Making History

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (February 8th 2015)

Coaches

Avram Grant would become only the third coach to win with the Black Stars and the first foreigner – Charles Kumi Gyamfi won it thrice and Fred Osam Duodu in 1978. Ghanaians hope that the 33 year wait is about to end, but a former ally stands in their way. Hervé Renard hopes to make history too.

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He failed to persuade national legend Didier Drogba to reverse his international retirement and he knows that the Golden generation of Ivorian football has ultimately failed to deliver. Three times the Elephants have reached the final of the African Cup of Nations. Every time it went the distance.

In 1992 la Côte dʼIvoire achieved their only success. Fourteen years later Hassan Shehata led the Pharaohs to the first of three triumphs. And in 2012 Renard was the tactician who broke Ivorian hearts leading Zambia to their only Cup of Nations triumph. On each occasion the final ended in 0-0 draw – hopefully the cycle will be broken tonight.

The Next Generation

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Renard stands on the brink of history, but is quick to acknowledge another. “He won the Cup of Nations with Cameroon”, Renard said of Claude le Roy. “He deserves total credit [for Renardʼs success with Zambia], because without him I wouldnʼt set one foot in Africa. He did everything for me. Itʼs even him who spoke with Mr Kalusha Bwalya [President of the Zambian FA] about me. I think Kalusha didnʼt know me very well. I think itʼs a good record. I think I came on the right place at the right moment”.

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Bwaylya gave Renard a chance twice. “… in 2008 I was reflecting on that when Zambia was at the Africa Cup I thought, what is the best requisite for a coach to work in Africa – of course Africaʼs always been in the export of players, but an importer of coaches, so I thought to myself, we needed a young coach to come and also who was ambitious, who was not going to be too comfortable in Africa to stay here 20 years”, Bwalya told us.

Bwalya had a plan and Renard was part of it. “I thought that it was important that they stay here three, four, five years and target the Africa Cup, target the World Cup and then they can move on, so when I got Hervé Renard after I assumed office in 2008 I brought him to start to prepare the team for 2010 – Hervé Renard”, Bwalya said. “In the three years he spent a lot of time in our country; he was very, very comfortable in our country”.

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Delayed Reaction Crystal Balls

Bwalya picked the right man even if it came true in Renardʼs return. “The work ethic, he was always working”, Bwalya said. “He was not afraid to lose a game which most of the people when they come away, they look more worried about their salary and everything done than the performance of the team”.

Renard repaid Bwalyaʼs trust. The African legend was the first to take a chance on Renard. He was vindicated in 2012 when the Chipolopolo fulfilled Bwalyaʼs dreams – he fell just short as a player in 1994.

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Meanwhile, two years ago, while covering the last edition in South Africa I asked Renard who would win the African Cup of Nations. “I think Ivory Coast and Ghana will reach the final”, he said. “They are the strongest teams”. Perhaps it was a delayed reaction answer that took two years to mature.

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Coming of Age

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (February 8th 2015)

Making History

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Seven years ago two young men were determined to make history at the African Cup of Nations. One was a young assistant coach believed in by one of the continentʼs finest European imports, Claude le Roy and the other was the son of Ghanaian – African legend, Abedi (Pelé) Ayew. Back then Hervé Renard was le Royʼs assistant as coach of the Black Stars and André Ayew was at the beginning of his international career.

Tonight one will achieve their dreams of glory in the African Cup of Nations at the expense of the other, ending a long wait for glory for either Ghana or la Côte dʼIvoire. Both Ayew and Renard have already one final appearance apiece. Renard has the edge, winning with the Chipolopolo in 2012 against his current side, whereas the younger Ayew lost in the 2010 to Egypt.

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Family Misery

There is unfinished business between the nations too. The only previous occasions the Elephants have met the Black Stars in the final was in 1992 in Senegal. The competitionʼs best player was Abedi. “It is my biggest regret in football”, Abedi said. “I couldnʼt help my team.”

He was suspended for the final. In his absence la Côte dʼIvoire won on penalties. Anthony Baffoe had the misfortune of missing the crucial penalty. Abedi is a Nations Cup winner – he came on as a substitute in the final against the hosts Libya, which ended 1-1. As a youngster he was in the squad that the legendary Ghanaian coach Charles Kumi Gyamfi took to Libya in 1982 – the last time that the Black Stars won the African Cup of Nations. They won 7-6 on penalties.

André played in the final of the 2010 edition in Angola. The Black Stars lost to Geddoʼs strike 5 minutes from the end – the last of Egyptʼs unprecedented three titles in a row. Although he finds comparisons to his father absurd, the younger Ayewʼs achievements are mounting. He was captain of Ghanaʼs Under-20 African Cup of Nations and World Cup winning teams in 2009.

Ayew was the BBCʼs African Player of the Year in 2011 and also Ghanaʼs. He made his international debut in 2007 under le Roy. “He is the future”, le Roy said effusively at the time. “André Ayew and all the players – they are the leaders of the new generation”. The 2008 edition of the African Cup of Nations came too soon. Just two years later they had matured, but fell at the last stage. Five years on Ayew is an integral part of the Black Starsʼ set-up. His younger brother Jordan is also part of Avram Grantʼs team.

In the Genes

I donʼt compare myself to him [my father] Dedé Ayew told us exclusively in 2007. “He has had his career and achieved everything. I am at the beginning of mine”. The legendary Abedi concurs. “We donʼt talk about football,” he told me at the 26th edition of the African Cup of Nations. “We talk about father and son things”.

It soon became apparent that he is very proud of his son. André briefly retired from international football in 2013 after a dispute with the Ghanaian FA. His father never got to play in the World Cup finals, but André has achieved that goal, playing in two editions, including 2010 when Ghana matched the achievement of Cameroon in 1990 and Senegal in 2002 in reaching the quarter-finals.

It’s very important to me [playing for Ghana]” the young Ayew said in 2007. “It’s something very big that happened to me to be selected for the Ghanaian national team, so I’m very proud of myself and proud to wear the jersey of Ghana”.

So what were his ambitions back then? “To become a better footballer and every day try to learn and become somebody good in life, in my career, of my family, win the African Cup of Nations, which is in Ghana and help to make the people happy”.

He might just achieve that tonight seven years late and in a foreign country. It would complete his African Cup of Nations medal collection – he already has bronze and silver. It would also make history for Avram Grant. The former Chelsea manager famously came second twice with that club, but should he achieve success tonight Grant will achieve legendary status in the land that Osagyefo (Dr Kwame Nkrumah) led to independence.

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The Real Fireworks Begin Now

by Segun Odegbami © Segun Odegbami (January 30th 2015)

Easy Gone

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The Indomitable Lions are out as the boys are now being separated from the men in AFCON 2015. As a result, I have also lost my bet about who will win the tournament. Truth be told I did not think they had the capacity to win the tile, but being the ‘gambling’ man, I had put my kobo on Cameroon to beat the odds and ‘steal’ the title.

I failed because, last Wednesday, on a dramatic night that left much of Africa breathless with excitement, drama, suspense and a little controversy, my young hard-working Indomitable Lions were halted.

The last set of matches at the group stage were always going to be very critical, particularly since the games had been extremely close since the championship started with very few goals and too many drawn encounters. Remarkably, 10 of the first 16 matches ended in draws with an overall average of less than two goals per match.

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Jockeying for Position

Group D of the championship has been particularly interesting because of the way the position of second team to qualify in the group had to be decided. La Côte d’Ivoire ended as undisputed leader. The Indomitable Lions finished bottom of the group. Guinea and Mali had ended with exactly the same number of points, goal difference and goals scored. There was nothing between them.

One day after the matches, ballots were drawn in the boardroom and Guinea won. That has now generated fresh debate over the propriety of such a rule that takes the process of winning away from the field to the boardroom.

Many football purists, myself included, now suggest that such decisions should be based on a process that must start and end on the field of play, and not by the drawing of lots. I believe the issue will be looked at again after the championship by CAF. But that was not the only drama of the last group matches. Each group had plenty of it own.

Decided

In Group A, as predicted, Equatorial Guinea, even as hosts, struggled, rode on the back of unprecedented local crowd support, won only one match. That was enough to see them join Claude le Royʼs Congo as the two teams from the group. Congo were the best and most consistent team. They were well organised, played robustly and defeated both Burkina Faso and Gabon.

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Group B was also very closely fought. Also, only one team won a match in the entire group. Tunisia defeated Zambia. All the others matches ended in draws. Cape Verde were not the same team that caught everyone’s imagination in 2013. They drew all three of their matches. DR Congo also drew all their three matches but scored one goal more to edge out Cape Verde on goals aggregate. Zambia were a shadow of the victorious all-conquering 2012 African champions. They were the only team that lost a match in the group.

It is in Group C that there was the greatest drama on the field of play. This was the only group that had teams winning and losing matches, and with plenty of shocks and surprises. The results in this group confirm that football is not mathematics. Surprisingly, Ghana lost their first match to Senegal. Shockingly, after their World Cup heroics, Algeria defeated South Africa, but lost to Ghana and Senegal could only draw with South Africa.

At the wire, dramatically, Ghana that were at the bottom of the table with South Africa going into the last match, having surged to the top after a pulsating match that saw them oscillate from the brink of defeat to earn a clear victory over a determined, hard-fighting but porous Bafana Bafana.

The South Africans are now left totally confused about what to do with their football to take it to commanding heights. They are left wondering how things that looked so bright going to Equatorial Guinea could suddenly turn so dark in the end.

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Senegal had comfortably and confidently topped the group going into the final set of matches, but suddenly found themselves losing out completely after a dramatic defeat by the Desert Foxes in their last match. When the final whistle was blown they were out, and their conquerors, Algeria, were in with Ghana.

But the drama did not end there. Who was the group leader? It took careful interpretation of the rules of the competition to determine who came first in the group. Ghana emerged finally as group leaders. Algeria that had the same number of points but higher aggregate of goals (having scored more goals in the other matches), but they came second.

It was the result of the match between Ghana and Algeria, which Ghana won, that clinched it. In my humble opinion, the aggregate of the goals should apply ahead of the result of the match between two teams in a group competition – it is a mini league after all, so all the matches played should count first.

I have already looked at the drama in Group D where, as in group B, only one team won a match – Côte d’Ivoire. The team they defeated on the final day of the group matches, Cameroon, were instantly knocked out.

Mali and Guinea could not be separated, not by points, or goals, or even the result between them. That’s why lots were cast and Guinea ‘won’ to join Côte d’Ivoire into the quarter-finals, leaving behind a fuming and disappointed Malian team. However, the dust of the group stage matches has settled.

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Narrowed

The gap between the traditional African football ‘giants’ and the rest has narrowed. Predicting the outcome of matches is becoming increasingly more difficult these days. This is very good for the game. Having said that, somehow, only a few of the traditional ‘giants’ are still firmly in the race for the title.

Of all the teams only two have won the championship more than once. Ghana has won it 4 times in 1963 – their first appearance – retaining it in 1965 before losing in the final to Congo-Kinshasa (later Zaire and now the Democratic Republic of Congo). The Black Stars, as Ghana are affectionately known, won it for the third and fourth times in 1978 and 1982 respectively.

The Black Stars lost in the finals of 1992 to Côte d’Ivoire and to Egypt in 2010 the last of three successive triumphs for Egypt – the Pharaohs have been deposed, failing to qualify for the last three editions of the African Cup of Nations. Ghana have reached at least the semi-finals in the last five editions. DR Congo, masquerading as Zaire then won it for the second time in 1974. Zambia were the beaten finalists then

Four quarter-finalists have triumphed once – Congo in 1972 at Mali’s expense, Algeria defeated Nigeria in 1990, Côte d’Ivoire in 1992 and Tunisia beat the intended hosts of this edition Morocco in 2004. The others – Guinea and Equatorial Guinea – are new kids on the block.

Final Thoughts

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Finally, once again, the matches have been very competitive, hard fought, full of drama and exciting, but the standard of play, which is relatively low, must be of concern to those monitoring the development of football in the continent.

There is definitely a dearth of emerging exceptional talent from Africa as reflected in the ongoing championships. And legends of African football Didier Drogba and Samuel Etoʼo have hung up their international boots.

AFCON 2015 – Uniquely African Flavour

by Segun Odegbami © Segun Odegbami (January 22nd 2015)

Remote Sensing

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I am watching AFCON 2015 remotely from my home in Nigeria. It has been a totally different experience. I normally attend in person if Nigeria are playing. Sadly they didnʼt qualify this time, so I am at home, missing the electricity and atmosphere of being at the venues.

I still must admit that the ongoing Championship has been a great football treat with some riveting matches defined by the athleticism of the players and competitiveness of the teams. It is very much unlike European or South American competitions that are highly technical and tactical.

This has been football with a unique African flavour – power, speed, a lot of long high balls, endless running, tight marking, fouls galore, brutish tackles, not enough creativity and surely not enough goals.

Nip and Tuck

The matches have been extremely close. Anything can still happen to change the faintly emerging picture of the first round. So far, as an indication that there are no more minnows in African football, after the first 10 matches, 6 have ended in draws. But besides that there have also been some ‘pleasant’ surprises.

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Ghana’s loss in their first match to Senegal is surely a shock. Senegal, before AFCON 2015, seemed to have been in some kind of football limbo. To defeat Ghana, therefore, is no small feat. But the Bafana Bafana is a different matter.

South Africa’s tame capitulation to Algeria in a match they could have won easily was another shocker. They had the match under full control until they lost a penalty kick that could have given them a comfortable two-goal cushion. Thereafter, they lost focus, confidence and direction, and conceded 3 quick goals to a resurgent Algeria.

The group that had 3 West African and one Central African team, produced truly very hard but very exciting thrillers. At the end of the first round of matches all the teams were inseparably tied on same points and goals – Cameroon, the Côte d’Ivoire, Mali and Guinea. Also, as I predicted last week, the host nation, Equatorial Guinea, is struggling. They did not win either of their first two matches and both Gabon and Claude le Royʼs Congo are poised to send the hosts packing from a tournament they were controversially gifted at the eleventh hour.

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General observations

Considering the short time the host country had to prepare and host the championship, it is remarkable to observe that the grounds and playing surfaces are in reasonably good condition. Television coverage with commentaries and match analysis have also been of the highest quality and standards.

Technically, my first observations are that there is now an almost infinitesimal gap between African countries in terms of their football standards and facilities. All matches are now extremely close. Even the little Islands of Cape Verde have not lost in their first two games, although they have also not played with the same flair and confidence that made analysts at AFCON 2013 compare their playing style with FC Barçelona’s Tiki Taka.

Those comparisons may be gone but Cape Verde are still playing fearlessly in the championship and cannot be written off. With most of the teams there is a general lack of inventiveness. In front of goal, creating chances and converting them clinically continues to be a problem. Whereas, defences have been hard, physical and better organised, attacks have been uncreative, inconsistent and rather tame.

Star Quality

One bright star of the championship to me has been Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang of Gabon. His performances in the two matches played against Equatorial Guinea and Congo (one win and one loss respectively) has thrown up an authentic ‘new’ African star. In the two matches, he stood out like the Northern Star. He has grown from the young man who had to be consoled by his father Pierre after Gabon’s exit when they  co-hosted three years ago. 

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Another star performer has been Mali’s left-footed and menacing striker, Bakary Sako. He is a player to watch as one of the potential stars of this championship. He plays for Wolverhampton Wanderers in England’s Championship the tier below the Premier League. This striker single-handedly kept Cameroon’s defence busy all night, harassing them at will, and exposing the weakness on the right side of their defence in particular.

Tarnished Reputations

Ghana disappointed their fans in the manner that they lost to Senegal. They fell to very poor tactics. The Israeli Avram Grant recently inherited the Black Stars from James Kwesi Appiah. Given their antecedents in football they are likely to rebound in subsequent matches. But the Black Stars last won the African Cup of Nations under Charles Kumi Gyamfi.

Only Egyptʼs legendary Hassan Shehata can rival Gyamfi for the title of the greatest ever African coach. Ghanaians need no reminding that despite reaching the final in 2010 and 1992 their last triumph was 33 years ago. They are overdue, but thatʼs no guarantee. Côte d’Ivoire know that feeling too. Their only Cup of Nations success came against Ghana in 1992. Chelseaʼs talisman Didier Drogba never tasted international glory.

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With Hervé Renard in charge the Elephants have a coach who knows that winning sensation. Renardʼs new charges woke up from slumber only after they saw their awesome reputation going up in flames. They were a goal down and their best player on the night, Gervinho, was sent off.

The shock of the possibility of losing what most had thought would be a walk-over for the most-star-studded team in the continent, jolted them into frenetic action. Down to 10 players against Guinea they played like wounded lions, equalized against all odds, redeemed their reputation and restored their chances of advancing beyond the group stage.

Great Expectations

South Africa were the tamest team in the championship after the first round of matches. How could they have sloppily let go a match they had in their pockets already? After failing to convert a penalty kick that would have given them a comfortable two-goal cushion against an Algeria that looked ragged up to that point, the tide of the match suddenly turned.

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The Desert Foxes woke up, found their rhythm, and went on a rampage, scoring three times in 45 minutes to send the Bafana Bafana back to the drawing board, wondering what had hit them.

The Indomitable Lions, my wild bet to win the championship, as usual, were very athletic, hard-working and physical. At the same time they also looked very vulnerable in defence. Cameroon’s next match will show if my pre-tournament expectations have been set too high.

Observations

Otherwise, these are my further observations and analysis:

Group A

Burkina Faso, beaten finalists in 2013, will end their 2015 journey at the group stage. Congo will qualify and be joined by either Gabon or Equatorial Guinea!

Group B

Cape Verde Islands have played robustly but not as well as they did during AFCON 2013. The surprise element that they rode on in 2013 has evaporated. Now other teams take them seriously, and their road has become harder. They are likely to disembark the AFCON 2015 train at the group stage terminus.

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Zambia have not surprised anyone. They are working hard, but struggling. Without much fire-power upfront they are finding it difficult to convert the many goal-scoring chances that they create. They are a far cry from the team that excelled when last in Equatorial Guinea just three years ago. Tunisia look like the best team in the group with DR Congo a close second. The match between them will determine which team wins the group.

Group C

This is too close to call even now. The only sure thing is that South Africa will be the first to exit in the group. Beyond that anything can still happen. Algeria and Senegal have shot up to the front, but Ghana lurk dangerously, poised to benefit from any slip-ups. When they are having a good day Ghana can defeat any of the teams. Surely, there are more surprises to come in this group!

Group D

This is the group where the teams refuse to be separated. Guinea have looked sharp and focused.

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Mali have looked interesting under the tutelage of ageless Seydou Keita. Côte d’Ivoire was shocked by the result of their first match. Even without Romaʼs Gervinho, they should still have too much talent not to come through this group.

Nevertheless, I am still keeping my money on Cameroon even though they have not played with the usual panache and confidence that create champions. Like a fine wine I am hoping they will get better with every match.

The African Cup of Nations 2015 Edition

by Seun Odegbami © Segun Odegbami (January 15th 2015)

Embarrassing

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Itʼs that time again when Africaʼs best meet to contest which team is the continentʼs best. Of course, my first statement on AFCON 2015 must be that the defending champions will not be at the championship. How come?

It is hard for anyone to understand what happened and how it happened, but the reality is that the national team that won the 2013 African football championship undefeated, that qualified for the 2014 World Cup as one of 5 African countries, and one that boasts one of the best records out of Africa in all global football competitions, will not be at the 2015 World Cup because it failed to qualify. That’s how come!

Previous

The last time Nigeria was not at the championship it was by default – for political reasons. The military government of Nigeria of then dictator Sani Abacha resented criticism from Africaʼs icon and our continentʼs modern hero Nelson Mandela. Abacha deliberately chose not to send the Super Eagles to the championship. That was in 1996.

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The boycott backfired spectacularly. The most significant effect of Nigeria’s withdrawal that year was that the path to victory was paved for South Africa, a country fresh from the shadows of apartheid, to win their first and, to date, only African Cup of Nations championship. And Nigeria was banned from the 1998 edition as well – that will have taught the South Africans!

Absence

We canʼt blame a boycott this time. So, as Africa prepares for the football party, for many South Africans, the prospect of winning again, some 19 years after, particularly in the absence of their bogey team, Nigeria, becomes a realistic challenge! After all the Bafana Bafana have recently been playing football with uncommon determination and confidence, and have posted some very decent results, including their sterling performance against Nigeria in their last qualifying match for this edition of the African Cup of Nations. That surely ranks amongst one their best performances that I have seen since 1996.

From January 17th 16 African countries will congregate in Equatorial Guinea and a lot of eyes will be trained on the Bafana Bafana as they attempt to win their second Nations Cup. A look at the road they have to travel indicates that it will be very rough and tough. They are nestled in the same group with two of the current best football countries in Africa – Ghana and Algeria. For South Africa it may be easier to climb Mount Everest without a guide than to emerge unscathed from that group.

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Back to Nigeria briefly!

In two years, the Super Eagles have plummeted from the highest peak of African football, to the lower rungs. In the course of that tragic situation, Stephen Keshi the most successful indigenous coach in the history of the Nigerian football has fallen from grace to grass with scandalous defeats and performances that once looked remote, but have become a reality for Nigeria.

So dispirited have most followers of Nigerian football become that there is little interest in the championship. Having said that the 2015 championship will still commence this weekend and the Oracle will still peer into the crystal ball for what the immediate future holds for each of the countries.

The Oracle

Group A – Equatorial Guinea, Congo, Burkina Faso and Gabon

This is a very unpredictable and a relatively cheap group in terms of the antecedents of the countries. The only reason that Equatorial Guinea will emerge from this group is because, as hosts, they will ride on the back of home support to struggle and emerge.

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Congo will fight hard but will fade out in the second round. Burkina Faso, through hard work and endless running had their best chance of winning the championship two years ago when they went as far as the finals before being knocked out by the fire-power of Nigeria. Since then, they seem to have lost some of the fire that made their performance very refreshing and exciting the last time.

Gabon has never been such a great football country in Africa as to give any one of the serious contenders any sweatTheir only hope rests with Pierre Aubameyang. From previous records the striker in devastating form for Borussia Dortmund FC may not replicate that form in the championship. One man does not make a forest.

Group B – Zambia, DR Congo, Tunisia and Cape Verde

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Zambia in 2015 are not the same team that dazzled everyone only two championships ago. I donʼt expect them to recreate the magic they provided when last they were in Equatorial Guinea – great memories aside. 2012 was their time. It was fitting that they won the Cup of Nations for the first time in Gabon – the scene of the worst disaster in Zambian and African football, but this is not Gabon and a lot has changed in three years.

DR Congo have invested a lot in their domestic football, an investment that is yet to fully reflect in the national team. They remain dark horses even though the great coach Claude le Roy has left. Tunisia, as usual will play well, defeat the weak African teams, but falter against the West Africans. With none in this group they may succeed and emerge from the group.

Cape Verde are the hardest to predict. I do not really know what to make of this team. Two years ago we saw them display some of the most entertaining and brilliant individual football at AFCON 2013. In 2015, Africa should be ready to dance and celebrate some delightful football again.

Group C – Ghana, Senegal, Algeria, South Africa.

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What a group! This, indeed, is the Dream Group, not the Group of Death. The group includes Ghana and Algeria two of Africa’s current strongest teams. Algeria, put up Africa’s best showing at the 2014 World Cup. They appear to still be in great shape. On paper they may actually be favoured to win the championship, but against Ghana and South Africa they have equally formidable opposition.

Without question this is the group that will attract the greatest attention. I do not see Senegal emerging from this group. Ghana have the experience and maturity. Algeria have a good young team in great form. South Africa are riding on fresh enthusiasm and adrenalin. Separating them will be a huge challenge.

Group D – Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, Mali and Cameroon

Three West African teams come against the only team from Central Africa in the group.

In qualification, Cameroon look very exciting with several new and younger players replacing Samuel Etoʼo and some other aged players. They will emerge from here.

The other three West African teams will slug it out. I think that even without the recently retired Ivorian great Didier Drogba, they still have the leadership of Africaʼs best player Yaya Touré. Coached by recent AFCON winner Hervé Renard, Côte d’Ivoire will justify their placement as the highest ranked African team – they will stop Mali and Guinea from joining Cameroon.

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Snowy

Finally, on to my crystal ball. As I gaze into it, I see that it is misty and murky – there appears to be snow on it! Nevertheless, summoning the spirit of Tiresias, I see the following happening. I will be placing a bet as usual. Blind Tiresias has inner sight – the best seer ever. He saw that coming.

I am putting my money not on Algeria that looks to have the best team, or Côte d’Ivoire that appears to have the most mature team and superstar players, or even Ghana that may have the most complete team, but on Cameroon. New, immature, no Samuel Etoʼo, and in a relatively difficult group, Cubs or not and in the absence of Nigeria, Iʼm still backing the Indomitable Lions.

Let AFCON 2015 begin!

Segun at Wembley

Shambles (Part Six) – Vogts Mark Two?

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by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (March 6th 2010)

Editorʼs Note

We published this series of articles in 2010. With the debate raging over whether English football should implement its version of American Footballʼs Rooney Rule to guarantee black and minority ethnic (BME) candidates an interview for coaching/managerial jobs in the top flight of English football, we decided that the plight of African coaches in their own countries deserved another airing.

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Insult to Injury

The rejection of Shehata by the Nigerian FA opened the path for the other candidates – white Europeans. The Serb, Ratomir Dujković: Swede, Lars Lagerbäck, Englishman Peter Taylor and Frenchman Bruno Metsu would battle it out in the interview process.

Dujković’s credentials appeared the best suited to Nigeria’s needs at first glance. He had experience in Africa and had led Ghana to the last World Cup, but failed to credit of local coaches including Cecil Jones Attuquayefio. Ghana was the only African team to reach the knock-out stage in Germany.

Nevertheless, his successor Claude le Roy achieved more in the African Cup of Nations in Ghana and compatriot Milovan Rajevac surprised many by guiding Ghana to the World Cup in South Africa and an unexpected second place in the African Cup of Nations in Angola.

The Swede

Lagerbäck progressed through the ranks of coaching in Sweden from 1990 from junior level to assistant to joint coach until he landed the top job in his own right when Tommy Söderberg left to coach the Under-21 team in 2004. Lagerbäck led Sweden to the World Cup in 2006 and European Championships in 2008, but failed to make a great impression in either tournament.

He resigned in 2009 after Sweden failed to qualify for the World Cup – not even making it to the generous play-off system that Europe enjoys where eight second place teams compete for four places.1 Sweden came third in their group.

Lagerbäck took responsibility, but thanks to Nigeria he had a chance to go to the World Cup while Sweden’s players and fans stayed in Scandinavia. Lagerbäck completed his CV with having absolutely no experience of African football, let alone Nigerian.

Inexperienced

But Lagerbäck at least had some relevant experience. Peter Taylor’s international experience was laughable compared to Shehata. He had two spells in charge of England’s Under-21 team and was caretaker manager of the national side in 2000. Apart from that he had plenty of managerial experience in English football throughout the leagues.

He is currently manager of Bradford City in Division Two – previously the Fourth Division.. How this qualified him to be mentioned in the same breath as Shehata, let alone for the Super-Eagles job, is known only to the Nigerian FA.

The Best Candidate

The final candidate, Bruno Metsu, ironically was by far the best suited for the job and consequently was the least known of them outside of Africa. Metsu is the only one bar Shehata to have extensive experience of coaching in Africa. He was in charge of Guinea in 2000 before accepting the job with Senegal, later that year.

He led the tiny West-African nation to the World Cup in 2002. Metsu master-minded the defeat of World and European champions France – the land of his birth by drilling Senegalese players on the weaknesses of the French rather than their own strengths.

Senegal bade a fond farewell to Asia’s World Cup after matching Cameroun’s achievement of reaching the quarter-final. The country’s President Abdoulaye Wade declared a national holiday to celebrate the victory over France. Metsu married a Muslim woman and converted – he is also known as Abdul Karim.

The African Mentality

Metsu left Africa to coach in Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and briefly Saudi Arabia. He is currently the national coach of Qatar – a position that he has occupied since 2008. Metsu has experience of both African football and experience of the World Cup with an African team – having led Senegal to the best finish by an African nation in the World Cup in recent years.

Appointing Metsu would have made sense, but he was an outsider and did not get the job. On February 26th the Nigerian FA appointed Lagerbäck. The absurdity of the African Mentality had struck again.

1 Every confederation bar Africa is involved in play-offs for the best teams that fail to qualify automatically. Of those only Europe competes against itself and has four automatic places at the World Cup. Asia, South America, CONCACAF and Oceania have half a place each.

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.