••• BOLAS & BANDEIRAS •••

World Cup 2010 — Group G

Posted in Uncategorized by Steven Villereal on June 10, 2010

IVORY COAST

Touted as the great African hope at the first World Cup to be held on the African continent, it’s hard to know exactly what to expect of of Côte d’Ivoire. From back to front, they are undoubtedly the most star-studded African side, boasting many players from the famous ASEC Abidjan academy. They also sport a bit more solidity in defense, with Kolo Toure commanding things at centerback, and the fairly trustworthy Boubacar Barry in goal. Though perhaps not the tightest markers in the world, the can call on Arsenal’s Emmanuel Eboue on the right and the 5’5″ left back, “The African Roberto Carlos” Arthur Boka. Indeed, the grit continues in central midfielder, where Barcelona’s Yaya Toure lines up aside Romaric of Sevilla (who missed out on the CAN ’10 in Angola and whose return to the side will be welcomed). Yaya is becoming an increasingly mature midfield boss and box-to-box runner, not unlike a young Patrick Vieira. However, it is their offensive firepower that is most remarked upon, with Salomon Kalou, Arouna Dindane, Kader Keita, and goal-scoring youthman Gervinho fighting for a place in attack.

Gervinho: here's to hoping the hair doesn't make the man

It’s the latter that might be the most potent new addition to the Ivorians attack—he is quite pacy and coming off an excellent season at Lille. Obviously, there’s also captain Didier Drogba leading the line. Drogz is undoubtedly one of the finest players in the world (and it’s increasingly looking like the elbow injury he sustained last week will not prevent him from playing), however it’s been said that his desire to lead the team can sometimes undermine The Elephants larger tactical plan.  Perhaps that will all change under new gaffer Sven-Goran Eriksson, the former Benfica/Lazio/England manager who took over in March. A bit more tactical steel and organizational maturity is definitely what Ivory Coast have lacked in their last several years of international soccer.

Although they failed to get out of their group (admittedly the most difficult in the tournament) in the 2006 WC, The Elephants impressed in hard-fought 2-1 defeats to both Argentina and The Netherlands—no shame in losing to either of those two—and beat Serbia & Montenegro 3-2. However, their performances in the 2008 and 2010 African Cup of Nations were decidedly less convincing. 2008 saw them start promisingly, but get dismantled 4-1 by Egypt in the semifinals. 2010 was yet more embarrassingly, as they utterly collapsed against Algeria in extra time.

That most recent defeat is what really sows seeds of doubt—centerback Souleymane Bamba in particular was totally at sea, 100% at fault for two free headers which helped Algeria equalize and then take the lead in extra time. They showed a total lack of heart in that game as well, letting a late goal reduce them to rubble. They have a very, very difficult group, so they will need a bit more mental clarity and determination to eek out of the group ahead of Portugal.

NORTH KOREA

It’s perhaps unavoidable that analysis of the qualification of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (hereafter North Korea!) would mostly certain around political themes. This is only the second time they have ever qualified for the finals, the other being their (cliché watch) FAIRYTALE 1966 campaign in which they knocked out Italy and led 3-0 against Eusebio’s Portugal, only to lose 5-3. The actual footballing prowess of the 2010 has been overshadowed by various scandals, including their failed attempt to use a player as both a goalkeeper and striker—but also by the fact they are the odd man out in a very, very difficult group. An exceptionally in-depth look at the tactics and approach of this current squad comes via zonalmarking.net’s seriously in-depth investigation, detailing not just their tendency to play with almost 6 men at the back but also the attacking threat they pose.

“If you expected them to be well-organised at the back but lacking technical quality upfront, think again. Their front two are the two best players in the side – Hong Yong-Jo plays a classic trequartista role, playing between defence and midfield and looking to play through balls for the striker. And what a striker he is – Jong Tae-Se makes intelligent runs starting from wide positions and has a lethal shot on him.”

It’s enough to give one pause, and perhaps the North Koreans are capable of pulling off a surprise—but against Brazil or Portugal?

PORTUGAL

Carlo’s Queiroz‘s squad struggled during the qualifying rounds, but are gradually cohering as a team in their recent friendlies. Queiroz is not everyone’s favorite as a tactician, and during his time at Manchester United was frequently criticized for his overthought conservatism. Indeed, Portugal’s most disappointing run of results in the qualifiers were a string of three nil-nil draws (two against Sweden but also against Albania!). One man who Queiroz knows well from his days coaching ultra-odioua Man U is Cristiano Ronaldo. Despite all the Nike marketing buxxx and media hype, Ronaldo has not played well and has not scored a goal for the national team since Feb 2009 (a penalty in a friendly against Finland). The time is nigh for Ronaldo to start producing, especially with last week’s costly injury to Nani (the man “replaced” him at Manchester United). I find “CR9” to be an obnoxiously petulant diva, and am definitely capable of offering objective analysis regarding him! What his first season at Real Madrid has proved, however, is that he is not much a team player—he can be a great distributor of the ball, but tantrums ensue if the result of the build-up play doesn’t immediately re-include him. Let’s not dwell on unpleasantries though, as there is a lot more to the Portuguese seleção than one brat with too much hair gel.

WORDS FAIL

Portugal have a reliable centerback partnership in Chelsea’s Paulo Ferreira and Bruno Alves of Porto, both tall and with excellent positional sensibilities. They certainly do not lack experience or creativity in midfield, with Deco and Tiago lining up in the center. They’re backed by the newly fit-again Pepe, a centerback at Real Madrid who fills a holding midfield role when playing for nation. Another offensive threat who will be looking to assert himself in the absence of Nani is Atlético Madrid’s Simão Sabrosa. Finally, normally playing as a sole striker, is Liédson. Born in Brazil, he was controversially given Portuguese citizenship (after 6 years of residence there playing for Sporting) and called up to the national squad in late 2009—just in time to score some crucial goals in Portugal’s stuttering pursuit of World Cup qualification. The seleção‘s first match against Ivory Coast will be crucial for both teams to claim early points in a deadly difficult group. I’d love to see Portugal win it all—provided Ronaldo break his leg in the first game.  B)

BRAZIL

That other seleção can’t seem to ever avoid being tournament favorites, despite lacking some of the flashier starpower of the 2006 squad. Dunga‘s charges come into the tournament looking dramatically more pragmatic than Parreira’s “magic rectangle” of Ronaldo (the one without abs), Ronaldinho, Adriano, and Kaká. The three points of that polygon who are casualties that time around epitomize Dunga’s philosophy—there will be no flashy, partying passengers under his watch.

Dunga: the flat top of tomorrow, today

Dunga, a man who sports a flat top and served as the no-nonsense holding midfielder who captained Brazil to the 1994 cup, is not fucking around—he’s looking to win, not to package some sort of cultural advertisement for Brazilian “samba style” soccer.

Dunga’s footballing philosophy is perhaps best embodied in his choice of captain, the knuckle-dragging, kick-up-arse-delivering centerback Lúcio. It’s also highlighted in his choice of Maicon (before he became the Hotttttest Right Back in The World™ through his performances at Inter Milan) over Barcelona’s right-side bombing Dani Alves; the latter simple doesn’t play enough defense to be Dunga’s frist choice. Between the posts is who many consider the best goalkeeper in the world, Inter’s Julio Cesar. Where Brazil might be the most vulnerable is in Dunga’s old position. The rapidly aging Gilberto Silva provides cover in front of the back four, with the only alternative being Felipe Meio (and exciting prospect coming off a nightmarish season at Fiorentina). The Brazilian media clamored for the inclusion of the partially resurgent Ronaldinho, who has regained some form since his move to AC Milan, if not Santos youngsters Neymar and Ganso. The team was supposedly too dependent on Kaká, a player admittedly not at the height of his powers at the moment, for creativity. However, I feel players like Benfica’s Ramires (formerly at Cruzeiro) or even Josue, can be counted on for moments of inspiration pushing forward.

There was basically only one surprise call-up, and that was Wolfsburg’s Grafite (formerly of São Paulo). He offers another option in attack, although many are tipping fleet-footed target man Luis Fabiano of Sevilla to be the tournament’s top scorer. Brazil should obviously qualify with ease—though they might struggle against more defensively resolute teams (perhaps even North Korea), unlike in the past this is a seleção that knows how to grind out ugly wins.

••• Official BOLAS & BANDEIRAS Qualifying Picks: Brazil, Ivory Coast

CAN ’10: Quarterfinals! Ivory Coast-Algeria

Posted in Uncategorized by Steven Villereal on January 24, 2010

Welp, having wiped away the tears shed at the departure of the Palancas Negras from CAN ’10, it’s time to pull ourselves together in order to “cover” today’s other match: COTE D’IVORE v. ALGERIE. Les Fennecs are certainly being viewed as rank underdogs: they were lifeless in their last match against Angola (admittedly a game lifeless-by-design in the 2nd half) and they scored just one goal in the group stages (from a set piece). If the western media’s team news is to be believed, some key players will miss out through injury: Rafik Saif, the man who they desperately lean on for goals; the requisite re-nationalized Frenchman & mazy dribbler Mourad Meghni; and comedian-goalkeeper-bobblemaster Fawzi Chaouchi.

If Algeria win, I buy you this mousepad

What about Les Elephants? Like Ghana, the fact that they only played 2 group stage matches makes them a bit more difficult to suss out. They reached an impressive level of team rapport when they beat Ghana 3-1, but have had more than a week’s rest since that match. They looked solid in that victory (against more talented opposition than they face today), with the midfield cohering around Yaya Toure’s leadership. Perhaps more ominously for the Algerians, the attacking trident of Kalou/Gervinho/Drogba were beginning to look dangerous indeeeeed. I am not really one for predictions, but I’m gonna put my as-yet-unconfirmed dignity on the line and say 3-0 Ivory Coast?

Sooo, here are the teams—Megni & Chaouchi are both indeed playing in goal for Algeria. Dunno if it’s mindgames or crap wire services, but the pregame news and team sheets have been wildly inaccurate so far this tourney! Ivory Coast’s only change from their win over Ghana is Hamburg rightback Guy Demel coming in for the suspended Emmanuel Eboue.

Ivory Coast: Barry, Tiene, Kolo Toure, Bamba, Demel, Zokora, Yaya Toure, Tiote, Kalou, Gervinho, Drogba.
Algeria: Chaouchi, Bougherra, Halliche, Yahia, Belhadj, Matmour, Yebda, Mansouri, Ziani, Meghni, Ghezzal.

OK, I’m gonna feast my eyes upon the sporting spectacle…watch this space!

Reverent Elephants

2 Min: We have our first firm Algerian kick to Didier Drogba’s ankle!

4 Min: 1-0 Ivory Coast! Yaya Koure attempts a sexxxy backheel on the edge of the box…it’s blocked, BUT he ball ricochets fortuitously to Salomon Kalou, who slots the ball home!

22 Min: Algeria haven’t done much, but Ivorian keeper Boubacar Barry is starting to show his eccentric side. He’s looked composed so far this tournament but in the last 5 minutes he’s almost handled outside the area while sliding to smother a ball, and more dangerously just got closed down by a defender when trying to hack a backpass clear…luckily the ball rebounded behind for a goal kick.

28 Min: Algeria had a good 10 minutes there, improving there passing communication (“finding their feet” as my English commentator puts it). They’re chipping lofted balls into the box from 25 yards or so out, trying to test the Ivorian centerbacks. However, Ivory Coast move quickly on the break and immediately Algeria look creeeeeaky defensively.

32 Min: Boubacar Barry-watch™!!! The keeper comes off his line and makes an excellent diving interception of a threatening Algerian cross.

40 Min: Algeria 1-1 Ivory Coast!!! A long ball into the boxes bounces to attacking midfielder Karim Matmour, he controls from left to right, shimmies excellently and dispatches the ball into the back of the net! Seriously skillful first couple of touches and a really powerful shot…GAME PROVERBIALLY ONNN

45 Min: OMG seriously how FUCKING SEXY IS DIDIER DROGBA?! oh, sorry.

‘TIS 1-1 @ HALFTIME and MJ is bumping on the PA in Cabinda!!! To uncreatively lean on a cliche, it’s been a half of two halves. Algeria worked out some kinks and certainly looked dangerous on the counterattack. Gotta say though they are basically shitting themselves any time Gervinho is running at them on the wing or Drogba through the middle. 45 more minutes to play here!

Halftime MJ tributes console the public in Cabinda

MJ UPDATE! It wasn’t just blaring over the soundsystem, there was a phalanx of MJ IMPERSONATORS on the pitch! Sadly my PPV feed wasn’t giving them the camera time they richly deserved…the choreography seemed tight.

PATERNALISTIC JOURNALISM UPDATE!: If I am not up-to-minute enough for you and you’d like more whining about:  a) what this whole CAN ’10 things means for English soccer  b) veiled allusions to Lazy Africans  c) criticisms of the pitch quality (why don’t they just rip it up and re-lay it at great expense like they did for the New Wembley pitch how many fucking times?!) d) blah blah blah, THEN BY ALL MEANS TUNE INTO THE BBC COVERAGE!

58 Min: Kalou jinks through two Algeria defenders and puts a shot about half a foot wide of goal…

60 Min: Algeria keeper Chaouchi is looking good in a snug American Apparel-manufactured GK’s onesy, with some classic white Pony hightops…

64 Min: The fans behind the Algerian goal get a welcome WHOOOOSH of air, as Didier Drogba whiffs an open chance at the far corner after Kalou floated in a nice cross…missed opportunity. He is still sexy as fuck though.

68 Min: Dang! CB Souleymane Bamba dithers over a backpass and is robbed by Matmour, who is then DENIED when 1-on-1 with the rapidly redeemed Boubacar Barry, making an excellent save to his left.

75 Min: Algeria’s meaty frontman are winning the physical battles with the Ivorians centerbacks. Ghezzal just had a chance about 4 yards out the he fired directly at Kolo Toure. Algeria clearly in ascendancy right now…

84 Min: Kader Keita comes on for Kalou, puts Gervinho through on goal with his first touch of the ball. Gervinho gleefully spurns the chance, putting over goal with a left footed shot. That shoulda been 2-1.

89 Min IVORY COAST 2-1 ALGERIA!!! During an Ivorian attacking move, the ball rolls to supersub Kader Keita who buries the ball into the upper lefthand corner of the net with his left foot…putting it WHERE THE OWL SLEEPS.

90+2 Min IVORY COAST 2-2 ALGERIA!!! MADNUSSSS here in Cabinda. Bamba definitely at fault as a cross from the left finds Madjid Bougherra totally unmarked at the far post…and he dutifully heads in to equalize!!! Extra time beckons…

Souleymane Bamba explains his unique marking system to Boubacar Barry

ET 2: ALGERIA SCORE A 3rd! It’s substitute Hameur Bouazza, who heads in unmarked. Ivorian leftback Tiene thoughtfully regards a surging Karim Ziana, doesn’t think to close him down and he puts in a lovely cross…luckily for Bouazza his “marker” was Souleymane Bamba!

ET 5: I need a Gatorade or something. Zokora comes off, as Cote D’Ivoire add another attacker in Arouna Dindane.

ET 8: An unmarked Didier Drogba unleashes a forceful shot just inside the box, but Chaouchi is up for it…nice save.

ET 10++++: Chaouchi has seemingly injured himself while flailing about on the ground…but wait he’s OK! Good thing the clock was running during that whole episode.

ET 14: Just as I was about to call out “old-fashioned style center forward” Ghezzal for playacting, he’s up and dabbing away the blood oozing out of his head.

EXTRA TIME HALFTIME: Still needing a Gatorade here. Can’t really see Ivory Coast overturning this now, they looked mentally crushed…then again I said they would win 3-1!

ET 16: Uhhhh, insane pinball in the Ivory Coast box. A bit too much for me to cover…it should be like 5-2 right now. A cross found Ghezzal breaking away from his “marker” at the far post, put he elected to careen the ball of his inner thigh rather than finish for a goal.

ET 19: Ivory Coast are falling apart here, with Bamba in particular a fucking joke in defense. Sooo, this match has certainly made the Ivory Coast/Brazil/Portugal/N. Korea •Group of Deathhh• look markedly less deadly.

ET 22: Chaouchi in rolling-around-on-ground SHOCKER! It looks a bit seriously though…my insight-free commentator opines “I hope he hasn’t swallowed his tongue…”

ET 28: Looks like the Algerian dogs squad are going to go through…which could set up a tasty MATCH OF HATE against Egypt if they can conquer Cameroon. There are going to be 4 minutes of extra time, about ¼ of what Chaouchi wasted rolling around on the ground with sundry ailments.

ET 30+: Ivory Coast have a Kolo Toure equalizer DISALLOWED…incorrectly. BLIMEY!

FULLTIME!  ALGERIA 3-2 IVORY COAST!!! A truly •••BONKERS••• match sends favorites Ivory Coast home packing. They were robbed of a totally legit equalizing goal at the death there, but it’s hard to pity them as they pissed away their chance to win this game. They were shocking in defense in the last 5 minutes of regulation, and ridiculously awful in extra time. Cheers to Algeria, who certainly looked like the more cohesive team.

Thanks for following along, if anyone actually did that!  BEIJINHOS!

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CAN ’10: Day 6!

Posted in Uncategorized by Steven Villereal on January 15, 2010

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.

Gervinho & hair ruminate on putting Cote D'Ivoire into the lead

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
GHANA 1

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.

Eboue gives 100% (into the back of Opoku's knees)

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.

Local love for D. Drogz

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CAN ’10: Day 2 summary!

Posted in Uncategorized by Steven Villereal on January 11, 2010

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)
ALGERIA 0

Wristbands also absorb tears...

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

Kone is not praying—he's ashamed

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.

CAN 2010 — Group B

Posted in Uncategorized by Steven Villereal on January 9, 2010

IVORY COAST

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!:

BURKINAFASO

Skipper Paulo Duarte urging his players to usar a cabeça

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:

GHNA

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.

TOGO

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.

Global superstar Emmanuel Adebayor in post-attack shock

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.!