Ok, who knows if we will be able to keep the BOLAS & BANDEIRAS editorial fires as stoked with journalistic kindling throughout the whoooole Nations Cup…but for now let’s have a Day 2 wrapup!
MALAWI 3 (Mwafulirwa 17, Kafoteka 35, Banda 48)
Another shock result in the increasingly kooky Group A sees Malawi go top, earning 3 points. A poorly attended game, and sadly this match shed light on a sports-specific subset of Afro-pessimism: the stereotypes about incompetent goalkeeping which Algeria keeper Faouzi Chaouchi did little to dispel. Full credit to Malawi though, with Elvis Kafoteka’s thumping headed goal being the game’s aesthetic highpoint. A surprise loss will surely bring some bummed tweets from Les Fennecs—they’ve no points and a -3 goal difference (see tie-breaking criteria!) and have to mentally reorganize before facing Mali on Thursday.
IVORY COAST 0
BURKINA FASO 0
Sexxxy favorites Cote D’Ivoire looked disjointed against an extremely well-organized (the semi-patronizing compliment of choice when a team keeps a clean sheet, but does little else) Burkinabé side. Paulo Duarte got his tactics right, even if they did entail putting 10 men behind the ball for much of the game—but who can deny them the tactical right of the weak! Any theoretical marauding by Eboué on the right was smothered out, and I saw little from Drogba (only caught the 2nd half). The Elephants most dangerous threat seemed to be Gervinho, but only in patches of the game. Perhaps the most frustrating moment was Baky Kone blowing a clear chance at ’68, putting wide an excellent cut back from Gervinho, whose run had seemed to have fizzled-out.
So, Group B’s schedule is now a bit lighter with Togo out. Ghana will have to wait to make their debut on Friday, against Ivory Coast. Today’s 0-0 makes that game yet more INTENSE, with the Elephants desperately needing some points. Burkina Faso now presumably have a week off, until their showdown with Ghana next Tuesday.
Perhaps the tournament’s clear cut favorites, owing to the megawattage of some of their stars.
I think I am obliged to type that Africa’s most famous footballer Didier Drogba, is the talismanic leader of both Ivorian line and squad, especially because all Africans are totally obsessed with talismans—indeed Angolan construction contracters have made sure these new stadia come with all sorts of amulets and omen-emitting charms pre-embedded in the pitch. Drogz aside, the offensive firepower also includes his Chelsea teammate Salomon Kalou, Sevilla’s Arouna Koné, 64″ Marseille striker Bakary Koné, and feisty 21 year-old Gervinho (who has scored 11 goals already this year for 2nd-placed Lille in Ligue A). The quality isn’t solely in offense, as The Elephants also feature Barcelona’s leggy box-to-box midfield romper Yaya Touré and Didier Zokora smack in the middle of the park (thriving since moving to Sevilla). The Ivorians look solid right through to defense, with Arsenal’s Emmanuel Eboué at right-back and Kolo Touré in the center. Their weak spot has to be seen as their energetic, though not entirely reliable, goalkeeper Boubacar Barry. Ivory Coast didn’t lose during the qualifying rounds, allowed only 6 goals, and their four draws all came away from home. Hopefully the team is a bit older and wiser than in 2008 when despite a similarly strong field of players and attendant hoopla, they were unceremoniously thumped 4-1 by a more cohesive Egypt team who went on to hoist the Cup themselves. It should also be noted that the luck of the draw pits Bosnian coach Vahid Halilhodzic in a regional-managerial derby against Ghana’s Serbian skipper Milovan Rajevac.
Here’s youthman Gervinho in action, looking good though losing points for sporting the intensely crap Adebayor-circa-2006 hair. Get some fingerwaves or cornrows, my boy!:
The height of Les Etalons Cup glory came in 1998, when as hosts they galloped into the semifinals. The Bukinabé team qualified for the Cup for the first time since 2004, going 9-1-2 in the combined qualifying stages and losing only to Ivory Coast, but they now find themselves in a brutal group…and a newly peculiar one due to the tragedy befalling the Togo squad. They have been effectively organized by 40 year-old Portuguese coach Paulo Duarte, who was actually Dr. Jose Mourinho‘s assistant in his pre-Porto managerial gig at União de Leiria. With Togo gone from Group B, perhaps his charges can continue to grind out results as they did in the qualifying groups, focusing solely on their showdowns with two giants of African soccer. They have already gained valuable experience in their duels with Ivory Coast, one of which was a scrappy 3-2 defeat. If they are underestimated by the sometimes-headstrong Elephants, they will quickly become one of the key narratives of the CAN.
The talents at Duarte’s disposal include Marseille’s much-scouted defensive midfielder Charles Kaboré and 12 goal striker Moumouni Dagano (joint top scorer in qualifying rounds [tied with stiker from Fiji FWIW]). Talisman Dagano already has European suitors sniffing about, so an inspired tournament could well seal a transfer deal for him, though he’s currently earning (well?) in Qatar at club Al-Khor. Dude is big, he’s jumpin’, he’s sturdily heading the ball into the goallll:
The 2008 hosts were favorites to win the Cup before being nudged out 1-0 by Cameroon in the semifinals. Though still featuring the world’s best non-Xavi midfielder Michael Essien (newly back from injury), the Black Stars of Ghana come to the tournament without some influential names. Their defense in particular has taken a serious hit with John Mensah, John Pa(i?)ntsil, and captain Stephen Appiah all missing through injury. Scrappy attacking midfielder Laryea Kings(t?)on is also missing out, as is offensive pivot player Sulley Muntari—he’s not injured, but rather in the doghouse with Ghana’s FA under fishy circumstances. Inter Milan’s Muntari refused to fly down for a friendly with Angola (which Essien and Asamoah Gyan also missed) and is supposedly exiled from the team due to his failure to apologize. Some journalists have insinuated there might be payoffs involved, as major European clubs frequently (and annoyingly) gripe at having to release their players for the mid-season Cup of Nations.
The sometimes-delusional hopes of glory biennially fostered by the footballing media in Ghana have earned them comparisons with England. Ghana have traditionally looked a bit thin up front however, although Gyan has bagged 8 goals so far this season for Rennes. They also have the newly enlisted 20 year-old Dominic Adiyiah, on the books of AC Milan, who was voted MVP in the Ghana U-20 teams romp to the World Cup title this summer.
Adiyiah is one of eight players promoted from this title-winning youth squad, so perhaps some new leaders will burble forth with so many tradtional totems of the squad absentee. However, even if they score bags of goals, some of Ghana’s finest goal celebration specialists will still be watching from the sidelines, mimicking the choreographed jubilation in sweaty blazers.
A STILL-BREAKING news story could see the Togo squad pull out of the tournament after a heavily-armed attack on their team bus. A Portuguese news agency is reporting that splinter groups of the Cabinda regional separatist movement has claimed responsibility for these attacks. Since BOLAS & BANDEIRAS is so newly launched, we don’t yet have the resources to quickly assemble reportage at this level.
The Togo team is clearly led by Emmanuel Adebayor, one of the most prominent African footballers since his 2006 move to Arsenal, who this evening said:
“I think a lot of players want to leave. I don’t think they want to be at this tournament any more because they have seen their death already. Most of the players want to go back to their family. No one can sleep after what they have seen today. They have seen one of their team-mates have a bullet in his body, who is crying, who is losing consciousness and everything. So we will have a good meeting tonight, everyone will go to their room, they will rest and we will see tomorrow morning we will make a decision which is good for our life.”
/// UPDATE ///
Togo have withdrawn from the tournament. In addition to the Angolan bus driver slain in the attack, reserve keeper Kossi Agassa has now died as a result of his injuries. One Togo squad member stated that they are “also talking to the other teams in our group to try to convince them to boycott the competition too”. As Adebayor pointed out in his original statement, this is a tragic attack which will confirm many of the worst stereotypes observers have about Africa. We sympathize and respect with the Togo squad’s withdrawal, but think the tournament needs to go on as a positive statement of perseverance…otherwise the “terrorists will have won” etc.!