AFCON 2017 Review: So Far, So Good


Every two years, 16 of Africa’s best nations meet to slug it out in her version of the World Cup. It is a tournament that creates goose pimples for the purists in Africa as the holy grail of the FIFA World Cup seems far away with every passing mundial.

The influx of Africans in diaspora coming back to their roots may seem to indicate otherwise, with players who had football education abroad coming back to help change the landscape.

African football is known for its emphasis on brute strength; a player’s ability to bully the other off the ball with next to zero technique while the skilful player is an oddity rather than the norm. 

The coaches are perceived to lack the intelligence to change games with their technical knowhow and there is no respect for the man in the dugout as regards tactics with many viewing the continent as one which lives in the noughties.

You may not blame those who belong to that school of thought, because if the current Total African Cup of Nations in Gabon is anything to go by, then, one will be in a state of flux and be indecisive, because while African football’s true colour has been revealed, there have been several times one would question the quality of the game on the continent. 

There are only a few players who ply their trade in Africa currently playing at the event which further begs why oftentimes than not, we have been fed low quality games.

A case in point: the hosts, who disappointed and flattered to deceive. Pierre Emerick Aubameyang had earlier risen to the occasion twice already and one wondered what became of them when he didn’t do so again. He was the team’s star man, but he couldn’t do it all on his own.

Players like Bruno Ecuelle Manga, Andre Biyogho Poko, Mario Lemina, Didier Ndong, Malick Evouna and Daniel Bouanga failed to step up (er, maybe Bouanga stepped up to be counted in that game against Cameroon). 

The reality lies in the fact that despite this being one of the most talented Gabonese squads in a long time, the lack of quality is glaring, one magnified by a lack of cohesion and understanding. 

Jose Antonio Camacho only arrived in December and he was expected to lead them to glory. BLOODY HELL! How possible? The team’s lack of preparation was evident in the opening game when Juary Soares popped up with a late equalizer after a mix up at the back, a scenario that repeated itself with an own goal on Match day 2 and was then crowned by Aubameyang’s failure to convert with the goal gaping against Cameroon. Nothing illustrates African football’s problems better when you lose two points instead of gaining three.


OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN: Gabon failed to meet expectations

Their carelessness was pounced on by Burkina Faso and Cameroon, who have learned from their past experiences. Les Etalons in particular surprised, with their abject performance in Equatorial Guinea now nothing more than history. The spirited performance against Cameroon was followed by another strong effort against the hosts.

In doing so, they overcame the hurdles many had expected them to fall at part in no thanks to the form of Alain Traore who has been a joy to watch alongside Prejuce Nakoulma who led the charge in the victory against Guinea Bissau. 

Four-time champs Cameroon, summarized the 21st century for their football in one game; going behind to what is probably Gabon 2017’s goal of the tournament via Piqueti Santos of the Guinea Bissau, and then a fifteen-minute salvo capped off by Ngadeu’s winning goal that showed the spirit of the Lions that terrorized defences at the turn of the century, rather than the meek and toothless ones that have failed to step up in recent times.


SADIO MANE: The Lion King of the Teranga
One record that will take some beating is that of Senegal’s who went unbeaten without dropping a single point during the qualification process. And they carried that form to Gabon as they look invisible at the moment. 

They are Africa’s form team and are the team who gives the continent hope should they make it to Russia. They are currently enjoying the rewards of bravery, having handed the reins to a 40-year old inexperienced former player who belongs to a new breed of young and educated African coaches.

The story Is entirely different for Algeria who are suffering from the sins of the fathers, having fired Christian Gourcuff and have now failed to reach the heights he took them to.

They look all over the place as things stand and should have probably finished the tournament pointless had Zimbabwean naivety not taken over. They play in stark contrast to their North African rivals, Tunisia who are built on team spirit and a relative ability to defend and counter attack at breath taking speed. 

Add to that the immense talent and skills of Wahbi Khazri and Youssef Msakni(who is set for a move to Europe, after many years in the Arabian Gulf) and you have yourself a machine that could win in Gabon. They have bounced back from their opening defeat well and look like proper semi-final candidates if all things remain equal, an attitude quite visible in their wins over Algeria and Zimbabwe.

It is one thing for a champion not to qualify to defend their title, it is another if the one that qualifies cannot even show its mettle as champions. 

Ivory Coast define the latter category and are no Elephants at all. They play like elephants whose trunks have been cut off and can’t trumpet anymore. They couldn’t break down a resilient Togolese side, they looked abject and will fly home along with the alleged whipping boys with the Sparrow Hawks almost certain to have won had Matthew Dossevi not been careless in front of goal.


ADE-FLY-HOME: Not as whipping boys but Togo are still going home.

The Leopards of DR Congo are the ones who look like champions, playing with a swagger second to none and creating all sorts of problems for their opponents, they were the ones could have won against Ivory Coast and are destined for greatness. 

The emergence of Junior Kabanaga couldn’t be more timely, with Mbokani and Bakambu struggling for form and confidence and with a Quarter final tie in sight, they must draw inspiration from two years ago to win a first title in over three decades. 

Following them closely are Morocco, whom the Ivorians could have learnt a lesson or two on how to beat Togo from. The Atlas lions have been the best side in the group and while mother luck looked away on Day 1, She smiled on Day 2. 

Herve Renard’s conquest to win a third AFCON is well and truly on, and for a man who knows his onions, it was ironic it was he who ended the reign of the team whom he led to the trophy two years previously.


BLACK STARS: The time must be now

Beaten finalists in 2015, Ghana once again have seized control of their destiny and will now look to close out a group they were favourites to win. Avram Grant’s tournament tactics has come for criticism in the Ghanaian media, but it is what has kept them going. 

For a team, yet to hit top gear, The Black Stars have done just enough buy edging one-nil victories, they will need four more similar results to end thirty-five years of heartbreak. If anyone deserves an AFCON title, its Gyan Asamoah. 

Their rivals, the Pharaohs seem to have somewhat taken measured steps on their return to the scene. Their seven triumphs are nothing but numbers and now, to make it eight, they must adapt to the changing face of the African game.


One man who has evolved is Essam el Hadary who has broken the record for oldest player. He was his old self in their opening two games and they will need him to be that man if he himself is to win a record fifth AFCON title. 

A Review of the Teams Ahead of the New Season (cont’d)

Though I may not be able to touch on all, I’ve selected yet a few number of NPFL clubs on which I can shine my spotlight as we head into the new season. After reviewing Rangers and Shooting Stars <a href=”https://forthegoals.wordpress.com/2017/01/04/a-review-of-the-npfl-teams-ahead-of-the-new-season/”>here</a&gt;, let’s take a look at two other clubs.

ENYIMBA FOOTBALL CLUB

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Enyimba Football Club

Nickname: The People’s Elephant

Founded: 1976

Home Ground: Enyimba International Stadium , Aba, Abia, Nigeria.

Calabar (Temporary Home ground)

Capacity : 16000

Location : Aba, Nigeria

Head Coach : Gbenga Ogunbote

Chairman : Felix Anyansi-Agwu

2015/2016: 10th

The Man: Mfon Udoh

Despite becoming the highest goal scorer in the 2016 CAF Champions League, he was not really favoured by former coach,  Paul Aigbogun but Mfon Udoh is one man Gbenga Ogunbote will rest his hopes on to deliver plenty of goals that will win maximum points for the people’s Elephant this season.

Enyimba Football Club

Located in one of the biggest commercial  cities in Nigeria, the People’s Elephant ; Enyimba of Aba is one of the biggest club sides in alongside Al Ahly of Egypt and Asec Memosa of Cote d’ivoire . The two-time CAF Champions League winner is one of the most successful side in Nigerian club football history.

However,  the 2015/2016 season under former Warri Wolves gaffer ; Paul Aigbogun was indeed a torrid and abysmal outing for the former League Champions. The inconsistent or lack of permanent home ground contributed to some of the misfortunes and woes of Enyimba last season,  shuffling between the Adokiye Amiesimaka stadium in Port Harcourt for CAF Champions League games, The Yakubu Gowon Stadium and the Abia Warriors stadium for NPFL games is sure no way to get your fans massive support.

In addition,  finishing 10th on the log last season and their woeful performance at the Caf Champions league was unacceptable for the management of the club.

The departure of inspirational captain, Chinedu Udoji, Chinedu might have left some void in the strength of the team but the arrival of Stanley Digmba from Sunshine Stars and experienced Ghanian goalie Fatau Dauda, the People’s Elephant (now known as Enyimba of Calabar) can fancy their chances of at least returning to the continent under new boss; Gbenga Ogunbote who helped Shooting Stars survive relegation last season.  Whether Enyimba will reclaim the league from current champions; Rangers of Enugu or correct last season’s misfortunes remains to be seen.

WIKKI TOURISTS

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Wikki Tourists

Nickname : The Bauchi Elephants

Founded : 1992

Homeground : Abubakar Tafawa Balewa Stadium, Bauchi, Nigeria.

Chairman : Alhaji Isa Musa Matori

Head Coach : Baba Ganuru

2015/2016 Position : 3rd

The Man : Mubarak Umar Mohammed will look to step into the spotlight after the departure of Godwin Obadje to Club Africain of Tunisia

Prediction : 3rd

After making a return to Nigerian topflight football in 2014, Wikki Tourist a.k.a the Bauchi Elephants had an impressive run in last season’s Nigerian Professional Football League finishing 3rd on the log behind eventual winners Rangers of Enugu and first runner up; Rivers United.

The Bauchi Elephants narrowly missed out on securing one of two Caf Champions League Tickets but found solace in securing a ticket to play in the Caf confederation cup . Wikki Tourist had a total of 57 points with an impressive +17 goal difference ,the highest in the league and their rock solid defense allowed the fewest goals last season allowing only 28 goals.

A total of 45 goals was scored by the Bauchi based outfit, 18 of which were scored by the league’s highest goal scorer; Godwin Obadje who scored against 11 different oppositions alongside Rangers Egbuchulam; the highest in the 2015/2016 campaign.

With the departure of inspirational coach, Abdu Maikaba to Akwa United and top striker, Godwin Obadje to Club Africain  of Tunisia, Wikki Tourist faces a tough challenge of repeating their last season exploits.

New coach ,the experienced former Kano Pillars and Nassarawa United coach; Baba Ganaru will have to restore confidence to the fans as Wikki Tourist begin their league campaign against Kabiru Dogo’s Nassarawa United on the 15th of January at the Sir Tafawa Balewa Stadium and few weeks later they will take on RSLAF of Sierra Leone in the first leg of the CAF Confederation Cup preliminary round.

African Cup of Nations 2017: Everything You Need to Know (Part IV)

Samba: The official mascot of the Gabon 2017 African Cup of Nations

Samba: The official mascot of the Gabon 2017 African Cup of Nations

We continue to take a look at the teams competing in the African Cup of Nations this year. Just in case you missed the previous post, you can read it up here.

Ivory Coast

Nickname: The Elephants
Federation: FIF (Federation Ivorienne de Football)
FIFA Ranking: 34 (December 2016)
The Coach: MICHEL DUSSUYER (FRA)
The 57-year old former goalkeeper is renowned for his time as the coach of the Syli Nationale of Guinea, a team he transformed into one with identity. However, his biggest call arrived in 2015 to fill the big shoes of Herve Renard. He hasn’t found it easy, with his team battling with their identity and often looking aimless at times.

They have laboured in games they normally don’t, and his system as made them somewhat rigid unable to break down the smaller teams. He would be hoping the team can go as far as the final like they did when he was assistant to Henri Michel in 2006.

Star Man: The retirement of four time African best Gnegneri Yaya Toure and his elder brother Kolo SALOMON KALOU is all that is left of the Ivorian golden generation that grew to become nearly men. The absence of Kouassi Gervais Yao(Gervinho) means he takes the mantle of the team’s star man, a minute task for a man who has featured in every nations Cup since 2008. He will be looking to forge a dangerous combination with Bony and Gradel and must instead look to alleviate his team’s troubles.
The Team
Most Caps: Didier Zokora (123)
Top Scorer: Didier Drogba (65)
Previous appearances: 20 (1965, 1968, 1970, 1974, 1980, 1984, 1986, 1988, 1990, 1992, 1994, 1996, 1998, 2000, 2002, 2006, 2008, 2010, 2012, 2013, 2015)
Best record: Champions (twice) 1992,2015
The Elephants go to Gabon as champions, a tag they last held in 1992. However, it was also one of the few times they got knocked out early. The focus of the team is key, and while many are still in the euphoria of the 2015 win, Dussuyer has left with more questions than answers so far, the air of invincibility is gone and the absence of Gervinho will definitely be felt, it is left to see if they will honour their captain and defend their crown
My Prediction: A tricky one, especially when they are champions but I don’t see them behind the QUARTER FINALS. it is like the beginning of a new era and a lot could hinge on the understanding Wilf Zaha forges with his teammates.

 

DR Congo

Nickname: The Leopards
Federation: (FECOFA) Fédération Congolaise de Football-Association
FIFA Ranking: 48 (December 2016)
The Coach: FLORENT IBENGE (DRC)
Born in 1961 in Leopoldville, Jean Florent Ibenge is now more than a coach in DRC. His appointment in 2014 as sparked a turnaround in Congolese football. The former Shanghai Shenhua and AS Vita boss has claimed an African Nations Championship title and led them to third place finish at AFCON itself in 2015.

He is known to place emphasis on outscoring the opponent and attention to tactical detail. He recently stated that his only goal is to see the Leopards back in the World Cup by 2018. A lofty ambition for a nation team who were seeking direction only two years ago.

Star Man: Hull City Forward DIEUDONNE DIEUMERCI MBOKANI is the man whom a lot will rest on his shoulders for the Leopards. The 31-year old is a seasoned campaigner having netted 18times in 36games for his country and average of one every two games.
It is the kind of form any striker will be jealous of and it is i=with pride he pulls on the jersey of his nation. His role in their run to the semi-finals along with Yannick Bolasie would not be forgotten and it is he in place of the Everton man whom his teammates and the whole of the DRC will look up too.
The Team
Most Caps: *******
Top Scorer: Dieumerci Mbokani (18)
Previous appearances: 15 (1965, 1968, 1970, 1972, 1974, 1976, 1988, 1992, 1994, 1996, 1998, 2000, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2013, 2015)
Best record: Champions (twice), 1968 and 1974
Only as recently as 2013 did the DRC fail to go beyond the Group stage of the mundial, However, with a student of Claude Leroy’s principle now in the driving seat, they have moved up the ladder. Their ranking of 133 in 2011 has now become history and the rise of the national team has coincided with a period whereby Congolese clubs are successful in African football.

Robert Kidiaba (The donkey-dance goalie) may have retired but they can call on established names too; Yannick Bolasie is one of the first names on the teamsheet at Everton and if not for injury would have been the star man. Cedric Bakambu played a key role in Villareal’s run to fourth place in La Liga last season, Marcel Tisserand and Chancel Mbemba are just as important for their clubs while captain Youssuf Mulumbu is a driving force in Fulham’s push for promotion.

It is yet to be comprehended what these players would do as a team when they begin their campaign under Central African skies

My Prediction: A lot will hinge on their ability to cope without Yannick Bolasie and while it may be difficult for them, they face a two-way battle for second place with Morocco, one they may lose. A GROUP STAGE exit albeit narrowly.

 

Morocco

Nickname: The Atlas Lions
Federation: (FRMF) Fédération Royale Marocaine de Football
FIFA Ranking: 57 (December 2016)
The Coach: HERVE RENARD (FRA)
The 48-year old became the first man to win the coveted trophy with two different nations following his success with Cote d’Ivoire in 2015. Always donning a white shirt, Herve’s record at te tournament speaks for itself with only two losses since 2010, both coming in the group stage.

He has built his teams on a strong defence and the ability to hit opponents on the counter. The failures at Sochaux and Lille come to mind but his appointment as morocco boss as seen fans talk about his earlier achievements with the team almost becoming feared again. Maybe a third title would assert that claim.

Star Man: MEHDI BENATIA might only be a defender, but when you are the biggest personality in your team all respect must be accorded. The 29-year old is following in the footsteps of Noureddine Naybet the iconic defender and it is no coincidence that he is achieving more than him.
He has played for Roma, Bayern and Juventus all in the past four years and went on to play a key role for both former clubs. They will need his head to be correct has defensive organization has been some sort of achilles heel for the lions. He must lead his team to glory from the back. Afterall championships are won by the best defence and not the best attack (Adriano Galliani,2010).
The Team
Most Caps: Noureddine Naybet (130)
Top Scorer: Ahmed Faras (75)
Previous appearances: 14 (1972, 1976, 1978, 1980, 1986, 1988, 1992, 1998, 2000, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2012, 2013)
Best Record: Champion, 1976

The 1976 champions face a herculean task on their AFCON return. Having failed to host in 2015 due to the outbreak of the Ebola virus, the Atlas Lions have returned to the mundial with one aim, to outperform their predecessors. They have failed to go beyond the group stage in each of their last five appearances and only finished second as recently as 2004 to Tunisia.

It is the reason they have appointed Herve Renard has their manager. The Frenchman is an expert at winning the AFCON and they would be hoping he can draw the best out of a team of new generation Moroccans. The likes of Younes Belhanda, Mehdi Carcela-Gonzalez, Hakim Ziyech, Karim Al Ahmadi and Nordin Amrabat must show why they were regarded as stars and that they are a class above the rest of Africa.

My Prediction: A good start his imperative for the Lions and failure to beat DRC could well spell doom for them. Sometimes it is often the coach that makes the difference. A SEMI-FINAL place would be a possibility if they can negotiate the quarters.

 

TOGO

Nickname: The Sparrow Hawks(Les Eperviers)
Federation: FTF (Federation Togolaise de Football)
FIFA Ranking: 91 (December 2016)
The Coach: CLAUDE LEROY (FRA)
The 68-year old coach is a veteran on the African scene and can boast of his record on the continent.Leroy has never missed out on the mundial when he has been in charge of an African team and he has always led them beyond the group stage. It is a tradition he hopes to continue.

Having achieved the feat twice with Cameroon, Senegal, the DRC and in 2015 with Congo and it is that reason the Togolese believe they can upset the odds.They need more than Leroy now though.. Mother luck? Even Leroy needs her.

Star Man: EMMANUEL SHEYI ADEBAYOR , the most iconic and greatest Togolese footballer. Currently without a club, the lanky forward owns every Togolese record and would once again play a key role for his side. He will appear in his third nations cup and while he is prone to getting carried away, the Hawks will need him fit and fully focused if they are to find a way past their monstrous opponents.
The Team
Most Caps: Emmanuel Adebayor (73)
Top Scorer: Emmanuel Adebayor (30)
Previous appearances: 7 (1972, 1984, 1998, 2000, 2002, 2006, 2013)
Best Record: Quarter Finals, 2013
The Sparrow Hawks are back and after 6consecutive group stage exits finally made it to the Quarter Finals in 2013. It is the kind of performance they put in that tournament that they would be hoping to replicate in Gabon giving that they edged Tunisia and Algeria to the other ticket.

Claude Leroy’s men however will need to fire on all cylinders if they will repeat that feat giving the quality of the opposition this time. They are seen as the group whipping boys and their record against their opponents don’t favour them either.
My Prediction: While 2013 was when they did the impossible, lightning rarely strikes twice… GROUP STAGE exit this one

African Cup of Nations: Everything You Need to Know (Part III)

Samba: The official mascot of the Gabon 2017 African Cup of Nations

Samba: The official mascot of the Gabon 2017 African Cup of Nations

GROUP B

ALGERIA

Nickname: Les Fennecs (The Desert Foxes)

Federation: FAF (Federation Algerienne de Football)

FIFA Ranking: 3 (December 2016)

The Coach:  GEORGES LEEKENS (BEL)

Renowned for always starting well but a perennial bottler, Georges Leekens will hope everything comes together and right for him in Gabon. The 67-year old Belgian coach is back for a second stint in charge of the Desert Foxes and will hope its better than his second spell in charge of his own country’s national team. Regarded as an astute tactician, Leekens is known to place emphasis on defensive organization and attacking discipline.

His 2015 campaign with group rivals Tunisia ended in the Quarter Finals and he would be hoping for better luck now. He has not started well since assuming office. It isn’t the first time Leekens has been handed a squad full of talent, it is however his use of the team that matters. The Foxes are in danger of not qualifying for Russia 2018 and He must hope that he can turn the fortunes around before its too late.

Star Man: Newly crowned African Player, RIYADH MAHREZ holds the aces for the Foxes and will be the man they look up to. He currently isn’t enjoying the best time of his career but the man who emerged from the obscurity of Quimper to a seventh place Ballon d’Or finish is not known to hide from responsibility. In a team with many gifted players as he, the fact that he is the go-to man says something.

He can win games on his own, change the whole dynamic. His trademark dangling legs must return, He has had an unforgettable year but 2017 is the year he has to really prove he has arrived and not a fluke, He must start with leading the Foxes charge for a first African title since 1990 and with the supporting cast he possesses, who knows?

The Team

Most Caps: Lakhdar Belloumi (100)

Top Scorer: Abdelhafid Tasfout (34)

Previous appearances: 16 (1968, 1980, 1982, 1984, 1986, 1988, 1990, 1992, 1996, 1998, 2000, 2002, 2004, 2010, 2013, 2015)

Best record: Champions 1990

My Prediction: Bookies favourite to win the tournament; Algeria’s current golden generation of players make winning an AFCON a necessity. It will make no sense if they fail to achieve as a collective group. Posterity will fail to judge the likes of Islam Slimani, Yacine Brahimi, Riyad Mahrez amongst others should they not be smiling in Librevelle. They look like worthy WINNERS on paper.

 

 

 

 

SENEGAL

Nickname: The Lions of Teranga

Federation: (FSF) Federation Senegalaise de Football

FIFA Ranking: 32(December 2016)

The Coach:  ALIOU CISSE (SEN)

The 40-year old former captain took up the reins in 2015 and as being impressive since. His replacement of Amara Traore was meant to be a stop-gap measure. But it has proven to be a blessing in disguise. The team have become near invincible under his stewardship and are bringing back memories of the 2002 World Cup squad which he skippered. He has instilled the sense of belief and team spirit missing in years before. His role is key as he aims to be the first Senegalese coach to lift the trophy.

 

Star Man: It’s been a year to remember for SADIO MANE, the 24-year old Liverpool forward has grown from been the nearly man at Southampton to central figure of Gegenpressing at Liverpool. He has consistently drawn praise from Jurgen Klopp and his teammates. In fact, if Senegal are to succeed in Gabon, they need Mane despite possessing a lot of attacking talent in their squad.

He has that kind of presence. He is said to be infectious with his attitude and his work rate illustrates this. For a man who covers every blade of grass, he is the key to the door for Senegal and will be the go-to man when hostilities begin. It is his opportunity to let everyone know he is indeed the best in Africa with many tipping him to be the heir to Mahrez’s crown. Just ask a Liverpool fan, He will give you the full details.

The Team

Most Caps: Henri Camara (99)

Top Scorer: Henri Camara (29)

Previous appearances: 12 (1965, 1968, 1986, 1990, 1992, 1994, 2000, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2012, 2015)

Best record: Runner up(1st ), 2002

The Lions of Teranga were the only team to finish the Qualification campaign with a perfect record winning all six games netting the most goals and conceding the least. It’s a pointer to the kind of team they have become under Aliou Cisse who has turned them to almost indestructible.

They have gone from failing to qualify for the last three world cups to being favourites to qualify for the next one in Russia from their group. However, this new generation will only cement their place in history with success at the AFCON, a tournament they have been perennial underachievers in. It is time, and only hoisting the trophy will do them justice.

My Prediction: The potential in the team is undoubtedly great, but they find themselves in a difficult group. They should edge Tunisia for the other qualification spot, but it only means a meeting with the hosts. The QUARTER FINALS will be a safe bet

 

 

TUNISIA

Nickname: The Carthage Eagles

Federation: FTF (Federation Tunisienne de Football)

FIFA Ranking: 35 (December 2016)

The Coach:  HENRYK KASPERCZAK(POL)

A  FIFA World Cup bronze medallist with Poland, achieving third place in 1974, as well as a silver medal at the 1976 Summer Olympics in  Canada.Henryk Kasperczak is not short of accolades in Africa too and as enjoyed most success in the mundial, securing second place with Tunisia in 1996, third with Côte d’Ivoire (1994) and fourth with Mali (2002).

Things have changed recently, however with his sides unable to progress beyond the Group stages. Times have changed and maybe the wily 70-year old needs to change too with his emphasis on defence mirroring that of Otto Rehaghael in a world where attack rules defence

Star Man: It’s rare to have a 26-year old Qatari club (SC Lekhwiya) midfielder as your star man especially when you have players like Wahbi Khazri and Ahmed Akaichi, but YOUSSEF MSAKNI is the man Tunisia go to when they are in trouble. He is just as important to the team as the host is to the parasite.

For a man who has netted perhaps the most magical goal of the AFCON in the 2000s, Msakni has a lot to live up to. His flair and skill are unrivalled and while he hasn’t hit the same heights since his breakout year in 2012, he must reproduce the kind of form that made him the darling of Arab and European clubs then.

The Team

Most Caps: Radhi Jaidi (105)

Top Scorer: Issam Jemaa (36)

Previous appearances: 17 (1962, 1963, 1965, 1978, 1982, 1994, 1996, 1998, 2000, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010, 2012, 2013, 2015)

Best record: Champions 2004

The Eagles of Carthage are hoping to secure a second title 13years after the first. Their adaptability to the current demands of African football have being quite reflective of their own evolution from flair to physique. It has come with mixed results, one that has seen them fail to go beyond the Quarter Finals since that title triumph in Rades.

Ranked as one of Africa’s best teams, the Tunisians new pragmatic approach is one that has served so well in Qualifying but not at the main event. If they would go far in Gabon, they would need the attacking brilliance to complement defensive strength as they learnt in the qualifiers. It is one thing to stop goals, it is another to score them.

My Prediction: Since winning in 2004, the Eagles have endured mixed tournaments and I tip that to continue in Gabon. The three-way battle for second place is one they will finish second best in, as they must avoid slip ups, ones I don’t think they will avoid. GROUP STAGE exit

 

ZIMBABWE

Nickname: The Brave Warriors

Federation: ZIFA (Zimbabwe Football Association)

FIFA Ranking: 102 (December 2016)

The Coach:  CALLISTO PASUWA (ZIM)

The pride of Zimbabwean football, Kallisto as he is often referred to in local media is the 47-year old man who has achieved results despite the tough circumstances Zimbabwean football fins itself, known for his midfield artistry and dribbling skills, Pasuwa has brought his knowledge of the game and turned in exceptional results, Despite a series of poor training facilities and planning on the part of ZIFA, He has produced very impressive results leading the Warriors to qualification with a game to spare.

Star Man: KNOWLEDGE “THE SMILING ASSASSIN” MUSONA, is the warrior that would have to be at his best if Zimbabwe are to make anything of their rare AFCON appearance. The KV Oostende Striker netted three times in qualifying all crucial strikes as they opened the floodgates to wins.

 

Many might make cases for Billiat, Nakamba, Katsande and even Ruskie. But the Knowledge of Musona in front of goal is the key. Setting out to play on the counter, Zimbabwe need to bury the few opportunities that come their way if they are to smile in Gabon, to do that… They will need to supply the assassin so he can smile when the net shakes.

 

The Team

Most Caps: John Phiri*

Top Scorer: Peter Ndlovu (38) *

Previous appearances: 2 (2004, 2006)

Best record: Group Stage (2004, 2006)

A Third AFCON appearance eleven years after their second has brought joy to the people of Zimbabwe again. The only Southern African nation in this year’s AFCON, they might be flying COSAFA’s flag, but they face a daunting task to advance beyond the group stages. Their miraculous qualification has come in dire circumstances with the team having travelled by bus for a qualifier.  There may be massive potential, but it can only be achieved if the team is allowed to focus on football only and not the matters of the state.

My Prediction: The Bravery of the Brave Warriors will be without use if they can’t show it on the pitch. A valiant show from the group’s perceived whipping boys. A GROUP STAGE exit is a forgone conclusion

 

 

African Cup of Nations: Everything You Need to Know (Part V)

We continue taking a look at the countries participating in the AFCON 2017. If you missed the previous posts, you can catch up here

Ghana

Nickname: The Black Stars

Federation: (GFA) Ghana Football Association

FIFA Ranking: 53 (December 2016)

The Coach:  AVRAM GRANT (ISR)

The 61-year old arrived in 2014 with the mandate to win Ghana the nations Cup and he has gone about it doing his job. The Israeli former Chelsea and Pompey boss will hope the work they started in 2014 will have reached a trophy-deserving stage by now. It is the key to him staying in the job.

Fans have begun to doubt his ability with the inconsistent form the team has shown in World Cup Qualifying and only a win in Gabon will do. It is the essence of his appointment and he needs to show it. Too many times have Ghana been stopped from playing their game and he must find a solution fast.

Star Man: ASAMOAH GYAN holds every Ghanaian record and the inspirational captain has the biggest role to play once again. Babyjet is now 31, an established stalwart and the leader of the team. The no3 will once again have to pull the rabbit out of the hat like he has done in tournaments previously.

It is the one trophy Ghana owes him. He has given his all to the shirt and while it might not be his last tourney. He won’t want to end up like Nwankwo Kanu & Jay Jay Okocha as one of African greats who never hoisted the coveted trophy.

The Team

Most Caps: Asamoah Gyan (97)

Top Scorer: Asamoah Gyan (48)

Previous appearances: 20 (1963, 1965, 1968, 1970, 1978, 1980, 1982, 1984, 1992, 1994, 1996, 1998, 2000, 2002, 2006, 2008, 2010, 2012, 2013, 2015)

Best record: Champion (4times) 1963, 1965, 1978, 1982

The Black Stars will be hoping to end an extended period of heartbreaks when they begin their campaign in Port Gentil on January 17. They have reached the semi-finals of every event since hosting in 2008. It is not a surprise for a nation brimming with talent. A search for the elusive fifth title is the primary aim again and their consistency at trying could as well be rewarded.

Enough is enough for the black stars and with the golden generation reaching the peak of their powers, now is the time to end the wait. The talent is immense with Jonathan Mensah, John Boye, Baba Rahman, Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu, Mubarak Wakaso, Asamoah Gyan, Christian Atsu, the Ayews and Thomas Partey all involved .

The pressure is massive and they are one of three tournament favourites to hoist the trophy aloft on February 5. This time they need mother luck more than ever.

My Prediction: Experts at reaching the semi-final, it is their own default group stage and nothing less will be accepted. A SEMI-FINAL place is a surety, bottling it when it matters, another.

 

 

Egypt

Nickname: The Pharaohs

Federation: (EFA) Egypt Football Association

FIFA Ranking: 36 (December 2016)

The Coach:  HECTOR CUPER (ARG)

The 61-year old Argentine former Valencia coach is the man tasked with returning the Pharaohs past glory. He is the first non-Egyptian to lead them to a Nations Cup tournament and they would be hoping he does it in style. It speaks volumes of the man who at his peak managed Valencia and Inter Milan.

He has restructured the way the pharaohs play and has turned them from cowards to brave and aggressive stalwarts. He has kept some of the old guard with his decision to place faith in the legendary Essam El Hadary playing a key role with the wily old goalie leading from the pitch, Hector leads from the bench.

 

Star Man: Rarely does an Egyptian shine abroad like a million stars. It was the reason Mohammed Abou Trika never cemented his place amongst the immortals. MOHAMMED SALAH has taken a different path, the 24-year old has become a beacon for AS Roma and forged a deadly partnership with Edin Dzeko.

It is with Egypt that he however plays his biggest role, he is the life-force of the team and you won’t be wrong if you believe that the only thing you need to do to shut down the Egyptian supply line is to stop Mohammed Salah. His speed and goals have become a theme and a complete performance from the Pharaohs will be incomplete without a mention of his name. the Gabonese had better beware, he could be the kryptonite to their Superman

 

The Team

Most Caps: Ahmed Hassan (184)

Top Scorer: Hossam Hassan (68)

Previous appearances: 21 (1957, 1959, 1962, 1963, 1970, 1974, 1976, 1980, 1984, 1986, 1988, 1992, 1994, 1996, 1998, 2000, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010)

Best record: Champion (7times) 1957, 1959, 1986, 1998, 2006, 2008, 2010

 

The Pharaohs are back! Just like the biblical years of plenty and famine, the Egyptians have replicated it on the football pitch, winning a hattrick of titles before missing a hattrick of editions. Their qualification from a group that had Nigeria’s Super Eagles was a huge achievement and the upward curve they are on was asserted with their win over Ghana in World Cup qualifying.

They are playing with confidence and the decision to build again as only proved to be a masterstroke. The team is built on the bedrock that is the league which is back functioning after years of frustrating tragedies. The project isn’t complete yet, but it is almost in its safe haven

My Prediction: The return will definitely be with a bang, but just like Cameroon and Senegal discovered, a lot has changed since they left. A good start is the key, and if they can win their battle with Mali, the QUARTER FINALS won’t be a bad achievement.

 

 

MALI

Nickname: The Eagles

Federation: (MFF) Mali Football Federation

FIFA Ranking: 60 (December 2016)

The Coach:  ALAIN GIRESSE (FRA)

A retired French international footballer who played as a midfielder and named French footballer of the year in 1982, 1983 and 1987, Alain Giresse is not new to the beauty of football, He was a member of the Euro 84 winning team, and alongside Michel Platini, Luis Fernández and Jean Tigana formed the legendary “Carré Magique” (Magic Square) in midfield.

His coaching career has rather been less glamorous but it isn’t short of its high points which include leading Mali to third place at the 2012 edition. It is the reason he has been called back, and one which makes the administrators believe he is the one to lead them to glory with his own team’s triangle of Sambou Yatabare, Bakary Sako and Samba Sow.

Star Man: The retirement of Frederic Kanoute was not taken lightly by Malians, however the one which has shook them the most is that of Seydou Keita. The all-time top scorer featured at all levels for les Aiglons and as now left big boots to fill, One BAKARY SAKO would be aiming to justify his filling.

Keita was more than just a player and it is that position Sako must take to ensure his sides success. He must score goals when they matter, inspire the team when necessary and lead them to glory with the verve and passion of Keita.

The Team

Most Caps: Seydou Keita (102)

Top Scorer: Seydou Keita (25)

Previous appearances: 9 (1972, 1994, 2002, 2004, 2008, 2010, 2012, 2013, 2015)

Best Record: Runner Up, 1972

The team that enjoyed a new lease of life at the turn of the century, Les Aiglons have more than made up for their several misses of AFCON events. The Eagles are building a lasting structure from the youth level up until the senior level. All evidenced by the second place and semi-final finishes of their U-17 and U-20 teams at the last Youth World tourneys.

However, having battled their way to Gabon, they will want to erase memories of the painful elimination of the 2015 event when they were knocked out by casting of lots. They will not leave it to fate anymore and must start well against Egypt if the dreams are to become a reality.

My Prediction: The success of Mali will hinge on their first two group games. A failure to take off could spell disaster. A possible GROUP STAGE elimination

 

 

Uganda

Nickname: The Cranes

Federation: (FUFA) Federation of Uganda Football Association

FIFA Ranking: 72 (December 2016)

The Coach:  MILUTIN SREDOJEVIC (SRB)

 

The 47-year old Serbian is one of the most unglamorous names in African football, going about his work silently and achieving results. He has been linked with the South Africa job with many acknowledging the great job he has done with the cranes. He knows his onions and he will play a crucial role if the cranes are to have any success in Gabon.

Star Man: Newly-crowned African best player based in Africa DENNIS ONYANGO is the man Uganda will hope to take inspiration from when the tourney begins. He ranked as the tenth best goalkeeper in the world in list for 2016 compiled by the International Federation of Football History & Statistics in due to his role in their CAF champions League triumph.

It is how far the 31-year old has come. His cat like reflexes will be important if the Cranes are to stop the goals from going in giving the precarious nature and difficult group they find themselves in.

The Team

Most Caps: N/A

Top Scorer: N/A

Previous appearances: 5 (1962, 1968, 1974, 1976, 1978)

Best Record: Runner Up,1978

The end of a 39-year wait for Nations Cup football was a joyous one for the Cranes with qualification in itself a celebration. Built on a strong team spirit and a defensive effort second to none, they will go to Gabon with the assurance of knowing how to play and that they can put in a performance they can be proud of after several years in the wilderness.

My Prediction: The East Africans face a herculean task of repeating their qualification heroics, the knockout stage may be a bridge to far, a GROUP STAGE elimination this one.

 

African Cup of Nations 2017: Everything You Need To Know (Part II)

Samba: The official mascot of the Gabon 2017 African Cup of Nations

Samba: The official mascot of the Gabon 2017 African Cup of Nations

I continue the analysis of teams that will be taking part in this year’s African Cup of Nations (AFCON). If you missed the first part, you can read it up here

CAMEROON

The Indomitable Lions: Another odd year, another year of expectations. (Photo credits: DailyMail)

The Indomitable Lions: Another odd year, another year of expectations. (Photo credits: DailyMail)

Nickname: The Indomitable Lions

Federation: FECAFOOT (Federation Cameroun de Football)

FIFA Ranking: 59th (as of December 2016)

The Coach:  HUGO BROOS (BEL)

The wily 64-year old Belgian is a RSC Anderlecht legend. For more than ten years he was their central defender and helped them win 4 Euro Cup finals, 3 national championships and 4 Belgian Cups. Between 1974 and 1986 he represented his country, earning 24 caps and finishing 4th at Mexico 1986. He later moved to Club Brugge where he played for 5 seasons till season 87–88, winning the Belgian Cup in 1986 and the championship in 1988.

He began coaching later in 1988 before he coached Club Brugge from 1991 to 1998, winning the championship twice in 1992 and 1996, as well as the Belgian Cup in 1991, 1995 and 1996. He went on to coach RSC Anderlecht getting them into the Champions League while winning the 2003–2004 season championship. He became Cameroon coach in 2016 and has instilled a new-found belief in the side with his task being to bring back the glory years for les Lions.

Star Man:

Danger Man: Vincent Aboubakar (Photo Credits: Super Sports)

Danger Man: Vincent Aboubakar (Photo Credits: Super Sports)

If Les Lions are to get going in Gabon, they will need the goals of VINCENT ABOUBAKAR to complement whatever plans they have. The Besiktas striker (aged 18 at the time), was named in the Lions’ 23-man squad for the 2010 FIFA World Cup and was the only player in the squad who was based in Cameroon then. He has assumed some sort of elderly status in the team along with Stephane Mbia as Alexandre Song seems far from the list. His 14 international goals from 47caps may not be monstrous, but those goals often came in moments where they were in dire need.

He has taken Samuel Eto’s mantle and while he may not be the captain, he has shown he is the catalyst they need to achieve full potential. His unique skill set often reminds one of Patrick Mboma. His eye for goal reminiscent of Samuel Eto and his sheer power takes you back to the Roger Milla. He however must lead his side to glory like the aforementioned men if he would go down in Cameroonian football history

The Team

Most Caps: Rigobert Song (137)

Top Scorer:  Samuel Eto (56 goals)

Previous appearances: 17 (1970,  1972, 1982, 1984, 1986, 1988, 1990, 1992, 1996, 1998, 2000, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010, 2015)

Best Outing: Champions 4 times (1984, 1988, 2000, 2002)

The Indomitable Lions have qualified for consecutive Nations cup for the first time since 2010 and it would have been a huge relief as they topped a group including another African powerhouse in, South Africa. However, if Hugo Broos’ men are to succeed in Gabon, they will need more than just unity and team spirit. They will need some of their players stepping up and turning in high level performances.

Players like Clinton N’jie, Benjamin Moukandjo, Edgar Salli, Vincent Aboubakar and Collins Fai must make the seven who refused to honour the AFCON call up eat their words and wish they did. Enough of dwelling on the glory days of the 1990 Quarter final appearance or the four AFCON triumphs. 2002 is a long time to have last won a title for Les Lions and now is the time to show if they have got quality. Everything about the disastrous campaign in 2015 must be forgotten because the only way they can look now is forward.

The fixtures:

14.01.2017:     BURKINA FASO VS. CAMEROUN

Time:              20H00

Venue:            Stade de l’Amitié

18.01.2017:     CAMEROUN VS. GUINÉE BISSAU

Time:              20H00

Venue:            Stade de l’Amitié

22.01.2017:     CAMEROUN VS. GABON

Time:              20H00

Venue:            Stade de l’Amitié

My Prediction: Les Lions have been granted the perfect rehearsal for their own Nations Cup in 2019 with this group and hence must show they can cope with massive expectation and the pressure that comes with it. The talent in the side should help as the team looks in a formative process. A QUARTER FINAL appearance looks a safe bet if they can win their opener against the Burkinabe with the semis being a bridge too far.

GUINEA-BISSAU

Status Quo: The team looking to prove majority wrong by qualifying out of the group

Status Quo: The team looking to prove majority wrong by qualifying out of the group. (Photo Credits: Goal)

Nickname: Djuritus

Federation: FEFUGB (Federaacao de Futebol da Guine-Bissau

FIFA Ranking: 68 (December 2016)

The Coach:  BACIRO CANDE (GBU)

The 68-year old only returned in early 2016 after a six-year hiatus from coaching his fatherland. A defender in his playing days, Cande has instilled that same spirit in this team and while it has taken him sixteen years combined to take his home nation to Africa’s premier event, it has been worth the wait.

Star Man:  Levadaikos midfielder ZEZINHO is key to any success the Djuritus want to have in this AFCON tourney. The former Sporting Lisbon and Atletico Madrid player is the closest to a high-profile name in the squad and is an essential part of a well oiled unit. He would be hoping to outdo himself and become the greatest player to have pulled on the Green of Guinea Bissau

The Team:

Most Caps: Not available

Top Scorer: Ciecero (6)

Previous appearances: 0

Best record: 0

The fixtures:

14.01.2017:     GABON VS. GUINÉE BISSAU

Time:              17H00

Venue:            Stade de l’Amitié

18.01.2017:     CAMEROUN VS. GUINÉE BISSAU

Time:              20H00

Venue:            Stade de l’Amitié

22.01.2017:     GUINÉE BISSAU VS. BURKINA FASO

Time:              20H00

Venue:            Stade de Franceville

The Djuritus have continued the tradition of having Portuguese-speaking African countries at the AFCON, one which Angola kicked off in 2006. Their aim however will border on how they set themselves up against their opponents. Seen as the whipping boys of the group, and a point booster, they must challenge the hierarchy just like Cape Verde did in 2013.

Baciro Cande has not hidden the fact that he will set up his side to defend, but tactical intelligence and awareness could be just as key as it could be a key factor in Gabon. The stage is however set, and all they can do is bask in their moment of glory come January 14 in Librevelle. It will be the dawn of a new beginning of the Portuguese Guinea, they cannot allow it to be the end too.

My Prediction: The fans of Guinea Bissau will definitely enjoy themselves in Gabon, its only that it could be for a few days. The strength and might of the opposition may seem too much, especially the opening game; one which could decide their international tournament future. Do the impossible and continue the fairytale. Lose and start questioning your confidence. I might love Cinderella stories, but a GROUP STAGE exit is almost a surety here.

Thoughts on the First Set of Premier League Games in 2017

Arrrggghhhhhh: Alexis Sanchez is seen expreesing his frustration during Arsenal's 3-3 draw against Bournemouth

Arrrggghhhhhh: Alex’s Sanchez is seen expreesing his frustration during Arsenal’s 3-3 draw against Bournemouth

January kicked off in grand style. While it’s safe to say the race for the title has started, there was quite the drama on display in the first Premier League games of the year. Some teams did a good job in starting the season on a high while some others stuttered even though it may not mean much if they can bounce back from the points already dropped.

In this piece, we’ll be looking at the various talking points and goals that made those Youtube highlights worth watching.

 

Watford v Tottenham – 1-4 (Jan 1): Two English sensations turned up to give us quite a show. Going into the game, there really wasn’t any doubt considering how both teams have fared this season . Pochettino got the team sheet right this time, making four changes, something that is always hard to do to an already set side. Dele Alli is always a joy to watch especially when he hits top gear and in my opinion, Kane is becoming too good for Spurs (I could be wrong but it’ll be fun to see how his career grows).

Spurs resting in fourth and leapfrogging Man. City, is only a forecast of the things to come over the second half of the chase to the Premier League title. Watford, on the other hand, need a lot of work to be done. You kind of get the feeling that their fairytale season is slowly coming to an end. They may not relegate but then again, they’re much trouble anymore, unlike the Watford that was a year ago.

 

Arsenal v Crystal Palace – 2- 0 (Jan 1): Yet another North London side doing what was expected of them, with Olivier scoring a potential goal of the season and the wonderkid Iwobi getting on the score sheet. The Gunners started quite well as they hope to get their title-winning hunt back on track. Still 9 points behind league leaders Chelsea, it’ll be a thing of joy to actually see how Wenger and his army can overturn that and get something off a season that has been full of surprises.

I still tip Arsenal to go far this season; a second/third placed finish probably, but it’ll be more fun if they can get in the mix and at least get Conte’s men to eat a little bit of their heart. Palace on the other hand, well their woes just keeps on getting compounded and honestly I doubt if the “ Big Sam to the rescue” method would work this season else, they just might be joining Swansea in the bottom mix.

 

WestBrom v Hull City – 3-1 (Jan 2): Lol, not the scoreline I expected, even though I expected the win. But it must be said, Tony Pulis and the Baggies have sprung a few surprises this season. Although it’s too soon to say they are turning their season around but, if that is what they’re up to, way to go! Even though they started slow in the game against Hull City, even even letting Hull take the lead, it was nice seeing a few tweaks and tricks and then the rain of the goals (that’s their second consecutive comeback victory).

Seeing them in eighth and the way they’re playing, maybe an European spot is not as far as we think again, provided they can keep this momentum. But then, the reality check is: The Premier League is harsh and you can never tell. You just might be riding high only to crash hard. Hull City really need a to get a grip, a brightly powered team is really draining, I gave them no chance at the beginning of the season, but when I saw them unlocking defenses and doing things, I felt they were here to pull another Leicester on. But with Phelan now sacked, maybe they need to start planning for football under new management, something that could go either ways (see Swansea and that American coach, can’t remember his name).

 

Sunderland vs Liverpool —- 2-2( Jan 2): Okay, this one had me turning my phone up, down, sideways just to see if I was not reading the wrong scorline. This is not what you would expect from a title contender. Surely some points will be dropped but then again you have to be wary of when you drop it.. As mentioned earlier, the Premier League is harsh, but notwithstanding, certain teams are meant to be chew out and spit out other teams.

I must confess, at some point seeing Liverpool playing ding dong with Sunderland was really annoying. On the bright side, it was great to see Sturridge getting his groove back. That being said, if Klopp has any plans of getting to the top, he has to first find a solution to the back 5 (keeper + 4 defenders). The middle pack looks okay but sometimes I blame the men from Anfield for lack of concentration. Sometimes I feel the problem with Liverpool is the confidence in knowing that they can score when they want and how much they want.

As for the black cats, oh well, Moyes has really surprised me so far. I actually felt that by now, he would be out of the job. But he’s done a good job feeding Defoe from the fountain of youth and even though he has been given very little to work with he has made a decent turn around at the Stadium of Light.

 

Joyous Pep: Pep Guardiola seen celebrating

Joyous Pep: Pep Guardiola seen celebrating

Manchester City vs. Burnley —- 2-1 (Jan 2):  Wasn’t able to see the game, just the highlights and the first question that popped was, “Dear Pep, what were you thinking with that lineup?” For the Spaniard, it has been a strange run of few games happening in fewer days than normal. And maybe that’s why Pep decided to rest certain players. But then again, there some times when you dare not rest certain players, no matter the log of fixtures lying in wait for you.

As for the Fernandinho part of the story, maybe it’s time he’s let off the hook by City. He is becoming a menace to a coach for whom one of his top priorities is fair play. City with all that money can easily find their way into the mart ang get a decent replacement for him. City are gradually losing touch with the leaders and if they are not careful, they just might be out of the title race, considering the steady improvement of their next door neighbours.

Well Burnley did well and they deserved at least a point from the Etihad, but then again that’s football, if you don’t score, you can’t win and they had a lot of chances begging to be buried. Well it was nice seeing a rare Clichy goal. I’ve always liked the lad.

 

Everton v Southhampton —– 3-0 (Jan 2): An inspiring one man show from Enner Valencia and a joy to watch. Truth be told, this game was a pain to watch until Valencia came on. Everton have been disappointing this season, looking at the table, considering how this season has been and how fun it has been to watch, you would think they’d be in the top 5 or 6 mix by now (they ain’t far behind but still not expecting them to be keeping West Brom at bay either).

But then again, giving that a host of other teams have been disappointing this season, maybe the Everton case is understandable. I feel Koeman still has a lot of decisions to make considering team selections and he needs to be rash sometimes as a lot of folks need to be benched while a lot need to go.

The Dutch man has been too merciful and that has cost him very dearly this season.  Southampton on the other hand, is another team that hasn’t been much of a joy to watch. Even though they started this season brightly, it seems as if their light has just faded away. Maybe Dirk and Redmond have been the few who have been exceptional others are not just in tune this season. Both teams need to get a grip least dey get dragged further down.

 

Boro vs Leicester – 0-0 (Jan 2): The dullest game in this article save for the last 10 minutes. There’s actually not much to say on this one… so I’ll just move on.

West Ham vs Manchester United – 0-2 (Jan. 2 ): Probably the most controversial match of the season so far as regards refereeing calls, officiating, and tempers flaring . I felt the game would have been much more interesting for Hammers if Feghouli hadn’t been sent off inside 15 minutes, a sending off that caused West Ham to lose touch and balance in the game.

Mike Dean has been in the headlines for the wrong reasons this season, and the FA really has to start checking and rechecking all the officiating officers. Some re-orientation has to be done. That kung-fu-like Zlatan’s goal should have stood. But it was great to see United getting back on track, level with Spurs on fifth and one behind Arsenal in 4th.

Maybe it’s safe to say José and his men are back in the mix. Maybe it’s too soon to say but if that’s the plan (to be back in the mix), then they are on the right course. The Hammers on one hand, are another disappointing daddies. Looking back at last season, one won’t be faulted for tipping them as European football contenders this season, but Bilic can’t seem to find the solution to their problems, and time is running out fast.

 

Bournemouth 3-3 Arsenal (Jan 3): One of the games of the season. The Gunners failed to pick up three points when it mattered again and often times it is these games that determine who wins what. Alexis Sanchez’s body language said more than enough, He was disappointed. For 70minutes, the Cherries ran them ragged and gave them a solid run for their money.

This kind of mentality, the one that saw Olivier Giroud slide away like they had just earned three points when he netted the equalizer is not one Champions exhibit, it’s for mediocre. And Arsenal must not think that way. The solution might probably have lying in the opposition dugout as Eddie Howe is doing the unthinkable. Bournemouth have earned their spur against all top teams in their two seasons in the Premier League and it is the never-say-die, bullish, we-can-beat-anybody attitude that has helped them thus far. Anyone who thinks Bournemouth will be relegated needs to think again.

 

Fun time: It was hard to resist the urge to make some fun out of Chelsea after their winning streak came to an end.

Fun time: It was hard to resist the urge to make some fun out of Chelsea after their winning streak came to an end.

Spurs vs Chelsea – 2-0 (Jan 4):  Had a tiny argument with my dad on this one. The old man had facts but I just couldn’t see how Chelsea was going to lose this. 13 and counting, it seemed like a sure 14th for me. I’d even predicted a 1-3 scoreline, but alas, I had to eat my words. I have watched the game twice and streamed highlights off youtube, trying to see what went wrong.

They (Chelsea), on the day, seemed to have forgotten their scoring boots, as they misplaced passes, and at some point I could have sworn I saw a few moments when they ran out of steam. Although insignificant, the loss is bitter to swallow and they have got to pick up and dust themselves. They’re still on top as regards who will win this year’s Premier League title as they’ve done well so far this season.

But if they lose the next game, (it’s a bad thing to lose when you’re on an amazing run of form) then maybe the Blues faithful can start worrying. Kudos to Mauricio who got things right. Walker and Rose were wonderful marking out Alonso and Moses. Eriksen was a beauty to behold, with all those mathematically-calculated passes and dare I mention Alli.

This spurs team have been impressive for the 3rd year running, and it’s high time they begin to be recognized as title contenders. It’ll be fun to see how they see out the rest of this season. But I tip them to be around for a while.

 

About Author

Bamgboye Ayodele, is a freelance writer who writes for ForTheGoals. You can catch up with him on twitter Lord_obote.

A Review of the NPFL Teams Ahead of the New Season

Kicking off shortly: The 2016 NPFL season starts soonest

Kicking off shortly: The 2016 NPFL season starts soonest

Oliver Queen is the son of a rich billionaire in Star City. He’s now the Mayor and he is fulfilling the promise he made to his father aboard the amazo to bring the corrupt to justice. However to do that, he must be another person, an arrow wielding vigilante, who will become a source of mixed emotions for those in the City. It’s been five years since he started his crusade and a lot has changed since then.

It is now he faces his biggest opponent yet, Prometheus who informs him at the beginning of the sixth episode of the fifth season. Arrow is one series that I keep up with because of my younger brother (it’s also one of the many things I have to tolerate). Football, however is what I love, and unlike the Green in Arrow which doesn’t fascinate me, the Green of my country does fascinate me. Especially when it’s the Nigerian Professional Football League match ball, whose new look looks funny enough (pun intended).

I have followed the NPFL for quite a while now, and one thing that stands out is the physicality of the league. In a division where skill and technique is rare (see for yourself) and what most teams do is to outmuscle one another, the catch is quite easy: Win at home and try not to lose away. I am not so proud of the NPFL. But I grin when I see that the NPFL is the only league where you can be in the top half of the table and still not be safe from relegation.

Their Locations: Nigerian Professional Football League's various club locations

Their Locations: Nigerian Professional Football League’s various club locations. Picture credit: LMCNPFL

It’s the only league where you can be 6th after 19 games and you eventually finish 16th. It is that competitive. And while the dynamic is changing, the NPFL is the one league where the 2016-17 season starts six months behind schedule. There is quite the long way to go but baby steps are being made. Stadia are being filled and for the new season which kicks off in less than two weeks, we are optimistic that it can only get better.

It’s imperative that we treat the NPFL like our crown jewel, the same way the British media treat the Premier league, and the South Africans treat their PSL. When the NPFL is popular and the interest of everyone is gotten, some things alterations will occur. With just two weeks to go, ForTheGoals profiles each NPFL team and our expectations of them. First point of call?

 

SHOOTING STARS SPORTS CLUB

NICKNAME: Oluyole Warriors

FOUNDED:  1950 (as WNDC)

HOME GROUND: Lekan Salami Stadium, Adamasingba, Ibadan, Oyo State.

CHAIRMAN: Sen. Abiola Ajimobi (Oyo State Governor)

HEAD COACH: Fatai Amoo

THE MAN: Ibrahim Ajani (Forward). They would need him to be at his best in front of goal if they are to make an impact this season.

2015-16 League Position: 15th

Where else to start than Nigeria’s history makers, the first Nigerian team to win the African Champions Cup. It is this history however that 3SC seem to have dwelled on, making reverse steps instead of taking steps forwrd. The Oyo-State-government-owned club has been plagued with all sorts of problems since the turn of the 21st century. They have been relegated at least thrice and have not finished above ninth, a position they achieved under Gbenga Ogunbote in the 2014-15 season; a season which left us with the irony of why they failed to tie the instructor to a long term contract.

He was the messiah they had being looking for and just like Jesus, they didn’t really accept him. In fact they became an exception to the rule of opportunity coming once when he rejoined them midway through 2015-16 season after the expulsion of Giwa FC. He once again led them to safety despite the club being mired in a relegation battle and being favourites for the drop. Once again, ‘Sootin’ failed to act. They would see him leave for the second time in 15months and with the Ibadan-based side back to square one.

The club must now channel all their resources in a positive direction and implement a plan that once made them Nigeria’s most successful side. It is distressing when a side deeply rooted in African football tradition are trying hard to survive. The club must show consistency both on and off the pitch. There must be no issue of owed salaries. The people of Ibadan don’t want to see a team gasping for breath. They want to see a team with swagger, with a drive and hunger to put opponents to the sword somewhere in the mix too!

The exit of number one goalkeeper and fan favourite is sure to shake them but they must pay tribute to Izu Joseph, a man who gave his all while he was a Shooting Star. Only a top league finish can see Izu’s ghost rest and if they need inspiration, they need look no further than Rangers International who ended a thirty-two year wait. Fatai Amoo’s men must fly out of the blocks and beating Lobi Stars will be a good start. A continental slot might be a bridge too far, but that is still the target and given the adequate preparations so far, a top table finish seems just guaranteed.

PREDICTION: 9TH

 

ENUGU RANGERS INTERNATIONAL

The Crest of Champions: Rangers International

The Crest of Champions: Rangers International

NICKNAME: Flying Antelopes

FOUNDED: 1970

HOME GROUND: Nnamdi Azikwe Stadium, Enugu State.

CHAIRMAN: Chief Festus Onu

HEAD COACH: Imama Amapakabo

THE MAN: Chisom Egbuchulam (Forward) Keeping him could do as much as secure another league crown for them with Africa’s premier clubs hot on his heels.

2015-16 League Position: Champions

 

The Champions will begin their title defence against Abia Warriors looking to continue a home form that played a huge role in their triumph last season. The Nnamdi Azikwe stadium proved a fortress and recorded high attendances as they found their way out of trouble again and again. The brilliance of Egbechulam alongside Okey Odita, Bright Esieme and Dream team goalie Emmanuel Daniel (not forgetting the Ghanaian sensation) was well complemented by the astute tactical knowledge of the young Imama Amapakabo who is heralding a change in the landscape of Nigerian football.

 

Rangers played swashbuckling football at times last season. They were often unplayable (their most amazing outing of the 15/16 season comes to mind here) and they managed to banish the ghosts of years gone by. The stability and consistency they enjoyed since the emergence of Festus Onu has only helped strengthened the team further. The recently concluded Super 4 once again showed how devastating they can be on their day with a close-to-second-string side sweeping all comers aside.

 

The champions haven’t come to play and after ending a 32-year wait, who says they won’t go on to dominate the scene for a while yet. They are one of Nigeria’s most decorated sides and a seventh NPFL title will only ascertain their air of invincibility. The only challenge left? Emulate Enyimba and win the CAF Champions League.

 

PREDICTION: Champions (1st)

African Cup of Nation 2017: Everything You Need to Know (Part I)

Samba: The official mascot of the Gabon 2017 African Cup of Nations

Samba: The official mascot of the Gabon 2017 African Cup of Nations

It’s a new year, a new beginning. And one tournament synonymous with the beginning of every odd-number year is Africa’s premier cup competition, the African Cup of Nations (AFCON) which holds a special place in my heart. It is a tournament I anticipate even more than the FIFA World Cup. Maybe it’s because I am African and I am inclined to have a bias towards our own World Cup.

It is a sacred tournament here in Mother Africa (one I hope to someday win as manager of Nigeria’s Super Eagles if destiny allows. I won’t mind leading South Africa to glory though). Maybe it’s because Africa rarely finds its place at the World Cup, always getting eliminated at the Quarter Finals. So whenever the AFCON shows up, it’s one of the rare moments in African football you get to see a true champion.

Maybe it’s one of the reasons why the memories I have of the AFCON are more vivid than that of any other tournament. In fact on my personal computer, I am building a compilation of AFCON videos from 2000-2015, of which I would include this year’s games by February 5. Watch this space for it.

In my 15years of following this holy grail, there have been heartbreaks for both myself and players involved.  One was the classic case of Victor Ikpeba’s missed penalty in the final of the 2000 edition. Another was Osaze’s heart-wrenching miss against Tunisia in 2004. I still haven’t forgotten Junior Agogo’s heartbreaker in 2008, Gyan Asamoah’s babyjet dance in 2010 , Joseph Yobo’s glorious moment of 2013 as well as our qualification failures of 2012, 2015 and now 2017.

And most of all these memories are about Nigeria alone. Imagine the compilation of memories from each nation; Benni McCarthy’s breakout in 1998 for Bafana Bafana as they finished second to Egypt. Samuel Eto’o Fils and El Hadji Diouf in 2002 where Senegal showed a glimpse of what the world would see at the World Cup later that year. Francileudo dos Santos, Zied Jaziri, Marouane Chamakh and Mustapha Hadj in the first all north African final of the century in 2004.

Then there was Didier Drogba, Arouna Kone and Mohammed Abou Trika in 2006 where Egypt and Ivory Coast met twice. It was Abou Trika again in 2008 when his goal broke Cameroonian hearts. Fast-forward to the 2010 edition which featured Ghana’s youthful squad of 2009 FIFA U-20 World Cup. Talk about the goal-scoring exploits of Mohammed Gedo, the opening 4-4 draw between Angola and Mali.

Then we had that crazy quarter final between Algeria and Ivory Coast in which headed goals were traded. Then there was the semi-finals in which Algeria had three players sent off against Egypt, with the wily Hassan Shehata going on to complete a hat-trick of titles and the legendary Ahmed Hassan signing off on a high before the Pharaohs missed the next three tournaments.

I think nobody will forget the tears Kalusha Bwalya shed on seeing Christopher Katongo hoist the trophy in 2012 to bring peace upon the Zambian players who died in 1993 or Burkina Faso’s fairytale run to the final in South Africa in 2013, while Andre Ayew’s inconsolable tears are still fresh after Ghana lost a game they dominated in the 2015 showpiece.

Who can forget the goals that have lit the tournaments over time? From Yousef Msakni’s volley against Algeria in 2013, Christian Atsu’s piledriver in 2015, Gedo’s curler against Algeria in 2010, Salomon Kalou’s solo goal against Nigeria in 2008, Jay Jay Okocha’s free kick against Cameroon in 2004, Marouane Chamakh’s header in the final of the same tournament to Salif Diao’s heartbreaker against Nigeria in 2002, they all rank amongst the best the tournament has seen.

However, the reality is, those goals and events have always being dates with destiny; a date 16 teams will be sharing when the tournament kicks off in Librevelle on January 14. In anticipation of the start of the tourney, we profile these 16 nations, and look at how far they could go and why they are the team to hoist the coveted trophy on February 5.

 

 

GROUP A

GABON

Nick: The Panthers (Les Pantheaux), the Brazilians

Federation: FEGAFOOT (Federation Gabonnaise Football)

FIFA Ranking: 110 (December 2016)

 

The Coach: JOSE ANTONIO CAMACHO (ESP)

The 61-year old Spaniard was only appointed in December, leaving him with under a month to prepare for the tournament. The former Spain coach was in the dugout at the 2002 World Cup and was last in charge of the Chinese National Team in 2013 where he was fired for failing to guide the Shaolin to the final qualifying round of Asia for the World Cup.

He was in charge of Real Madrid in 2004 for a brief spell after the firing of Vicente del Bosque and has had measured success in the dugout, with a rather successful spell in charge of Benfica coming between 2002 and 2004 A left back in his playing days, Camacho played for Real Madrid all through his professional career and is not afraid to face challenges, the only difference? This would be his biggest challenge yet.

Star Man:

All teams have a go-to man, whom they go to in times of trouble. Gabon have the biggest of them all, the current best player in Africa, PIERRE-EMERICK AUBAMEYANG. Already among the best 16 footballers of 2016, the Borussia Dortmund forward is one of the most fearsome attackers in world football. He was crowned the Bundesliga Player of the Season last season and became the first Dortmund player to score 16BuLi goals after the first stanza of the league.

African Prince: Reigning African Player of the year, Aubameyang

African Prince: Reigning African Player of the year, Aubameyang

The forward not only boasts pace but also technique and a unique finishing ability, making up for what he lacks in passing (a quality which should be said he has improved upon since he burst on to the scene in 2012). His club exploits haven’t particularly matched his national team expectations as his performances in the yellows of Gabon are a shadow of his exploits in the yellows in Dortmund. He will however be itching to put that right when it all begins on January 14 leading Gabon to nations cup glory.

The Team:

Most Caps: Didier Ovono (80caps)

Top Scorer: Pierre Emerick Aubameyang (20goals)

Previous Appearances: (1994, 1996, 2000, 2010, 2012, 2015)

Best Outing: Quarter Finals – 1996 & 2012

The Panthers will be itching to set the records straight when they kick off hostilities in Librevelle in a fortnight. The last time they co-hosted the mundial, they swept through the group stage with maximum points. Players like Malick Evouna, Didier Ndong, Andre Biyogho Poko, Bruno Ecuelle Manga and the talented Mario Lemina must again live up to expectations in front of a massive home crowd, to banish memories of the Quarter Final defeat to Mali in 2012.

They flattered to deceive in Equatorial Guinea and missed out on qualification (goals scored) in 2010. Their opponents don’t seem too hard to handle. They defeated an established Cameroon side in 2010, took Burkina Faso to the cleaners in 2015 and have no record against Guinea Bissau at the competition. However, with the fixtures coming in a reverse order, they hope they would be through and have an allowance for a breather ahead of Group A’s blockbuster against Cameroon

The fixtures:

14.01.2017:   GABON VS. GUINÉE BISSAU

Time:             17H00/5pm

Venue:           Stade de l’Amitié, Librevelle

 

18.01.2017:   GABON VS. BURKINA FASO

Time:             17H00/5pm

Venue:           Stade de l’Amitié, Librevelle

 

22.01.2017:   CAMEROUN VS. GABON

Time:            20H00/8pm

Venue:         Stade de l’Amitié, Librevelle

 

My Prediction: The record of host nations in this competition should help the Gabonese a lot. Only twice in this century have the hosts failed to reach the Semi Finals (Angola in 2010 and when they co-hosted with Equatorial Guinea in 2012). However, given the pretty straightforward group they have been handed, a negotiable quarter final with group B runners-up plus the backing of the home fans, I’d stick my neck out for a first SEMI-FINAL appearance for the Panthers.

 

BURKINA FASO

Nickname: The Stallions

Federation: FBF (Federation Burkinabe de Football)

FIFA Ranking:  50 (December 2016)

The Coach: PAULO DUARTE (POR)

Since Jose Mourinho’s rise to prominence, something that was not quite popular has become the norm. Portuguese managers are now being accepted everywhere in the universe, from the shores of Iberia to the savannah of Africa. One such classic case is Paulo Duarte, the Uniao Leiria colossus who has become Burkina Faso coach again. The Portuguese first left his homeland in 2008 to lead the Stallions and qualified for the 2010 edition in Angola as they exited in the group stage, garnering only one point.

Things failed to improve two years later in 2012 as they lost all games which led to his sack. However, after a stint in charge of Gabon and Tunisian outfit CS Sfaxien, the Burkinabes hired him again, after parting ways with Paul Put. Now, Paulo is tasked with filling the shoes of the man who gave Burkina Faso their best ever Nations Cup finish in 2013. And the world will be watching with keen interest to see how Duarte would change Burkina Faso’s fortunes, following a dismal tournament in Equatorial Guinea.

Star Man: Who else than the man who made it happen in 2013, JONATHAN PITROIPA, who won the Player of the Tournament award for his outstanding performances during the tourney. Burkina Faso will need him to hit those heights again if they are to repeat the feat of getting into the final. The Al-Nasr forward has had mixed success since that tournament, leaving Rennes for the money and allure of the Far East where he has featured for both Al Jazira and his current club.

How about another final berth?: Jonathan Pitriopa in action

How about another final berth?: Jonathan Pitroipa in action

The winger however must wake up now and forget the obscure tourney he had in 2015 given the nature of their group. His ability to combine with the Traore brothers would be important and necessary to conjure something out of nothing. With his silky skills, he could single-handedly lead the Burkinabes to yet another great AFCON outing.

 

The Team:

Most Caps: Charles Kabore (70caps)

Top Scorer: Moumouni Dagano (31goals)

Previous appearances: (1978*, 1996, 1998, 2000, 2002, 2004, 2010, 2012, 2013, 2015) *as Upper Volta

Best record: Finalists (2013)

After a dismal 2015 tournament, the Stallions must erase and put the agony of the harsh reality behind them and create something special again. In doing that, they would need the supporting cast to come together again and make things happen if they don’t want to be on the first flight to Ouaggadogou after the group phase. The Traore brothers, Charles Kabore, Bakary Kone, Aristide Bance and Prejuce Nakoulma must provide good support for Pitroipa as only a combined effort will help them etch their names in Burkinabe folklore again.

The fixtures:

14.01.2017:   BURKINA FASO VS. CAMEROUN

Time:             20H00

Venue:         Stade de l’Amitié, Librevelle

 

18.01.2017:   GABON VS. BURKINA FASO

Time:            17H00

Venue:         Stade de l’Amitié, Librevelle

 

22.01.2017:   GUINÉE BISSAU VS. BURKINA FASO

Time:            20H00

Venue:         Stade de Franceville, Franceville

 

My Prediction: The stallions have shown they can be an efficient and devastating team as seen in their World Cup Qualifying group. However, they are still prone to the odd struggle as indicated in their battle to reach Gabon. They needed a last gasp win in their last game to rubber stamp an appearance in the tournament. Now, they must avoid such attitude if they still have any dreams of achieving anything. Asides that, we will most-likely see another GROUP STAGE exit for Paulo Duarte’s men, especially if they fail to get past Cameroon and Guinea Bissau.

To go to the second part and continue reading, click here.