyst with global intelligence firm Stratfor, said the killings had been an opportunistic attack by Flec “to say ‘Hey, we are still here’.” The government had been “overly confident in its attempts to pacify the province” in recent years, something that had now blown up in its face.

The African Nations Cup tournament was meant to be a showcase for the progress made by Angola, which is now Africa’s largest oil producer, after decades of brutal civil war. But Cabinda with its continuing human rights abuses and unrest makes a mockery of the modern democracy the government had wanted to portray.

The decision to have the Group B games in Cabinda is looking more and more like a reckless and underhanded decision by the Angolan government, an attempt to validate their claims to ownership of the exclave. That they chose to put the four teams of Group B at risk with this move, and that the FLEC’s brutal tactics—carried out in direct response to this decision, so it seems—claimed several innocent lives, is to be sorely regretted. The actions of the FLEC are obviously indefensible, but fingers must also be pointed at the Angolan Football Federation for putting athletes at risk with this brash endeavor.

Apparently the FLEC have threatened more violence, and Africa’s biggest stars are “living in fear”:

Rodrigues Mingas, a spokesman for the Front for the Liberation of Enclave of Cabinda, said: ‘We have nothing against Togo, I like the Togolese team. But it’s a war and anything goes.’

There are fears that the likes of Drogba, whose diamond-encrusted watch is worth 51,000 pounds (S$114,000), could be a prime target in a country where the average weekly wage is less than £20.

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CAN ’10 Opener: Angola-Mali

Posted in Uncategorized by Steven Villereal on January 10, 2010

Yessss, it’s happening! The tournament is set to get underway with host nation Angola squaring off against Mali. The Angolan President is out there shaking everyone’s hands…and here are some hopefully accurate squads!

Angola: Fernandes, Mabina, Kali, Rui Marques, Stelvio, Xara, Dede, Zuela, Gilberto, Flavio, Manucho.

Mali: Sidibe, Diamountene, Berthe, Tamboura, Soumare, Diarra, Traore, Traore, Bagayoko, Maiga, Kanoute.

Talking points from these starting lineups? Angola have holding midfield Stelvio as well as striker Flavio back from injury, with Flavio partnering Manucho in attack. Barcelona’s Seydou Keita misses out on Mali’s starting lineup, still nursing a thigh injury incurred at the possibly-frivolous FIFA World Club Cup. Another of their European starlets, Mohamed Sissoko of Juventus, starts on the bench.

The Angolan national anthem is rousing indeed…gonna sit back and enjoy the game here, but updates at halftime!!!

Halftime Update!

Dang…it’s currently Angola 2-0 Mali!!! Angola had 56% of possession, 4 shots on target, and more importantly 2 headed goals via Flávio. The first goal of the ’10 CAN came from a set-piece after Manucho was mindlessly body-bumped over at the edge of the box and the freekick found Flávio waiting at the far post for an open header. His 2nd was another thumping header—header’s are nearly always thumping, but THIS ONE, boom. Mali’s moments of note? Maiga squandering a 2-on-1 chance at the edge of the box with a failed backheel to Kanouté, then being replaced by Seydou Keita only 35′-or-so in. The possibly-not-fully-tested grass does indeed have that spongy carpet look to it, and seems to be cutting up here and there. It also seemed like the injury of Dede was caused by a weird, marshy stickiness to the pitch?

My English commentator imagines “There will be a lot of cringing European coaches every time a hard tackle goes in”—interesting! Hopefully all these Africans realize they are important “investments” and just disinterestedly play at about 60% while representing their country in international soccer.

Other telecaster wisdom dropped: “Angolans sporting the skin tight shirts this years…those made popular by the Cameroonians” …or did the Italians do it first?

PORTUGAL CORRESPONDENT Audrey SEZ:
It appears the locals were just as taken with the Bantu-inspired opening ceremony as our live-blogger Steev: Angolan press agencies reporting the streets of Luanda are entirely deserted!

And the prediction of Victor André Maluga, leader of a group of Luandan taxi drivers who were unable to get tickets to the Angola-Mali opening match? “A tie or a victory (1-0) in favor of the Antelopes.”

Anyway, the hosts lead 2-0! The 11 de Novembro is truly rocking for the first time in it’s short, shiny life—the first kuduro beats of the tourney sound over the PA!

Full-time!

ANGOLA 4 (Flavio 36, 42; Gilberto 67; Manucho 72)
MALI 4 (Keita 79, 90+3; Kanoute 88; Yatabare 90+4)

Wowwww/what?! Angola, despite leading 4-0 with less than 15 minutes remaining, fall the fuck off and let Mali score four goals…and 4-4?! Off-the-bench reinforcements Seydou Keita and Mustaphe Yatabare were responsible for 3 of the comeback goals. Miraculous and absurd stuff as the Angolans just “SWITCHED OFF” as they say—whadda opener.


Kanouté gives postgame Thanks...

Their Illusions: shattered by fatigue or extreme loss of concentration???

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CAN ’10 — Opening Ceremonies!!!

Posted in Uncategorized by Steven Villereal on January 10, 2010

Bem Vindo!!! Today is the day…2010 African Cup of Nations is set to kick off! Hosts Angola will get underway against Mali here—but first, some Opening Ceremonies!

12:50 EST: The inaugural event held in the 11 De Novembro stadium in Luanda is looking fairly well-attended! Angolan Presidnet Jose Eduardo Dos Santos is currently addressing the crowd… nothing political in the speech (no “Cabinda will be brought under control!!!”) though the Togo attack was of course acknowledged.

12:58 EST: The fullblown opening ceremonies spectacle has begun! Apologies for the grainy pics I’ll be bringing you. So far flags and massive national mini-globes are trotted out, and  a massive one tarp is out on the pitch, serving as the screen for a light show.

13:06 EST: Woahhh, the white tarp has been lifted into the air and has becoming a backdrop for a ethno-archeaological journey through Angolan history. We soared really quickly through some sort of paleolithic era…damn, now we are getting to colonial times. The huge screen just read INVASÃO & RESISTENCIA…but the dancers seemed to be enacting a benign conversion ritual, spearheaded by a peaceful monk. I think we are still in the 16th century though here? Phew, and now we are on to LUTA & LIBERACÃO! This interpretive historical dance drama is admittedly over my head…though clearly some machete-wielding civil war symbolic pantomime is in effect (dancers now in stylish sleeveless fatigues here!)

13:15 EST: Wish I had some screen grabs from the independence portion of that interpretative dance show…dancers running around, prominently displaying paper documents, the machete-wielding dancers graaaadually dissipating. We’ve moved into typical fireworks, smoke machine, modest lazer territory here. Screens are now displaying a wealth of Angolan natural resources to be harvested…look at those trabalhador dancers!

13:23 EST: The English announcer I have here on my feed (watching via myafricanfootball.com—since we are now proper journalists we have an online PPV package!) is, as they say in his country, a bit of a muppet (and/or nugget). He has already commented on all the “smiling faces”. Also already expressing concerns about how the opening ceremonies might be affecting the pitch…perhaps a legitimate concern, as this will be the first ever game played on the newly-laid grass.

13:28 EST: Commentator banality watch: “South Africa must be thinking ‘how will we top this opening ceremony?'”—hmmm, perhaps with millions of dollars of FIFA bux and years of planning?

13:33 EST: My Portuguese is pretty crap, but man I love saying nações! Except the lovable Portuguese & Angolans say naçoishhh!

13:40 EST: Opening ceremonies now concluded! Pretty entertaining as these things go…kickoff for Angola-Mali in 20 minutes here and the stadium is looking healthily full, healthfully rowdy vibes are building.  I’m likely just going to put my feet up and watch that game, but I will offer some halftime analysis and hopefully images! JA COMENÇA!!!


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Background Report: Cabinda

Posted in Uncategorized by audrey on January 9, 2010

To shed a bitttt of light on the background politics likely motivating the attack on the Togo squad’s bus (which Cabinda Affairs Minister Bento Bembe has already called “an act of terrorism”), we’d like to welcome our in-house Luso-enthusiast and Portugal-based correspondent Audrey:


The attack on the Togo national team has cast attention on an oft-neglected part of Africa: the region of Cabinda.  When Cabindan chiefs signed a treaty with the Portuguese government in 1885, they were deemed a semi-autonomous protectorate that would become known as ‘Portuguese Congo’, and it was not until 1956 that Portugal began to govern Angola & Cabinda together — needless to say, without asking the Cabindans.  The gradual administrative merge between Portuguese dictator Salazar’s two “provinces” prompted the creation of the Front for the Liberation of the Cabindan Enclave (FLEC), an independence movement that was to fight not only for liberation from Portugal, but for separation from Angola.  Following the 1974 revolution in Portugal, as the Angolan independence movements of the MPLA, the FNLA, and UNITA met with the new Portuguese government to discuss the terms of their independence (which was to quickly devolve into a decades long civil war), no one bothered to invite FLEC along.  The political groups of Cabinda refused to recognize the resulting treaty, which included a provision naming Cabinda a province of Angola, and declared themselves independent, which naturally the Angolans then refused to recognize.  Despite the end of the civil war in 2002, the conflicts between Cabinda and Angola did not officially end for several more years, when a ceasefire agreement was signed, although the argument can be made that they still have yet to end, as offshoot FLEC groups continue to violently declare their independence.

And why does Angola continue to hold on so relentlessly to Cabinda?  The same old story: OIL.  Oil is Angola’s leading source of revenue, and underdeveloped Cabinda, sometimes referred to as the “Kuwait of Africa”, is the home of more than half of the country’s oil production.  Independence then, seems not only unlikely, but impossible.  Angolan President José Eduardo dos Santos has already offered to hold a referendum on Cabinda’s independence — or rather, to hold an Angola-wide referendum that would allow 12 million Angolans and 230,000 Cabindans to vote on the matter — an empty gesture indeed.

Despite the legitimacy of Cabinda’s claim for autonomy, attacking a bus full of Togolese futebol players & killing innocent civilians has inarguably done more harm than good for their cause.

Find further reading here [pdf],  here, here, and Part 1 of Portuguese-language documentary Cabinda: Independence or Death here.

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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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