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?!
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.
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!
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.
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…
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!!!
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!
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.
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?
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.
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:
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).