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The Race To Brazil 2014 Gathers Steam
June 21, 2012 | 0 Comments

-Stiff Competition expected for available five tickets

By Zelifac Asong

Brazil 2014 is already around the corner. That is the FIFA world football jamboree organized every four years. After Africa’s first ever participation as host, it is once again Brazil’s turn to host the prestigious tourney for the continent of South America.

Eliminatory rounds have already begun in all the regional confederations. The CAF region is not left out. The CAF region is now playing the group phase of its eliminatories, after the knock out rounds played last November.

Forty African teams are taking part at this level. These teams have been divided into ten groups,           (A-J), consisting of four teams each. These forty teams are competing for five spots allocated to Africa in football world’s greatest competition. Already two playing days have gone by. The first playing day went from the first of June two thousand and twelve (6, 1, 2012) to the third of June two thousand and twelve (6, 3, 2012). The second day of play went from the ninth of June two thousand and twelve (6, 9, 2012) to the tenth of June two thousand and twelve (6, 10, 2012).

Though it is too early pick favorites, it is safe to say some teams have already made some very good results which give them an early advantage for the rest of the competition. Some players as well have also made good strides in the competition for number goals scored.

In group G, Egypt has taken a decisive advantage in its group which includes Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Guinea. The seven time African champion has positioned itself already as the team to beaten in the group. Already the pharaohs count six(6) points in two games making them the uncontested leaders in the group. Led by offensive duo, Aboutrika (2 goals), and Zidan (1 goal) they are already showing how determined they are to take part in this world cup.

Four time world cup participant, Tunisia has also taken the lead in group B. Edging out Sierra Leone which is second position with four points. The Eagles of Carthage have proven to prolific on the offensive, scoring five goals in two games .Jemaa, the lead scorer netting one for each game.  The  Tunisians seem set to walk over their rivals which include Equatorial Guinea and the Cape Verde Island.

Recent African champions, Zambia are placed together with Ghana, Sudan, and Lesotho. Sudan leads the group with four points.  They will find worthy contenders in the black stars of Ghana, whom on the first day of qualifiers gave inexperienced Lesotho a lashing (7-0). With the same number of points (3), as the as the Ghanaians , the Chipolopolo of Zambia are equally to watched in this group. They are young and eager. Coming off great African Nations Cup, which they won, their morale should be very good for the rest of the eliminatories.

Group A is led by Ethiopia with four points. This puts them ahead of the Central African Republic. South Africa is third, and Botswana cushions the group in the fourth and last position. Certainly the fight in this group will be between South Africa and Ethiopia.

The elephants of Cote D’ivoire sit comfortably at the top of group C with four points. Led by Drogba, the Ivorians are determined to appear in their second only World cup before this generation of very talented players quit the stage.  Tanzania trail them in second position. Sitting in third place with 2 points, the Atlas Lions of Morocco is mostly likely the team that will give “Les Elephants” a run for their money. Gambia is placed last.

In group E, we have the Congo (Brazzaville), Gabon, Burkina Faso and Niger. The Congolese lead the group with four points. They are followed by the Gabonese with equal number points. Burkina Faso and Niger are third and fourth place respectively with a point each.

With four points after the second day of play, the super eagles of Nigeria top group F with four points. Coming a close second are the Namibians, with three points, followed by Malawi with two points after two draws. At the bottom of the group lie the Harambee stars of Kenya, with a single point won. This might just be an interesting group to watch, as there seems not to be large difference in quality between the top three teams.

Group H is made up of Benin, Algeria, Mali and Rwanda. The squirrels of Benin top the group with four points. ‘les fennecs’ of Algeria and the Eagles of Mali occupy the second and third places respectively. The Wasps of Rwanda are seated at the fourth and last position. The battle in group H will most likely be between the Malian Eagles and desert foxes from Algeria. However, the Beninese might just spring a surprise if the others sleep on their laurels.

Group I is being led after two days of play by Libya, with four points. Coming second and third respectively are the Simba  of the DR Congo, and the indomitable lions of Cameroon. At last position is Togo. Six time world cup participant and four time African champion Cameroon do not seem to have solved the internal issues that have been plaguing the team now for many years. Though observers believe that they dominated the game against Libya during the second day of play, the lions were not able to  conserve a draw, as the let in a goal in the last minutes of the game. The absence of captain, and goal getter Eto’o, seems to be having  a negative effect on a young Cameroonian team which might just need experience. Then again the lions are never out until they really are. The DR Congo are having issues of their own, with some European based players, among whom are star player Lomana Lua Lua, refusing to go on camp in the country. They cite issues of insecurity.

Finally there is group J, made up of Senegal, Uganda, Angola and Liberia. The Teranga lions lead the group with four points. They are followed by Uganda and Angola with two points each. Liberia comes last with a point to their credit.

Some of the players who have stood out after these two days are Mohamed Aboutrika, Isaam Jemaa, Salomon Kalou and Choupo Moting. The veteran Egyptian forward showed that at age thirty-three, he has still got what it takes. Against Guinea on the second day, he scored two of the Pharaohs’ three goals as the won to make it two victories for on two matches. If his partnership with Zidan remains what it has been in the past, then Egypt are sure to qualify for Brazil 2014.

The Tunisian Isaam Jemma is also proving to be the force in the offensive play of the Eagles of Carthage. The Brest based striker netted in one in each of Tunisia’s matches.  Defenders are warned. Cote d’ivoire’s English based player Salomon kalou  equally two goals. In each against Tanzania and Morocco.

In the absence of star striker, and world’s highest paid player, Samuel Eto’o, who is out on suspension until august of 2012, a new generation of indomitable lions seem to be slowly assuming the responsibilities at the helm of the team. German born Cameroonian striker is proving to be player that will lead the lions attack in the years to come. The Mainz 05 forward has already netted in two for Cameroon. The lone  goal in Cameroon’s match  against the DR Congo, and Cameroon’s only goal as they lost two goals to one against the Libyan national squad.

It must be emphasized that these are the second round of qualifiers for the African region. The first round was played in November 2011. It pitted the 24 lowest ranked African teams playing knock out matches in a home and away format. The twelve teams which qualified joined the other 28 teams in the second round which will be played from the month of June 2012 to the month of September 2013.

At the end of second round, the first team in each group will qualify for the third round. This will round from the month of October to the month of November 2013. The first ten teams will play a 5 legged knock out round and the five winners will represent the African continent at the Mondiale in Brazil.

The next day of play for these ongoing qualifiers will be on the 22nd of march 2013.

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Barcelona FC backs bid to send one million e-books to Africa
June 21, 2012 | 0 Comments

By Tim Hume, for CNN*

London (CNN) — Stars from one of the world’s great soccer teams will be encouraging reading as part of a new project to put one million digital books in the hands of African children.

Spanish football team FC Barcelona — home to stars Lionel Messi, Xavi, Eric Abidal and Seydou Keita — joined forces Thursday with the non-profit organization Worldreader in a campaign to inspire a wave of literacy in sub-Saharan Africa through the use of e-readers.

Founded by David Risher, a former executive at Microsoft and Amazon, Worldreader works on the premise that e-readers, like Amazon’s Kindle, could help children in developing countries to “awaken their passion for reading, and improve their lives.”

“Worldreader is committed to putting a digital library in the hands of all children throughout the world’s developing countries, and we’re thrilled with the support of FC Barcelona to send one million e-books to students in Africa,” said Risher, Worldreader’s CEO.

The campaign is appealing for one million donors to each make a $5 contribution to help them reach their target of distributing one million e-books to 10,000 children in Africa. Because students bring home the devices and typically share their use with family members, friends and neighbors, it is expected the initiative will help put e-books in the hands of 50,000 people.

The e-readers will be distributed to children in Ghana, Kenya, and Uganda, where the non-profit is already operating, and soon in Rwanda, which is to become the next focus for the organization.

Football giant Barcelona will lend its weight to the campaign, with its stars sending messages via the e-readers to encourage students to read more and achieve their goals.

Worldreader believes technology can provide the best approach to encouraging literacy in parts of the developing world where books are otherwise scarce.

The program has motivated my students and instilled a joy for reading that never existed before
Jacqueline Abiso Dzifa, teacher, Kade, Ghana

Unlike traditional books — which had to be physically imported, one title at a time — a single e-Reader could provide a child with a vast array of current, relevant titles at a low distribution cost.

The increased access to reading material, it was believed, could broaden the way students think and develop their creativity by allowing them to go beyond the syllabus to follow their reading interests.

A year-long pilot of the program to 350 students in six schools in Ghana yielded promising results. Reading test scores for primary students participating in the program increased by 4.8% to 7.6% more than their peers who were not taking part, although benefits for older students were less clear.

The e-readers gave students access to a much greater variety of titles: 107, on average, as opposed to the between 3 to 11 books the average student had access to at home without the devices. They swiftly learned how to use the e-readers, despite 43% having never used a computer before.

“Worldreader has not only given us unparalleled access to books, the program has motivated my students and instilled a joy for reading that never existed before,” said Jacqueline Abiso Dzifa, a teacher at Presbyterian Primary in Kade, Ghana, whose students participated in the pilot.

The students relished their access to “a wide variety of classic and cutting-edge literature by renowned authors,” she said.

As e-readers provided a pathway into the digital world, many students also used them to read international news sites that would have been inaccessible previously.

Just one of the collateral benefits to the program was that students gained greater exposure to African writers, said Worldreader managing director and co-founder Colin McElwee.

The program was working with African publishing houses to digitize their titles and provide students with local, relevant content — which had positive impacts on local literary cultures.

“We want to digitize the curriculum, there’s a whole catalog of books you can digitize,” he said. “Once you digitize them, you can’t just sell them in Ghana or Kenya — you have a global market. So this is the first time African culture can be exported seamlessly, globally. That has an enormous impact on the potential of Africa over time.”

*Culled from CNN

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Beyond The Pitch: Insight Into The Lives of Former African Football Stars
May 12, 2012 | 0 Comments

By Zelifac Asong

Remember the world cup in 1974 and that record 9-0 bashing of the Zaire now Democratic Republic of Congo from the then Republic of Yugoslavia or the time when African countries were rated the under dogs at major international tournaments? Remember the time when there was no African name listed amongst the global stars of the game of football or when only a handful of professional players were able to ply their trade as professionals in the hugely mediatised and competitive European scene? Well football has taking the lead in the transformation of Africa. Africa is yet to win the world cup but African countries are today dreaded and Africans rank amongst the best talents in the world today. Hard to know of any soccer adept in the world today who does not know the Cameroonian Samuel Eto’o Fils or the Ivorian Didier Drogba.  These two and many others from Africa competing with the best around the world today owe their fame in part to the exploits of their illustrious elders like Roger Milla,Thomas Nkono and Francois Omam Biyick of Cameroon, Stephen Keshi of Nigeria, Kalusha Bwalya of Zambia, Abedi Pele of Ghana, George Weah of Liberia and many others. So what became of these glorious pace setters once off the pitch? The article takes a look at some of the activities of the old stars.

Talk about African football stars and one of the first names that comes to mind will be Roger Milla of Cameroon. The old lion mesmerized the world not only with his goals but with the dazzling dance in celebration at the 1990 world cup in Italy. Called from retirement, Roger Milla ended the tournament with four goals which saw an African side reach the quarter finals for the first time. He starred in a coca cola advertisement for the 2010 world cup as the originator or dancing when celebrating a goal. Roger Milla is today a Roving Ambassador in Cameroon appointed by President Paul Biya.He is an honorary member of the International Football Federation FIFA Executive body. He is also honorary President of the Cameroon football Federation and runs an NGO which helps to cater for the interest of retired footballers in Cameroon. Where there is near unanimity on his talents on the pitch, the same does not hold true for his off the pitch contribution trailed with layers of controversy. Not the most eloquent of speakers, he is constantly at logger heads with the football authorities in Cameroon. He has been vocal, sometimes too vocal of the management of football in the country and has been a thorn in the flesh of foreign coaches from Pierre Lechantre, to Winfried Schaffer, Otto Pfister and Denis Lavagne.

At the Seoul Olympic games of 1996, Zambia walloped Italy 4-1. It was a first of its kind victory especially in terms of goal margin for an African side over a European country. The main architect of this victory was Kalusha Bwalya. Lucky to escape the plane crash that decimated the Zambian National Team in 1994, Kalusha Bwalya is today the President of the Zambian Football Federation. After making Zambia a respectable football nation on the continent as a player, Bwalya continues to lead with brio as under his tenure as President of the football Federation, Zambia today boasts of its first continental title. It was an emotional sight when Zambia lifted the African Nations cup this year co-hosted by Gabon and Equatorial Guinea. With the finals played in Libreville Gabon, the victory was a befitting tribute to Bwalya’s team mates who died in the 1994 plane crash, coincidentally over the coast of Gabon. Zambia Football Association President Kalusha Bwalya basking in Glory after his country won the Gabon/Equatorial Guinea 2012 Nations CupBwalya is also a standing Committee member of the Confederation of African Football as well as the world governing body FIFA.

Big boss Stephen Keshi was a dreaded defender in his days as a player. The former Super Eagles of Nigeria Defender plied his trade amongst others with Belgian and European giants Anderlecht. As a coach, he earned further acumen when he qualified little fancied Togo for the 2006 world cup. The exploit however had a bitter ending as the Togolese fired him and brought in the German Otto Pfister to take the country to the world cup. The outing was a fiasco but many believed that with Keshi still at the helm, the Togolese will have had a better tournament. Keshi went on to coach Mali and qualified them for the 2000 Nations cup. He is today the coach of the Super Eagles of Nigeria where he is quietly working on a revolution with local talents getting the kind of chance that has been systematically denied them under previous coaches who relied solely on foreign based players.

Abedi Pele the emblematic Ghanaian footballer who was the first African to win the champions league trophy in Europe with French elite side Marseille today runs his own foot ball club. The club called Nania .F.C is designed with future hopes of nurturing the young talent to augment the fledging league of the country. Not long ago it was embroiled in a promotion play off –bribery scandal for which he was found guilty by the football association of Ghana. The allegations stemmed from a 31-0 victory of Nania Fc over Okwawu United. The guilty verdict attracted fines and suspensions for Abedi and others but were quashed by the Appeals Committee following irregularities in the initial judgements. The scandal aside, Ayew commands great respect across Africa for a career emulated by many. Africans were full of pride to see him shine in the Marseille side of Papin, Chris Waddle, Mozer, Boli; etc which was the best in Europe in the early 90s.In appreciation of his devout services to the country, the Ghanaian government awarded him the country’s highest honour the Order of the Volta. The first Ghanaian sportsman to be so honoured.

Abedi Pele in glasses presenting the BBC African Footballer of the Year Award to his son Andre.

Abedi Pele in glasses presenting the BBC African Footballer of the Year Award to his son Andre.

Nominated in 2001 to serve as Chairman of the football association .He later on passed on the opportunity to a more experienced person so as to gain some more experience he says. He is a member of FIFA’s football committee and of the players status committees of FIFA and CAF. The South African football Association had him as a spokesperson during its bid to host the 2006 world cup.

George Weah remains the first and only African till date to be named as FIFA World Footballer of the year in 1995.At the pinnacle of his career, King George starring for French side Paris St Germain was one of the most feared attackers on the planet. Weah who later starred for Italian giants Milan AC was a tremendous source of succor for his compatriots caught in the viciousness of a civil war. He ran unsuccessfully for Presidential elections in 2005 and lost to Ellen Johnson in the second round. Perhaps buoyed by the critique from some that he was not sufficiently educated, Weah went back to school and earned college degrees in the USA. In the 2011 elections, he ran for Vice President on Winston Tubman’s ticket. Watch out for Mr. George when he makes a third run when Ellen Johnson ends her last term in the next couple of years.

It will not be a surprise if Mister George becomes President of Liberia someday

It will not be a surprise if Mister George becomes President of Liberia someday

He just might be the first former footballer to become a Spresident. Weah has been known to be heavily involved in humanitarian courses and is UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador.

In 1992, Ivory Coast won the Nations cup hosted by Senegal. At the time, the country was a strong and prosperous country free from the ethnic cleavages and sinister politics that later plunge it into civil war. The man who had the honour of lifting the trophy for the Ivoirians was Gadji Celi Alain. Today a household name in music, many forget that before music, Gadji was a soccer star. His compatriot Francois Zahoui is today the coach of the Ivory Coast National Team. At the recent Gabon/Equatorial Guinea 2012 Nations Cup, the Zahoui led Ivorian National Team emerged runners up in what was considered a very disappointing outing .

Arguably the greatest goalkeeper Africa has ever produced; Thomas Nkono remains a reference for many in the continent and beyond. Juventus and Italian National Team Goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, also a goalkeeper, declared he decided to play in that position after seeing Nkono’s performances at the 1990 World Cup. In addition, he named his son Thomas in the Cameroonian’s honour. Nkono has had stints serving as Goalkeeper Trainer for the Cameroon National Team and was at some point Assistant Coach.

Arguably Africa's greatest goalkeeper, Nkono remains inspirational to many

Arguably Africa's greatest goalkeeper, Nkono remains inspirational to many

He continues to be associated with Espanyol Barcelone of Spain, a side where he spent the bulk of his professional playing career.

Many other stars who graced the game in Africa have served or still serve as coaches, Christian Chukwu, Austin Eguavon, and Daniel Amokachi of Nigeria. François Oman Biyick of Cameroon whose header brought the Argentina of the legendary Diego Maradona back to planet earth at the opening game of the 1990 world cup was until last year the Assistant coach of Cameroon. The stint did not go so well as for the first time in recent memory, the Lions failed to make it to the Nations Cup.

It was not always easy for the African stars of yesteryears .Serious challenges were faced from racial barriers, to cultural differences and the general believe that African footballers could not be as good as the Europeans or South Americans for instance. These factors ultimately impacted on wages earned. Today, Eto’0 Fils is the highest paid footballer in the world. It is heartwarming as well to see that the same zeal with which some of them defended the colours of the continent is been emulated by their sons. Andre Ayew the son of Abedi Pele was instrumental in Ghana’s Quarter Final run at the 2010 world cup in South Africa. At the 2012 Nations Cup, he and his brother Jordan were part of the Ghana National team that made it to the last four. In a rare twist of history, both Andre and Jordan play for French side Marseille, the club which their father excelled in the 90s. In Gabon, Pierre Aubame Yaya has about three sons who have earned calls to the National Team. One of them Aubameyang was a major revelation at the recent Nations cup.

These monuments still have so much to contribute to the game and do not only need to be revered but also given the opportunities to be of share their knowledge and experience. Most of the top clubs in Europe are coached or managed by those who made the game what it is .From Platini who heads the Federation to Rummenige heading Bayern ,Blanc coaching France, Guardiola until recently serving as Coach of Bayern etc, . Without necessarily copying everything wholesale, even off the pitch African stars must be given the opportunity to continue to be of service to the continent. How about Kalusha Bwalya running CAF someday, how about Bell Joseph Antoine serving as Coach of Cameroon? Lucas Radebe serving as a club President in South Africa? If Africa is a power house in the world today, it is thanks to them and perhaps at the local level, their expertise will only help lift the continent to even greater heights.

Hard to wrap this piece without a word on the passing of two monuments within a week, Rashidi Yekini of Nigeria and Jules Francois Bocande of Senegal.

Yekini in green and Bocande will be fondly remembered by football fans

Yekini in green and Bocande will be fondly remembered by football fans

Both were players of the same generation and were amongst the best in their days with incredible goal scoring prowess.

At the 1994 world cup in USA, Yekini became the first player to score a goal for Nigeria at that level. There may be gone but the glorious contributions towards the international image of African football would remain a lasting legacy.

 

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