Tag Archives: Algeria

AFCON Qualifying: Matchday 2 Preview

This weekend, the qualifying for the next African Cup of Nations in 2012 starts and, as usual, there’s intrigue all round.

The first round of games saw some surprises, with 2010 AFCON hosts Angola, Algeria, Mali, Morocco, Egypt and Togo hitting bumps on the very long road to Gabon/Equatorial Guinea. We had injuries galore, politics, new appointments and the potpourri that makes African football so colourful.

In a guest piece for The Equaliser, Gary Al-Smith runs the rule over the upcoming fixtures and assesses the prospects of Africa’s qualification hopefuls.

Group A

Mali v Liberia, Zimbabwe v Cape Verde

Cape Verde shook the bookmakers with a win over Mali on Matchday One and leads the pack. Zimbabwe are next for the island nation as they try to secure a place at the Cup of Nations for the first time in their history.

After a lot of wrangling within the Zimbabwean FA and sporting ministries, the Warriors chose Tom Saintfiet as coach – while he had not finished his job with Namibia. The Warriors drew their first game with a caretaker manager and the Belgian was set to have his first game in charge this weekend.

However, the Zimbabwean camp was today thrown into disarray with the news that Saintfiet had been deported following complications in the process of getting him a work permit. Immigration officials spoke to the press last night and said of the matter “We have ordered him to leave the country while his application for a work permit is being processed.”

In the other game, Mali’s Eagles, now bottom of the group, host Liberia at the Stade 26 mars in Bamako. Yet everyone is puzzled about Alain Giresse’s decision to leave out his stars: Seydou Keita, Mohammed Sissoko and goalkeeper Mahamadou Sidibe. Even more confusing was that he proffered no explanations.

The team is receiving no bonuses after the defeat, with the accompanying damning verdict of the Malian sports ministry that they were “purely disappointed with the awful performance of the national side so far in the ongoing 2012 Nations Cup qualifiers.”

Sigamary Diarra, the French-born FC Lorient midfielder has been recalled, while striker Dramane Traore of Lokomotiv Moscow and Real Madrid star Mahamadou Diarra should get starts in this game.

Liberia also have their peculiar stories, with coach Bertalan Bicskei making a u-turn on Francis Doe. The former DC United player was said to have been at odds with certain decisions taken by the coach and had fallen out for ‘disciplinary indiscretions’.

Doe has apologized and is back in the team. There is also the small matter of two key players who will not play: Dulee Johnson and Dioh Williams. They also did not feature against Zimbabwe last month for breaking team rules and the gaffer is extending their punishments.

Zimbabwe's absent manager, Tom Saintfiet

Group B

Madagascar v Ethiopia, Guinea v Nigeria

Last Sunday, Nigeria’s players had started making preparations to get to Conakry in anticipation of a crunch away game with Guinea. It was not to be, however, as 24 hours later the FIFA Emergency Committee decided to suspend the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) with immediate effect on account of governmental interference.

It means Guinea could well get a bye – unless FIFA and Nigeria reach a speedy resolution – in what was supposed to be the most important game of the group. Guinea had won comfortably against Ethiopia, while Nigeria had dispatched Madagascar. If Guinea gets those ‘free’ three points, they may well be counting themselves winners of the group.

To be honest, any resolution to the Nigerian situation is unlikely to happen because Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan seems to like the idea of keeping his team out of football for at least two years.

The implications of Nigeria’s troubles will make Madagascar very happy, for it means 2-0 defeat to the Super Eagles is nullified. Ironically, the island nation will get the three points.

The Walya Antelopes of Ethiopia, meanwhile, who play Madagascar, will have to win if they can get anything out of this group. They have played a friendly with a local Ethiopian club and won 2-1. They’d hope to replicate that performance at the weekend.

Group C

Libya v Zambia, Comoros v Mozambique

Problems involving Zambian football authorities mean they need a united front when travelling to Tripoli to play Libya. For a long time, Kalusha Bwalya could not be touched in Zambian football because of his iconic status, but people seem to have had enough, with some even vacating their positions in protest at his style.  And though they are still leading this group – they hit four past Comoros – it’s all playing into the hands of the Libyans at the moment.

Newly appointed vice president of the Football Association of Zambia Boniface Mwamelo: “This will certainly affect the performance of the team. You see we are playing Libya this month, no one is talking about it, if this effort which has been used in this infighting at FAZ was channelled towards the game, it would have been to the benefit of all Zambians.”

Mozambique is yet to win in this campaign and playing Comoros away should not stop them getting their first three points – they drew against Libya in their first game.

Group D

Tanzania v Morocco, Central African Republic v Algeria

Tanzania held Algeria to a draw and Morocco could not beat the unfancied Central African Republic (CAR). This has made Group D very open, with the North African pair not living up to the billing.

After that draw, Algeria’s Desert Foxes’ had to look for a new manager as Rabah Saadane resigned. The new man is 47-year old Abdelhak Benchikha. He takes charge of his first game away from home in Bagui (CAR), not an easy place to pick up points.

“The most important thing for me right now is to properly prepare the team for winning the game against Central Africa, which is inconclusive but remains critical. We must win the game with the aim to re-launch in qualifying.”

Dar es Salaam is Morocco’s next destination and they really need to improve their goalscoring if anything is to come out of their beautiful football. Their opponents are Tanzania, who will feel emboldened to win against the North Africans, especially as their next game is against the World Cup finalists Algeria.

Mrisho Ngassa of Tanzania

Group E

Senegal v Mauritius, Cameroon v Congo DR

“We have received strong assurances from the authorities that we would be paid on Wednesday, no later than Thursday.”

That was Senegal’s coach, Amara Traore, explaining how the 11-month wait for salaries for the staff would soon be over.

“I was told the decree of disbursement of our salary had been duly signed, and I’ve seen it. We trust the authorities. We are optimistic.”

This was last Monday and, this weekend, the Teranga Lions play Mauritius. Senegal, joint-leaders with Cameroon, can move to six points if they win.

Mery-sur-Oise in France is the destination for the DR Congo, but their injury worries make their game against Cameroon an increasingly tricky one. Some staples to have been ruled out include key French-based defenders Larrys Mabiala, Cedric Mongongu and Assani Mulongoti.

Coach Robert Nouzaret seems not to have a firm grip on discipline in the team and it was evident as they lost 4-2 to Senegal at home in Lubumbashi.  AS Nancy defender Nanceen Joel Sami did not join up with the team, claiming that he was not called up while Nouzaret believes it was a deliberate snub by the young man.

The French embassy also refused to grant visas to some locally-based Congolese players.

Cameroon has also been hit with an injury blow to goalkeeper Carlos Idriss Kameni of Espanyol. Three weeks is how long he’ll be out and his call up was a surprise anyway as he has been sidelined from the team in recent times, having been benched throughout the Indomitable Lions’ poor showing in the World Cup.

However their Spanish coach Javier Clemente told reporters in Yaoundé that Arsenal’s Alex Song would be recalled after also being left out of late. He was the only Lion to have made the Team of the Tournament and he’s likely to make a return this weekend to bolster the team’s standing following their initial 3-1 victory over Mauritius.

Group F

Burkina Faso v Gambia

There’s only one game in this group.

When Mauritania football officials pulled out of the AFCON qualifiers due to a “lack of preparation time and financial issues”, Burkina Faso had a bye in their first game. Gambia will therefore be the first opposition for the Stallions.

Gambian football has been on the rise for some time following some heavy investment in youth football over the past five years or so. The explosion will surely soon be evident as those youngsters are blossoming in time for these qualifiers. They won 3-1 over Namibia in their first game and, for them, Burkina Faso – the top ranked team in the group – are just another of the bigger fish to fry.

Gambia’s coach Paul Put is motivation is simple: get the nation its first appearance at the Nations’ Cup. Namibia will not play as they also enjoy a bye due to Mauritania’s unfortunate withdrawal.

Group G

Niger v Egypt, Sierra Leone v South Africa

Reigning African champions Egypt were jolted at home by Sierra Leone as they drew 1-1 last month. This allowed South Africa to take top spot after an expected win against Niger. It ended 2-0 against the lowly West Africans, but Sierra Leone would be a harder side to beat.

Even though there have been reports of dressing room squabbles among the Lone Stars of Sierra Leone, South Africa will certainly lose some depth owing to the injury of Steven Pienaar. In the last qualifying campaign, Sierra Leone won 1-0 against Bafana Bafana and though stronger, the southern side would take nothing for granted.

After a long team-building process under Carlos Alberto Parreira, South Africa is not as weak as they were at the time. The World Cup hosts would also count on the absence of their opponent’s key man, Mohamed Kallon, to work in their favour.

Egypt is on the road in Niamey this weekend and it’s a pretty safe bet that the game will go the champions’ way. South Africa actually spared the Nigeriens as they wasted several chances and, with Egypt – who badly need the points – in ruthless mood, it must be a win for the North Africans.

Egypt are looking to win their fourth successive title

Group H

Rwanda v Benin, Burundi v Cote d’Ivoire

Didier Drogba (who has not decided when to return to international duty)and Salomon Kalou (injury) means Côte d’Ivoire have quite a task in Burundi. Their new local coach François Zahoui’s choice of striker to replace ‘El Drog’ will likely be Monaco’s Yannick Sagbo. After missing the last game with Rwanda, Galatasaray’s striker Kader Keita has also been brought into the fray.

Also injured are goalkeeper Copa Barry, Wigan’s defender Steve Gohouri and Hamburger SV right-back Guy Demel.

Burundi do not have the international exposure that the Ivorians have, but they would count on a close-knit style of play to stem the attacking tide that will surely come. Valery Nahayo plays for Kaizer Chiefs in South Africa and always relishes playing against big names.

“To be thinking about playing against the Ivory Coast and the players that they have is huge motivation for me. I played against them before in 2003 and I was a young player that time. Now I am more experienced and will hopefully be able to do much better against them.

“When we played them that time we only lost 1-0 at home. They had Didier Drogba, Didier Zokora and Kolo Toure playing. Now we have more players with international experience and we will come up with a good game plan to stop them.”

Rwanda, coached by Africa’s Coach of the Year Sellas Tetteh, will be expected to win at home against a well-drilled Benin side. Rwanda is the only team in this group with no points to its name and with Côte d’Ivoire already favorites to win this group, it’s really down to the other three to up their game.

With a point each, Burundi and Benin – under new coach Jean-Marc Nobilo – are in joint second place.

Group I

Ghana v Sudan, Congo DR v Swaziland

Ghana and Sudan both have three points after winning their first games, while Congo lead Swaziland on goal difference. Both of the latter two sides have yet to get a point, but it is Sudan that would really feel like they have the advantage. A win against their managerless World Cup quarter-finalist opponents would be a huge fillip, and with their team almost selected only from the top two clubs in the country, Al Hilal and Al-Merreikh, Sudan will be hard to beat.

Congo play Swaziland at home in Brazzaville in the group’s other match. Swaziland are scheduling a friendly with Botswana as preparation and with their few international stars playing in South Africa, it will be a surprise should they beat the youthful DRC. The central Africans are under Serbian-French coach Ivica Todorov – who has coached Burkina Faso and other Maghrebian clubs – and he is expected to give his side a win against the quite naïve Swazis.

The southerners have never qualified for the AFCON.

Group J

Kenya v Uganda, Angola v Guinea-Bissau

As derbies go, Kenya – Uganda is a pretty spicy East African affair. Nairobi should be an exciting trip for Uganda’s Cranes, who fight to keep top spot in Group J after hitting Angola 3-0. Uganda should be looking at a win with much of their European-based talent available: Nestroy Kizito (Partizan Belgrade, Serbia) and Hassan Wasswa (Karabukspor, Turkey). Scottish-based David Obua got some groin trouble while playing for Hearts as they lost to Glasgow Rangers over the weekend. He’ll be undergoing late tests to ascertain the extent of the injury.

Inter Milan’s MacDonald Mariga may be the new poster boy of Kenyan football, but the goals are expected to flow from the feet of their captain Dennis Oliech. He dared to score – nearly did, actually – against Real Madrid in the Champions League and has also been in good form for his French side AJ Auxerre when he scored twice against Nancy. Sweden-based Patrick Osiako and Johanna Omollo (Luxemborg-based), as well as Belgium-based Victor Mugabe (brother of Mariga) all have call-ups and should make this an interesting regional contest.

The atmosphere would also be stoked by news that Ugandan tycoon Michael Ezra has offered the Cranes team $650,000 (that’s 1.5b in local currency) if the team breaks its 34-year jinx and qualifies.

Angola, after a disappointing Nations’ Cup, will have to deal with the Guinea-Bissau without their coach Herve Renard. It’s put their efforts into disarray, but a win is still expected. It will not come easy, for even though they have never qualified for the AFCON, the Djurtus are largely uncharted waters in African football.

Angola take on Guinea-Bissau this weekend

Group K

Malawi v Chad, Togo v Tunisia

2006 World Cup finalists Togo absolutely need to win against Tunisia in this group to lift their chances of a Cup of Nations berth. But Togo would also be casting furtive glances in Nigeria’s direction as they try to avoid a FIFA ban of their own. Togo’s football politics is in a fine mess – particularly after the fallout of the Angola coach attack and more recently the fielding of a fake team against Bahrain.

That fake team fiasco has seen the very powerful Togo Football Federation Interim Committee President, General Séyi Mémène, resigning his post. This followed a request from the country’s President for the FA to put off a scheduled October 16th meeting of the FA’s executive committee.

There’s so much to the story, but as always, it is the fans who suffer again. Tunisia are coming into this game organized and ready to take advantage of any effects of political tension in their opponents’ half.

At the other end of the group, Malawi’s fans have suddenly become demanding after a few good showings, and a home-win against Chad is all they expect. Group K leaders Botswana are not in action during this round and will have to wait for next month’s showdown against Tunisia to possibly become the first team to book a place at the 2012 AFCON, the co-hosts aside.

CAF Champions League Semi-Final Preview

The CAF Champions League is a competition which, rather unfortunately, receives very little coverage in Europe, but the overall standard of Africa’s top club competition has been steadily improving over the course of the last few seasons. With the first legs of the semi-finals kicking-off on Sunday, we take a look at the form of the four remaining teams and assess their respective chances.

Al-Ahly (Egypt) v. Espérance Sportive de Tunis (Tunisia)

The first semi-final sees two of North Africa’s biggest clubs go head-to-head as Al-Ahly, Egypt’s most dominant and popular team, take on reigning Tunisian champions Espérance. The pair have historically monopolised their domestic leagues with thirty-five and twenty-three titles respectively, Al-Ahly also being the most successful team in continental competition with six Champions League triumphs.

Despite all their success, Al-Ahly were unusually poor during the group stage, only scraping through to the last four with eight points from six games and losing twice along the way – once to JS Kabylie and once to fellow Egyptian side Ismaily. If they are to overcome Espérance – who were far more impressive in the early stages – then Hossam El-Badry will need to seriously improve the level of his team’s performances.

When at their best Al-Ahly are a superb passing side who play in a similar mould to the Egyptian national team, willing to get forward regularly and quick and precise in their movement of the ball. Star players such as Hossam Ghaly, Mohamed Gedo and Mohamed Aboutrika give the team offensive impetus and extra quality in the attacking third, a quality that the majority of other teams in the competition are unable to call upon. Whether or not they can use it to their advantage in the semi-final is another question.

As I briefly touched on above, Espérance enjoyed an impressive run of form during the first round which saw them top Group A  with thirteen points. The tournament’s top scorers thus far, Nigerian international striker Michael Eneramo and native attacking midfielder Oussama Darragi were particularly impressive during the latter group ties, each scoring three goals.

Faouzi Benzarti will be confident that his team has enough to overcome the challenge of an uncharacteristically weak Al-Ahly outfit, although concerns over their defensive prowess have crept in of late. Shipping two goals against Algerian side ES Sétif in the penultimate group game was uncharacteristic and is something Espérance can ill-afford to repeat.

If Al-Ahly can rediscover the consistency for which they are famed and start to pull in the right direction, then the Egyptians might well progress to the final with ease. However, such has been Espérance’s excellence this year, particularly going forward, the tie is almost impossible to call.

Algeria's JS Kabylie

TP Mazembe (DR Congo) v. JS Kabylie (Algeria)

Arguably the more attractive prospect, JS Kabylie’s trip to TP Mazembe represents a clash between two of Africa’s historically most successful teams. With twenty-four domestic titles and five Champions League’s between them, the two legs of this tie could well provide some fascinating story lines.

JS Kabylie were very much the form side during the group stages, winning Group B by a six-point margin with four victories and two draws from their six games. Swiss manager Alain Geiger has got his team playing a patient and pragmatic possession game, relying on an excellent defence to invariably see Kabylie edge out their opposition.

Indeed, the Algerians conceded just two goals in the group, the four games they won all finishing with 1-0 score lines. Although they are almost watertight at the back, Kabylie do lack an out-and-out goalscorer, often relying on an assortment of their dynamic midfield players to provide the goals.

TP Mazembe, in contrast, are one of the competition’s most vibrantly attacking outfits, Lamine N’Diaye’s team having scored eight goals (the joint second-highest total) during the group phase. In the form of Given Singuluma and Trésor Mputu, Mazembe can boast what is quite probably the tournament’s most potent strike partnership and should prove a stern test for their opponents’ heralded defence.

However, for all of their style going forward, Mazembe have been known to be a little lax at the back. The concession of seven goals in the group (including a 3-0 defeat at the hands of Espérance) will have been something of a concern to N’Diaye and, should they wish to make the final, something that will have to be improved upon in the face of Kabylie’s often efficient counter-attacking.

This should be a fascinating tie between two stylistically opposed teams and, if both sides play to their potential, it could be the clash of the tournament. Expect a thrilling contest in Lubumbashi on Sunday.

Camus: Football’s Great Intellectual

“All I know most surely about morality and obligations, I owe to football.”

Here at The Equaliser we like to think, perhaps a trifle pretentiously, that football and philosophy are more closely related than some would have us believe. That in mind, Albert Camus is something of a hero to this humble blog, the French-Algerian goalkeeping philosopher having merged two of the world’s greatest muses, sport and existential thought.

A pioneer in that most noble of footballing traditions, the reflective, melancholic goalkeeper, Camus was the first in a lineage that has since brought us such memorable characters as René Higuita, Ramón Quiraga and Fabien Barthez. A noted Marxist and an influential author and thinker, Camus was the semi-professional custodian for the national title-winning Racing Universitaire Algerois in his native Algeria before turning to his academic pursuits on a more permanent basis.

In 1942 he wrote L’Etranger (The Stranger), arguably his most influential work, a book which expresses through the actions of it’s protagonist, Meursault, Camus’ view that life has no rational or perceptible meaning. This central theme in his work saw Camus continually state his belief that the universal struggle to attach structure and meaning to our lives is ultimately futile and, in his words, absurd.

The notion of “the absurd” Camus put forward in L’Etranger and his essay of the same year, The Myth of Sisyphus, led indirectly to the revival of “absurdism” in modern philosophy.

Taking up where Søren Kierkegaard left off , Camus blurred the boundaries of philosophy, theology and literature as he presented the dualism between happiness and mortality and focused much of his writing on the paradox between the commonly held view that life is simultaneously centrally important and completely meaningless.

Of course, like all the best cult heroes, alongside his philosophy Camus was a committed anti-authoritarian. During the Nazi occupation of France he was an active member of the French resistance and, in his work L’Homme Révolté, put forward a savage critique of the Soviet state and revolutionary politics in general. Lev Yashin, that most famous of Russian goalkeepers, was likely unamused at the outburst.  

Although he tragically died in a car accident at the age of just 43, Camus’ footballing legacy lives on. In 2008 a new goalkeeping academy was established in France, founded upon the principles of sporting excellence and morality propounded by the famous author. With the support of patron Fabien Barthez, the facility has stated that it aims to put education and philosophy ahead of the relentless pursuit of simply “winning”.

Indeed, the academy founders talk very much in terms Camus would have related to, “Every time a child saves a ball it’s similar to every difficult situation they will face in life. Every time they jump to catch a ball, or go into a tackle, they need courage and commitment, and it’s similar in life.”

Today, fully fifty years after his death, Camus’ notion of football as an educational and philosophical endeavour lives on in small but invaluable corners of a global game. We have much to thank the Nobel Prize-winning goalkeeper for.