Still No Change

23/11/2009

There’s still no news out on any much-needed price reduction of the new Bafana Bafana jersey, the one the team will be sporting at the World Cup. For some reason those in charge, presumably at Adidas, have fixed the price of the replica jersey at between R1200 and R1500. With cheaper alternates available.

 

I’m sure they assumed we’d all be rushing to the stores to buy our new jersey in support of our country at the World Cup, and with this once in a lifetime chance, an African World Cup, we’d pay anything. What they failed to realise, presumably because they have never actually been to South Africa, is that 99% of South Africans can’t afford that price, and those that can would be fools to actual pay R1500 for a football jersey.

 

We all want to support our country in what will be its biggest ever sporting event – but not at any cost. Until the price is dropped, and radically not just fractionally, I’d urge all South Africans to go out and buy a Protea’s cricket shirt or a Springbok rugby jersey, both symbols of support for our country, and both having the Protea badge on them without the price doubling. Another option would be to choose another African teams jersey to wear, since we should all be supporting all the African qualifiers and not just our own Bafana. I’d recommend the Cameroon or Ivory coast jerseys, with the Cameroon away kit being particularly appealing. Unlike our new jersey you should be able to find these other teams, and just about every other team competing in international football, jersey’s for around about R600.

Don’t pay R1200 -R1500 for a jersey that the rest of our country can’t afford. It’s insulting to all of us and should not be supported. We must all get behind Bafana, but wearing their jersey is not the only way to show your support. Force Adidas to drop the price by not buying – it’s the right thing to do.

 

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Les Bleus Les Cheats

19/11/2009

France striker, and record goal scorer, Thierry Henry broke Irish hearts and “handed” favourites France a place in next years World Cup in South Africa. Henry, one of the most respected footballers in the world, added a new notch to his impressive resume, which now reads – Arsenal legend and record goal scorer, France legend and record goal scorer, cheat.

 

On a night when the former world champions were out played and out worked by a spirited Irish team, when France’s world class stars where made to look ordinary, a moment of controversy stole the limelight from what should have been one of Irelands greatest sporting nights.

 

Ireland’s world cup qualifying campaign, in which they’ve punched way above their weight, came to an end in the most bitter of circumstances. Drawn in a group they weren’t expected to get through, a group containing World Cup holders Italy, a Bulgarian team that much was expected of, always improving Montenegro and Georgia, and Cyprus, who have dented Irelands hopes in previous qualification campaigns, the Irish not only finished second, behind Italy, but remained unbeaten in doing so. 2nd place meant a playoff with one of the other 2nd placed teams.

 

They were dealt a blow when FIFA decided in the last week of qualification to change the rules and seed the playoff draw to ensure that bigger teams that were expected to top their groups but failed to do so, teams like France, Portugal, Greece, Russia and at one stage Germany, had a better chance of getting through to South Africa 2010. So the elation of finishing 2nd was quickly replaced by bitter taste shared by the other small teams to get through, Bosnia, Slovakia and Ukraine.

 

Ireland were always going to have to so things the hard way and a draw against France was predicted by most Irish fans and players. To make matters worse they were the only small team to be drawn away in the 2nd leg. This means that should a game go to extra time it would mean the home team in the return leg getting a significant advantage.

 

Ireland were unlucky not to come away with a draw in Dublin with Anelka’s deflected goal going in off the post and giving France a goal lead to take to Paris. In France last night Ireland put in a superb performance bossing their more illustrious hosts and after levelling the tie through captain Robbie Keane, they were unlucky not to finish France off with O’Shea, Duff and Keane having chances to add to the score. On last nights performance a heavy Ireland win would not have been unjust. France had their young keeper, Hugo Lloris, to thank for keeping their hopes alive.

 

With the score after 90 minutes 1-0 to the Irish the game went to extra time. Just as in the prevailing 90 minutes France did little to suggest they’d trouble Given in the Irish goal. With the first half of extra time nearing an end France were awarded a freekick just inside the Irish half. As the ball was played two French players were offside. The linesman flag stayed down. The ball found it’s way to Henry who stuck a hand out to control the ball and then to ensure it didn’t go out he handled it again before playing it to Gallas to nod the ball in to the Irish net with Given and the Irish players appealing for hand ball. The goal was awarded. In a moment Henry’s reputation was tarnished and Irish hearts were shattered. And FIFA rejoiced.

 

Henry has admitted he handled the ball, though he has said it is up to the ref to spot it and not him to basically not cheat. It’s all well an good for players to talk about fair play, and federations such as FIFA to preach it, but it has to be done on the field and not just given lip service. The fact is that with a place at the World Cup up for grabs Henry, and most other players, would have cheated to get their team through. It’s up to the ref and linesman to stop them, as tragic as that is. And the officials did not spot the two players offside, or Henry catching the ball, controlling it with his hand, and setting up the goal. The ref told the Irish players he is 100% sure it was not a hand ball. If that’s the case then he must have been in a good position to see it. Which makes him a liar. And a FIFA puppet.

 

Had Ireland gone out to a legitimate goal, or on penalties, they would have been disappointed, but not so let down and bitter. Remember when Paolo Di Canio stopped play from a goal scoring position because an opponent was hurt? Remember when Arsenal replayed a game against Sheffield United because they scored a goal that was well within the rules but not the spirit of fair play? Henry could have joined the small band of fair play purveyors but made a choice that he must be called out on.

 

The match should be replayed so that a fair result is obtained but there is no chance of that happening. FIFA wanted France to go through and the officials ensured that happened. The game, just like life, is unfair and justice is a hope and not a given. Given that this is a sport, subject to control and scrutiny more so than life, we should expect more. The right thing would be for the game to be replayed, but since FIFA won’t risk France missing out, something their performance deserved, they won’t sanction a replay. They could ban Henry from the World Cup, sending out a message against cheating and doing more than talking about fair play. Again, this won’t happen.

 

Ten years ago, in a playoff match between Ireland and Belgium, Belgium were awarded a throw that was clearly an Irish throw and scored directly from that play, knocking Ireland out. After last nights happenings it seems that Irish luck is merely a myth. The heroes from the Irish team last night had their World Cup dreams shattered by pure and simple cheating. The likes of Given, Kilbane, Keane and Duff won’t in all likely hood have another shot at a World Cup. Where’s the justice? Henry should be ashamed of what happened but Blatter, Plattini and co will be smiling as Irish hearts bleed. Football is a game – fairness should be the least we expect.

 

pic from http://www.teamtalk.com


Santana’s Gone

20/10/2009

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Joel Santana has left and few tears will be shed. Depending on where you read it or watch it Santana was either sacked or resigned. Bafana fans will care little of which it was, just that he has final left, but the likely story is that if he wasn’t sacked then he resigned just before he was about to be fired. Bafana Bafana fans have had to put up with his ineptitude for 18 months and no finally, hopefully not too late, they have some relief.

Santana’s fans, there are very few of them, if any, point to the teams performance in the ConFed Cup, as evidence that the Brazilian was doing better then it seemed. That perhaps clouds the real slide that Bafana have endured under their now former coach. With so much attention now focused on the rapidly approaching World Cup many South Africans seem to have forgotten that Santana failed to get Bafana to qualify for the African Cup of Nations, the first time South Africa won’t be competing in the competition they won in 1996. With South Africa not needing to qualify for the World Cup, being hosts, they are desperately short of competitive matches and the AFCON would have been ideal as a pre World Cup warm up and competitive gauge. Instead Bafana search for friendly games with whoever is available.

Not only have Bafana lost 8 of their last 9 games, but they haven’t looked like winning any either. Santana said that he didn’t need to win friendly games. He missed the point. Friendly matches were all Bafana had to gauge where they were and how far they needed to go. They should have all be treated as much win competitive games. Maybe he felt that he didn’t need to win them but Bafana and the country needed to. Confidence by the fans has slipped and with defeat after defeat the players must be short of confidence too, no matter what they may say. Yes they were friendly games, but make no mistake; they needed to be treated as much more.

While I take little stock in the FIFA World Rankings, after last weeks embarrassing submission of them, for those who do look to them Bafana have slipped to 85th, their lowest ever ranking, and perhaps the obvious picture of where South Africa find themselves thanks to Santana’s tenure.

SAFA acted too slowly in not rectifying their failure in appointing Santana. The coach’s reluctance to learn English, meaning he could not communicate with his players, staff, his bosses or the media, should have been their first clue that things were not going to end well. The media suggests that the new man will be named on Friday, meaning SAFA are either acting quickly or have done so already. Either way, the new man will breathe fresh air into the flagging sails of the team and remove complacent wood from the sinking ship. Three men are said to be on SAFA’s list, Carlos Alberto Parreira, the man who was replaced by Santana, the front runner, and local coaches Gavin Hunt and Gordan Ingusend the others.

Should Carlos Alberto be reinstated, which seems the most likely, he will have the advantage of having been in the job before, with the World Cup rapidly approaching, and this will be an advantage. As for Hunt and Ingusend, while neither has international experience, both have enjoyed domestic success and as such have a proven understanding of South African football and players. If Carlos Alberto is not given the job then local is definitely better.

Bafana needs to get past the Santana era and get the country behind them for the World Cup. There’s less than 250 days until the World Cup – the time is now. There are no excuses left – Bafana must deliver now. The post Santana period should be interesting.


Playoff Draw

19/10/2009

The draw for the World Cup European qualification playoffs were made today in Zurich.

The four playoff games are: Ireland v France

Portugal v Bosnia Herzigivina

Greece v Ukraine

Russia v Slovenia

The ties are to be played on the 14th of November with the 2nd legs on the 18th


Rankings That Mean Nothing

18/10/2009

The latest FIFA world rankings were released in the last few days, coinciding with the end of the group stages of World Cup qualification, and to say that these rankings are hard to fathom is perhaps giving FIFA too much credit. Obviously FIFA are putting certain teams where they would like to see them and simply drawing the rest from a hat.

FIFA have shot themselves in the foot twice in a matter of weeks, first by announcing that they were to seed teams for the European playoffs, and now with the latest world rankings. The decision to seed teams for the playoffs, a decision taken with 2 games left in the qualification groups, was one motivated by greed, one taken to ensure that Portugal and France had an easy path as possible the World Cup once it became clear that out right qualification was out of their reach. So seeding the teams was a way to prevent Portugal and France meeting each other, or Greece and Russia, something that may have happened in an open draw, which was the draw that should have happened. FIFA made sure that didn’t happen.

So we move on to the latest FIFA rankings. The rankings were foremost to ensure that Portugal, France, Greece and Russia were the top seeded teams in the playoff draw, making a mockery of the hard work put in by Ireland, Bosnia, Slovenia and Ukraine, who all had to finish above teams seeded higher than them. Ireland made the playoffs from a group containing world champions Italy, Bulgaria and Montenegro, and did so unbeaten, a commendable effort. They were justifiably disgusted when FIFA decided to seed the draw, effectively shifting the goal posts. Bosnia Herzegovina is the surprise team in the draw, having qualified ahead of Belgium and Turkey and behind European champions Spain. So the little guys have been screwed by FIFA, who have spoon fed Portugal and France passage through to the World Cup. I’m sure I won’t be the only one rooting for the four 2nd seeded teams.

A look at the latest rankings will highlight just how meaningless they are. Yes, Brazil, Spain, Holland and Italy lead the way – there’s nothing wrong with that. Holland was the first European team to qualify for the World Cup and have been in great form in the last 18 months. Brazil, Spain and Italy are the reigning ConFed, European and World Champions. It would be hard for FIFA not to have them at the top, but their self serving ambitions means they had to be up there regardless of their titles. Argentina have been hugely disappointing in South American qualification and just squeaked through in the final game, taking the 4th and final automatic place. Yet they have moved up two places to 5th? Croatia failed to qualify finishing 3rd behind England and the Ukraine, yet they’ve moved up to 8th? France were expected to top their group but made hard work of qualification before eventually finishing 2nd and settling for a place in the playoffs – and they’ve moved up. Portugal have struggled the most from the big teams and were the 1st seeds in their group but were lucky to eventually finish 2nd and making the playoffs, having looked like missing out all together for much of the last 18 months, with terrible form and disappointing results. But not only have Portugal moved up but they have somehow managed to jump 7 places! The Czech Republic failed to even make the playoffs yet they’ve managed to move up the rankings. The biggest mystification is how Denmark, who finished top of a Portugal’s group, a group that also contained Sweden, and so managed automatic qualification, have dropped 11 places! Serbia, who topped Frances group, finds themselves down 7 places.

Africa and South America are not immune to FIFA’s magic hat and thumb sucking either. We’ve already mentioned Argentina’s rise, and in Africa Ghana were the first African team to qualify and have been hugely impressive in doing so. Guess what? Ghana has dropped 6 places to 38.

They say a league table never lies, and perhaps that’s true, but clearly a ranking table will always bring about discussion and arguments, but the merit of FIFA’s world rankings must be cast in serious doubt. Has there ever been a ranking that seems as meaningless and self serving?

to see the full rankings go to http://www.fifa.com/worldfootball/ranking/lastranking/gender=m/fullranking.html


This is Africa’s World Cup – Not Santana’s

12/10/2009

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There’s been enough said and written about getting behind our national team despite poor recent results. Not withstanding a brave showing against some of the worlds best during the Confederations Cup, Bafana Bafana’s “recent” poor form stretches years and is not a new development that some suggest. With less than 250 days left till the opening match of our World Cup the time is fast approaching, if we haven’t already past it, where decisions have to be made regarding Joel Santana. Love him or hate him at some point the entire country needs to put their feelings aside and collectively get behind Bafana Bafana. They need it and so do we.

Santana says he has a blue print for success and that Bafana Bafana are on course to get past the group stage, something that no host nation has failed to do and must be the least of our expectations, but I feel that he fails to see a fundamental point that he has not entered into his blue print – this World Cup is bigger then him. All World Cups are big events, the most important in the sport at any time, but this World Cup is the biggest of all time, because it’s Africa’s World Cup.

For so long Africa has been ignored and looked down upon by the football world, and now we have a chance to make up for the past indifference and show the world that we belong, that we should be taken seriously, that there is nothing that Europe, the America’s and Asia can do that we can’t. This won’t be a good, or even a great, World Cup, but will be the best World Cup. Not just the best that Africa can produce but the best the world has. In order for it to be just that we need a strong showing from our national time. For this to happen we don’t just need a well prepared, conditioned, and tactically aware team, but our best team. With all of our best players.

Here is where Santana may be missing the point. If this were any other team at any other time we’d have to agree with any choices he made for whatever reason. He is the coach and it is his team. But this is not any team at any moment in time; this is the host country in Africa’s World Cup. For reasons that are open to more conjecture than fact Nasief Morris and Benni McCarthy both seem to not be in Santana’s plans. Whatever has gone on behind the scenes needs to be sorted out quickly to bring these two back into the fold. Morris has been in superb form in La Liga but apparently being at the top of your game in one of the best leagues in the world is not good enough for Santana. Booth and Mokoena were solid in the ConFed Cup but Morris would walk into this team, and equally as important, depth is needed in the Bafana Squad. A top class player of Morris ability has got to be brought back into the team and Santana needs to take steps to make this happen sooner rather than later. The situation with Benni is not as clear cut. Benni does not have the best of reputations in South Africa because of his constant withdrawal from Bafana squads, seemingly only making himself available when he feels like playing. That is how the story has come across in South Africa and perhaps it is unfair on Benni, with the real reasons not coming out. An argument has been made of the long journeys that African players in Europe need to make in order to play in matches for their countries, and one can sympathise with Benni on his lack of enthusiasm in this regard, with the travelling taking a lot out of him physically and mentally and putting his club position for the following weekend in jeopardy. But the likes of Drogba and Essien don’t shy away from the responsibility of representing their countries, likewise the South American players. However as I have said before this World Cup is bigger than all of us and ill feelings have to be put aside for the best of the country and Africa, and this means getting Bafana Bafana past the group stages. What the past few games, stretching back to the ConFed Cup performances have shown is that Bafana can compete with the best in the world but lack the cutting edge in front of goal. The difference between Bafana and Spain, Brazil, Germany and Ireland has been chances taken. This was no more evident than against Ireland where Bafana enjoyed the majority of possession but failed to create any real chances. When these chances come they need to be taken. Bafana’s record goal scorer, Benni, is the man they need in the penalty area. Mphela and Parker have shown promise but they can not carry the burden of an entire continent on their shoulders. They need support. Benni needs to be recalled and needs to get fit and in shape to help his country out. Santana needs to swallow his pride for the betterment of the team, and to save his job. A Bafana team with a talented young keeper in Kune, a solid centre back pairing of Mokoena, Morris and Booth when needed, two stylish full backs in Gaxa and Masilela, controlled by a very exiting midfield of Pienaar, Modise and holding men like Mhlongo, Dikgacoi and Sibaya, creating chances for Benni, Parker and Mphela, is one that can do South Africa proud. They still have Tshabalala, van Heerden and others to call upon too. This Bafana squad is one that should be expected to do better than six loses in a row that should have been Santana’s wake up call. And they need to.

So we all need to get behind Bafana Bafana and ensure that they have our support and belief to carry them forward. Santana needs to come to the party to make us believe. This World Cup is the most important in football history and we need to ensure that Africa gets the respect and dignity that we deserve. For this we also need to support our African brothers who will be competing, be it Cameroon, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt or Nigeria. No African country has made the semi finals of a World Cup. This time, on African soil we need Africa to be represented as best they can and hope that a strong showing gets more than the usual one team through to the next round. An African team in the semi finals or finals would be fitting for this World Cup. Let’s hope it’s Bafana Bafana, but if not, we’ll support any of the African teams that make it through. They need our faith and we need theirs.

Vote For Me


FIFA LACKING MORALS

08/10/2009

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As we enter the final week of World Cup qualification in Europe FIFA have decided to seed the teams for next weeks play off draw. Just to be clear, the World Cup qualifiers began 18 months ago and with 180 minutes of play left FIFA have changed things. Why this disgusting, and yes that is the right word, change? Simply – FIFA have misplaced there morals.

The understanding 18 months ago was that the 9 group winners in Europe would be on their way to South Africa and the best 8 runners up, one would miss out, would compete in a play off for the remaining 4 places. Those 8 teams would be part of an open draw, meaning they all go into a pot, and any one can be drawn against anyone. Fair, right? But in the 18 months since the qualifying began things have not worked out quite as FIFA had hoped.

Three teams have sealed their places at next years World Cup with England, Spain and Holland giving themselves games to spare and topping their groups comfortably. Of the rest, Italy, the current holders, need a point from their two games to qualify, and Germany, Denmark, Switzerland, Slovakia and Serbia sit top of their respective groups. The problem that FIFA has with this is France, Portugal and Greece haven’t read the scripts they were issued and don’t top their groups. In fact Portugal is 3rd in their group, 2 points behind 2nd placed Sweden.

What FIFA are hoping is that France, Portugal and Greece all manage to sneak into the play offs and then, because of the new seeding system, they won’t be drawn against each other, giving them an easier passage through. The seeds will be based on the FIFA rankings, with the top 4 of the 8 in one pot, and the bottom 4 in the next. FIFA are looking out for the big boys.

The likes of Ireland, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Slovenia have just effectively been punched in the gut by FIFA. The fairness has been taken out of the draw and the odds stacked very heavily in favour of the likes of France. It must be remembered that the initial group draws were based on FIFA rankings and thus seeding. This means that France, Portugal and Greece were given favourable draws and were expected to top their groups. Ireland, Bosnia and Slovenia, and Latvia, who still have a chance of dropping Greece out of the playoff draw, have had to overcome difficult odds to get to within touching distance of the playoffs. To have FIFA make this change so late in the game is truly disgusting.

There is already a chance that Argentina may not make it to South Africa, and so Lio Messi may not be at FIFA’s show piece event. With Portugal hoping to sneak into the playoffs after a disappointing qualification performance FIFA could not take the chance of Christiano Ronaldo not being in South Africa. The best players, the best teams all mean higher ratings and viewers for the World Cup, which means more money for FIFA. And those who put money into the game to make money from the game, the sponsors, need to have their players on board too.

FIFA’s morally blurred vision is not, as they claim, for the good of the game. Disgusting is not too strong a word.