Tuesday, December 30, 2008
With 2008 about to close, Road to 2010 turns its eyes to goal.com and African correspondent Samm Audu who lists the Top 10 African footballers of 2008 ... what do you think?
Click above for the entire list ... here's the abridged version, along with some commentary ...
10. Jon Obi Mikel - With Michael Essien injured, he's stepped up his game at Chelsea. Considering his performance at this season's African Cup of Nations, where he took a step backwards, he's done well for himself.
9. Mohamed Zidan - Broke out at this year's Cup of Nations and excelling at club team Borussia Dortmund.
8. Frederic Kanoute - So so year in my opinion.
7. Sulley Muntari - Back in Italy with Inter Milan and doing a magnificent job.
6. Didier Drogba - He's on this list purely on reputation. Had a decent beginning of the year, but collapsed in the Champions league final, where he was red carded. After that, has battled injury much of the year.
5. Michael Essien - Injured much of the current season, but was the inspirational leader of Chelsea on their way to their first Champions League final.
4. Amr Zaki - Scored twice in the African Nations Cup semi-finals, leading Egypt to their 2nd straight title. Has capitalized on his time at England's Wigan, where he lead the Premier League in scoring for a short bit.
3. Emmanuel Adebayor - Filled Thierry Henry's boots quite nicely, scoring 30 times in all competitions.
2. Samuel Eto'o - On Barcelona's scrap heap this summer, but has been wonderful in the Catalan club's resurgence this season under new coach Pep Guardiola.
1. Mohamed Aboutrika - Egypt and Africa's best player. Scored the goal that won Egypt their second straight African championship and guided club side Al Ahly to an African Champions League title. The best the continent has to offer ...
That's it for 2008. Enjoy the New Year and come back next year on the Road to 2010, where we'll step up our efforts to get to South Africa and the World Cup final!
Cross your fingers. I'll need all the luck I can get ...
HAPPY NEW YEAR!!
Friday, December 19, 2008
You have to feel for Arsenal defender Emmanuel Eboue.
The Ivorian right back has been mercilessly booed the past few weeks by Arsenal supporters for poor play. His confidence has obviously been shot, as evidenced by his demeanor after being substituted against Wigan a few weeks back.
Now, Eboue wants everyone to know he'll be back stronger than ever ...
"At the moment I am not at my best performances, but I try to give more and do my best when the boss puts me on the pitch. If I continue to work hard in training, then I am confident I can get to my best," the Ivory Coast international said.
He told Arsenal TV Online ahead of Sunday's home game against Liverpool: "I do not know why the fans did not back me, but that is football and you cannot do anything about it.
"They pay money to watch Arsenal to win. Then when we do not play well, not give our best performances on the pitch, they are very angry.
"I do not blame them, and I hope they will all come out to support us on Sunday, when we will try to do our best and try to win the game for them.
"I try to forget that now. I was disappointed, but I am happy now.
"After the game, my friends gave me a ring and helped me a lot. The next day in training, I saw the boss and he gave me confidence.
"Now I am feeling very well. I am going to try to give my best every time in training and to get confidence, then if I play in the next game, I will give my best."
Arsenal's traveling fans backed Eboue in the subsequent Champions League clash in Porto, which lifted the Ivory Coast international.
He added: "Before the Porto match, I said to myself I was going to do that for the fans because they know me, they know I can give more for the team."When we went there, I was very happy because the fans were singing my name - that made me really happy and gave me more power on the pitch."
MY POV: Poor Eboue! You have to feel for the lad, who'd been injured for a bit before the booing episode. I'm confident Emmanuel will lift his spirits in the coming weeks and be back stronger than ever.
But what's up with Arsenal's fans? Talk about giving the word 'supporter' a new definition ... not too much support for their player in that video eh?
Oh, that was disappointing ...
Egypt's Al Ahly finished sixth at the FIFA Club World Cup in Japan on Thursday after suffering a 1-0 defeat against Adelaide United of Australia.
Brazilian Cristiano scored a 25-yard screamer in the 7th minute to ensure that the African champions finish last at this year's tournament.
After stripping an Ahly defender of the ball, Cristiano rifled a right-footed blast from the top of the area past goalkeeper Amir Abdelhamid.
Mohamed Barakat had the best scoring chance for the Egyptians in the 83rd minute when he fired from 25 yards out only to have Adelaide goalkeeper Eugene Galekovic make a brilliant diving save.
The six-time African champions were ragged and couldn't keep possession, but they woke up after influential Adelaide star Diego was forced off after 24 minutes with a knee injury.
His departure sparked the Egyptians into life and they had a series of chances to draw level, with Angola's Flavio getting another fine opportunity as the Egyptians pressed hard for the equalizer.Ahly kicked off the second period with a new determination and dominated the opening 20 minutes but, as in the first half, their finishing was suspect and they failed to convert numerous chances.
Adelaide grimly hung on with goalkeeper and captain Galekovic rescuing them with a fine reflex save from Barakat as the clock ticked down.
The Egyptians came to Japan full of lofty ambitions, hoping to do at least as well as they had done at this tournament in 2006, when they finished third. Two years on, and the dream has turned into a nightmare.
"In Egypt, people think that Al Ahly are the best team in the world. We need to show some humility," said Ahly coach Manuel Jose after his team's second defeat. "Expectations are far too high, we need to be more realistic."
"Throughout the match, we didn't have enough scoring opportunities," said Jose.
"We were nervous and couldn't keep up with Adelaide."
"My players gave their all," added coach Jose. "They (Adelaide) played pretty well too, so the result was a little unfair. We could probably have played a little better, but the pressure was too great and my players just couldn't handle it."
Ahly star Gomaa felt his team owed the club's supporters an improved display should they qualify for the event once more: "It's a real disappointment for our fans, so I hope for their sake that we'll be back and that we'll do better next time."
Adelaide lost 1-0 to Japan's Gamba Osaka in the quarter-finals while Al Alhy lost 4-2 to Mexico's Pachuca.
European champion Manchester United defeated Gamba Osaka 5-3 in a semi-final later on Thursday.The Red Devils advanced to face Ecuador's Liga de Quito in Sunday's final.
Sunday, December 14, 2008
Disappointment reigns for Egypt's Al Ahly this morning as the African Champions crashed out of the FIFA Club World Cup, losing 4-2 to Mexico's Pachuca.
Ahly took the lead through a Fausto Pinto own goal in the 28th minute.
Flavio then made it 2-0 with a goal on the counter-attack just before half-time, but Pachuca came storming back after the interval.
Luis Montes reduced their deficit on 47 minutes and Christian Gimenez curled home a free-kick after 73 minutes to send the game to extra time.
The Mexican team moved 3-2 ahead thanks to Damian Alvarez's smart finish in the 98th minute and Gimenez drilled home his second to secure victory.
Pachuca go on to face South American champions Liga de Quito of Ecuador in the semi finals.
The next match in the tournament sees Adelaide United facing Gamba Osaka on Sunday, with the winners playing Manchester United.
Afterwards, Ahly coach Manuel Jose said inexperience and the weight of expectation back home in Egypt was behind his team's defeat.
"We couldn't play our normal game. My players were under heavy pressure in our country and I think they felt heavy responsibility. My players are still not mature enough," Jose said after Saturday's defeat.
"They have not grown up enough as players. They lack experience in international competitions. I'm responsible," he added.
"We couldn't play our best in the first half and still we ended 2-0 at half time. But I can't accept the fact that a team like us loses a goal in only two minutes (into the second half)," said Jose.
"After that goal, Pachuca gathered momentum and started to fight back thinking they would be able to win. It caused us to lose another goal," lamented Jose.
Skipper Shady Mohamed said: "We could have won if the game was 45 minutes. We must think over why we couldn't keep the lead."
MY POV: Tough break for the Egyptians, who came in thinking they could do some damage in this year's tournament. Better luck next time.
Friday, December 12, 2008
Tomorrow sees the return of the world's biggest club football match: Real Madrid-Barcelona.
There's nothing quite like it in the world of professional football.
Pageantry. A true despise and hatred for each other. A frenetic atmosphere. An idealogical clash between 'good and evil.'
It has a little bit of everything ... and then some.
I can not wait for this match!
Real Madrid are undergoing massive change these days, letting coach Bernd Schuster go in favor of former Sevilla and Tottenham skipper Juande Ramos.
Meanwhile, Barcelona are coasting. After destroying Valencia (my beloved club) 4-0 last weekend, Barca look unstoppable. Samuel Eto'o is the league's leading scorer, new coach Pep Guardiola has instilled a fresh philosophy to the club and they have some guy named Lionel Messi who just happens to be very good ...
This match has it all ... as Sky Sports journalist Guillem Balague says in his preview of the match:
What else is there left to say? This is Barca-Real after all. As (Barca president Joan) Laporta said in our interview this week, there is no other sporting spectacle like it in the world. More clichés? Why not. This is more than a game. This is the ultimate grudge match. This is history. A clash of the Titans. For everyone in Spain it represents a variety of conflicting symbols: two nations; two great sporting institutions; two worldviews; two philosophies or even just two football teams. Wherever you come from, it means something different, but wherever you are, it matters.Very, very true ... it is the Game of Games. The Big Show. The irresistible force vs. the immovable object ... shall I go on?
Here, a smorgasbord of highlights from previous Classico's ...
First off, remember the day Ronaldhino was cheered at Madrid's Bernabeau?
Remember Luis Figo's first time at the Nou Camp wearing the white shirt of Real Madrid? I'm sure he'll never forget ...
What's it like in the Nou Camp before the match?
How have the last 10 Classico's gone? Check out this review, in Spanish ...
For a preview of the match, make sure to click here. And here.
What does Spain's prime minister think of the match? 5-1? No me digas!
What do the fans think ahead of the big one?
Al Ahly are in Japan for the FIFA Club World Cup and while they hold allusions of winning the tournament this time around, their anxiety is beginning to show.
Yesterday, Ahly coach Manuel Jose accused their first-round opponents, Mexico's Pachuca, of sending spies to their training camp.
"Three spies from Pachuca came to inspect our practice today," he said.
"It's not fair. We didn't watch their practice. It's not fair."
Jose stressed the importance of his team achieving a good result in their opening game.
"[Saturday's] game is the same as the final for Al Ahly and Pachuca," he said.
"The losers will go to a playoff for fifth and sixth places. It's a very important game."Jose also stressed how difficult it is for teams outside of Europe and South America to advance in the tournament.
Days ago, he claimed his side were only aiming for third place in the competition.
"For the European and South American clubs, they just go to a third-place play-off even if they lose. They can reach the final by winning only one game. Anyway, we just go into the match thinking it's the final," he said.
Talking about their Mexican opponents, the Portuguese-based coach said, "Pachuca change their tactics quite often and they also want to have a better result than they did last year, but I think we are more comfortable, because we know each other very well and we have the same 3-5-2 formation."
Pachuca have not yet responded to Jose's spying accusations, focusing instead on gaining "revenge" after losing to Etoile last year.
"We believe in revenge," Pachuca's Argentine striker Bruno Marioni said.
"We are thinking about playing in a final against Manchester United. For now, we will fight this match in front of us as if it was a final." Honestly, we feel we lost for no reasons last year," Pachuca coach Enrique Meza added.
"We aim to take the first match this year, as a matter of course, and go still higher - up to the top spot."
The winners face South American champions Liga de Quito (LDU) of Ecuador in the semi-finals on Wednesday, with the victors in that match progressing to likely meet Manchester United in the final.
MY POV: Breathe in, breath out Mr. Jose! No need to get too crazy about this match!
It's evident that Jose and Ahly are taking this tournament very seriously. While that's understandable, the team needs to focus on the game and not on conspiracy theories.
Ahly is more than capable of making it to the final - provided they lay off the caffeine and RELAX!
Thursday, December 11, 2008
Put those thoughts of the 2010 World Cup in the USA, England or Germany out of your mind ...
"Plan B is dead," Danny Jordaan, head of the World Cup local organizing committee told reporters in Johannesburg in a year-end review of preparations for the tournament.
Jordaan was referring to speculation earlier this year that FIFA, soccer's world governing body could yank the World Cup from South Africa if the country was deemed ill-prepared to become the first African host of the tournament.
FIFA president Joseph Blatter's admission in June that FIFA had a 'Plan B' when it came to the host nation made for sensational headlines.
By now, the skeptics, mostly Europeans, have been proved wrong, according to Jordaan.
All 10 World Cup stadiums - five new, five upgraded - will be ready on time, he said.
Having said this, the cost will be higher than forecast due in part to a weaker rand.
"All of the stadiums will be complete and there is no doubt about that," Jordaan told a news conference.
"Some of the (construction) materials will be procured outside the country. As the rand weakens, there will be some cost overruns," he said, noting that the price of oil added another layer of unpredictability to the process.
Rising prices for imported cement, steel and other key building materials and higher labor costs have wreaked havoc on the stadium construction budget, leading to a 3.2 billion rand ($314 million) shortfall.
Local organizers are concerned about keeping the budget from spinning out of control and finding the funds to meet the shortfall, which the South African government has already pledged 1.4 billion rand towards.
South Africa expects 480,000 visitors for the World Cup, which starts on June 11, 2010, and hopes the month-long finals will spur tourism and investment in Africa's richest economy.
MY POV: Good for South Africa. About time they showered good news on the non-believers around the world.
Tuesday, December 9, 2008
Egypt's Al Ahly are now in Asia, ready to face the world's best clubs in the FIFA Club World Cup, the FIFA-sanctioned club world championship played every year in Japan.
Although England's Manchester United are favored, the reigning African champions have a ton of confidence.
*They recently won their record sixth African championship, beating Cameroon's Coton Sport 4-2 on aggregate.
*They're reigning Egyptian champions, winning the title the past 4 years and 33 times overall. *They're 35-time champions of the Egyptian Cup.
*And in 2000, they were named the African Club of the Century by the Confederation of African Football.
They're doing quite all right, I'd say.
This week, Ahly hopes to show the world what they're made of. Ahly have qualified for the Club World Cup three times and this time, they hope to advance and win the championship.
At a press conference in Egypt before their departure, the team brimmed with confidence.
Ahly club chairman Hassan Hamdi said, "These are the glory years of Al Ahly, whose name is now carved within the world's best teams. The staff have done a brilliant job. We are now eager for more. The club officials and fans are confident the team can show more progress this time."
Portuguese coach Manuel Jose says the team is highly ambitious.
"This year there is huge responsibility because everyone expects us to go further than the third place we achieved in 2006, which was also an improvement from the previous year in 2005, when we lost our two games and came last. We dream of winning the cup, and we are working on making the dream a reality."
"The players shouldn't be under pressure. They should just concentrate on the ball and on achieving their goal. It is not going to be easy and we will have to fight. We will display our best because we want to show the world that Al Ahly is a world-class team, a team capable of competing against the world's elite clubs and for the title as well."
(Having said that, take a look at this quote from England's The Daily Telegraph attributed to Jose: "For an African club to finish third in this competition resembles winning the title," Portugal-born Ahly coach Manuel Jose said.
"We will do our best to represent Africa and Egypt well, but our supporters must be aware there is a big gap between football in South America and Europe and football in Africa. Winning the Club World Cup is an impossible task for now. We need more time to achieve that goal."
Hmm ... )
Ahly captain Shady Mohamed admitted the players are determined to make an impression. "This team have achieved many unprecedented achievements, like winning the African Champions League six times and qualifying for Japan three times," he explained.
"So we need to prove to the world that we deserve to be among the elite, and that we are the best representatives for African football. We want to reach the final and hope we can return home with the title. We need to focus more on our first game. Winning our opener will give us more confidence to progress in the competition until we win it."
The hopes of the Cairo giants rest at the mercurial feet of Mohamed Aboutrika, who thrilled audiences at the 2006 edition of the Cup. However, the 30-year-old insisted his side's chances hinge of the players' collective performances. "Football is a team sport, no one can play alone," he said.
"I'm not the star of the team - the team is the star, that's what Mr. Jose tells us. I don't care about individual achievements because only team achievements remain in the memory of the fans, and I'm part of the team."Ahly's path to the final looks kind of easy.
Should Ahly see off the challenge of Mexico’s Pachuca in the first round, they will play the beatable Ecuadorian side Liga Deportiva Universitaria (LDU) de Quito in the semifinals, just one step away from a likely meeting with Manchester United, Europe's reigning champions.
The tournament runs from December 11th to December 21st. The Cup's contested between the champion clubs from all six continental confederations, although, since 2007, the champions of Oceania must play a qualifying play-off against the champion club of the host country.
Ahly's been in the tournament three times.
The first trip in 2005 proved a major disappointment as they lost 1-0 in the quarterfinals to Saudi Arabian side Al Ittihad, before succumbing 2-1 in the fifth-place play-off to Sydney FC. The following year they did much better, finishing the competition in third place.
They beat New Zealanders Auckland City 2-0 in the quarterfinals, before losing out 2-1 to the eventual winners, Brazilian club Internacional. They ensured the competition would be deemed a success, however, when they clinched third thanks to an excellent 2-1 win over Club América of Mexico.Besides Ahly, this year's Cup features Manchester United; Mexican club Pachuca, who have won the last two editions of the CONCACAF Champions League and Ecuadorian side Liga Deportiva Universitaria (LDU) de Quito, champions of South America.
Japan's Gamba Osaka, winners of the 2008 AFC Champions League will represent the J-League, while the losing finalists, Australia's Adelaide United, will also be there to represent Asia.
The line-up is completed by the OFC Champions League winners Waitakere United of New Zealand. Matches are played at three venues in Tokyo, Toyota City and Yokohama.
For a break-down of the match-ups, please click here.
What does ESPN's Soccernet.com think of Ahly's chances?
Al Ahly (Egypt; Africa/CAF)Good luck Ahly! We here at Road to 2010 are pulling for you!!!
Who are they? Africa's most successful club, the Egyptian side dominated last year winning the league and African Champions League double. Portuguese coach Manuel Jose has now led the club to four of their six Champions League successes and the club boast a number of players who have starred for Egypt in their back-to-back African Nations Cup wins. They are also nicknamed 'The Red Devils' and came third at the tournament two years ago.
Captain? Shady Mohamed. The sudden departure of goalkeeper and former skipper Essam El Hadary to FC Sion shocked the club, but Mohamed has the experience and toughness to succeed in the position. A quick central defender with outstanding fitness, he will have to be at his best to get Al Ahly into the finals.
Player to watch? Mohamed Aboutrika. The outstanding performer of the 2008 African Nations Cup, Aboutrika runs the midfield with his creativity and skill on the ball. Providing a potent goalscoring threat from behind the strikers, if "The Smiling Assassin" is on top form then his club could go far.
Monday, December 8, 2008
As if Real Madrid's luck isn't bad enough these days, word out of the Berbabeu today doesn't help things.
Mali midfielder Mahamadou Diarra will be sidelined for six to nine months after undergoing knee surgery, the club announced today.
Not good news ahead of this weekend's clash with arch-rivals FC Barcelona, who just whopped my favorite club's behind 4-0.
Diarra sustained the injury to his right knee while playing for Mali against Chad in October.
He was initially out of action for two weeks before returning for Real.
A month later, however, he aggravated the injury in a league game and an X-ray last week confirmed he would need arthroscopic surgery.
Diarra will be missed by the Spanish champions and also by Mali, as he will be absent for the opening matches of their final round of qualifiers for the 2010 World Cup and African Cup of Nations, which begin in March.
MY POV: Having Diarra on the squad probably wouldn't help Madrid all that much against the FC Barca juggernaut, who look unstoppable at this point in the season. Still, major blow for the Spanish capital's team and for Mali, who will miss the midfielder greatly ...
Wednesday, December 3, 2008
As we close in on the time to select an African Player of the Year, how about Egypt's Mohamed Aboutrika?
Aboutrika sports an excellent resume: he's won 2 African Cup of Nations with Egypt, won 3 African Champions Leagues with Egyptian club team Al Ahly and conquered 4 league titles with the Egyptian powerhouse.
On top of that, he's heralded as 'the Egyptian Zinedine Zidane for his technical skill and excellent vision of the field.' Nice comparisons, eh?
As Aboutrika's Wikipedia entry says, 'Aboutrika's contribution came not only in finding the net but also in creating from his playmaking role behind the strikers. His offensive skills were best demonstrated in his timing, as he often chose the right moment to come forward for shots on goal. He has recently been dubbed "The Smiling Assassin" by foreign media because of his two main trademarks: goalscoring and smiling. He is renowned in Egypt for his modest personality and kind heart. His trade mark celebration after a goal is to prostrate on the ground in submission and praise of Allah.'
So why is the man not on the short list for FIFA World Player of the Year?
Good question and one I can't answer ... it seems Aboutrika fills all the requirements, winning titles and excelling in his role.
The Guardian's Paul Doyle questions this and France Football's awarding of the Ballon d'Or, their annual award for best player of the year (won by Manchester United's Cristiano Ronaldo this season) in an article this week ... It's a great read and makes the case for Mohamed Aboutrika ...
Something to keep in mind when voting for your BBC African Player of the Year? Hmm ...
But for the strongest claim of all we should look to an inspirational player who is the creative fulcrum of both his club and his country, with whom he this season achieved everything he possibly could. He won his domestic championship and the African champions league with his club while taking the continental crown with his country, even scoring the winner in the final, his fourth goal of a tremendous tournament. Scandalously, the France Football editorial team who selected the 30 players for whom their worldwide panel of journalists are allowed to vote overlooked the Al Ahly and Egypt playmaker Mohamed Aboutrika.
Fifa won't compensate for this offensive anomaly. Their shortlist doesn't include Aboutrika either. Nor anyone else from Egypt's recent vintage. Hardly surprising given that Fifa doesn't even rank Egypt, winners of the last two African Cups of Nations, as the best team in Africa. Not enough Europe-based players, perhaps.
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
First off, the dive in the Columbian league game, perpetrated by Atletico Juniors' Emerson Acuna.
Are you kiddin' me?? The guy's miles from the defender! And the referee called a penalty?!?
Next up, a compendium of the worst dives of the 2006 World Cup, as narrated by the folks of ESPN's Sportscenter.
Pay particular attention to Cristiano Ronaldo's flop job, Asamoah Gyan's dramatics and Cristian Zacccardo's awful acting job against Australia ...
Finally, some of the worst dives in football history ... who can forget Gilardino's efforts for AC Milan in the first excerpt of the clip, Rivaldo's Oscar-winning performance in the 2002 World Cup and Brazilian 'keeper Duda's spectacular skills against a Celtic supporter ... great stuff ...
Monday, December 1, 2008
It's that time of year again, dear readers.
Time to vote for the 2008 BBC African Player of the Year!
This year's candidates are ...
Mohamed Aboutrika (Egypt, Al Ahly)
Emmanuel Adebayor (Togo, Arsenal)
Didier Drogba (Ivory Coast, Chelsea)
Samuel Eto'o (Cameroon, Barcelona)
Amr Zaki (Egypt, Wigan)
The BBC canvassed football experts across Africa to compile the shortlist.
Last year's winner was Emmanuel Adebayor of Arsenal and Togo, who used the award to launch his so-called 'Tour of Hope' back to his home country.
Previous BBC African Footballers of the Year include Michael Essien, Jay-Jay Okocha and El-Hadji Diouf.
The award is decided by the fans, so get yourself to the link and get voting!
You can vote for your choice until January 9 and the winner will be announced a week later.
MY POV: For my money, Aboutrika is the player of the year. 4 goals in the 2008 Cup of Nations coupled with an African Champions League trophy with club team Al Ahly wraps up the award for him ... let's see what the fans think!