During the Week: Drugs & Cons, Refs of AFCON and Silly BON

A chain of very daring tweets innocently inspired by a sportsman across the atlantic bearing his mind on the matter of ‘tell me you never… never ever… not even once thought that fella was on some crack? Really?’ provoked a lot of thought on how clean the sporting world is.

Lionel Messi, Usain Bolt, Roger Federer, Cristiano Ronaldo, the Spanish national team, CF Barcelona, Robin van Persie, Novak Djokovic, Zinedine Zidane, Iker Casillas (I’ll explain his appearance), Rafael Nadal, Andrea Pirlo, Edinson Cavani, Andy Murray, Radamel Falcao, Thiago Silva, the Klitschko brothers, Caster Semanya, Yohan Blake…

Look what you’ve caused Lance Armstrong!

That chain of tweets mentioned some of the names above and inspired other names to my mind. Why Casillas? The man has been especially off colour this season. Became too settled being undisputed number one for club and country? Or simply got struck off the list of EPO recipients? Tweets suggest the latter, I am just an observer.

Novak Djokovic? I most certainly, pleading eyes to high heavens hope not! He (along with Murray for a while) is my favourite tennis player and oh such joy I felt when the Djoker broke the ‘duopoly’ of Rafa and Roger.

Then came 2011, the phenomenal year in which he didn’t suffer a defeat until half the year was gone when he lost in the semi final of Roland Garros, but going right on to win at Wimbledon and Flushing Meadows to add to the first of three successive Australian Open titles.

Djokovic played 76 matches in 2011 and lost just six, most of which came at the end of the tennis calendar after the US Open. Three Grand Slams and a record five Masters titles after a 2010 that saw him peak to the last four at just one of the Slams? Inspiration or inspillration? I’ll stick with the former.

Indeed a lot of us have mentioned how disappointing it would be if Usain Bolt went the Ben Johnson way, not many if not any have however given thought to Zeus’ godfather incarnate in Messi.

Diego Maradona abused drugs despite his at times egocentric yet undeniable immense talent with the round leather, why not Messi? Maybe the growth hormone drug used on him were much more? Otherwise he may well be a Mathieu Valbuena.

Back to that chain of tweets, it was implied also that two seasons’ worth of matches were fixed for years and, more worrisome, that the authorities turned a blind eye to these as they did the doping. Something that probably got monsieur Wenger going ‘Atcha! No wonder we haven’t won anything all the while’.

Match-fixing in the Serie A? Too easy, it’s almost a habit there. In the La Liga? Maybe, maybe not. In the Premier League or involving Premier League clubs? I’ll simply blame Howard Webb for that.

Seriously though, the thought of a match being thrown in favour of Liverpool, Bayern Munich and the likes makes me wonder ‘why bother fixing a match the club you’re fixing it for should easily win anyway?’, ‘Just to make sure since a lot of money’s being bet on them’?

One would love to say such thinking was also the motivation behind the second semi-final between Ghana and Burkina Faso at the about-to-conclude Africa Cup of Nations in South Africa.

With Mali’s Eagles soundly beaten by the Super Eagles of Nigeria, the continent was 90 minutes away from what would be a bookmaker’s delight of a final between neighbouring rivals. Alas! After two hours of football, some abysmal officiating along and the lottery of spot kicks, Ghana failed to make the final yet again.

And Jonathan Pitroipa is set to feature in Sunday’s showpiece after the referee of that second semi-final admitted his error in sending Pitroipa off, leading CAF, in all its (delayed) wisdom, to understand the importance of the tournament showpiece being as competitive as posibble while also giving that referee a red card from AFCON.

That would be the second match official sent home by Issa Hayatou’s confederation, which about sums the level of officiating we’ve lived through the last fortnight. But the Zambian coach should’ve kept his conspiracy theory of CAF not wanting the dethroned champions to retain the Cup just so a fancier team could represent the continent at the Confederations Cup to himself.

If the now sanctioned man has forgotten, his Zambia were not so deserving of qualifying from the group stage and more tellingly, enjoyed the benevolence of the first official sent home by CAF for awarding a penalty to his team off a non-extant foul in the draw with Nigeria.

Nigeria meanwhile are overwhelming favourites now to win the Nations Cup, having defeated pre-tournament favourites Cote D’Ivoire before easing past Mali with a masterclass. More so when one considers that the Burkinabes only earned a draw with the last kick of the group stage match between both sides.

Then, the draw happened on an excuse of a pitch, but nonetheless with both sides playing some abjectly unattractive football. On Sunday, the pitch would be far better and both sides have improved dramatically during the course of the tournament. Can Pitroipa, Bance and the rest of the Burkinabes go all the way? Damn right they can, Zambia did humble Cote D’Ivoire only a year ago when the odds seemed all for the Elephants.

However, I do believe Nigeria will nick it on Sunday and claim a third Nations Cup triumph. Why? Apart from the Super Eagles, previously minnows looking a much improved side now, the coach may have motivated the players after revealing to them (reportedly after the Mali match) that the Nigeria Football Federation had booked return flights for the team, without his knowledge, before the quarterfinal match with the Elephants.

The NFF, somehow, by some mysterious convention, always… ALWAYS find a way of going one worse than before with their dealings. Yes, not many of us remotely considered we’d beat the Ivorians but booking flights home before the match? I’m just nonplussed here!

Imagine now the amounts lost just to return those tickets (which I doubt, the returning) or spent to keep those tickets till when they actually would be needed, which now is some time next week.

Most annoyingly, it is in this hour just before the twelfth that the Broadcast Organisation of Nigeria have decided paying for tv rights to the AFCON would be worth it. After Super Sport has made all the revenue possible? Who are these people?

If CAF’s price seemed outrageous, be inventive and negotiate a favourable deal. No… Nigeria wasn’t expected to go this far. What pessimism will cost us in this country.

With that, it’s a wrap from me. League football, fixed or not, are good to go this weekend ahead of the Champions League knock-out matches from next week. Even St. Valentine should… ah nevermind, have a great weekend.

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