Archives for posts with tag: CAF

Rwanda is a country that still bears the scars of its recent past. Just seventeen years ago 850,000 people were murdered as post-colonial tensions spilled over into a genocide that was perpetrated by members of the Hutu ethnic community against the Tutsi people. Powerful memories of those brutal days still reverberate throughout modern Rwanda, but today the country is one of contemporary Africa’s greatest success stories. Read the rest of this entry »

Sudan has been one of the world’s most volatile and violent states for over twenty years now. Since Omar al-Bashir’s military coup in 1989, citizens have been bound by Islamic law and had basic freedoms suspended by the totalitarian regime. With bloody purges a regular feature of the rotten political system, a climate of fear and brutality has cast a shadow over the country; Sudan’s plight being characterised by the atrocities carried out by the Janjaweed (an Arab militia group) in the Darfur region. Read the rest of this entry »

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.

Can Nouzaret take DR Congo to the next level?

Those of you who read the blog with something approaching regularity might remember that I wrote a piece several weeks ago focussing on football in the Democratic Republic of Congo, assessing both the state of the national side and the expectations currently carried on the shoulders of TP Mazembe – the country’s most successful club – in the CAF Champions League.

Since that post was written the Fédération Congolaise de Football-Association (FECOFA) have moved to appoint a new national team manager after the position was left vacant following the departure of Patrice Neveu back in April. Neveu’s successor, Robert Nouzaret, is another French manager with an excellent knowledge of the world game as a result of a career that has seen him take up various coaching roles across the globe.

An ex-Lyon and Bordeaux midfielder, the 66 year-old Nouzaret first rose to prominence as a coach during three separate spells with Montpellier between 1976 and 1996, also spending time in charge of various other French clubs including Lyon and Toulouse during what has been a relatively itinerant career. Although his CV at club level (including a brief sojourn to Algeria with MC Alger) is quietly impressive, it is for Nouzaret’s work on the international stage with Guinea and the Ivory Coast for which he has become best known.

First appointed by Les Elephants in 1996, the Marseille-born manager successfully guided a limited Ivorian side through qualification for the 1998 Africa Cup of Nations and took his team through to the last eight of the competition before being eliminated on penalties at the hands of Egypt. Despite having overseen what was viewed as a moderately auspicious campaign, Nouzaret resigned from his position after the tournament and reverted to club management in his native France.

However, just four years later he returned to the post in the wake of his dismissal by Bastia and was given a brief to make the Ivory Coast realistic contenders for the 2004 Cup of Nations and then go on to qualify for the 2006 World Cup.

But the Frenchman’s second experience with Les Elephants was not a particularly positive one, the lowest ebb being reached when Nouzaret having to flee the country in February 2003 during the anti-French riots which saw large numbers of French ex-pat families subjected to widespread violence and abuse. On his return to West Africa Nouzaret struggled to get the best out of a talented young squad, embarrassingly failing to qualify for CAN 2004 and finding himself duly dismissed as a result.

The nomadic manager’s only other international role came in 2006 when he became the head coach of the Guinean national team where he enjoyed a relatively fruitful time with one of the emerging forces of African football. At CAN 2008 in Ghana, the Frenchman oversaw Guinea’s unexpected march to the quarter-finals where they were eventually knocked-out, somewhat ironically, by a particularly strong Ivorian side. Just two years later, however, Nouzaret was sacked in the midst of an underwhelming World Cup qualifying campaign and replaced by former Liverpool player Titi Camara.

His successes in Africa may have been counterbalanced by a fair number of disappointments over the years, but FECOFA clearly believe that Nouzaret has the skills necessary to take their steadily improving national team on to the next level. After winning the 2009 African Championship of Nations with an exciting squad constituted entirely of players based in the country’s blossoming domestic league, DR Congo’s football administrators have raised their ambitions and are now set on the goal of reaching the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations, a tournament which would be the country’s first appearance since 2006.

Indeed, FECOFA have not been naive enough to enter into a long and binding contract with their new manager, Nouzaret having been given a two-year deal with a clause in place that would immediately terminate the agreement should The Leopards not fulfil the heady expectations of the governing body.

Clearly, Nouzaret does not have an easy job on his hands despite a recent upturn in the fortunes of his new team, there is still much work to be done, while the ever-increasing pressure from FECOFA will likely prove something of a hindrance to him.

That said, the Frenchman will have some genuine talent at his fingertips as he goes about shaping his team – Shabani Nonda, Youssuf Mulumbu, Lomano Lua Lua and Hérita Ilunga all players capable of seeing DR Congo re-establish itself amongst the heavyweights of African football over the coming decade. Whether or not Nouzaret is the man to lead the regeneration remains to be seen, but the potential for significant and rapid improvement is most certainly there.

A perpetual contender for Africa’s most prestigious club titles and yet seemingly overshadowed by some of the continent’s more historic teams such as Al-Ahly of Egypt and Ghana’s Hearts of Oak, Jeunesse Sportive de Kabylie – JS Kabylie for short – are something of an unknown quantity outside of African domestic football. However, having set the pace during the early rounds of this year’s CAF Champions League, the Algerian club based in the northern city of Tizi Ouzou is – considering its illustrious past – surely deserving of a more global reputation for excellence and serial success.

Not formally founded until 1946, JS Kabylie was born into a country torn apart by the Allied invasion of French North Africa during the Second World War as the two sides battled for control of the Mediterranean. Indeed, it was not just the aftermath of war that Kabylie had to compete against in its early years but also the prejudices and restrictions of colonial rule, Islamic teams being forced to play in the lower divisions as a result of an unfounded French paranoia over sports clubs established by groups of local people. Conflict again stunted the club’s early development as it went into hibernation in 1954 with the outbreak of the Algerian War of Liberation, a struggle that lasted until 1962 when the country eventually emerged decolonised and independent, a side-effect being the lifting of the harsh regulations regarding Islamic sports clubs.

After seven years in the Algerian second tier Kabylie were eventually promoted to the top flight in 1969 and promptly finished in sixth place, an admirable outcome to the club’s first season in the big time. Having established themselves at the top table, the Tizi Ouzou outfit went from strength to strength, winning the first of 14 Championnat National titles in 1973 and going on to make their debut in continental competition in 1978, respectably reaching the quarter-finals. Just three years later Kabylie really began to cement its reputation as one of Africa’s most dominant clubs, claiming its first African Cup of Champions Clubs (now known as the CAF Champions League) in 1981, scoring an impressive 16 goals in the five games it took to claim the title.

JS Kabylie in 1994

Another five domestic titles were to follow during the 1980s before Kabylie won their next Cup of Champions Clubs, lifting the trophy in 1990 after beating Zambia’s Nkana F.C. 5-3 on penalties in the final. However, the remainder of the nineties was not – in relative terms – a particularly bounteous time for the club, just two domestic titles, one cup and an African Cup Winners’ Cup coming during the quietest decade Kabylie had experienced since the 1960s.

After a brief transitional period, the new century saw The Canaries restore their dominance on the Algerian domestic scene, the club winning titles in 2004, 2005 and 2006 as well as the 2000, 2001 and 2002 CAF Cups. Although this mastery of the home front is all well and good, the club is acutely aware that it has not added to its two major continental triumphs since 1990 and it is the brief of Swiss coach Alain Geiger to win this year’s Champions League and re-establish Kabylie as a pre-eminent force in African, not just Algerian, football. It’s early days yet, but if the team’s early form against Ismaily and Heartland is anything to go by, then 2010 could just be another golden chapter in the long, sometimes tempestuous, but ultimately glorious history of Jeunesse Sportive de Kabylie.

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