Saturday, 20 December 2014

WAS THE AFCON 2015 DRAW FIXED? Hosts Equatorial Guinea couldn't be any luckier. South Africa get the Group of Death. STATISTICALLY IMPROBABLE!

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I SPENT yesterday going through the AFCON 2015 draw, held amid much hoopla in Malaba on December 3. Going on statistics alone, looking at how the balls came out of the pots, I can only conclude the whole thing was FIXED.

Look, I know Equatorial Guinea came to the rescue when Morocco insisted they could not host the tournament due to the Ebola outbreak – though the Moroccans did successfully hold the World Club Cup this month.

So the emergency hosts deserve some credit, despite being suspended for fielding ineligible players during qualifying. Thing is, we all know Equatorial Guinea is one of the most corrupt countries in the world, with a huge oil-driven economy which utterly fails to look after the ordinary folk.

Some statistical back up: Equatorial Guinea is the richest nation per capita in Africa since oil was “discovered” in 1995, but less than half of the population has access to clean drinking water and 20% of their children die before reaching five.

That’s why this tiny nation was able to step in and host the event at such short notice. If Africa's longest-serving leader President Theodoro Obiang, who has ruled for 35 years (that’s longer than Robert Mugabe), wants something, he gets it. Whether his people are concerned about contagious diseases or not.

When he took power in 1979 he had Macias Nguema, the previous president, executed. And with a personal fortune of $600m thanks to contributions from the likes of petro-giant Exxon, it was hardly surprising CAF decided to lift the nation’s suspension and move AFCON to his fiefdom, where Obiang has survived 12 coup attempts.

But the nation capable of fielding a team of players ALL born in foreign nations surely have enough advantages at AFCON when it kicks off on January 15. They should have been ready to hold a fair draw, having not had to play qualifiers due to suspension.

Even the most cursory analysis of how the cookie crumbled suggests collusion. And when you factor in the current FIFA rankings and add them up, the inequality of the “random” draw is staggering. STATISTICALLY IMPROBABLE is the best word I can think of.

My interest here is this: while Equatorial Guinea were enjoying all the luck of the draw, South Africa – after topping Group A in qualifying and putting out the reigning champions Nigeria – were handed all the BAD LUCK in the world, having refused to risk hosting the tournament themselves.

Now that can’t be just luck. The Francophile nations and CAF president Issa Hayatou resent us enough already but look at those pots: in every instance, Equatorial Guinea got the weakest team, South Africa the toughest.

Sure, our hosts occupy a nation two thousand square kilometres smaller than Lesotho, but they don’t deserve a crooked helping hand from Hayatou and his cohorts, so firmly entrenched at CAF. Despite his nation being suspended and in footballing chaos at times, the 68-year-old Cameroonian has been in charge of African football since 1988, before Nelson Mandela was released. 26 years is a helluva long time in football, just ask Sepp Blatter.

Now look at those seeding “pots”. As hosts, Equatorial Guinea were put in Pot 1 for the top-seeded teams. But that’s misleading. Algeria (or Little France as they are now known, with most stars born and coached in France) are the top side in Africa right now, but found themselves in Pot 2. Ghana were the ones to avoid in Pot 1.

And yes, South Africa got Ghana, rather than the less intimidating 2012 champions Zambia or Burkina Faso. For some inexplicable reason, Burkina Faso found themselves in the same group as the hosts, despite being in the same pot.

In Pot 2, South Africa’s Group C were lumbered with the team everyone was hoping to avoid, Algeria while Group A got NONE of those dangerous nations like Ivory Coast, Mali or Tunisia.

Instead, Equatorial Guinea got Gabon from South Africa’s Pot 3 while unbeaten Bafana Bafana were landed with the most dangerous nation in Pot 4, Senegal.

Confused? We all were. Suffice to say Equatorial Guinea’s STRONGEST opponents are Congo, ranked 62 in the world by FIFA right now. South Africa’s WEAKEST opponents are Senegal, ranked 41 in the world and responsible for the qualifying failure of seven-time winners Egypt in qualifying.

Statistically improbable. That’s the phrase we’ll have to use. It would have been IMPOSSIBLE for Equatorial Guinea to have had an easier group. South Africa’s GROUP OF DEATH could not have been any harder.

Now I remember during the World Cup in 2010 when Argentina’s legendary Diego Maradona alleged that “warmed balls” were used in some draws to ensure the big bosses got the groups and fixtures they wanted. I always wondered if it was possible to conjure up a fixed draw in the glare of the television cameras. I can think of no other explanation for the utter improbability of this particular set of groupings.

I warned before the draw that Bafana Bafana, disliked both on and off the field in the north of the continent, would get the thin end of the wedge. Below you can see just how thin that wedge is.

By adding the four FIFA rankings of each of the nations in each group, it’s possible to see just how strong they are. The higher the score, the easier the group. The totals are self-evident.  

Equatorial Guinea’s Group A totals 325. That’s TWICE as much as the Group of Death. And way more than Group B or Group D. See for yourself:

Equatorial Guinea 125
Burkina Faso 71
Gabon 67
Congo 62
TOTAL: 325

Zambia 78
Tunisia 31
Cape Verde 33
DR Congo 60
TOTAL: 202

Ghana 35
Algeria 15
South Africa 57
Senegal 41
TOTAL: 148

Ivory Coast 25
Mali 58
Cameroon 40
Guinea 55
TOTAL: 178

I’ve seen many draws in my life-time. And not just in football. Often the home team or the favoured association find themselves in a good position. But this draw is a step too far for me. Clearly, something is amiss.

Still, having been quoted R145,000 to join Bafana for all their games in Equatorial Guinea in January, it’s unlikely I’ll be remonstrating personally with Presidents Obiang or Hayatou. Just as well I guess.

Good luck Shakes Mashaba. As I said in my last entry, you may need it.

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