The Shame of AFCON 2015

by Segun Odegbami © Segun Odegbami (February 6th 2015)

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Redemption

Welcome to the final feast of AFCON 2015.

The two teams left standing on the final day are probably the two best teams of the entire championship. The emergence of Ghana and la Côte d’Ivoire at the finish line is confirmation once again that West Africa remains the most dominant region in African football. It is the two teams that have put up the most consistent series of matches, improving technically and playing better with each successive match.

It is understandably so because the teams are made up entirely of players from various leagues in Europe who did not have enough time before the championship to become formidable teams and have been using the matches of the tournament to build their team and be better organised. Like a fine wine they have grown better with time.

A closer look at both teams, to hazard a guess where the pendulum of victory would swing, reveals a deep rooted rivalry that will be on full display when they line up on Sunday to decide Africa’s champions for the next two years.

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Head-Scratching

I was asked on television the other night to name who, in my opinion, has been the best player of AFCON 2015. I ended up scratching my head in an endless attempt to recall the one moment of magic throughout the championship up to the finals that could provide me with the answer. I came up blank. I have only faint and blurred images in my memory bank.

The entire championship as a whole may have been exciting – it was in its way – but it has lacked spark and quality. Even Yaya Touré, the player that had just been crowned Africa’s best has been but a shadow of himself.

Asamoah Gyan, the other great Ghanaian superstar, has been slowed slightly by age as well as illness and an injury that have minimized his contributions even though his goal against Algeria in the dying minutes of regulation time gave Ghana the essential victory that took the team from the brink of exiting the championship to the leadership of the group. That goal marks Ghana’s turning point in the championship.

The Final Curtain Call

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There is now the final act. One great performance in the final of AFCON 2015 can provide the perfect setting and opportunity to finish as the championship’s best player. So far, in this most average of African championships, no one truly deserves it. But which of these teams do I think would win the championship?

Ghana have won it four times. But the last time was in 1982, eons ago. During the 33 years of their ‘drought’ they have met Côte d’Ivoire three times during the championship, but only once in the final. Ghana lost that match via penalties. That was at Senegal ’92.

Côte d’Ivoire have not scored a single goal in regulation time in the three finals they got to. Even when they won the championship for the first and only time in 1992 they did so through penalties!They never seem to have the nerve to finish clinically and win in regulation time! So, where does all that leave us?

My head tells me Côte d’Ivoire will win through penalties again. My heart tells me the Black Stars would win in regulation time. So what does my unreliable crystal ball say? Give it to the Star that is Black. Whichever, way, enjoy the final feast, for it will be a far cry from the shame that is Equatorial Guinea.

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The Shame of Equatorial Guinea

The Confederation of African Football, CAF, should never have awarded the African Cup of Nations championship, AFCON 2015, to Equatorial Guinea. Why they did should actually be the subject of a future inquiry. Too many things were not correct with that decision. The events of the semi-final match against Ghana now provide ammunition for those who thought it was a big mistake by CAF. On that dark long night the chickens finally came home to roost!

The Equatorial Guineans met their Waterloo on the football field as the Black Stars tore them to shreds with a very easy and humiliating 3-0 trouncing that could easily have been more. Without the 12th player to help them which happened during the quarter-final match against Tunisia, Equatorial Guinea were left exposed by the superior, more mature and better organised display put up by the very experienced Ghanaians.

Equatorial Guinea actually started the match spiritedly, matching the Ghanaians tackle for tackle, ball for ball. But as the game wore it soon became apparent something was wrong. Lacking the skill, organisation and ability of the Ghanaians, the hosts had few options, but bluster.

The strategy they adopted was to try to physically intimidate the opposition to submission, but the gamesmanship was found wanting. By the end of the first half their game had deteriorated into a brawl. It was not surprising that at the end of that half they had not only conceded two goals but had also failed to create even a single goal-scoring opportunity.

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Disgraceful

The limitations of their team, compared to the football aristocrats of Ghana were all too apparent – and quickly. Angry spectators, almost 15,000-strong, infuriated that the referee was not succumbing to intimidation and the emotional blackmail of the home team, turned their anger on the game. They knew that they were being beaten by the far better team., so they tried to get the match abandoned through shameful thuggery, thinking that it would be replayed.

They threw missiles of all sorts onto the field of play, and the match had to be temporarily suspended for over 30 minutes. Unlike the peaceful atmosphere that had pervaded the entire championship from the start until the controversial quarter-final match that was gifted to Equatorial Guinea by an obviously bad or compromised Mauritian referee, Rajindraparsad Seechurn, the semi-final was appalling.

After achieving their best result through questionable behaviour, which cowed the referee into shameful under-performance once, Equatorial Guinea tried it again, but the Gabonese referee Eric Otogo-Castane was no Seechurn and the Black Stars reacted differently to the Carthage Eagles. The semi-final match was a very bad advertisement for African football with the entire world watching the ugly incidents.

I can imagine what the CAF President Issa Hayatou and his Executive Committee members must have gone through in that half hour of absolute shame. They must have rued the day they gave Equatorial Guinea the nod to host AFCON 2015.

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Roller-Coaster

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (September 17th 2014)

The Prodigal

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Suspended indefinitely by the Ghanaian Football Federation after an altercation with the Black Starsʼ coach James Kwesi Appiah that saw him sent home from the World Cup, Schalke04ʼs German-born international Kevin-Prince Boateng must wonder whether it was worth reversing his decision to retire from international football and whether he made the right decision pledging his allegiance to the Stars rather than Germany.

Boateng was a former German youth international left Brasil early. Meanwhile his half-brother Jérôme was part of Germanyʼs World Cup winning team. The brothers have faced each other in World Cup matches twice. Four years ago Kevin was a hate figure in Germany when a mistimed tackle on Michael Ballack put the then German captain out of the World Cup. Boateng apologised to Ballack, but criticised both the German FA and national team manager Joachim Lõw. Ballackʼs international career ended controversially.

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Uncompromising

Boatengʼs disciplinary record has been troublesome, but the box to box midfielder deserves credit too. He moved to AC Milan in 2010 and made headlines for all the right reasons. Within 14 minutes of coming on as a substitute against Lecce, he had bagged a hat-trick, only the second by a substitute in Serie A

He also led the five main leagues in sendings off in 2012-2013 averaging one every six games. before deciding to leave Italy for Germany and Schalke 04. Boateng decided to change his international allegiance from Germany to Ghana. It was approved in May 2010, causing him to miss the Black Starsʼ run to the final of the African Cup of Nations in Angola.

In November 2011 he retired from international football, citing the effect of long distance travel. He was just 24 and once again missed the African Cup of Nations in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea and also South Africa in 2012 and 2013. He played in two World Cu campaigns, but his indefinite suspension suggests that he will never grace Africaʼs top competition – the next edition takes place in Morocco next year.

Uncompromising on the pitch Boateng proved himself an implacable opponent of racism too. During Italyʼs mid season break in January 2013, Pro-Patria, then in Italyʼs fourth tier played against AC Milan. Their fans racially abused Boateng who booted the ball into the stands and walked off the pitch in protest, followed by his team-mates. While some criticised him for walking off the pitch other praised his stand. Clarence Seedorf, then playing for Botafogo in Brasil thought Boatengʼs reaction played into the hands of racists.

They should just be identified and kicked out of the stadium,” Seedorf said. “Leave the 90% that were enjoying the match and finish the game. If Boateng was able to identify the whole corner, you just kick the whole corner out, That is how I think it should be handled Walking away? Yes, you send a signal. But this has happened more than once and I donʼt think it really changes all that much. We are just empowering that little group with their behaviour to make this mess”.

Among those who took to Twitter to support Boateng were Rio Ferdinand, Vincent Kompany and Patrick Vieira. “If the stories about KPB walking off the pitch with teammateʼs (sic) after being racially abused are true, fair play to him..well done #UefaStandUp”, Ferdinand said at the time.

Manchester City captain Kompany fully supported both Boateng and his then club. “Act of racism against Boateng during Milanʼs friendly” Kompany tweeted. “How about becoming extremely intolerant towards racist idiots”? UEFA has adopted penalties for racist conduct as did FIFA, but the problem persists despite close calls to a walk off previously – notably Samuel Etoʼo and Marc Zoro.

They need to be told I can only salute Milanʼs decision to leave the pitch”, Kompany tweeted. “Also noted that the majority of the fans were completely supportive of the players”.

Vieira, working with Manchester Cityʼs youth structure at the time, which he retains despite his subsequent promotion to reserve team manager, was vociferous in his support of Boateng. “It was brave of Kevin Prince Boateng to do what he did today, and it was the right thing”, Vieira said on Twitter. “We need to stand up and stand together. Well done”.

Boateng was appointed to FIFAʼs Anti-Discrimination Task Force under the CONCACAF President Jeffrey Webb. He presented his proposals earlier this year. Boateng also became an ambassador for the United Nations against racism in March 2013. He told FIFA President Sepp Blatter that he recognised that he was wrong to walk off the pitch, but that strong action needed to be taken.

Welcome

Last season Boateng completed the most dribbles in the top five European leagues. He is now an integral part of Schalkeʼs plans. Ghanaʼs decision to dispense with his services is the German clubʼs gain. Tonight he returns to England for his clubʼs opening fixture in the Championʼs League against Chelsea, weeks after playing a friendly against his former club Tottenham Hotspur.

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He was given a warm reception by Spurs fans. “Obviously itʼs a mark of respect and I think Kevin obviously did a very good job here”, Tottenham Hotspurʼs German international Lewis Holtby said. “Otherwise the reception wouldnʼt have been that good. I think itʼs good for him and itʼs good to see Tottenham fans being so positive”.

In the absence of Schalkeʼs captain the World Cup-winning German defender Benedikt Hõwedes, the responsibility on Boateng is even higher. “Heʼs a great player, a great personality, so heʼs very important for us and we are very happy that heʼs in our team”, Swiss international Tranquillo Barnetta told us.

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Klose Equals Record in Thrilling Draw

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (June 21st 2014)

Thrill-Draw

Kwesi Appiahʼs Black Stars fell just short in a thrilling 2-2 draw against Germany. Mario Götze put Germany ahead after 51 minutes after a thrilling move where Ghana could not get a touch. Three minutes later Marseilles midfielder André Ayew headed Ghana level. Almost ten minutes later Asamoah Gyan put Ghana ahead.

Joachim Löw brought Miroslav Klose on. The German striker was tied with former record holder for goals in the World Cup Finals with German legend Gerd Müller on 14, one behind Brasilʼs Ronaldo (Ronaldo Luís Nazário de Lima). With 20 minutes remaining Klose equalled the record from inches out.

A Thrilling Display

Ghana didnʼt get a look in as Germany moved the ball from left to right five minutes into the second half. Thomas Müllerʼs cross was headed onto his knee and past Fatawu Dauda by Götze to give the lead. Löwʼs team were not allowed to settle.

Three minutes Esperanceʼs Harrison Afful overlapping on the right wing, cut back and crossed. It was met with a powerful angled header by André Ayew that gave the German keeper no chance. Nine minutes later German captain Phillip Lahm gave possession away to Sulley Muntari, whose pass found Gyan on the right of the area. He shot across Neuer to give Ghana a deserved lead.

This was not in Löwʼs script. Klose was introduced. With 20 minutes left a corner was headed on by Benedikt Höwedes. Klose slid in to tap-in – the fourth World Cup Finals that he had scored in. Only two others have matched that feat.

Ghana should have gone 3-1 up moments earlier, but substitute Jordan Ayew saw his name in the headlines. Racing down the left flank he had opportunities to pass to a better placed Gyan. He spurned both and shot tamely at Neuer. Ten minutes later Jordan Ayew repeated his error.

Müller had just been denied by a superb last ditch tackle by Juventusʼ Kwadmo Asamoah. John Boye also performed heroics in defence and a promising 3 on 2 attack was wasted when substitute Mubarak Wakaso was caught off-side. A draw was a fair result, but Ghana will be observing tomorrowʼs match between the USA and Portugal carefully.

No Comparison

Compared to the second half the first was largely forgettable. Christian Atsu crossed for Asamoah Gyan up to shoot after 7 minutes, but the Al-Ain striker shot over. The 35 yard pass by Sulley Muntari to find Atsu was sumptuous.

There were few other clear chances in the first half, although Gyan seemed to be looking for penalty just over half an hour into the match. There was no contact from Germanyʼs goal-keeper Manuel Neuer as Gyan miss-controlled for a goal-kick. He seemed to be looking for contact and a penalty that never came.

 

Another African Mentality (Part Two) – Archive

By Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (December 30th 2009)

Host And Win

The motto of the twenty-sixth African Cup of Nations was Host and Win’. Claude le Roy’s task was to turn the motto into reality. “You have to find a good balance in the African Cup of Nations”, he said. “There are players, about, 16, 17 or 18 coming through. The last few matches have been mostly young players. The problem was and is to prepare for the African Cup of Nations. That is the most important thing”.

The preparation was over. It was time to deliver on the pitch. Ghana had underachieved for more than a quarter of a century – the Black Stars last won the tournament in 1978. They had hosted and won under the great Fred Osam-Duodu. The omens were favourable, but le Roy didn’t underestimate the opposition or the task, although one important opponent – the African champions – had neatly and bizarrely slipped under his and Africa’s radar. Sadly for Hassan Shehata and Egypt it was for the last time.

I think Senegal: Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Cameroon will be difficult opponents”, said le Roy. “You never know they might be too good and you may find a surprise from qualifiers like Guinea. We know that it will be difficult. We also know that we have to show a lot of discipline. I think there is a good chance to win as the host nation, but I’m sure that others will try hard too. I think it will be a fantastic African Cup of Nations in Ghana.”

The Axe Swings

Le Roy wasn’t wrong. Ghana cruised through their group to qualify as group winners, accompanied by Guinea. Pascal Feindounou’s moment of madness cost his team dear as he was still deservedly suspended for the match against la Côte d’Ivoire and the Ivorians took advantage to help themselves to a 5-0 goal-fest.

It would prove to be the zenith for Gérard Gili. The Frenchman who had coached the Ivorians’ Olympic team was thrust into the top job following the tragedy that struck previous incumbent Uli Stielike who had to resign to tend to his dying son. He was shown the door after his defence conceded four goals in consecutive matches to Egypt and Ghana and had to settle for fourth place in a tournament they had expected to win.

Meanwhile, le Roy did Nigeria a huge favour – Ghana drew the Super-Eagles in the quarter-final. Despite losing their captain John Mensah to a red card, the Black Stars always looked the better team. Berti Vogts’ tactics were conservative and not suited to the moment. Nigeria lost and the axe loomed large for Vogts, who resigned before the Nigerian Federation could fire him. Meanwhile Cameroun required extra time to scrape past Tunisia in an exciting match.

The Weight of Expectations

The Black Stars were favourites to reach the final. Previous Black Stars coach Otto Pfister was in charge of the Indomitable Lions and was given a gift by the Ghanaian media. They wrote off Cameroun before the match. Pfister had no problems motivating his team. It was a strange match. Ghana created several chances, but the bane of the World Cup campaign returned – utterly profligate finishing.

We dominated the game,” said defender Eric Addo. “We had a lot of suspended and injured players. It was very difficult. We managed to play good. We managed to create half chances. We just didn’t put them in the back of the net and Cameroun had one chance and scored. I don’t think we deserved to lose this game. Like I’ve said we dominated the game. We had chances. We were always crossing – I don’t how many crosses we put in in the whole game, but they had one chance. They scored – that’s football today.”.

His assessment is a little harsh on Cameroun. Pfister had a game plan to absorb the pressure and hit them on the counter-attack. It worked splendidly with Alain Nkong scoring the goal that broke Ghanaian hearts.

Le Roy had a different take. “I think the main reason is a lot of injuries make a huge difference”, he said. “We have five players of the first eleven who missed the semi-final of the African Cup of Nations. I think it’s too much”.

He wasn’t enamoured of the refereeing of Moroccan Aderahim el Arjoune either. “I don’t like to think about the referee, but you cannot say it was a great referee today”, le Roy said. “I saw the game actually and I respect that they won and I congratulate them for their win, but you see the game. I don’t think that they deserved to win, but they won. It’s happening in other countries, but I think it was even a little bit more than that – no home advantage for us. I cannot find that as an excuse. It wouldn’t be fair”.

The Black Stars had failed to host and win. Le Roy had to raise his team and deliver a farewell performance in Kumasi. Third place was now the best that was on offer. He knew that the media that had raised expectations to fever pitch would look no further than him for the cause of the Black Stars’ defeat. There were sure to be recriminations.