Category: 2010 Africa Cup of Nations

Eto'o celebrates goal

Samuel Eto’o has won the CAF African Footballer of the Year award for a record fourth time after he was named the continent’s best player in 2010 at a ceremony in Egypt on Monday night.

The Cameroonian who won the European Champions league, the Italian Serie A, the Italian Cup and  Super-Cup, and the World Club Cup came ahead of Ghana’s Asamoah Gyan and Ivory Coast’s Didier Drogba.

“I would like to seek your support to help Africa win the World Cup,” Eto’o said to Issa Hayatou,the chairman of the Confederation of African Football (CAF) while receiving the award.

The Inter Milan striker said the African continent has quality players, coaches and managers to be be able to attain that ojective.

He also heaped praise on TP Mazembe of the Congo Democratic Republic for flying Africa’s flag at the just ended FIFA World Club Cup. TP Mazembe became the first African team to reach the final of that tournament but were beaten 3-0 by Europe’s  Inter Milan, with Eto’o scoring and providing an assist for the Italians.

The runner-up, Ghana’s Gyan who was named BBC African Footballer of the Year last Friday, said he was young and had many years ahead of him to win the award.

“It’s a surprise to see me standing here before all these big men of Africa,” he said in reference to his youth and the achievements he had already made.

Gyan was the lead scorer for the  Black Stars of Ghana who reached the final of the Africa Cup of Nations in Angola and the quarter-finals of the World Cup in South Africa this year.

He missed a last minute penalty that would have taken Ghana to the semi-finals of the competition but showed great courage as he took and scored a penalty kick during the shoot-out at the end of the match.

He may well return as a challenger for this award if he maintains his current club form at Sunderland in the English Premier League where he has been very influential in terms of goals and assists.

Gyan, Eto’o, and Drogba feature in CAF’s African Eleven of the year which also includes Egypt’s national team captain Ahmed Hassan who won the award for the Best African Footballer based in the African continent.

President Paul Biya of Cameroon hardly dwells on defeats that befall his country’s national football team. But for some reason, he chose to mention the elimination of the Indomitable Lions from the recent Africa Cup of Nations (CAN) in his Youth Day** address in 2010 with his sight firmly set on the World Cup in June.

Cameroon crashed out of the tournament after a quarter-final defeat (1-3) to their “nemesis” and eventual champions Egypt.

“I would have loved to join you in congratulating the Indomitable Lions on their performance at the recent Africa Cup of Nations. Fate decided otherwise,” Biya said.

Can these Lions mature by June 2010?

The World Cup bound squad’s coach, Paul Le Guen, and his players felt they lost on the day they displayed their best football and seemed reassured that the competition had revealed new talent for upcoming successes. A view shared by  Cameroon’s Head of State.

“Our national team, which is undergoing change, displayed great qualities,” he told his young countrymen.

“Let us give it time to mature and let us continue to have confidence in it. I am sure that during the upcoming Football World Cup, it will be capable of springing surprises”, he added.

Biya, who has been in power since 1982, has often used the “fighting spirit” and success of the Cameroon football as a reference point for the youth and the rest of his citizens. But analysts say he simply makes political capital out of triumphs which are not based on any organization and planning by authorities.

Politics and football

The country which holds the African record for playing at the FIFA World Cup lacks proper football facilities (or infrastructure for any other sport). The game is still played on hard dusty or slippery muddy grounds (depending on the season). There is no clear youth development system or policy to develop the sport in the country.

Thousands of youngsters leave the West African country each year in search of glory and fortune in Europe, the Middle East, Asia and the Americas. The national team is exclusively made up of players in European clubs from where most of them obtained foundation training.

Although some Cameroonians would disagree, it is also evident that the country lacks world-class trainers to match the natural talent it possesses hence their reliance on foreign managers like the current French-born head coach, Paul Le Guen.

It would seem that after 27 years in power, the country’s leader has seen the necessity to tackle these shortcomings.

“I intend to commission a study for the creation of an Advanced Football Training School which, in conjunction with the Ministry of Sports and Physical Education, the Ministry of Youth Affairs and existing federations and academies, will be responsible for providing training and further training to young people who display an exceptional aptitude for our “king sport,” Biya announced.

At the end of last year, the government also launched a Chinese-funded programme to construct stadiums in a number of towns in the country including the coastal city of Limbe and Bafoussam in the western grassfields plateau.

Political analysts have suggested that these projects may just be “political” promises ahead of presidential elections expected in 2011.

For a full reading of President Biya’s speech to the youth on 10 Feb 2010, please click here.

**The Youth Day is historically Plebiscite Day, on which Cameroon under British administration was called to choose to obtain independence by either joining the already independent Federal Republic of Nigeria or the Cameroon Republic (already independent from France in 1960). You can read about that here.

Eagles have not been flying high in the current Africa Cup of Nations in Angola.

After Nigeria’s Super Eagles were captured by Egyptian Pharoah’s through a 3-1 beating, it was the turn of another West Afrcan Eagle to falter in the presence of a North African  xchallenge.

On Thursday, Algeria’s Desert Foxes re-emerged from the grilling at the hands of Malawi’s Flames to knock-off Mali’s star Eagles: Seydou Keita, Mahmadou Diarra and Momo Sissoko and Kanoute from their perch. A well taken free-kick and a header beat the Malian goalkeeper.

The Mali side barely had two opportunities which they could not finish.

The Algerians held their own until the blast of the final whistle. They are now equal on 3 points with Malawi’ s Flames who found it hard to roast the Palancras Negras of Angola.

With 50,000 home fans singing, chanting and trumpeting for their cause, southern Africa’s rare antelopes charged in Luanda’s humid night to beat the Flames 2-0. The goals were scored by Flavio and Manucho. The former is currently top scorer in the tournament with 3 goals. But he limped out of the field and there are fears he may have torn a muscle.

The final group A matches would be explosive as Angola’s Palancras Negras  (4 points) take on Algeria’s Desert Foxes (3 points) while the Flames of Malawi (3 points) clash with the Eagles of Mali (1 point).All the teams still have a chance of going to the next round but Mali’s chances are smallest.

On Friday, Africa’s Black Stars expect to shine when they meet the Elephants of Ivory Coast. The loser of this confrontation will be one-foot out of this competition.

The tales of the AFCON jungle continue…

How to tame a Lion...

Question: How do you tame Indomitable Lions of the African jungle?

Answer: Get them to play 3 times with the Panthers of Gabon!

It may sound a bit preposterous for an answer but it tells how and why Cameroon’s national football team lost to Gabon (0-1) in their opening game at the Africa Cup of Nations in Angola.

When both teams met in the qualifiers to this competition on the 5th and 9th of September in Libreville and then Yaounde, the Gabonese were on the high after winning their earlier fixtures against Morocco and Togo. They thought they were equal or better than Cameroon.

They attacked and exposed their back lines to Cameroonian assaults. With a World Cup berth and their reputation at stake, the Lions obliged by beating them twice (2-0 and 2-1).

Having learned his lesson, Alain Giresse, the Panthers’ coach devised a 4-5-1 game-plan that emphasised on blocking spaces when the team did not have possession and bursting out via speedy counter-attacks to surprise the Cameroonian block. They were prepared to suffer, bear the weight of the game with the hope of making vital use of any opportunity that came their way.

The plan worked to perfection.

In all they had 3 shots on target where Cameroon had 1o but they nicked-in the goal in their most glaring face-to-face with Cameroon’s keeper, Idriss Kameni.

Cameroonians can blame 19-year-old Nkoulou for not  tackling properly; many have insulted Rigobert Song for not providing enough cover to prevent Hull City’s Daniel Cousin from taking on Kameni. But let’s face it: had Emana, Webo or Tchoyi taken their chances the story would have been different.

To tame these Lions, Gabon banked on an alert keeper, a vigilant and disciplined defence which respected tactical instructions to the letter.

Nonetheless, Cameroon played well. They enjoyed long spells of possession, especially in the second half which was played in the Gabonese zone.  Yet, like the Ivory Coast (against Burkina Faso) two days earlier, they did not score. Why?  What didn’t work?

Only a few good men…

A few men were below their standard. Given that football is a team effort, the missing links broke the chain of action thereby knocking-off the system. A case in point is the team’s left flank which has been central to their success under Paul Le Guen.  Movement and combination between the leftback (Assou-Ekotto/Bedimo), the left-midfield (Makoun) and left forward (Eto’o) produced goals (2 Makoun, 3 Eto’o) and assists (1 Bedimo, 1 Eto’o 2 Makoun).

On Wednesday, Bedimo struggled, Makoun was missing in action and  Eto’o became a shadowy, peripheral player. Moreover, having played Cameroon twice, the Gabonese were aware that Eto’o (contrary to general opinion) does not play as a central striker with Cameroon.  His central defenders were not drawn to the left as usual, so few spaces were open for the rest of the Lions’ attack-line (particularly Emana, Makoun and Webo).

Glasgow Celtic’s midfielder Landry Ngeumo was also off-pace. He was replaced by Somen Tchoyi at half-time.  Two years ago in Ghana, he was substituted in the same manner in Cameroon’s first game (4-2) defeat to Egypt. He did not return to the team until Le Guen was appointed in July 2009.

Le Guen later withdrew Webo  who had run hard but missed two glorious scoring opportunities. The much criticised Idrissou Mohammadou came in but appeared unsure of his position. The last and surprising switch was  Bedimo Nsame (a leftback) replaced by Enow Eyong Tarkang (a relay midfielder).  After watching the recording of the game twice, am still not clear in what formation Cameroon finished the game in.

They seemed to switch from 4-3-3 to 4-4-2 (diamond) and  a 3-4-3  with Geremi, Nkoulou, Song R (at the back) Enow,Song Alex, Makoun, and Emana (at midfield, with the latter as playmaker) and Eto’o (left), Idrissou (centre) Tchoyi (right) at the forward line.

Though it was an audacious move, the players lost their bearings and stepped on each other’s toes in the mad rush to score that equaliser. Eto’o stayed on the left but when he cut inwards he was far from the goal. Alex Song was impressive as usual but kept the ball too long, giving the Gabonese defenders time to return to their positions. These points  need to be re-arranged.

It is easy to criticise the coach after a defeat. Easier still to remember the good players he could or should have picked. Cameroonians are very good at that game since they believe it is their God-given right to win; defeat being the eternal portion for others. It is the sort of pressure that  a good squad could use to its advantage to tame the  Lions.

Years in football club managment have thought me that there are days when things just don’t go your way. So, you allow the technical staff to make adjustments; and you remind the players of their responsibilities – to the colours the defend, the people who die to support them, their careers and the material gains.

Usually, it turns a tame cat into a fierce and indomitable lion…

Fire (pix from Peter Flicker)

Behold, this Monday, I saw  roaring Flames from Malawi burn a much heralded pack of Desert Foxes from Algeria. I thought it was a dream. So, I pinched myself only to wake to an impossible sight : a herd of mighty Elephants from Ivory Coast had besieged a group of Stallions bred in Burkina Faso. But the Stallions stood firm and turned away the giants of the African field!

Oh yes! The real deal is here!

Not even the Greeks of old, with their gods  and Olympics could fashion a competition which pits the elements (Flames), the planets (Black Stars), demi-gods (Pharoahs), birds of the sky (Eagles), and all manner of animals from the African savannah and jungle (Palencras Negras, Lions, Elephants).

Africa alone can do it. At last,the real Africa Cup of Nations has kicked-off!

Although commentors managed to sneak-in a word or two  on the final departure of Togo’s Sparrow-Hawks and the cloud that the callous attack on their bus may have brought on the competition, the beauty of the opening ceremony and the  fireworks  that crowned it, finally overwhelmed most of them.

Football not war…

Thankfully, those antelopes, yes – the Palencras Negras – decided that it was always going to be about the footie and nothing else.

In terms of tactics and individual skill, they looked really short. But they compensated that with energy against the flashy Eagles of Mali with their “professionals” from Europe’s leagues.

Uh hmmm.

Those players whose masters don’t really enjoy them coming every two years to the African bush in the middle of the winter looked outpaced. With barely 15 minutes to go, they were 4-nil down (yes – the Malians).

That beautiful lady who sat by the Angolan President  could not contain her joy and happiness anymore. She could hardly keep her seat (sshh… it seems she’s the 1st Lady).

Alas, football has its ways.

Those Eagles started scoring: 1, then 2, then 3 and finally 4 goals (three of them within 4 minutes). Yikes! I darted around like a school boy and flung my notepad which always stays with me for tactical notes (à la Rafa Benitez et José Mourinho) !

Many hours later, I realised that the mourning Sparrow-Hawks who had been flown back to Lome (some say) in a Presidential jet with thei slain 2, had left my mind. A pang of guilt (African respect for the dead, I suppose) struck…

But truth be said, my head was jangling with post-match analysis.

How do you draw 4-4 after leading 4-0 at barely 10 minutes to close of play?  Those Angolans lacked the technical ability to keep the ball with little passes while waiting for the referee’s whistle. They also looked tired but  lacked the tactical sense to resist the urge of surging forward to please the crowd. Consequently, they created spaces at the back and the genius of those Europe based players took advantage to level matters.

I used to be a goalkeeper in my day and don’t like to stab a fellow-goalie – but as they say in Cameroon: “Maaaassssa dat  Palencras Negras catchman na wa oh! The Angolan goalkeeper wasn’t at his brightest in those last minutes against mali.

Football in Cabinda…

The Desert Foxes – proud ambassadors of  North African football at the upcoming World Cup – will not blame  their keeper alone for their own defeat. Once they went behind they were unable to change gear to spring a great escape. The Flames grilled them properly (3-0)  and served them as roast bush-meat to Malawian fans.  It was the second shocker of the tournament!

The third surprise came from Cabinda.

Yep, you remember the place in the news these days. There was no bad news for my journalistic tongue to lick. Well….except you are a fan of the Elephants of Ivory Coast. Africa’s fantasy soccer team, which  European media reckon will walk in the park to pick its promised crown on 31 Januray 2010.

They had thrashed the Stallions 5-0 in Abidjan and 3-2 in Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso) during the combined qualifiers to this tournament and the World Cup. But the Burkinabé rebelled at Cabinda, playing 9 or 10 at the back for most of the game while attempting a few incursions in the Ivorian defence.

Guerrilla tactics from the Stallions? Sure. They are in Cabinda!

Didier Drogba (Chelsea) huffed, Baky Koné (Marseille) puffed, Yaya Toure (FC Barcelona) stamped, Didier Zokora (FC Sevilla, Spain) charged but the score stayed the same : 0-0. Ivorians must pray hard that the Black Stars (Ghana) don’t overcome their Elephants on Friday, else their rumble in the Cabinda jungle may end abruptly.

Luckily, we are not yet there. We still have to watch the kings of Africa aka Pharoahs of Egypt do battle with the Super Eagles from Nigeria. Oh and “small no bi sick”, therefore don’t forget to tune-in for a bout between Squirrels (Benin) and snakes..oops…Mambas (Mozambique).

Remember, it is a jungle and anything can happen… even in a clash between Indomitable Lions and Panthers

Let the show go on!