Posts Tagged AFCON

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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Over the Weekend: Undereagles Soar, Révolution à Chateauneuf et Balotelli à Milano

What is an African Cup of Nations? One in which a west African nation will defend the Cup in north Africa two years after winning it in South Africa where a southern African nation was dethroned? That would be it, mostly, as the east African nations basically put up a no show.

Following a slow start to the 2013 AFCON, the goals started coming and perhaps more importantly, we were gradually served up largely entertaining matches and now, an all west African semi-final.

Ghana was first into the last four, ending a fairytale that came from the mediterranean cape to its maiden Nations Cup appearance at the expense of Lions made domitable, before coming from a goal down to get a late winner and make the last eight from a group it contested with hosts South Africa, the unfortunate Moroccans their neighbour and a desperately disappointing Angola that isn’t even close to being as good as the shadow of the side that was an an Eagle’s cryptonite on their way to the 2006 World Cup.

Cape Verde impressed many with their football, proof of them being cousins with the Portuguese – and indeed Manchester United’s midfielder Nani has a cousin in the Blue Sharks team – and after a nervous first half against Ghana, they succumbed to a penalty; which sparked perhaps their best football display all tournament, and a stoppage time goal off a punt forward with the goal unguarded.

A painful exit yet a most admirable maiden appearance from the Blue Sharks who without doubt are one of AFCON 2013’s highlights. There focus now will turn to the second round of qualifying matches for the 2014 World Cup, where ironically they lie bottom of Group B without a point after two matches; a group led by Tunisia that didn’t go past the group stage of the ongoing AFCON.

Next after Cape Verde’s heroics was undereagles Nigeria’s downing of the mighty Elephants of Cote D’Ivoire, overly overwhelming favourites for the Cup only to, yet again, fall short just as Spain used to and the Netherlands still do.

Ivorian goalkeeper Barry did not see Emenike’s incoming bullet for Nigeria’s first goal and though the Ivorians equalised minutes into the second half, Nigeria to my surprise was not entirely outplayed, as both sides created chances to get a winner.

And what a winner it was, magnificent solo effort from Sunday Mba who gliding past a number of Elephants from midfield and sent a shot past Barry, with the help of a slight deflection but who cares, it was the match winner, a worthy one too.

Two things I got from that match, however pessimistic one is about something that is a part of you, you’ll end up still hoping for that thing’s best. Secondly, Mba’s goal was great advertisement for the Nigerian Premier League; where a new season should kick-off mid-February barring any more trivial administrative raucous.

Okay there was a third, which is the grace in defeat shown by the Ivorian team who wished their Nigerian counterparts to go on and win the Cup. We’ll first have to go past Mali to accomplish that.

Right… there was a fourth lesson from the match, which is @TheRealEboue is not the real Eboue. Or maybe folks on twitter just enjoy… never mind.

I’ll be damned but… there’s a fifth thing I got from that match, and I’m not particularly elated by it, by Gervinho’s imminent return to the Arsenal set-up earlier than scheduled for he had promised to make up for his penalty miss in last year’s AFCON final by scoring the Cup winning goal this time.

Arsenal may well do with his return, as the Gunners currently lie in sixth place on the Premier League table but just five points off third placed Chelsea that lost to le révolution de France à Châteauneuf.

Newcastle United, Châteauneuf Uni in a fairly rough sense, are a team reborn with the influx of French nationals to the team and though it was Argentine Jonas Gutierrez that headed Alan Pardew’s side ahead on Saturday, a brace from Moussa Sissokho earned the Magpies a last minute 3-2 win in a highly thrilling affair that saw the Blues score two early second half goals to overturn Gutierrez’s opener; Mata’s goal still setting nerve ends in my brain loose with the sheer finesse he scored it with. Gosh.

Another revolution set in motion meanwhile heralded in the Serie A where Mario ‘why always me?’ Balotelli marked his debut for AC Milan with both goals in a 2-1 win over Udinese. Last time someone got a brace on their Milan debut, he ended up being prolific for the Rossoneri. That person was Oliver Bierhoff.

As it is a new start for Balotelli in a city he knows very well, it seems also to mark a new era for Milan, notoriously known for being the club of pensioners. With Mario, El-Sharwama and Niang however, the Rossoneri blood is being freshened and a second round tango with Barcelona in the Champions League is just about an appropriate test of that.

On that young shall grow note, it’s a wrap. Going on a break here was hard but necessary and today, I’ll write my last first semester paper; French. Rather than be a show-off I’ll keep it simple and bid you au revoir jusqu’à samedi matin.

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Over the Weekend: Barça Slip, AFCON for Sleep & Sharapova Rips

You know a team is very good when its lost matches make the headlines and Barcelona, following an unbeaten streak in the Spanish Primera Division from April 2012… 10 months, finally succumbed to defeat.

The manner of the Catalan cruise control footballers’ loss however was the surprising bit, letting go of a two-goal lead earned through goals from Zeus incarnate and Pedro in the opening 25 minutes and losing 3-2 at Real Sociedad.

Indeed Sociedad’s remarkable comeback, completed with an injury time winner, was much aided by Gerard Pique’s sending off just before the hour mark and Javier Mascherano’s ‘zzzz’ moment soon after but even a man down, Barça usually wouldn’t crumble as it did on Saturday night.

But like I said, the very good teams have their losses making headlines hence, with Barcelona now without a win in two successive matches – having been held by 10-man Malaga to a 2-2 draw in the quarterfinal first leg of the Copa Del Rey – it is only natural that ‘something is wrong’.

At least Atletico Madrid would hope so, taking advantage of Sociedad’s unlikely win with a 2-0 win at home to Levante. Unfortunately, leading scorer Radamel Falcao limped off ‘hamstrung’ to leave the task of cutting Barça’s eight-point lead at the top to Adrian and co.

As for Barça, I honestly hope Malaga actually get the required result in the return leg, just so sanity can be within the reach of Real Madrid that, in the event of Malaga not getting the required result, would have to play three El-Clasicos along with the two legs against Manchester United in the Champions League at a stretch.

Besides, it is too early in the year for more recycled reasons, arguments and analysis of who’s ultra-better between Zeus incarnate and Cristiano Ronaldo… Achilles if you may… right? WRONG! Who am I kidding? I hope Malaga get thrashed out of the Copa so Barça sets up that fortnight of godly football to look forward to, something Madrid would likely prefer to avoid!

AFCON 2013 Begins
Before then we may have endured an insufferable African Cup of Nations. Hopefully we wouldn’t but following the opening matches on Saturday, it did seem like it would be an absolutely dull Nations Cup as both Group A matches between hosts South Africa & debutantes Cape Verde and Morocco against Angola later on ended in goalless draws.

It flooded us with dark memories of Mali 2002 where goalless draws were the full time scores in about 33% of group stage matches, with a further 30% ending in dire lone goal wins; that’s seven goals scored in 15 out of 24 group stage matches! Never again oh Jesus, please!

And matchday Two on Sunday livened matters a bit, with DR Congo coming from two goals down to earn a 2-2 draw against Ghana in Group B’s curtain raiser, while Mali left it rather late before edging Niger Republic by… a lone goal. Typical ’02 behaviour.

Underdogs Nigeria meanwhile get their campaign underway with a clash with Burkina Faso in a Group C match, preceded by Ethiopia squaring up to defending champions Zambia. Hopefully, the goals will come in these matches to further light up this Nations Cup.

Otherwise it would be just as the Premier Soccer League of the host nation is, good looking playing surfaces at the stadia along with cool ads for the competition, which itself is far below the standard it is packaged as.

Sharapova, Djoker Stay Unstoppable in Australia
On another continent down under, in another sport, the billings are being lived up to with some stunning displays coming from the players vying for the first grand slam of the year at the Australian Open.

Maria Sharapova at this moment looks the sure bet to get the slam in the female section, easing into the quarterfinals with a 6-1 6-0 stroll past Kirsten Flipkens.

That result meant the pretty Russian has won all four of her matches so far in straight sets, winning five of eight sets contested to love and losing just five games in those eight sets played so far.

Such beastly form from a beauty who will next face compatriot Ekaterina Makarova, after the 19th seed defeated fifth seed Angelique Kerber 7-5 6-4 in her last 16 encounter.

Over in the men’s draw, defending champion Novak Djokovic needed five hours to overcome talented Swiss player Stanislas Wawrinka in five sets, winning the deciding fifth set 12-10 and setting up a last eight match with Tomas Berdych.

The epic win was the Djoker’s 18th consecutive win at the Australian Open and keeps him on course to become the first player in the Open era to win three successive Australian Open titles. Just three more matches DjokerNole!

Before then, two French men went at each other for almost five hours before Gilles Simon overcame Gael Monfils and set up what likely will be the end of his time down under in the hands of world number three Andy Murray.

Roger Federer continues to be a maestro on the court but world number four Rafael Nadal watches on, probably with a tight fist as he edges closer to his return from injury.

Bavarians March On, Red Devils Freeze Up
The Bundesliga resumed from its winter break with Bayern Munich maintaining its charge towards an umpteenth league title in a routine 2-0 win over bottom side Greuther Fürth while Bayer Leverkusen kept pace, albeit nine points adrift, with a 3-1 win over fourth placed Eintracht Frankfurt.

Champions Borussia Dortmund remain in third place, a dozen points off the top, but back in good form after demolishing Werder Bremen with five unreplied goals away from home.

In Spain, Real Madrid posted the same result from their trip to Valencia with Achilles and Mary’s Angel getting a brace each after Gonzalo Higuain opened the scoring… and all five goals came in the first half.

With Barcelona losing, that display left the Merengues 15 points behind their bitter rivals still while still trailing their neighbours Atletico by seven points. Jose Mourinho’s getting the boot at this rate.

In Italy, Juventus got a 4-0 win with Paul Pogba scoring a spectacular brace to help Lega Calcio’s Old Lady open a five point gap on Napoli that drew 1-1 at Fiorentina and Lazio that could only manage a 2-2 draw at lowly Palermo.

Thankfully for those two (Napoli and Lazio), Inter Milan played a 1-1 draw at Roma in Sunday’s late kick-off, leaving Nerazzurri on 39 points, four points behind the sky blue duo and thus, allowing city rivals AC Milan come within five points of them after a 2-1 win at home to Bologna.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s 19th league goal helped PSG return to the top of France’s Ligue Un with a lone goal win at Bordeaux, with Lyon dropping to second on goal difference after a goalless draw with Evian while Marseille is now a point behind in third place.

Finally from the Premier League, Robin van Persie’s 18th league goal proved not enough as fourth placed Tottenham Hotspur stole a point with a stoppage time equaliser at home to the Red Devils on Sunday.

That saw United’s lead at the top cut to five points as a David Silva brace had given champions Manchester City a 2-0 win at home to Fulham on Saturday.

Chelsea came out 2-1 victors over misfiring and misguided neighbours Arsenal, Loic Remy scored on his debut but had to settle for a point in QPR’s 1-1 draw at West Ham United and Osaze Odemwingie rescued a point for West Brom in a thrilling 2-2 draw at Midlands rival Aston Villa, before becoming a father on Sunday.

On that cheery note, it’s a wrap. Nigeria plays Burkina Faso later today, the first time I’ll see the Super Eagles play in months while the Australian Open enters its home run this week.

Hopefully, the DjokerNole gets the male title while Radwanska is also looking in championship form in the female section, which looks set for a competitive semi-final as defending champion Victoria Azarenka is also through to the last eight.

Have a productive week ahead. Till Saturday.

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