Panic in the streets of north Berlin as the HILARIOUS (not actually hilarious) news of Michael Ballack’s injury hit the presses. I was staying at a sublet in the Berlin neighborhood of Wedding at the time, an area known for a large immigrant population and relatively high crime rate (barely any crime at all, by American standards). It’s really a great place, and I feel some affinity
with it, as it was where I stayed during my first trip to Berlin. So I was relatively pleased to discover that the player responsible for the German captain’s exclusion from the World Cup was born and raised in Wedding, and declined an offer to play for the German national side in favor of … Group D opponents Ghana! None other than Portsmouth FC’s ruff-n-tumble midfielder Kevin-Prince Boateng.
Now it’s always unfortunate when important players miss a tournament due to injury, but part of me was overjoyed not to have to watch Ballack’s constant whinging (presumedly picked up during his stay at Chelsea) and douchebag smirking, not to mention his own dangerous tackling. Talented footballer, but he really is one of the major pricks of the sport.
Needless to say, German fans are pretty crushed. Ballack was the veteran of the otherwise very young squad, and without him in midfield young guns like Sami Khedira (Ballack’s replacement), Mesut Özil and an in-form Bastien Schweinsteiger (recently transformed from winger to central midfielder at Bayern Munich) will have to take more leading roles.
Apart from the Ballack-shaped hole in midfield, Germany really don’t have a good striker. Klose and Podolski both became benchwarmers after losing form (only managing 5 Bundesliga goals between them last season), and Mario Gomez seemed a bit of a joke at the Euros. Perhaps Klose (last WC’s top scorer) plays better at an international level, but this past season has really been a shocker for him.
Captained now by the young (and excellent) right-back Phillip Lahm, Germany are looking less like their normal lineup of big Teutonic bruisers, and more like a younger, dynamic side with lots to prove. Look to the German midfield prospects to really shine if Germany are to get anywhere near the Final, despite a solid qualifying run.
I’ll let our new addition to the B&B editorial staff Nick Keys / kickknees, world renowned Aussie poet and square-artist, supply us with a review of the Australian side. All I know is that Cahill is feisty, Schwarzer magnificent, and they got cheated by Italy last time around. Here’s to a good showing with their second Dutch master. Players to watch: Ken Oath.
Kickknees says: It’s probably fair to say that there is an expectation disjuncture amongst Australian fans. On the one hand we have those fans (the world over) who hibernate between World Cups, emerging a few months before the tournament begins, suddenly kitted out in shirts and scarfs, ready to shout themselves hoarse, drunk on anticipation, stumbling and slurring their inept punditry. For these Australian fans expectations are high. On the back of an outstanding tournament in Germany 4 years ago, with the same players, another Dutch coach, it would seem that getting out of the group is the minimum requirement.
On the other hand, for the fans who actually follow the team, the fact that the starting XI is almost identical (injury permitting) to the team that lined up four years ago is a worrying sign, demonstrating an alarming generational gap in Australian football. Results-wise, the qualifying campaign was flawless, yet Pim Verbeek’s side has been consistently questioned for its lack of attacking quality. The logic of this perspective goes as so: if you can’t dominate teams in the attacking third in Asia, then you can’t make a significant impact at the World Cup. It’s a pretty compelling argument, and one that holds true (although almost no Australian fan will accept it) for their performance against Italy in the 2nd round at the 2006 World Cup. Sure, we got robbed by that filthy cheating prick Fabio Grosso (who incidentally went on to score the winner in the Semi-Final, and the winning penalty in the Final), but the truth is that the Socceroos never looked like scoring against Italy.
But it’s hardly Pim Verbeek’s fault that Australia doesn’t have any world-class strikers. Mark Viduka has retired, and even if he had played on, he’s not the force he was. So the burden falls to Nagoya Grampus striker and J-League top scorer Josh Kennedy. Standing at 6′ 4″ he’s a handy target man, and a crucial player to the structure of the team. He has scored important goals for Australia in his short international career, but he’s not the kind of striker that’s going to worry Nemanja Vidic or Per Mertesacker all that much. As gets pointed out ad naseum, Tim Cahill is the talisman of the team, and when the team needs a goal, he will provide it or the team will fall. Cahill’s problem this time around is that he’s no secret. Having said that, Cahill has talent that you can’t coach against: the timing of his runs and positioning in the box is as good as anyone in the world. Cahill is reportedly under an injury cloud (neck) for the first game, but it’s hard to see him not playing. Hapless Harry Kewell has a body held together by labratory-grown ligaments and muscle tissue, making him a form of artificial life. Add to this the artifice of the media-soap opera called Will Harry Be Fit Enough To Hobble To Bench? and you have a frankly boring distraction.
The form guide for Australia was totally thrown out the window in the final warm-up against the U.S.A. The previously obstinate defence was very open minded to all U.S. attacks, indeed Vince Grella was so atypically open minded that he sought to aid the U.S. attacks whereever possible. And although they only scored one goal, the Socceroos threatened the U.S. goal on many occasions. The U.S. thoroughly deserved their victory, but you can expect Verbeek’s Australian team a this World Cup to be very tight at the back, extremely fit, physical, highly organised and judiciously picking their moments to go forward.
My money is on Serbia and Germany to go through, but no team in the group is seriously intimidating in the way a Spain, Brazil, Argentina or (I hate to say it) England are. It’s not crazy to hope that a draw against Germany could set the Socceroos up for a win against Ghana and passage through to the 2nd round. But I’m just happy that the team is at the World Cup again. A 2nd Round match up against the USA would be ideal…
Serbia’s matches might be a bit dull, unless you like watching big defenders stopping players from scoring. Serbia’s first World Cup as an independent nation sees them heading to South Africa with one of the most formidable defenses of the competition. Manchester United’s Nemanja Vidic (“the only man who could slam a revolving door”), Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic, and promising young central defender Neven Subotic will apply massive hurt to any chicken-neck strikers who dare to saunter into their box. The Big Back Four will try to keep the goals to a minimum, but second- or third-string Wigan keeper Stojkovic might make up for their vigilance with some comedy gold in goal.
Zigic and Pantelic up front is not the worst striker combo imaginable, and service from Champions League winning Dejan Stankovic could supply the Serbians with some substanital firepower. The optimism of an entire newly-independent nation will surely boost the fighting spirit and self-confidence of this actually quite impressive team. Dark horses, for sure.
In 2006 Ghana, playing in their first ever World Cup, impressed the world, progressing to the quarter-finals before losing respectably to Brazil. Since then the Ghanaian team have remained an organized unit, playing strong and defensive football, with a modicum of flair in attack. Nothing too flashy here, but seemingly more reliable than other African sides of late.
Just like earlier this year in Angola, Ghana will be missing their star captain Michael Essien. Though without him they still managed to reach the final of that competition, where they were narrowly beaten by Egypt. Throughout that competition Ghana looked surprisingly strong, considering the extreme youth of the side they were forced to field due to injuries not only to Essien, but to several other key players (most of whom are fit and ready for South Africa). Football Afrocentrists like us here at B&B can only hope that this Ghanaian generation have maybe developed a NEW AFRICAN FOOTBALL STYLE that could finally see the immense talent at hand molded and shaped into a ruthless Winning Machine.
Captain Stephen Appiah as well as Sulley Muntari (another Champions League winner) will try to make up for Essien’s absence in midfield. Young Udinese midfielder Kwadwo Asamoah could be the Black Stars’ most exciting prospect, capable of artful dribbles and sneaky passing. Asamoah Gyan (scorer of the first ever Ghanaian goal in the World Cup, which was also the fastest goal in World Cup history) is fresh from a great season at Rennes and could continue his good form with the help of good service from the Ghanaian mids.
Also exciting will be the fiery head-2-head sibling-struggle of Ballack-knacker Kevin-Prince Boateng against brother Jerome (presumably the more serene, peaceable Boateng). Look to German media for some first-class whining if Ghana go through at the expense of Germany.
This is actually a very open group. It remains to be seen if Germany can cope Ballack-less. If they lose their first game (against Australia) qualification will be there for anyone to snatch.
••• Official BOLAS & BANDEIRAS Qualifying Picks: Germany, Ghana (forgive me Nick)
‘Tis finally the day—we pick a winner of the 2010 African Cup of Nations and bid farewell to this tournament, knowing not what sporting/editorials challenges await us in the future!
Ghana have ground out three 1-0 wins in a row, the last two via goals by Asamoah Gyan working as a lone striker. Egypt meanwhile have scored 14 goals in the tournament so far to Ghana’s 4.
Ghana: Kingson; Addy, Inkoom, Sarpei, Vorsah; Agyemang-Badu, Ayew, Opoku, Asamoah, Annan; Gyan.
Egypt: Al Hadari; Al Muhammadi, Said, Gomaa, Moawad; Fathi, Abd Rabou, Hassan, Ghali; Zidan, Motaeb.
One minor factor worth considering is that Egypt hasn’t yet played in Luanda on the spongy/tenuous/patchy pitch of the Estadio 11 de Novembro. Ghana have played their last THREE matches (all 1-0) in Luanda and perhaps Egypt’s more ambitious and flowing passing game won’t translate as well to the unpredictable grass “here”.
We’re underway but very little happening!!! It’s apparently 37ºC there today.
23 min: Alright! A shot on goal as 21 y/o Kwadwo Asamoah takes a left-footed pop from 30+ yards…it’s swerving downwards but Al Hadari smothers it out.
25 min: Ghana look, hate to fall back on this word, ORGANIZED! Not exactly ambitious, but compact and intent. The passing quality on both sides has been lacking…lots of punted balls to nowhere.
27 min: My announcer informing me here that FIFA bureaucratic godhead Sepp Blatter cancelled a pre-match on-field appearance due to the heat, issues of sweating like an extremely well-fed pig on camera.
40 mins: …
0-0 at HALFTIME!!! The match has yet to take off here, with both sides feeling each other out. Egypt have had 57% of the possession but no shots on goal (Ghana had two potshots, but no serious chances).
GRASS: The state of the pitch is sadly defining this game I think. With Egypt having played all of their matches so far in Benguela (the most stable & carpet-like pitch in Angola so far), but the Estadio 11 de Novembro’s grass is harder to run on/stop on/is riddled with bobble-inducing divots which make it difficult to play fast & accurate passes on the ground. Halftime prognostications have to note that Ghana have not only played their last 3 matches (where they scored one goal earlyish, then cagily defended the match out) in this stadium, but that they’ve been staying in the capital for nearly 2 weeks, whereas Egypt are newly arrived.
70 min: Current CAN ’10 top scorer Mohamed Gedo is on in place of Moteab.
85 min 1-0 EGYPT!: Well well, it’s substitute Gedo popping up in the penalty after a give & go with Zidan, and he sidefoots around the keeper! Gedo’s 5th goal of the tournament and he will finish as CAN top scorer—4 of his goals were coming off the bench, as just now.
90+ min: Time is a’wasting…but that is too passive a construction. Rather it’s being actively wasted by the Egyptians.
FULLTIME! EGYPT 1-0 GHANA! Hassan Shehata has lead the Pharoahs to an unprecedented 3rd straight African Cup.
Egyptian keeper & head cheerleader Al Hadari really does have an inner gay male aerobics instructor, and he is channelling it as the Pharoahs celebrate this title. It’s kind of amazing that Egypt were so underestimated in this tournament, coming in as defending champs. Like Ghana they had some major names missing through injury (MF Aboutrika and striker Amir Zaki), and any gaps were most spectacularly plugged by Mohamed “Gedo” Nagy who finishes with 5 goals.
PARABENS TO EGYPT…and we also say thank you!/goodbye! to Angola as we conclude CAN 2010! There is a funky and futuristic (blue lights + body glittered dancers flying through the air on wires) Closing Ceremony on the pitch right now!
Luckily the massive divots of dislodged grass are not posing any problems for the dancers here, many of whom have recently returned to earth after floating through the air suspended on wires.
HOLD ON some chaps with jet blaster packs are also flying into the stadium and set to land, bearing gifts!
Closing ceremony coverage continues as we congratulate the Egyptians! It’s a shame they won’t be at the World Cup in June. Perhaps a swap deal can be negotiated where they play instead of South Africa?
The sun has set and Sepp Blatter has deemed it cool enough to waddle out onto the pitch! His head is still a bit sweaty though, and some of the metallic confetti which rained down upon the stadium has affixed to hit pate VISUALLY LITERALIZING a massive hole in his head. Medals are being distributed…and we are signing off!
We bid you fairwell from the Estadio 11 de Novembro!!! And as Nate noted below, just because you’ve come to know us through our CAN ’10 coverage doesn’t mean that we won’t continue to bring you SOCCER-RELATED CULTURAL INSIGHT & COMMENTARY in the coming months. Thanks for reading where applicable!
Alright Bandeiristas, it’s the Copa Final tomorrow! EGYPT vs GHANA, Estadio 11 de Novembro, 5:00 PM Luanda time!
Egypt are the surprise favorites to come away with the cup, which would be their third in a row, and their seventh overall. Bookies have the Pharaohs at evens to win it, while the Black Stars can be got for 10/3 or so. The Ghanaians could be worth a punt, but considering Egypt’s form in the last few games, their 100% record in the competition so far, and the fact that they’ve scored 14 goals compared to Ghana’s humble 4, I’d say forget it.
Hassan Shehata’s somewhat outlandish 3-5-2 formation (*viz Paul Wilson here) has proved spectacularly successful so far, leaving many African football commentators lamenting the fact the Egypt, as the most convincing looking side in this competition, will be missing out on the World Cup this summer, which really, simply, should be won by an African team.
Egypt’s attack force has been prolific. Young Gedo has proved a hit at the Copa, sitting pretty at the top of the goals table w/ four, 35-year-old winger Hassan has had an evergreen outing in Angola, scoring three and generally looking dangerous and industrious, while Zidan has been been unsurprisingly impressive, scoring a beauty against Algeria. I expect most of the 90 minutes to resemble the crashing of wave after Egyptian wave against a sturdy Ghanaian fortress. Biblical stuff, to be sure! LADUMA!
Not that I wouldn’t love to see this young Ghana team win, however. And actually, I wouldn’t be too surprised if they do win tomorrow— but it will take a seriously impressive defensive performance. Without their, ahem, TALISMANIC midfielder Michael Essien, Ghana’s U-20 championship-winning youth forces have had to step up and assert their defensive muscle. They’ve done a convincing job of it so far, keeping clean sheets in 3 of the 4 games they’ve played. If they maintain their solidity and organization, and if Asamoah Gyan and Andre Ayew remain industrious on the break, there’s no reason the Black Stars couldn’t grip the cup in Luanda tomorrow.
Anyways, I or Steve will be here with some sort of live commentary, so check back then.
BUT, post-Copa we’ll continue à bring vous cette hard-hitting Afrocentrique TOLI-TOLI (pardon my Camfranglais). So keeeeep it locked on the RSS or whathaveyou . . .
Good day! It’s the first of the CAN ’10 semifinals, and a historic West African showdown featuring 4-time CAN champs Ghana vs. 2-time winners Naija. This post is coming LIVE! from my cubicle so, in a bid to salvage some scraps of professionalism, I am going to keep the updates light…but I’m here! Woah!…team sheets are shockingly available already! [NB: “shockingly available” team sheets were PERHAPS UNSURPRISINGLY inaccurate!]
Ghana: Kingson; Inkoom, Vorsah, Addy, Sarpei, A. Ayew, Badu, Annan, K. Asamoah, Opoku, A. Gyan,
Nigeria: Enyeama; Yusuf, Shittu, Nwaneri, Echiejile, Kaita, Mikel, Ayila, , Odemwingie, Obasi, Martins
The crowd is currently looking patchy in Luanda’s Estadio 11 de Novembro, but it’s rapidly filling up. Fattened FIFA goose Sepp Blatter is looking on from a balcony, and I’m at my laptop in my cube! The ball begins to rolllllll!
~20 min: GHANA GOAL!!! From a corner it’s Asamoah Gyan, wriggling away from his marker and heading in at the near post! Naija were starting to look comfortable on the ball, but now the Black Stars have gone ahead on a set piece. That’s Gyan’s 3rd CAN gol.
25 min: In an age of rapidly changing player hairstyles, Asamoah Gyan has had the same, awesome mini-natural do for at least 5 years now. I remember admiring during his days playing for Udinese. More to the point, he is looking spritely today, and aside from his goal has already forced several half-errors from the Nigerian back four.
30 min: Opoku has gone to ground several times this game, but he appears to be genuinely hurt…he’s off and more experienced head Haminu Draman is on in his place.
32 min: Ghana obviously ahead here, but Odemwingie & Martins are starting to swap smart passes and get in dangerous positions for Nigeria.
44 min: Mikel floats in a free kick from ~25 yards out, and Richard Kingson comes out and punches the ball clear…and a good thing he dead and several massive Nigerian heads were winding up menacingly to plump for that ball.
HALFTIME! and it’s GHANA 1-0 NIGERIA—welp, the Super Eagles have had 60% of the possession and were starting to organize on the edge of the Ghana box towards the end of the half. It’s clear that the Black Stars are going to follow the same gameplan that knocked out Angola…they’re a goal up, so they just have to stay concentrated and compact and they’re into the finals.
49 min: The Nigerians have come out energized and are buzzing around the edge of the Ghanian area…Obasi just tried to roundhouse kick a cross in but it deflected off a defender.
54 min: Ibrahim Ayew comes on at left back for Sarpei (who was playing through an injury he picked up in the first half). It seems a smart move as Martins and Obasi were starting to cause problems on that side of the field.
60 min: A smart chip by Mikel sails over the two CBs and it’s Martins racing onto it…but Kingson is off his line and makes a crucial save at close range!
63 min: Obasi & Martins don’t look much like scoring today, despite being consistently fed convertable opportunities. You’d have to think that one of the bench-bound striker pool of Yakubu, Kanu, or Uche are soon to be summoned here?
70 min: Mikel is really starting to spray incisive passes…and again it’s Martins threatening goal as he chases one down…he seems to be one-on-one with goal but is rapidly crowded out by a collaborative pincer motion by Inkoom & Vorsah. Yakubu is now on, replacing Odemwingie (and surprisingly not the less-enterprising Martins).
73 min: Yakubu’s first “chance” as a rifled cross unknowingly ricochets off his thigh and not toooo far wide of the post.
83 min: I’m writing some work emails.
87 min: Kingson is redeeming the reputation of African goalkeeping after the high comedy we’ve witnessed this tournament. He’s come off his line to bravely break up several dangerous balls the Nigerians are putting into the box. Dunno if you’ve taken a look at the girth of Obasi/Martins/Yakubu, but repeatedly bashing into them in mid-air requires some fortitude.
FULLTIME! GHANA 1-0 NIGERIA!!! The Black Stars, despite missing virtually all of theirmost famous names, are through to their first CAN final since they were runners-up in 1992.
So, U-20 World Cup-winning Black Starlets like Inkoom (20 y/o), Addy (19, and the nerviest looking of the youthmen), and Andre Ayew (20) have acquitted themselves marvelously, thickening the Ghanian squad sauce (???) as we simmer towards the GrownUp World Cup in June. I have to say I’m pleased to see Nigeria dumped out of the tournament here…they were pretty rough on the eyes. Cheers to Ghana, and stay tuned for Egypt-Algeria!
Apologies to once & future BOLAS & BANDEIRAS readers for several days of radio silence. I know my gentle colleague Nathaniel has more pressing life obligations, and wish I had such an excuse! Rather, I think I burnt myself out with Sunday’s back-to-back QF coverage. Since that blessed day, we had Monday’s QFs, which saw Egypt (greatly aided by a calamitous Cameroonian defence as well as one extremely dodgy refereeing decision/plea for goal-line technology) and the Super Eagles of Nigeria (in a snoozefest with Zambia which finished 0-0 after extra time and finally generated some excitement via a penalty shootout) advancing to the semi-finals. Both semis are TOMORROW and they also both represent two of the most intense rivalries in African soccer…a West & a North African derby if you will.
EGYPT–ALGERIA is certainly the contentious contest freshest in our minds. The flames were generously fanned for their World Cup qualifying playoff match back in November, billed as a rematch of their 1989 “Match of Hate”. Media in both countries whipped their fans into a frenzy, and there was a lot of controversy in the choice of the neutral venue of Khartoum (Egypt’s preferred location, as opposed to Algeria’s suggestion of Tunis). Desert Fox fans flocked to Sudan to support their team however, with over 13,000 Algerians in attendance and ready for, well, war:
In the end, the Egyptian fans left Khartoum shaken but generally unscathed. The Egyptian health minister reported that 21 Egyptians had been injured. Nonetheless, back in Cairo, the escalation continued. The media ran stories of the Algerian government emptying its jails and transporting thousands of criminals to Sudan, of Algerian supporters chasing Egyptians with what Egypt’s English-language Al-Ahram Weekly listed as “knives, nails, daggers, switchblades, scalpels and heavy wooden sticks.” Crowds of indignant Egypt supporters tried to attack the Algerian Embassy in Cairo; dozens of policemen and fans were injured in the fighting and rock-throwing that ensued. Alaa Mubarak, the president’s son, called in repeatedly to TV talk shows to complain of the behavior of the Algerians in Khartoum and to call them “terrorists” and “mercenaries.” Elsewhere in the Egyptian media, Algerians have been described, en masse, as “uncivilized,” “violent,” and “sick.”
And of course, Algeria won 1-0. Despite the expense of travel and lodging in Angola (at least this match is in Benguela and not World’s-Most-Expensive-City Luanda) it’s expected that at least 1,000 fans from each side are set to fly down. Although Algeria have delivered more tactical compactness than aesthetic footballing thrills, surely if anything can fire to the next level it’s the intensity of this clash. It has to be said after exorcising their demons in their 3-0 loss to Malawi, Les Fennecs have looked more cohesive than any other side at CAN…except Egypt!
NIGERIA-GH★NA is a rematch of the match that sent home the Super Eagles in the quarterfinals of CAN 2008. These two West African footballing giants have a less violent rivalry, though it has a deeeep history, going back to the 1950s Jalco Cup competition held between the two:
The 1958 edition of the JALCO Cup was perhaps the most melodramatic. The Black Stars came to Lagos determined to avenge Nigeria’s first win on Ghanaian soil. The score was 2-2 when an unfortunate, if not scandalous decision by the centre referee almost completely ruined a match of outstanding quality. Hell broke loose as the Black Stars, captained by Ghanaian legend Charles Gyamfi, protested the “goal” vehemently. A furious wife of Ohene Djan stormed the field and slapped the centre referee, causing the match to be stopped for twenty minutes.
Sadly tomorrow will likely see the Ghana WAGs more sedate. Alas, despite Ghana’s massive injury problems they still might be seen as favorites. Nigeria has been downright soporific so far this tournament, and Ghana’s youthful side seem to be gaining in confidence. This humble blogger’s predictions have been less than revelatory throughout CAN ’10…so why not just watch the games yourselves! Hopefully our editorial crew will be around tomorrow for to illuminate & unpack as these semifinal clashes unfold. CYA THEN!
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”.
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.
It’s official CRUNCHTIME for Group B here at Bolas & Bandieras. Unfortunately I am currently on the Megabus from Philadelphia to New York, and I don’t think the WIFI here is strong enough to support a live video stream.
Luckily, we can all follow along with Gregg Roughley at the Guardian as he updates us as to the proceedings in the BIG MATCH between the Ghana Black Stars and the mighty Burkina Faso Stallions. It’s currently scoreless after 22 minutes.
Daouda Diakité did a handy job in goal against Côte d’Ivoire last week, and he’ll be hoping to keep this game scoreless, as the Burkinabe team will go through to the quarterfinals without scoring or conceding a goal if this game ends 0-0.
Ghana’s best player, Michael Essien, is out with a hamstring strain, or something. Whatever it is, it’s a blow for Ghana, although Chelsea managed to score 7 goals over the weekend without Essien.
Ghana have also flown in a pitch-expert (Frank Boahene from Green Grass Technology) to advise the Black Stars as to boot selection, and how best to physically prepare for playing on the cruddy Angolan pitches.
HALF-TIME, GHANA 1-0 BURKINA FASO
Ghana midfielder Dede Ayew scores a header (which I have not seen, but was sure to have been CRACKING) from a looping Mathew Amoah cross. The marking was apparently poor, and thanks to it, Ghana have one foot in the quarter-finals. Apparently Jonathan Pitroipa has been getting lively down the right wing for Burkina Faso. 45 minutes to go!
In other world soccer news, USMNT winger Clint Dempsey is awaiting prognosis after picking up a bad injury in the game against Blackburn Rovers. There are fears that he could be out for the rest of the season, missing out on South Africa as well.
Algeria coach Rabah Saadane denies any funny business going on during the dull 0-0 draw between Angola and Algeria which saw both teams go through to the quarterfinals.
Angolan special forces (‘dubbed “Ninjas” for their all-black uniform’) have arrested three prominent human-rights activists in relation to the FLEC shootings. All three had formerly been members of Mpalabanda, “the only human rights organization in Cabinda” (which was apparently disbanded by the Angolan government in 2006 b/c of alleged political involvement).
FULL TIME: GHANA GO THROUGH!
The match finishes without any further goals, Ghana going through in fairly unconvincing fashion. That’s tough on the Burkinabes, but they must be at least heartened by their fairly solid performance. Who knows how the group would have looked if Togo had been there to mix it up a bit. Ghana will face Angola in the quarterfinals, and I’ve got to say the home side will probably be favorites.
In other news, the Mali team are lodging a protest against dull 0-0 draws that knock them out of competitions, the Togo keeper previously reported as dead has recovered (somewhat) and his in stable condition, Chelsea condescendingly attempt to appear charitable, and Gary Neville shows the kind of mature leadership that one expects from a club like United.
y venga pibe de oro…
It’s Day 6 of CAN ’10 and the coverage trundles along here at BOLAS & BANDEIRAS. The Black Stars of Ghana are making their tournament debut here today, what with the initial match with Togo being scratched and all. The big news is that midfield wizard Michael Essien is not starting for Ghana—he’s had a persistent hamstring problem and due to travel complications only arrived in Angola the day before yesterday.
It’s HALFTIME already in today’s centerpiece showdown and it’s Ivory Coast 1-0 Ghana!!! So far Ivory Coast are looking more fluent as a team, and hugely improved from their draw with Burkina Faso. Yaya Toure is showing the same brand of midfield swagger normally on show at Barcelona. The most marked change comes in attack, where the Kalou-Drogba-Gervinho trident has looked impressive. Indeed the goal came from a Yaya through ball which found Kalou wide on the right, centering for Gervinho to poke home. Ghana had seriously limited chances…let’s see if the newly-promoted U-20 Black Starlets can rise to the occasion in the 2nd half! Thing are getting back underway and Essien is indeed coming on—he hasn’t played a match in 5 weeks, so let’s see if he is able to adjust and give Ghana a boost.
IVORY COAST 3
That’s how it finishes…Cote D’Ivoire played the last 35 minutes of the game with 10 men after Arsenal hothead Emmanuel Eboue was sent off for a demented two-footed lunge from behind. The damage was limited 10 minutes later when they doubled their lead after midfielder Siaka Tiene scored from an extremely-well placed free kick 30 yards out. Despite mixing up their personnel a bit (Asamoah Gyan added a bit of pep) they never seriously threatened to get themselves back in the game. Ghana’s sole goal came from a 92′ penalty, however it was all a bit late as Didier Drogba opened his CAN ’10 account moments before, making it 3-0 with a headed goal.
So, Ivory Coast become the first team to qualify for the knockout stages. Ghana’s hopes of qualifying aren’t entirely dashed though—they’re through if they beat Burkina Faso on Tuesday the 19th. One of the more exciting encounters I’ve witnessed thus far, and nice to see The Elephants flaunting their pedigree as tourney faves.
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.!