Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Raphael Varane

Although I have been, and still am, critical of Real Madrid and Barcelona dominance, the matches are always intense and good football. In this match where a great Real Madrid side defeated FC Barcelona in Barcelona 1-3 one player stood out from the rest: Raphael Varane. He is only 19 years old and plays with such authority that he has taken over from Pepe in central defense. But differently from Pepe, Varane is an elegant and fair players. That he even managed to crown the match with an excellent header (against FC Barcelona's headstrong central defense of Pique and Puyol!), just confirms that we are being witness to the birth of what could become one of the greatest defenders of all time! It will be incredibly interesting to follow him in the future!

Zero-sum game

I don't want Spanish teams to be eliminated from the Champions League. On the contrary, I would love to see Valencia and Malaga, who both lost their first last-16 matches, to go through.
But there is nothing I wold like more than to see Real Madrid and FC Barcelona eliminated. So it was with delight that during a trip to Colombia I saw both struggle in their initial last-16 matches in the CL. Real Madrid fought their way to a 1-1 result at home to Manchester City, while FC Barcelona fell to a superior and intelligent AC Milan side 2-0 in Milano.
Both Manchester United and AC Milan know that there is a long and difficult match ahead, but truth is that they will be doing the football world a favour.
I am just tired that this rivalry defines football, blinding to the many other great teams. These two teams only exist for each other. Granted, it is fun to watch them play each other (as today, where Real Madrid trampled over a poor FC Barcelona side), but their glory is not a zero-sum game where ones loss is the others triumph! In fact, the loss of either side, in particular in the Spanish league, may propel other teams forward and give renewed excitement to a pretty lame league.
The same seems to be the case in the CL where the "dreamed" final between Real Madrid and Barcelona has fortunately not taken place, and hopefully won't.

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Burkina Faso's first final!

Ghana disappointed again. Granted, they have not looked good in the tournament, and were lucky not to be eliminated by Cape Verde, but they remained favourites against Burkina Faso, who had never made it to a final before. As two years ago, penalty kicks in South Africa proved to be Ghana's doom, and just as Ivory Coast, Ghana must start to consider whether they are also a version of "old Spain", always entering tournaments as favourites and disappointing.
Burkina Faso in the meantime have been a delight, but they will be weakened in the final without Jonathan Pitroipa, who was red carded at the end of the match. While Burkina Faso will be a newcomer to the final they will face Nigeria, who entered the tournament without expectation but have been getting stronger and stronger, and were looking like champions when they crushed Mali 4-1 in their semifinal. For sure, Nigeria is on the verge of re-taking its rightful position as an African footballing superpower, amid all the chaos of its football. That said, the last hurdle of Burkina Faso will not be easy, as many fans will be cheering for the Burkinabes! Including myself!

Sunday, February 03, 2013

Burkina Faso-Ghana in the semifinal

Burkina Faso has made it to the semifinal of the Africa Cup of Nations after defeating Togo in extra time on a goal by the Rennes player Jonathan Pitroipa. They will now face their southern neighbours and huge favourites, Ghana. But Ghana has been unconvincing, and that will surely give the Burkinabe's hope that they can create a surprise and make it to the final, while Ghana must surely improve from what they did against Cape Verde.
One thing is sure, Burkina Faso versus Ghana will be a match between the nicest fans and the friendliest people in the entire world! In that sense, it is a match everyone must watch!

Another Ivorian downer

In the last years the Ivory Coast has been one of the most hyped African teams. And with reason: headed by Didier Drogba the team has one of the strongest teams of experienced players in the best European leagues. But again and again they have disappointed. South Africa 2013 has been no exception. Today they lost 2-1 in the quarterfinals against a Nigeria that has been criticized throughout the tournament, but that has been growing stronger and stronger throughout the tournament. Emmanuel Emenike's opening goal was a thunderous kick and Sunday Mba's winning goal should put the locally-based player in the radar of European sides.
under coach Stephen Kechi. Stephen Kechi created discussion last year when he criticized African football for hiring European (white) coaches rather than qualified African coaches. The way Nigeria played today against French coach Sabri Lamouchi's Ivorian side, he must be delighted to prove his point.
Nigeria will now face Mali in another all-West African semi-final (the other being Burkina Faso-Ghana), and surely Nigeria must be considered as a candidate for the title now!

Ghana and Mali in the semifinals

In 2005 I was in Ghana when the Black Stars defeated Cape Verde 4-0, and with that result qualified for their first World Cup. Today, I wore my Ghana shirt as I watched Ghana take on a Cape Verde side that has surprised everyone in this their first Africa Cup of Nations. Ghana were obviously favourites against the first-timers, but this could not be seen. While Ghana dominated the early stages of the match, the Cape Verde team was the best side all in all, and even though I am happy Ghana won, I cannot help but feel a bit sorry for Cape Verde, who deserved better. Ghana was saved by their goalkeeper Abdul Dauda, and two goals by Wakaso Mubarak, one on penalty, and one in an empty goal when Cape Verde had thrown every many forward for a corner kick.
I have no doubt that overall Ghana is a better team than Cape Verde. But Ghana must play better if they are to win the tournament! They cannot rely just on Dauda and Wakaso!
In the other semi-final South Africa was full of expectations to the Bafana-Bafana, only to be disappointed again. 1-1 after extra time against Mali, who won the penalty kicks 3-1 after South Africa missed three penalties in a row. While South Africa are disappointed, this victory is surely another boost for Mali!