Heroes

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

AFCON 1980 Triumph

35 years ago today, I was one of sixteen young Nigerian football players that walked onto the turf of the National Stadium, Surulere, Lagos full of nerves, but exhilarated by the atmosphere and the expectations of my nation. Nigeria had never won the African Cup of Nations.

The tournament started in 1957. It was time for us to take our place at the summit of African football for the first time. A crowd of some 100,000 Nigerians packed in a 60,000 capacity stadium like sardines to witness our attempt to create history.

Making History

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90 minutes of football later, driven by the passion of a hundred million other Nigerians, the goal was achieved. The Green Eagles played beyond their capacities and soared high above the Desert Warriors. In doing so, we destroyed the invincibility of an Algerian team that was at its peak – an obviously more experienced and probably even better team than the Eagles.

Remember that just two years later only larceny of the most shameful kind could rob that Algerian team of World Cup glory. The eventual World Cup finalists West Germany and Austria contrived in the Disgrace of Gijón to fix a result that saw both progress to the second round at Algeriaʼs expense. It was one of the worst moments in World Cup history, but it showed how big a threat Algeria was and how good a team they really were.

On the night, Nigeria could not be stopped, having come through some really difficult early matches. We played our best match of the championship, scored the highest number of goals and won the Africa Cup of Nations for the first time in our country’s history.

Duty
The President of Nigeria at the time, Alhaji Shehu Shagari, led the sea of Nigerians that physically watched the event live at the stadium. As young men, we were over the moon. We had worked very hard and prepared well under the guidance of professional sports managers and administrators. Nigeria had well-established sports institutions, a clear sports policy, a clear strategy and vision for sports development.

We saw ourselves as ambassadors and patriots serving our country willingly in answer to our nationʼs call to duty. Our victory in 1980 was the culmination of a process that started in 1976 when the national team went to Dire Dawa and against all odds returned with bronze medals for the first time in our history. That was the impetus needed to aim higher and we did. In that spirit, we went to Ghana for AFCON 1978 and reinforced our confidence.

Cometh the Hour!

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When 1980 came and the event was held in our country we believed we had to win and were ready. The preparations were hard but meticulous, driven by our single-mindedness to be part of history. The entire country was involved on March 22, 1980. It was a day none of us that played in that match will ever forget. We soared like eagles – super-eagles.

In the end, hard work: good luck, the people’s support, our government’s commitment, all paid off. We won. And we were deservedly rewarded well without any solicitation by us. Football in Nigeria had never been the same and would never be the same for us any more.

Celebrations
This day, 35 years after that victory, I can still play back in my mind almost every minute of the final match – the blaring trumpet of the late musician Zeal Onyia marshalling Nigerians to the great battle, the vociferous singing of 100,000 Nigerians at the stadium, and the rampaging supercharged Green Eagles with humble me scoring a brace and coming closest to winning the continent’s best player award that year.

It was a day when the elements had no choice but to side with the eagles, and to provide Nigerians with the cause to truly celebrate. 35 years after that victory, the heroes of 1980 are still remembered by most Nigerians. Six of them have passed on to the beyond – Muda Babatunde Lawal, Best Ogedegbe, Okey Isima, Alloysius Atuegbu, Martin Eyo and Tunde Bamidele.

The rest are alive and kicking, not by our strength, but by the Grace of God, grateful for the opportunity of life, and of that day, March 22, 1980 when our names were written in Gold in the archives of African football.

On behalf of all 22 of us, including Emmanuel Okala, Sylvanus Okpala, Felix Owolabi, Shefiu Mohammed, John Orlando, Frank Nwachi, Christian Chukwu, Ifeanyi Onyedika, Henry Nwosu, Moses Effiong, Charles Bassey, Godwin Odiye, David Adiele, Kadiri Ikhana, Adokie Amiesimaka and me, I use this opportunity to say thank you once again to all Africans for their support and love, which since 1980 has occasionally still been showered lavishly on us.

Segun at Wembley

Development Path

the ICC,by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (February 18th 2015)

Test

Two days ago cricketʼs 50 over-per side World Cup produced its first major shock – well Ireland outplayed the West Indies, chasing down a target of over 300. The West Indies had recovered from a rocky start and Ireland had a major wobble near the end. Nobody could argue that Ireland deserved their win. At least one cricketing great, the West Indiesʼ superb fast bowler Michael Holding, sees no reason for Ireland to have to wait.

Holding wants Ireland to be fast tracked to Test Match status. We agree. It is essential for Ireland to continue to develop and that cannot happen as it should if Irelandʼs best players have no option, but to seek eligibility for other nations – England – if they want to test themselves. For top cricketers Test Matches are the real deal.

Twenty20 is the popular format and the one that carries riches, but Test matches are the measure of greatness. As Sri Lankan legend Kumar Sagakkara told us in 2009, “No player talks about scoring 2000 runs in Twenty20 internationals, but they all want to score 10,000 runs in Test cricket”. So what choice do the best Irish cricketers have? If they want to test themselves they have no choice at the moment – itʼs England or no Test Matches for them.

Joyce

Almost five years ago we secured an exclusive interview with Ed Joyce – a player who has experienced everything possible as an Irish cricketer. He made his name with Ireland before they achieved their great upsets and played First Class (county) cricket in England. He developed as a cricketer as far as he could with Ireland at that time.

He wanted to test his skills in the cauldron of Test cricket. He had no choice. It had to be England. He was in and out of Englandʼs side – too good for Ireland, but not good enough for England. Joyce was eligible for England between 2006-2010. He wanted to play Test cricket, believed that he was good enough, but never played one. So what remained for him?

Joyce chose to play for Ireland again in 2010 and was fast-tracked through eligibility in order to play in 2011 World Cup. He played in the ODI World Cup of 2007 as well, but for England, thereby missing Irelandʼs most successful World Cup to date. Ireland announced their arrival in that tournament with wins over Pakistan and also Bangladesh.

Reward

In 2011 they beat the old enemy England and this year they added the scalp of the West Indies, albeit a team in disarray after an ugly spat between Board and players over payments. Nevertheless, Irelandʼs performance is impressive. They chased down 304 with 25 balls to spare, winning by 4 wickets.

It could have been more as with victory in sight, mainly thanks to 92 from Paul Stirling, 84 from the 36-year-old Joyce and an unbeaten 79 from Niall OʼBrien, Ireland suffered a wobble. But Ireland has a strong case to join the élite nations. Scores of 300+ have only been chased down 5 times – three of them have been by Ireland.

They have performed consistently in the last three World Cups, knocking off their supposed betters. Itʼs time the ICC rewarded the progress they have made with the ultimate prize. For a decade they will most likely be awful. So what. Everyone else was too when they first became Test playing nations.

They must not be afraid to lose – they need to learn a new format. It may take several years. Again, so what? If the popularity of Test cricket is to grow, the ICC must not duck the Ireland test. It is the only way that future Ed Joyces and Eoin Morgans will stay and play for Ireland – they need to keep their best players if they are to continue to develop and achieve their potential.

Return

Well I’ve thrown my hat in with Ireland, being an Irishman”, Joyce told us, “so I just came over and played for England and as I’ve always said before I wouldn’t give those England memories up for anything, but I feel my future is with Ireland”.

But why? “They’re an improving cricketing nation and I would like to be a part of that improvement, so hopefully I’ve got five or six years playing for them and do good things for them in the World Cup and what not”, he said.

Forward-Planing

So how did he see Ireland progressing? “I think it’s important that we keep getting into the big tournaments”, Joyce said. “That’s the most important thing. Exposure’s important at home, because it’s one of the lesser games. There’s obviously three or four sports much bigger than cricket, so we’ve just got to keep trying to get to the big competitions – the World Cups – and keep performing and keep getting games against the big teams and putting in decent performances, because I think that’s the key to keep the exposure there and all the young players will come up and hopefully the standard will improve and there’ll be a bit more money coming in and it becomes a virtuous circle where everything starts improving”.

He wasnʼt wrong. Joyce didnʼt think that Ireland was ready for Test cricket. In fact he thought it was a long way off. It seems that five years is a long time in cricket. No less an authority than Michael Holding wants to see Ireland take the next step in their development – Test status. Who are we to disagree?

Africa’s Finest

by Segun Odegbami © Segun Odegbami (January 7th 2015)

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Prestigious African Footballers

Football without super stars is like tea without sugar. We are in the season of celebrating the super-stars of African football – the players whose light has shone brightest in the football constellation. Tomorrow the Confederation of African Football (CAF) will elect its winner of the prestigious African Footballer of the Year Award for 2014.

The event, which takes place in Lagos has become very significant for the players because it shoots their status and profile sky high onto a new pedestal of respect and prosperity. It can earn players moves to glamorous clubs, or in some cases boost their wages and prestige. It also raises the profile of African football outside the continent.

Surprises

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In the final list of five players for the 2014 award there are a few surprise inclusions. The first is Nigeria’s Vincent Enyeama. It is not common to find goalkeepers listed for the African award. If it were not so, there is no reason why Vincent should not have been listed, or have even won the award, in 2013.

His stellar performances in the French league for Lille FC, and for Nigeria during the African Cup of Nations, leading the Super-Eagles to only their third triumph has earned him more than enough credit to merit an indisputable place amongst Africa’s best players. But goalkeepers tend to be overlooked. Just look at what happened last year.

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The belated observation made by a few of us – myself included – who commented on his omission last year may have precipitated the present attention on him (and possibly on other goalkeepers in the next few years).

Keepers

Goalkeepers occasionally used to be nominated, but their contributions have been neglected in awards. Unfortunately, it’s been a long time since the last one was even nominated, let alone won. Before Enyeama’s recent nomination the last goalkeeper to be considered – and he did not win it – was Joseph Antoine Bell of Cameroon in 1989.

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And before Bell, the last keeper to be nominated was Zaki Badou – recognised by CAF in 2006 as one of Africaʼs best 200 players over the previous half century. Badou is the current manager of Morocco. It is his second spell in charge of the Atlas Lions. Sadly Moroccoʼs decision to refuse to host the African Cup of Nations has denied him the opportunity to shine.

Badou is one of Moroccoʼs greatest ever players. In 1986 Badou won the African Footballer of the Year Award, then by France Football Magazine. CAF organised its own award in 1992, which competed with the France Football Magazine award for two years (from 1994 onwards only CAFʼs award remains).

Badou played in Spain for RCD Mallorca and proved that his 1986 award was no fluke. He moved to Spain that year. Badou won the prestigious Zamora Trophy – the award for the La Liga goalkeeper with the lowest goals to games played ratio – for the 1988-89 season. As a manger he had success with his former club Wydad in Morocco and took the Atlas Lions to the final of the 2004 African Cup of Nations. Badou has pedigree.

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Shamefully Overlooked

However Cameroonian great Thomas Nkono showed that goalkeepers who excel can be rewarded. Nkono won the African Footballer of the Year Award twice – 1979 and 1981. Sandwiched between his triumphs was my best year in this competition. I came second to his Canon Yaoundé team-mate and strangely unheralded (outside of Africa) Cameroonian great Jean Manga-Onguéné.

I canʼt complain as he led his team to the Cameroonian League title and African Champions Cup. Badou was not the first Moroccan keeper to win the award. Chabab Mohammédiaʼs Ahmed Faras beat African legend Roger Milla into second place in 1975.

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The good thing is that Vincent Enyeama’s nomination has reawakened interest in the performances of African goalkeepers, which has often been overlooked in favour of strikers or midfielders.

That may also explain why all of the players that have won the award since its inception (except for the goalkeepers listed earlier) have been goal scorers (strikers and midfielders). No defender has ever won the award despite the whole army of absolutely brilliant defenders in the continent’s history. If Enyeama wins it could therefore produce a change of attitude and appreciation of the finest exponents of other positions.

Surprise

Enyeama is not the only surprise on this yearʼs list. Gabon’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has been one of the most underrated African players in Europe. He has been around the football circuit in Europe ‘quietly’ plying his trade and honing his goal-scoring skills and instincts. He is the son of another neglected African great. Pierre Aubameyang played for Gabon 80 times. Unlike his son he was a defender. He was the first Gabonese footballer to play in France, including for Toulouse and Nice. He is now a scout for AC Milan.

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Pierre-Emerick came through AC Milanʼs youth structures, but was laned to various clubs in France, eventually signing for Saint-Étienne in 2011. Having established his credentials in France and when Gabon co-hosted the African Cup of Nations in 2012 he moved to Borussia Dortmund FC last season.

That transfer has changed not only his profile, but also the quality of his football, providing him the platform to showcase his immense striking prowess and nose for goals. This past year, particularly, he has matured into one of the deadliest strikers from Africa playing in the Bundesliga and in the European Champions League.

His speed and deadliness in front of goal have been phenomenal. Playing for one of Europe’s best teams along with other world class players has surely sharpened the edge to his game. He is attracting raving reviews, lots of attention, respect and accolades.

Coming from a small African country that does not win anything in the continent surely has reduced his direct impact in Africa, but that didnʼt stop Liberiaʼs George Weah and Maliʼs Frédéric Kanouté winning in 1995 and 2007, it would not surprise me if, purely on the strength of present performance, he is acknowledged in a year that few Africans have really been exceptional.

Surely, in terms of ability and his contribution to the ongoing success of his Borussia Dortmund – despite the wretched start to this seasonʼs Bundesliga that Jürgen kloppʼs team are enduring – week in week out, he stands shoulder to shoulder with any of the other nominees.

Another Surprise

My compatriot Ahmed Musa is another surprise inclusion. He is a regular in CSKA Moscowʼs team. Musa showed his talent in the Under-20 World Cup in Colombia in 2011 – a tournament graced by several talents on their way to becoming important names in football. West Bromwich Albionʼs Saido Berahino made that trip too. Joel Campbell hasnʼt delivered for Arsenal, although he has impressed on loan and is a mainstay of Costa Ricaʼs national team also appeared in that tournament.

Real Madridʼs James Rodríguez and Isco, Atlético de Madridʼs Koke and Antoine Griezmann, Liverpoolʼs Philippe Coutino, Tottenham Hotspurʼs Erik Lamela, Benficaʼs Nelson Oliveira (just loaned to Swansea City for the rest of this season and Chelseaʼs Oscar and Mohamed Salah, among others. Musa held his own in this company even then and he has developed since then.

He is one of the fastest footballers in the world with the uncanny ability to outsprint defenders. His finishing and crosses could be inconsistent and that has often reduced his overall impact. His performances for Nigeria during the 2014 World Cup and during the AFCON 2015 qualifiers stood out as one of the more consistent in a field of erratic strikers in the Nigerian team. However, his chances of winning the 2014 African award are slim considering that the next two players in the list may be just ahead of him in terms of impact for their club and country.

The Lifetime Achievement Candidate

Ghana’s Asamoah Gyan could have won the African Best Player award already if he had not been playing his football in the same era as Didier Drogba, Samuel Etoʼo and Yaya Touré. One after the other, these three players have completely dominated the African football scene in the past decade.

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It is clear that a player had to be exceptionally gifted to break their grip on the title. That’s the reason why even extra-ordinarily talented players like Nigeriaʼs Jay Jay Okocha and the Black Starsʼ Michael Essien did not win it.

Asamoah Gyan has resurfaced again in CAF’s list even as he has moved in the past three seasons to establish himself as one of the best players ever in Asian football history. But Asia is not Europe. Gyan held his own in England at Sunderland before forcing a move to the Middle-East. Playing in an obscure league for a completely unknown club called Al Ain in the United Arab Emirates does not help his cause. It may cost him the award again.

Nevertheless, some people think he played some of his best football during the 2014 World Cup, scoring two goals and becoming the African player with the highest number of goals in the history of the World Cup, one goal ahead of the legendary Roger Milla. Another factor in Gyanʼs favour – perhaps the most important this time – would be because selectors may already be developing Yaya Touré fatigue.

Dominant

Yaya Touré has been so dominant in the midfield where he plays for his Club and for his country that it will surprise no one should he get the award for the fourth consecutive time. Without question he is the most gifted African player of this generation – tall, powerful, elegant, graceful, skilful, deceptively quick, technically proficient and masterful on the ball. He is the only African player in FIFA’s list of the world’s best 20 players in 2014.

This season he has not played quite up to the level of the previous season but he is still dominating every midfield, dictating and controlling play, and delivering deadly ‘poison’ of goals whenever he finds himself in the periphery of the oppositionʼs goals. Also he has returned to form for Manchester City at just the right time for the selectors to notice.

CAF and its President Issa Hayatou may sentimentally want a new face to adorn the award and to break the monotony of another Yaya Touré victory, but on form and achievement he is the best of the candidates. He deserves to clinch the title of Africa’s best footballer again.

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Football Unite

by Segun Odegbami © Segun Odegbami (January 1st 2015)

Segun at Wembley

My Only New Year Resolution

Welcome to 2015 and a happy New Year to all the readers of this column. The legendary soul singer, the late great Sam Cooke said it best: ʻA Change is Gonna Comeʼ. Actually a change has gotta come. As the world enters into 2015, I have set for myself one goal, a resolution of some sort – to join forces with whoever loves the game of football to stop Sepp Blatter from returning as President of FIFA when the next elections hold this year.

I just do not understand it. The sit-down syndrome in any organised setting is anathema to good governance, and is denounced globally for its penchant to turn even good leaders into power-drunk dictators. The history of the world is littered with the story of several of such political leaders. Their end usually is a sad story of abuse of power, corruption, internal strife and conflicts, controversy and the death of true democratic principles.

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Sepp Blatter must be stopped now

As the race for the Presidency of FIFA begins the worst news to come out of Zurich is that Mr Blatter has not only indicated he would be running again but that no one within the Executive Committee is actually challenging him despite the mountains of scandals and controversies that hang around the neck of the organization and now threaten the integrity of the greatest game in the world.

I do not intend to go into the details of the ugly scandals and charges that have rocked FIFA since Blatter became its President in 1998, and that have claimed several high profile victims within the football family through the years (Jack Warner, Mohammed bin Hamman, Lennart Johansson, Farro Ado1, and so on). He has even claimed to be incorruptible.

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The mere fact that Blatter promised that he would not be standing for the Prseidency again after the 2011 elections makes his recent announcement very annoying. He is making a mockery of the rest of the world. The man’s word cannot be trusted. It is just ‘full of sound and fury signifying nothing’.

The Old Guard

Sepp Blatter started his career in FIFA in 1975. That means that he has been part of the organization for 40 years. He has spent the last 16 as its President. By next year he will be 80 years old.

In a period in history when the world is preparing to send young men to the red planet, and planes that will cross the Atlantic in one hour are being designed, what is the new innovation this old-fashioned and old man is bringing to the world’s greatest sport?

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What did Blatter forget to do in the past 40 years that he has been part of the organization that he now wants to introduce at the twilight of his life? What is he afraid of in a new leadership? Or better still, what is he hiding from the world that he thinks will remain hidden forever? His predecessor – almost 100 years old – João Havelange was no stranger to accusations of corruption. He ran FIFA as his fiefdom. He was forced to resign his role as FIFAʼs Honorary President in 2013 because he had accepted bribes between 1992-2000 totalling £1m. Blatter was his protege.

Disheartening

Only Jérôme Champagne, a former General Secretary of FIFA, has summoned the courage to do what is obviously desirable and needed now for the advancement of world football – enter the race. Perhaps he can end the Sepp Blatter reign and usher in something new – something refreshing to take football to the next level.

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It is truly disheartening, shocking and disappointing that despite the numerous monumental scandals that have rocked the world body through the years, and the baggage of charges that Blatter has had to carry and parry with impunity, which presently and menacingly threaten the integrity of the game of football, the man still has the guts to eat his own words and announce to the world that he would be contesting the Presidency again.

The great tragedy is not that he wants to run, but that he might win again, whilst the rest of the world is watching and keeping silent. But how can this be?

What hold does Mr Blatter have over the other members of the Executive Committee of FIFA that makes them cower in the face of his arrogance? Recall how bin Hamman withdrew from the race in 2011 and was subsequently banned from football for life twice. Recall how Issa Hayatou, threatened by the IOC for allegations of corruption, bowed to pressure and withdrew also.

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History Repeats

In the 2011 elections Mr. Blatter was returned unopposed as President because there was no ‘clean’ person within the organization to challenge him. The same scenario appears to be is playing out again in 2015.

For example, why did Michel Platini, tipped by many after 2011 to be his likely successor, withdraw his candidacy from the race as soon as Blatter indicated interest to return? It is really shameful and unacceptable that the man under whose watch some of the most atrocious corruption charges have been levied remains uninvestigated and untouchable atop the organization.

Even the most recent controversy about the bribery allegations surrounding the 2022 World Cup and the Garcia report that was mangled to protect some interests within the organisation, are being swept under the carpet.

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Power Corrupts

Blatter has become too powerful for comfort. Until and unless he leaves FIFA and its activities will continue to remain shrouded in the murk of scandals. It is amazing that with the developments following Garcia’s report, protest and resignation, the FIFA President did not step aside to allow for an independent inquiry to protect the integrity of football and of FIFA.

Instead, he is contemptuously going ahead with his plans to perpetuate himself in power. Guilty of all these charges or not, Sepp Blatter has had his time, served football well but must now go. If he does not do so voluntarily and with dignity, he should be stopped by all means and all costs from contesting the 2015 elections, period. The world has had enough of the shenanigans.

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Meanwhile, the bad news is that he has kick-started his campaign. His foot soldiers are already knocking on the doors of the most vulnerable of his supporters, the impoverished army of African football federation presidents. They are, as usual, being tempted with offers of membership of committees and subcommittees to vote for him.

Africa Unite

Blatter helped bring the World Cup to Africa. For that he has our respect, but the love affair has turned sour. Despite his extreme age and that he was clearly ailing the continent’s greatest hero, Nelson Mandela was pressured to attend football events for Africaʼs World Cup. Following Madibaʼs passing Blatter delivered the final insult.

Let me remind Africa that this is the man that disrespected Mandela. One day after Mandela died in December 2013, during a FIFA event for the 2014 World Cup, Blatter rudely interrupted a one-minute silence called for Mandela after only 11 seconds. It was preposterous. So infuriated were some people that they vowed to do everything to stop him from returning as FIFA President should he dare to run again in 2015.

That time has come. All of Africa must rise up now and say no to Blatter. Since Sepp Blatter, has the audacity to seek to perpetuate himself in office, we the people also have the temerity to say no to another 4 years of his dictatorship. That’s precisely why Blatter must be stopped, now.

1 Ado was the Vice-President of the Confédération Africaine de Football (CAF) and President of the Somali Football Association at the time. He claimed that he had been offered $100,000 to vote for Blatter and that others had queued up to take their money.

Testing Times

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (November 14th 2014)

Friendly

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Fresh from their World Cup heroics Colombia and the USA meet in a friendly at Fulhamʼs Craven Cottage tonight. Jürgen Klinsmann has a new look squad as veteran keeper Tim Howard is taking a break from international football. Aston Villaʼs Brad Guzan will provide the last line of defence. “You want to test yourself against the best,” he said of the prospect of facing Real Madrid star James Rodríguez and Fiorentinaʼs Juan Guillermo Cuadrado.

Yesterday, ticket sales reached 23500, which equalled the record for an international at Craven Cottage. Obviously itʼs a very traditional and very special place”, Klinsmann said of the ground. “That we get the opportunity to play a friendly here means a lot to us”.

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Comfort Zones

Klinsmann had to make changes since July. “Weʼre looking forward to an exciting match to a game that gives us a very good benchmark against a team that is in the top five in the world with outstanding players”, he said. “We have a good group of guys here. They are eager to show what they have”.

Klinsmann said that the long-term vision was 2018 and that they were looking forward to playing José Pekermanʼs team. “For us, itʼs huge to play those type of games outside of our comfort zone away from the United States in order to grow and to learn, especially for the younger players you know to face all these top players that Colombiaʼs has”.

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He was impressed with los Cafeteros. “I wouldnʼt say it was a surprise, because prior to the World Cup when you talked about all the nations that qualified there a lot of people mentioned Chile, a lot people mentioned Colombia, how good their individuals, the quality that they have – one of their secret teams maybe going far in the tournament – so it was exciting to see that Colombian team, the way they played, the energy they had, you how they performed, so they deserved really the biggest compliment for that and especially José Pekerman for his work there”.

He expects to be a wiser man about his team after Friday night. “For us … itʼs very important that we have these games where we have to figure out to solve things on the field in a one match situation, because our next biggest learning curve is once we get out hopefully of the group again, how we actually advance in the knock-out system”, Klinsmann said.

Klinsmann believes that such matches are essential if the USA is to become a top team. “This is our learning curve, to learn in one game at a time to go further and further and further to develop that mentality – that mindset – to do that, so thatʼs why we badly need those games against the best teams that we can find to give us that opportunity to play them”, he said. “No matter where in the world, weʼre going to go there and weʼre going to play those games”.

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Rebuilding

He believes that his team will benefit from pitting their skills against such a good team and that his youngsters have to be tested against the best. “You can see their progress and thatʼs what we want to experience”, Klinsmann said of the young players. “We want them to grow confident … We want to do well against a very, very good Colombian side

and has great respect for his opposite number José Pekerman, dating back to the World Cup in 2006. “Iʼm a big admirer of José Pekerman”, Klinsmann said. “A wonderful person that I played against for Germany in the World Cup of 2006 and I visited him once in México. What he built there is exceptional. Itʼs fantastic to see, so this is what we need. We need those benchmarks now and weʼre eager to give them a real fight.

Goals

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Brad Guzan will play tonight. “Itʼs important to play these competitive games, because they help set benchmarks of where we are as a team, as individuals and how much we continue to grow”, he said. “Ultimately the goal is four years – the World Cup – we have a lot of stepping stones before that, but the goal is 2018. Thatʼs going to be a special time. To be successful in big tournaments you have to play against the best teams in the world. You use these games to hopefully prepare for the bigger stage and ultimately the World Cup”.

Guzan knows that he will face an impressoive set of strikers and team with James Rodríguez pulling the strings. He is unfazed. “Youʼre always expecting to play against the best players in the world, because itʼs an opportunity to test yourself, so nothing changes for me in that aspect” ,he said.

He echoes Klinsmannʼs beliefs. “As a team, itʼs always a challenge and especially we know itʼs going to be a good Colombia team from top to bottom, so for us itʼs going to be an important night and these are the games you want to be a part of”, Guzan said. “You want to test yourself against the best players, against the best teams. These are the exciting matches that you want to be a part of”.

Unprecedented

 

By Valery Villena © Valery Villena (July 9th 2014)

Shocking

The football world was in shock during and immediately after witnessing an event that no one alive had seen before: Brazil was utterly destroyed and humiliated in front of their own fans in a World Cup semifinal match by the unprecedented score of 7-1! Such an unbelievable result will likely never occur again.

Nearly two thousand years ago, the poet Decimus Iunius Iuvenalis left us this phrase in one of his satires “rara avis in terris nigroque simillima cygno” (a rare bird in the lands and very much like a black swan; 6.165).

First of all, what occurred in Brazil was an atypical occurrence because it was outside of the realm of possibilities – not even Germany expected such incredible result. There was nothing in Brazil’s recent past that would have pointed in a convincing manner to such a probability.

Secondly, this will result in an extreme impact throughout Brazilian football. And third, despite its status of rare event, it is our human nature to create explanations in retrospect for this shocking result and even reasons for its predictability.

Graphology and the Wall

For instance, the signs were there and have been slowly but surely creeping into today’s Brazilian reality. If Chile and Colombia had sent Brazil to the psychologist for a quick treatment then Germany has sent them to the cemetery to be buried altogether.

In no way is this hyperbole – Brazil’s current football was destroyed and the ensuing hecatomb is inevitable with swift changes and reforms looming to return Brazilian football to its roots.

War by Other Means?

Football is not war in which anything goes – it is a sport that promotes good health and values. That’s why it has its rules. Brazil had deviated from this path and resorted to chicanery and a thuggish style which was highlighted during their game against Colombia recently.

For South Americans especially it was reminiscent of the legacy of Nobby Stiles and England in 1966 when the English team enjoyed total impunity from the referees during that World Cup that became known as ʻThe Robbery of the Centuryʼ – England’s only trophy at the international level.

Nevertheless, Brazil is a multiple winner of World Cups and Copa Américas. Brazil is the most successful country in the history of the game. Perhaps that’s why the football world is shocked and convulsing at the sight of this current Brazil side – a grotesque caricature of the legacy of Leônidas da Silva, Pelé, Jairzinho, Rivalino, Garrincha, Carlos Alberto and Cafu, winners in style, one and all – playing such football as this and shaming that legacy and themselves.

 

Robbery

 

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (July 9th 2014)

Reprise

Tonight Louis van Gaal’s Dutch team get the opportunity to claim revenge for an act of football robbery – one that had dire consequences. When Argentina was awarded the World Cup of 1978 it was a democracy – a weak and ineffective one, but a democracy nonetheless. By the time the ticker-tape World Cup got under-way Argentina was ruled by one of the most despicable men to pollute twentieth century despite stiff competition for that tag.

General Jorge Videla Redondo was a thoroughly reprehensible person. He was not prepared to leave anything to chance. The budget was raised to ten times the original, but the extent of poverty and brutal repression was hidden from foreign observers and on the pitch the fix was on. FIFA gave Argentina an unfair advantage of playing their second round matches after rivals Brasil, meaning they always knew what was needed.

The last of those matches was the most infamous. Needing to win 4-0 to progress at Brasil’s expense, Perú capitulated in the second half after a half-time visit to their dressing room by Videla accompanied by his guest Henry Kissinger. But complaints mean little after the fact. Videla got what he paid for, but the Dutch were a different matter. There would be no rolling over for Argentina.

The fouling was persistent and dirty, but the gamesmanship started before the game had even started. It was delayed as Argentina objected to a plaster cast worn by René van der Kerkhof to protect a wrist injury. But FIFA must take responsibility for scandalous cowardice. A respected official Abraham Klein had been selected for the final. Argentina objected and were rewarded with the referee of their choice being appointed.

The Italian Serio Gonella gave a performance of shameful bias, allowing blatant fouling to go unpunished. Despite the gamesmanship and unpunished fouling the Dutch came close to pooping Videla’s party anyway. Rob Rensenbrinck and Dick Nanninga hit the woodwork. Nanninga equalised Mario Kempes’ goal to force extra time, but Kempes scored another and Daniel Bertoni got the other.

Videla had his victory, but football and the human race had lost a whole lot more. Videla and his thuggish junta clung to power, bolstered by the World Cup triumph, committing atrocity after atrocity. The Netherlands were robbed on the pitch. Argentinians lost a whole lot more. They remain by far the biggest victims of one of the most corrupt World Cups ever.

Betrayed

By the time FIFA arrived with its entourage one of the best players the world had ever seen Johan Cruijff refused to play, protesting against the vicious dictatorship that had seized power in Argentina, although he now says that the real reason was a kidnap attempt in Barçelona a year earlier.

While Cruijff sacrificed the chance to win the World Cup and cement his legacy – his country still hasn’t won football’s ultimate prize – FIFA lacked such principle. General Jorge Videla Redondo was a vicious tyrant, responsible for the kidnap, disappearance, torture and murder of thousands of people.1 Videla was absolutely determined to exploit the World Cup and to their eternal shame FIFA acquiesced.

Never forget that Argentinians were far and away the people who suffered most from the military junta that imposed the Dirty War against its own people long before the Falklands War (Malvinas). Videla ended his days in prison after being convicted of an orchestrated campaign to kidnap children and have them brought up by military personnel. It was one of Argentina’s biggest scandals as it confronted the amnesia that had characterised the post dictatorship years.

Tyranny

Videla had learned well from his fellow fascist despot Benito Mussolini. Winning the World Cup bolsters the popularity of the incumbent government, whether illegally in power or not. Isabel Martínez de Perón will never be remembered as a great President of Argentina. She succeeded her husband General Juan Perón upon his death in 1974. She made the grave error of trusting and promoting the tyrant in making Videla.

Martínez de Perón’s husband provided refuge to Nazi war criminals after the Second World War. Argentina had been awarded the tournament in 1966. Videla seized power a decade later. He spent a fortune to exploit the World Cup – some of it necessary. Roads linking host cities were needed, but colour television was not a priority except to Videla.

Slums were hidden behind huge walls and taking no chances Operación El Barrido was unleashed to disappear dissidents at an alarming rate. Videla and his uniformed thugs would stop at nothing to prevent the truth about the repression and economic chaos being revealed by enterprising journalists. The 1978 World Cup was a disgrace, but the greatest victims of it was not Brasil, nor even the Netherlands – it was Argentina. The ranks of the Disappeared, tortured and murdered swelled to thousands. That tournament has blood on its hands, especially of Argentinians.