Monday, February 13, 2012

Pekerman in Colombia

Colombia has long been an under-performer in international football, and although improvements have happened in the last 20 years, this continues. It does not help that the Colombian national team often has been the subject of scandals, and it was also a recent scandal of the woman beater Hernán Darío Gómez that led to his dismissal, and Colombia looking for a new coach.
I think one of the reasons for Colombia's under-performance has been the lack of a quality coach. In spite of the support (even after he beat up a woman) Mr. Gómez enjoyed, he was surely not a quality coach; in fact I think he was mediocre to say the least, not getting the maximum out of an extraordinary pool of talent (if Uruguay can do it so well, Colombia could surely be up there).
So when Mr. Gómez was out, the debate stirred in Colombia as to who should be new coach, and when country's President, Juan Manuel Santos, insinuated that they should consider a foreign coach, it opened up for something the proud Colombians had not dared consider.
The choice has fallen on one of the more charismatic and offensive coaches in modern football. The Argentinean José Pekerman has been coach of Argentina, making the youth side world champions three times, and coaching the 2006 side at the World Cup; an Argentinean side that played the attacking and entertaining football that they can. He was popular enough that he was asked to stay on, but he insisted on his own resignation after losing the quarterfinal to the German hosts.
Mr. Pekerman has now accepted the job in Colombia, where it will be very interesting to see if the Colombians will be open to his style and his personality. Colombians hate Argentineans, and that makes his appointment all the more surprising: it is perhaps the perfect excuse that if they lose, they can blame the Argentinean (and perhaps consider re-appointing the woman-beater).

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Delight for Super Zambia!

Zambia's sensational African Cup of Nations has just ended with emotional glory when they defeated the huge favourites Côte d'Ivoire in an intense final in Libreville! Like everyone in the stadium (except the Ivorians), I also got carried away by the glorious spirit, fight, and the memory of the 1994 team that died in Gabon. I really wanted to see Zambia win, and was tense throughout the nailbiting penalty shootout that took them to a seventh penalty!
Be sure to see some of these great players in the Europeans league soon!
The Ivorians went through the tournament without conceding a goal, but at the same time, three of their greatest players did not step up when it counted; Drogba missed a penalty during the match, and the misses in the shootout were by other stars, Kolo Touré and Gervinho.
The disappointment of the Ivorians must be enormous, as this represents another disappointment for a team with everpresent expectations.
It has been a truly great African Cup of nations, and Zambia's triumph makes it all the more memorable.
Glorious Zambia, and I wish I were in Lusaka now!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Low intelligence

I have always thought that one (of the many) reasons that I did not become a footballer was because I am too intelligent. In fact, as has often been the case, with some notable exceptions (Jorge Valdano, Socrates, Ruud Gullit....), intelligent footballers seems to be more the exception that the rule, and at a time when the media scrutiny is so intense, the demand on a bit of brains in footballers seems to be all the more important. Therefore, it is a bit tragicomic to see a brainless twit like Luis Suarez in action.
I do not believe that Luis Suarez is a racist. As has rightly been pointed out by others, the connotations of what he said to Patrice Evra are completely different in Latin America, where expressions of racism have more to do with class and xenophobia than with actual race. That said, Luis Suarez should have known, after many years in Europe, that such comments are out of place in that context, and for that, he fully deserved the punishment. When Mr. Suarez today, in the first match against Manchester United since those events, refused to shake Mr. Evra's hand, he went beyond issues of fair play and gentleman behavior, and for that, he should be punished again, and if a punishment is not in its place, he should at least be given a bit of education.
Give the man something to read!
Shamefully, Patrice Evra does not display that he had a brain much larger than Mr. Suarez' pea. At a moment when he could have acted like the greater man, a gentleman, he had to act like a little offended school-boy when the match ended with Manchester United's 2-1 victory, openly provoking Mr. Suarez with his celebrations.
It was a great match, but these two "gentlemen" should receive a warning since their behaviour undermines everything that football should do more to combat, like racism and unfair play.
That said, in a match that was intense and entertaining, this drama only adds to the epic fight, and perhaps that is what we all want to see.
Perhaps Mr. Evra and Mr. Suarez are just brainless pawns in the media circus of international football. Brainless nonetheless.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Zambia in the final

It is hard not to have sympathy for Zambia's football team: in the 80s and early 90s they were an important part of the African football awakening that was to take the world by storm right until 1993, when the entire team was killed in an air disaster when heading to a World Qualifier. While in 1994 they made it to the African Nations Cup final, they still never fully recovered from the tragedy.
Now, Zambia is in the African Nations Cup final yet again after defeating Ghana 1-0 in the semifinal. While I was unapologetic in supporting the Black Stars, one cannot help having the sympathy for the Zambians who fought well and with a bit of always-necessary luck managed to defeat the favorites of Ghana.
Zambia will be facing Cote d'Ivoire in the final on Sunday.

Monday, February 06, 2012

Gabon out, Ghana in

Mali made it to the semifinal of the Africa Cup of Nations after defeating the co-hosts Gabon on penalty kicks. Gabon played a good match with massive home support that included Gabon's long-time president Omar Bongo. It was an intense match where Gabon took the lead early in the second half by Eric Mouloungui. But with only seven minutes left Bordeaux striker Cheick Diabate equalized for Mali, and the match went into extra time, and eventually, penalties. In particular Mali's players were extraordinarily cool, and made it look very easy on every one of their shots. For the disappointed Gabonese, their only miss was by their young star, St. Etienne striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Surely a disappointment for the youngster, whom I am nevertheless sure we will hear more about.
But you should have seen Mr. Bongo's face when Aubameyang missed the penalty....

The other quarterfinal today was between Ghana and Mali, which turned out a not too pretty match with some very dirty play by the Tunisians towards the end.
Ghana took an early lead by captain John Mensah, but Tunisia equalized before halftime by Saber Khelifa. The match also had to go into extra time, and it undoubtedly looked like another round of penalty kicks until the Tunisian goalkeeper, Aymen Mathlouthi, made a huge mistake, when he could not hold a rather easy ball which instead fell to Andre Ayew, who could easily score Ghana's winner.

Both semifinals on next Wednesday will be very exciting matches:
  • Ghana-Zambia
  • Cote d'Ivoire-Mali

And I support GHANA!

Saturday, February 04, 2012

A football tragedy

Besides the human loss, it is sad that the attention of the world on African football during a great tournament as the African Cup of Nations, is drawn away by the game, to the catastrophe that happened in Egypt.
I am certain that this is not what Egypt is about, with its great people and fans, and it is not what African football is about.
There seem to be many theories about what happened at the match between Al Masry and Al Ahly, and with the political turmoil that Egypt has been undergoing, this tragedy can only feed into the tension. It may be "only" a game (it is!), but in a real world where passions are at least as much a part of politics and society as anything else, football is a very important part of society. This is not new; football has been part of society since football was born, and been used by violent thugs as excuses for their destruction.
But football also unites, and as football fans, we must show our solidarity with the fans and football of Egypt.
Peace.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

A goal to die for!

Yesterday I watched Ghana-Guinea in the last group matches of the African Cup of Nations. Ghana went ahead on a goal to die for: Emmanuel Badu, the super talented 21 year old of Udinese, scored a stunning goal to put Ghana ahead! 23 meter from goal he gave the ball a tip to lift it before hammering it in mid-air. It was a goal that reminded me of Eder against the USSR in 1982, and I was delighted for Ghana.
The match ended 1-1, which was enough for Ghana to qualify as group leaders. It was surely a pity for Guinea who put pressure on the Black Stars and have been a great team to watch. Ghana has not been overly exciting to watch so far besides the goals. But that is also what makes them favourites: Ghana has experience and know that to win a big tournament, you need to pace yourself. Surely Ghana will have to lift their style for the next match against Tunisia, but they also know that very well.
The quarterfinals of a very exciting tournament are as follows:
  • Zambia-Sudan
  • Ghana-Tunisia
  • Gabon-Mali
  • Cote d'Ivoire-Equatorial Guinea

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Don´t bother....

Tonight is the Spanish Copa del Rey semifinal between Valencia and FC Barcelona. FC Barcelona defeated Real Madrid in the quarterfinal, after which it has been widely proclaimed that FC Barcelona will now win the tournament. Only the most die-hard Valencia fans believe otherwise. I don´t believe otherwise.
Indeed, the Spanish league is the most distorted degree in the world, to the degree that serious commentators in Spain, even coaches and players, call the third placed team and downwards, "The other league".
I cannot see how this can benefit Spanish football, and find it a joke when Spanish TV promote a match between Villarreal and Levante as a match in the "best league in the world".
Were it not for Real Madrid and Barcelona, the Spanish league would not be much better than the Swiss or Cyprus leagues (the "other league" in Spain has no teams in the Champions League knock-outs, while Switzerland and Cyprus do).
Valencia is currently leading the "other league" in Spain. But that is the only title they are vying for. Tonight, they will, as all other Spanish teams, be just another hurdle in the Barcelona/Real Madrid battle for championships.
I will not even bother watching the match.