My Kingdom for an AFCON Group of Death

January 25, 2012 — by Rob Kirby


Without a “Group of Death,” and without 5 of the top 8 ranked African countries (Egypt, Algeria, Nigeria, Cameroon and South Africa all failed to qualify), the opening stages of the African Cup of Nations lacks a bit in the tasty fixtures department. For perspective, Tunisia, the participating country with the fourth-highest FIFA ranking is still behind tiny Cape Verde Islands (who also did not qualify).

Far too sensibly, the four teams with the best shot at hoisting the trophy—the Ivory Coast, Ghana, Senegal and Tunisia—each belong to a different group, so there’s no early heavyweight matchups. (Damn Pot A…) Tunisia and Morocco dueled in a North African derby of sorts on Monday, as did neighbors Mali and Guinea yesterday, but until the tournament enters the knockout stages, it’s hard to call any match a must-see event. (Tunisia and Mali both won.)

Even if something must-see does arise, it’s impossible to see any of the matches without the glitches and freezes of streaming video. Did the absences of Egypt, Algeria, Nigeria, Cameroon and South Africa make the Cup of Nations a less appealing broadcast prospect? Presumably other factors dictated that, but one can see why a broadcaster wouldn’t break the bank for the rights to show Sudan versus Burkina Faso.

On the immediate horizon, the Ghana-Mali match on Saturday looks interesting. (John Mensah, Ghana’s lone scorer and gamewinner against Botswana, misses out due to also grabbing the lone red card. Ghana are also without Kevin Prince Boateng, who retired from international soccer, to focus on AC Milan.)

However, it all looks somewhat tame until the quarterfinals on February 4. Come February, though, there could be some excellent matchups ahead. Despite Senegal’s stumble to Zambia in their opening match, the four frontrunners will likely top their groups, and host nations historically make the quarters and semis with freakish regularity, so there could be a lot of energy pinging about. Both Equatorial Guinea and Gabon won their first matches, so they’re starting off on the right track, especially considering Equatorial Guinea is ranked 151st in the world.

(Update: Senegal lost to Equatorial Guinea, which sees them eliminated from the tournament even before the third match vs. Libya. Thanks for making me look like an ass, guys.)

I watched the Mali-Guinea match yesterday. Pretty interesting game—relaxing without being boring—and then I realized, no vuvuzelas. Ahh.
Load up your favorite stream for these upcoming fixtures:

Wednesday, January 25, 2012
11:00 ET Libya vs. Zambia Group A Estadio de Bata
2:00 ET Equatorial Guinea vs. Senegal Group A Estadio de Bata

Thursday, January 26, 2012
11:00 ET Sudan vs. Angola Group B Nuevo Estadio de Malabo
2:00 ET Ivory Coast vs. Burkina Faso Group B Nuevo Estadio de Malabo

Friday, January 27, 2012
11:00 ET Niger vs. Tunisia Group C Stade d’Angondje
2:00 ET Gabon vs. Morocco Group C Stade d’Angondje

Saturday, January 28, 2012
11:00 ET Botswana vs. Guinea Group D Stade de Franceville
2:00 ET Ghana vs. Mali Group D Stade de Franceville

Sunday, January 29, 2012
1:00 ET Equatorial Guinea vs. Zambia Group A Stade d’Angondje
1:00 ET Libya vs. Senegal Group A Estadio de Bata

Monday, January 30, 2012
1:00 ET Ivory Coast vs. Angola Group B Stade d’Angondje
1:00 ET Sudan vs. Burkina Faso Group B Estadio de Bata

Tuesday, January 31, 2012
1:00 ET Gabon vs. Tunisia Group C Stade de Franceville
1:00 ET Niger vs. Morocco Group C Stade d’Angondje

Wednesday, February 1, 2012
1:00 ET Botswana vs. Mali Group D Stade d’Angondje
1:00 ET Ghana vs. Guinea Group D Stade de Franceville


The Ivory Coast’s Year, This Year?

January 22, 2012 — by Rob Kirby


The Ivory Coast won their first match of the 2012 African Cup of Nations today, a 1-0 defeat of Sudan with Didier Drogba scoring the lone goal. Shockingly, Gervinho rocketed a few over the crossbar. And he’s usually so clinical…

Curious as to their current FIFA ranking and who else might likely put up a fight against the Elephants, I looked it up. Learning that they rank 18th internationally didn’t surprise, but the fact that only 5 other African countries make up the top 50 did.

Current FIFA rankings:

18 Côte d’Ivoire   
26 Ghana   
32 Algeria  
36 Egypt   
43 Senegal   
45 Nigeria

Then I looked up the past few winners of the cup. 2010, Egypt. 2008, Egypt. 2006, Egypt. 2004, Tunisia.

Egypt? For three tournaments running?

More current Ivory Coast players have played for Arsenal in the past two years than I could even name on the Egypt national team. Actually, anyone I named on the Egypt national team would be a guess–I don’t know any player for certain who is Egyptian.

(I just looked up the current team roster–I recognize nary a name. I somewhat remember Zaki for Hull City, but he’s been dropped from the most recent squad.)

Compare with the Ivory Coast: Kolo Toure (Manchester City), Yaya Toure (Manchester City), Gervinho (Arsenal), Didier Drogba (Chelsea), Salomon Kalou (Chelsea), Cheik Tiote (Newcastle United), Arthur Boka (Stuttgart), Didier Zokora (Trabzonspor), Emmanuel Eboue (Galatasaray).

The Ivory Coast didn’t light the world on fire in either the 2006 or 2010 World Cups. They failed to make it out of the group stages of either one, incidentally the only two for which they’ve ever qualified.

Do Les Éléphants choke when it really comes down to it, or will this year finally be the year? Egypt didn’t even qualify for this year’s Cup–the top spot is wide open!

(The Ivory Coast did win in 1992, to be fair.)

Cup Winners:

2010 Egypt 1-0 Ghana
2008 Egypt 1-0 Cameroon
2006 Egypt 0-0 Ivory Coast (4-2 Pens)
2004 Tunisia 2-1 Morocco
2002 Cameroon 0-0 Senegal (3-2 Pens)
2000 Cameroon 2-2 Nigeria (4-3 Pens)
1998 Egypt 2-0 South Africa
1996 South Africa 2-0 Tunisia
1994 Nigeria 2-1 Zambia
1992 Ivory Coast 0-0 Ghana (11-10 Pens)
1990 Algeria 1-0 Nigeria
1988 Cameroon 1-0 Nigeria
1986 Egypt 0-0 Cameroon (5-4 Pens)
1984 Cameroon 3-1 Nigeria
1982 Ghana 1-1 Libya (7-6 Pens)
1980 Nigeria 3-0 Algeria
1978 Ghana 2-0 Uganda
1976 Morocco (League Format)
1974 Zaire 2-0 Zambia (After Replay)
1972 Congo 3-2 Mali
1970 Sudan 1-0 Ghana
1968 RD Congo 1-0 Ghana
1965 Ghana 3-2 Tunisia
1963 Ghana 3-0 Sudan
1961 Ethiopia 4-2 Egypt
1959 Egypt 2-1 Sudan
1957 Egypt 4-0 Ethiopia


African Academy of Superstars

January 6, 2012 — by Rob Kirby


When Gervinho, Salomon Kalou, Didier Zokora, Emmanuel Eboué and the brothers Touré convene in Abu Dhabi this month to represent the Ivory Coast in the African Cup of Nations, it will be a high school reunion of sorts. All graduates of the academy of the ASEC Mimosas in the Ivorian capital Abidjan, they have played together for years. (ASEC Mimosas is short for Académie Sportive des Employés de Commerce Mimosas, or “Sporting Academy of Retail Workers Mimosas.” Really rolls off the tongue.)

Sven-Goran Eriksson, manager of the Ivory Coast national team in the 2010 World Cup, said to the BBC in 2010, “This is the most successful academy in the world if you look at all the players who started their careers here.” He added, “Obviously there is a lot of talent in this country. But this academy is top quality, for Africa and in the world.”

In 1993, new manager and former French national player Jean-Marc Guillou formed the Académie MimoSifcom at the already successful ASEC Mimosas team, whose players formed the nucleus of the Ivory Coast squad that won the African Cup of Nations in 1992.

After ASEC Mimosas then won the CAF Champions League in 1998, the high profile win caught the attention of many European scouts. Olympique de Marseille snapped up team captain Tchiressoua Guel, and others found new clubs as well. The depleted ranks then prompted Guillou to name several academy products in the African Super Cup in 1999, which the team won. Among this first crop, a familiar name: Kolo Touré.

Since then, the academy has formed several top players who have brought the team domestic success (in all, ASEC Mimosas has won the Ivorian Premier Division 23 times since 1963). Meanwhile, many players have launched careers abroad and sealed moves to top European sides. In addition to Kolo and Yaya Touré at Manchester City, Kalou plays for Chelsea, Eboué for Galatasaray, Gervinho for Arsenal, Didier Zokora for Trabzonspor (formerly for Tottenham and Sevilla) and Romaric for Espanyol (on loan from Sevilla).

Less household names (to non-Ivorians) to ply their trade overseas include Boubacar “Copa” Barry, Bonaventure Kalou, and Wilfried Zaha.

Kolo may have been part of The Invincibles at Arsenal, but it wasn’t a first for him. ASEC went unbeaten for 108 league games between 1989 and 1994, the world record. (Steaua Bucureşti went 104 unbeaten in the late 1980s.)

At the academy, students train twice a day for a total of 4 hours and take classes in math, history, geography, physics, French, English and Spanish. They live in dorms during the week. The school provides healthcare and tutoring as well.

Guillou left Abidjan in 2001 to manage Belgian side K.S.K. Beveren, soon joined by several players from Académie MimoSifcom. Yaya Touré, Arthur Boka, Eboué, Gervinho, Romaric and Copa each played for Beveren.

Gervinho has credited the stint at Beveren as the final stage of development.

“The transfer from Africa to Beveren was part of the training,” Gervinho told the Daily Mail, a UK newspaper. “Most of the players would leave the centre for Belgium. We all met again there in Beveren. It was a way to adjust to European football and having us all together made the move easier for all of us. We were all happy to leave Africa for Europe, we knew how lucky we were to move to Europe at a young age. Someone was looking after us. Beveren helped me a lot to adjust to Europe.”

Of the academy, Gervinho said, “Back in the days, being able to join the Jean-Marc Guillou academy was one of the best things that could happen to a youngster from Ivory Coast. There were thousands of kids who wanted to join that school so it was a great feeling for me.”

Not that the school was a walk in the park. Kalou has said that players start barefoot and earn cleats, until which point they may actually play against players wearing said cleats (or “boots”), a phenomenon that left scars on his feet.

In an interview with the Daily Mail (I know, again), he said: ‘You had to earn the right to wear boots. I arrived there when I was 12. Left my home and my family. They were now four hours away. And the first thing you are told is no boots. You play barefoot.

“I was there for five years and it took me two years to get my boots. The coach, Jean Marc Guillou said if you can feel the ball without the boots you will feel it better when you have them on. Not until you got to a certain level were you allowed to wear boots. And even then you first had to pass a test.”

As for “the degree,” Kalou explained, “It was a technical test, divided into a number of different tasks. In one of them you had to dribble the ball on your head for the whole length of the pitch in less than 45 seconds. If you passed four sections but failed the fifth, you failed the whole thing and had to wait for another opportunity.

“Those who passed got their boots. A new pair of Adidas Copa Mundials. Beautiful. But those who failed had to keep playing barefoot, even though you then had to train with the players wearing boots. I did not pass first time and I did worry that I would have to play barefoot forever.”

“Every top player from Ivory Coast, with the exception of Didier (Drogba), who was brought up in Paris, went through the academy,” Kalou said. “They believed in a process, in a way of developing our skills, and everything was geared towards becoming a professional footballer.

“I did not see much of my family once I was there. We would maybe get one day off a week and a four-hour journey was too much if I had to get there and back in a day. So we all spent a lot of time together; became great friends.”

Interesting clip of the student-athletes training with tennis balls (and barefoot):

Training at ASEC Mimosas


Part 3 of What To Watch Over the Interlull (Sunday March 27)

March 27, 2011 — by Suman

We’re past the halfway point of the Interlull.  We saw some interesting matches Friday and Saturday.  There’s less to watch today–then no games tomorrow, but a whole slate of interesting ones on Tuesday.  Here are the two we choose for today,

Sunday, March 27:

The one getting all the attention is Scotland hosting A Seleçã London (?):

Scotland-Brazil at Emirates in London (ESPN2, 9amET): See our Sao Paulo-based correspondent’s rundown of the newish Seleção here.  We don’t much about the Scottish side.  If you really want a preview of them, listen to the segment on this week’s Guardian Football Weekly Extra pod, wherein they get Scotsman Ewan Murray on the phone in order to discuss the match.

But we’re equally intrigued by this match in Brazzaville–we’re just not sure if we’ll get to watch it:

It's not often you get to see this national team play--and you probably won't today


Congo-Ghana in Brazzaville (no US TV): An interesting Cup of African Nation qualifier. Ghana may be looking past the Congo to Tuesday’s match against England at Wembley.

Note that this match is being hosted by the Republic of Congo in the capital city of Brazzaville.  As Wikipedia points out the Republic of Congo is “Not to be confused with the neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo.”  Which is exactly what we did at first, thinking we’d refer you this post we did on TP Mazembe back in December, when they surprised the footballing world by advancing to the finals of the Club World Cup.  But TP Mazembe is of course in the DR Congo.  So all we can do on Congo is excerpt’s match preview:

Congo are a team under construction hence a lot of young players with few experience faces. Captain Christopher Samba of Blackburn Rovers would have a lot on his shoulders as they meet the ever popular Black Stars. They are just a point adrift the west Africans and a little effort from his troops coupled with the home support could do the trick for them.

Coach Camille Ngakosso would also rely heavily on striker Ibara Franchel, the 2007 CAF Young Player of the Year award winner and Switzerland-based Matt Moussilou to frustrate the current Africa best team at the Alphonse Massamba Debat Stadium.

For info on Ghana see our copious coverge of the Black Stars: here (for the Ghana starting XI vs Uruguay in the World Cup last July); here (for video of the Asamoah Gyan Dance); and here (for background about young up-&-coming striker Andre Ayew–son of the greatest Ghanaian player of all time, Abedi (Ayew) Pele).  We may see Gyan and Ayew partner up front in an exciting Ghanaian strikeforce (if not in Brazzaville, then maybe in London on Tuesday).

Ghana is clearly the highest profile side on the continent, after their inspiring showing in South Africa last summer.  They boast a squad filled with players playing club ball at the highest levels: Michael Essien, Asamoah Gyan, Sulley Muntari John Painstil, John Mensah, Richard Kingson (all Premier League); youngsters Kevin-Prince Boateng, Kwadwo Asamoah and Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu (all Serie A, the latter two at Udinese); ; Isaac Vorsah and Anthony Annan in the Bundesliga (Hoffenheim and Schalke 04, respectively); and Derek Boateng in La Liga (Getafe). See here for a list of the full squad.

Since there doesn’t appear to be any US television coverage (not sure about Europe?), one way to follow the match is via @GaryAlSmith’s Twitter stream–he is all about African football, and it appears he’s actually in Ghana.  Here is his Twitter bio:

garyalsmith: AFRICA = African Football Remains In Corrupt Administration….but…All Football Remains In Correspondence Always.



Ghana’s Andre Ayew Scores Le Classique Winner

March 23, 2011 — by Suman2

Andre Ayew celebrating his winner vs PSG

Our preview of Olympique Marseille‘s visit to Old Trafford a couple weeks ago focused in large part on their young Ghanaian striker Andre Ayew (and by extension his famous father Abedi Pele).  And then we told you to watch Le Classique this past weekend.

Well, hopefully you’ve been listening to us.  Although Marseille disappointingly couldn’t score against Man U, you would have been watching for Ayew in Sunday’s match, and he did deliver, scoring a beauty of a goal OM over their capitol city rivals PSG:

Video: Ligue 1 Highlights: Marseille/PSG

Ghana SoccerNet has a Ayew-centric match report here.  For a review of Marseille’s season, see ESPN SoccerNet’s Ligue 1 columnist compare OM to French soap opera Plus Belle La Vie.

We’ll be watching for Marseille’s remaining Ligue 1 matches, to see if they can catch Lille at the top of the table (or conversely, hold off Rennes and Lyon to ensure a return to the Champions League next fall).  A match to circle on the calendar: Lyon visits Marseille on May 5.


Weekend Highlight Reel: Arsenal Blow a 4-Goal Lead; Joey Barton Still a Thug

February 8, 2011 — by Suman

Cheik Tioté: From the Ivory Coast to Belgium to Newcastle Hero

The much-hyped Chelsea-Liverpool game Sunday of course didn’t live up to the hype (a surprising but desultory 1-0 victory for Liverpool)–but there was a bunch of exciting action over the weekend. Let’s start with Arsenal visiting Newcastle.

The Gunners scored 3 goals in the first ten minutes against Newcastle (Walcott 1′, Djourou 3′, van Persie 10′), added a 4th in the 26th minute (RVP again), and held that 4-0 lead until the 68th minute–and subsequently collapsed to end the game 4-4. Newcastle was sparked by not one but two penalties in their favor, both converted by Joey Barton–who also helped Newcastle gain a man-advantage for nearly the entire second half.

Sean called it back in August: Joey Barton is a cheap thug.  Barton’s vicious tackle on Abou Diaby early in the 2nd half led the Ivorian Frenchman to retaliate with a throwdown, which of course got Diaby a straight red (Diaby was filling in for an injured Alex Song).

That said, Newcastle’s 4th goal was especially impressive–a volley by 24-year-old Ivorian midfielder Cheik Tioté in the 87th minute.  Tioté arrived in Newcastle this summer after winning the Eredivisie title with FC Twente and playing for the Ivory Coast in the World Cup (see the Guardian’s Saturday interview from last October: “I miss Africa but Newcastle is perfect for me“.

Here is a game report, and here is video (always lucky when we get a BBC MoTD clip on footytube–watch the match highlights followed by some in-studio match analysis by Gary Lineker et al):

As usual, we solicited the thoughts of our favorite Gunners fans in the Rockies:

The Newcastle game might be a classic for the neutrals. Apparently no EPL team has ever surrendured a 4-0 lead. It was a lesson in sports-psychology. (I’ve been there, my own emotions led to the St. Xavier brawl! HA!)

Gunners: still young, emotional, and needing leadership. But they’re hardening their skin, and taking less and less shit from opponents. I hope for great things in the next 2-5 years…

I wasn’t that upset, I chuckled a few times as Arsenal folded. But they gained a point on Man Utd, and Abou Diaby did his best to put Joey Barton in his place. Pushing Barton’s head toward the pitch is worth a red and a point, eh?


Adebayor to Real Madrid (& a Map of 18th Century Gold Coast of Africa)

January 26, 2011 — by Sean

Ex-Togo international Emmanuel Adebayor has completed his move from the stands of the Eastlands to a place on the pitch at the Bernabéu. It’s no shock that he was destined to make a move in this transfer window, seeing as he’d fallen to fifth in the Man City striker pecking order (behind even Jo, of all people). His training ground fight with Kolo Toure at the start of the month was an obvious indication of his frustration (though the two have apparently been at each other in some manner since their time together at Arsenal). How well will he do in Madrid? Considering he’s joining a coach who consistently gets the best out of his players, we imagine he’ll be back on top of his game in no time. It won’t hurt to be removed from the antagonistic relationship with Toure.

Abdebayor and Toure training ground skirmish

When their fight first happened, and it was revealed that theirs was a longstanding animosity, we thought perhaps the issues ran deeper than the training ground, and perhaps even so deep as national pride. Toure is Ivorian, while Adebayor is Togolese, but the countries are separated by Ghana, and don’t seem to have had much interaction in the way of modern conflict. Knowing as we do about language traits of natural-born Africans (the population generally knows a minimum of three languages: a European/colonial language (usually german/english/french in the west), an African language (often within the Niger-Congo language group, again in the west), and a very refined tribal language. Toure is Mandinka, a very large and old ethnic group that doesn’t extend into Togo. We’re uncertain of Adebayor’s tribal associations, but we’re pretty confident he’s not Mandinka. It’s not a stretch to think there’s been some baiting going on based on tribal stereotyping.

Further on this, let’s take a look at an 18th century European-made map of the Gold Coast (that includes tribal divisions, to some degree, and trading outposts). Overlaying a modern map, we’d see a run of African countries that have provided us with the best football from the continent—Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Togo, Cameroon, Nigeria are all along this coast. There’s not a ton to say about this map other than suggesting we appreciate it’s historical significance, and we wish we knew more about the history of tribal conflict in the area. (Also, unlike the editors of the newly sanitized edition of Huckleberry Finn, we think it’s important for us all to remember the proper history of names and naming, to appreciate the power of language, and to the understand importance of learning about the past to help inform our actions in the future.)

18th Century Gold Coast of Africa (from Univerisity of Florida Archives)


FIFA Club World Cup Finalist: TP Mazembe Out of Lubumbashi (DR Congo)

December 16, 2010 — by Suman2

Tout Puissant Mazembe - Founded in 1939

How did Tout Puissant Mazembe–based in Lubumbashi, the 2nd largest city in the Democratic Republic of Congo–become the first club from outside of Europe and South America to reach the finals of a Club World Cup?

Most immediately, by upsetting the Brazilian side Internacionale 2-0 earlier this week in the semis.  (And thus preventing an Inter v Inter final. Inter Milan defeated South Korean club Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma 3-0 in the other semifinal; Internazionale will play Mazembe in the finals this Saturday).

The highlights show a couple nice finishes by the Congolese (and some relatively lax defending by the Brazilians):

For a more detailed account of how TP Mazembe reached the final, see this Guardian blog entry: “TP Mazembe continue journey from karate kids to the top of the world“; the “karate kids” reference alludes to a shameful showing in a club tournament in Kigali in May, against Rwandan army club APR FC:

Opponents of APR complain that the army club benefits from generous refereeing when playing at home and Mazembe felt they were being kicked with impunity. When the referee denied the visitors a penalty, the perceived injustice got a bit too much for some Mazembe players. Their captain and prolific striker, Trésor Mputu, protested so furiously that he was sent off and he did not, alas, go quietly.

Instead he and several team-mates chased the referee around the pitch; the midfielder Guy Lusadisu was the first to catch up with the official … and laid him out with a flying karate kick. Oh dear. The match and then the whole tournament were abandoned and Fifa banned Mputu and Lusadisu for a year. Mazembe’s hopes of retaining the African Champions League seemed doomed. The loss of Mputu, who last year was voted the best player playing his club football in Africa, was considered especially debilitating.

Here is the video of the flying karate kick in Kigali: