Monday, 31 October 2011

Global piracy in turmoil as Buccaneers ask: Who is this swashbuckling Tokela Rantie?

A desperately-needed late winner for Orlando Pirates against Jomo Cosmos at a delirious Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium on Sunday has got Buccaneers fans scratching their heads. Just who is this super-sub Tokela Wayne Rantie they were asking from Port Elizabeth to Soweto.

Making just his second appearance, the 21-year-old looked compact, dangerous – and dare we say it – not unlike a young Benni McCarthy as he snatched all three points off Jomo’s rock bottom Ezenkosi.

Ironically the young man from Parys in the Orange Free State – the Afrikaans version of Paris on the banks of the Vaal has its own mini-Eiffel Tower but little in the way of footballing history - may yet get to play alongside the 33-year-old McCarthy, currently hamstrung and out of the Pirates line-up.

But for those mystified by the maturity of Rantie’s 12-minute cameo as a substitute on Sunday, there is a history, suggesting the real possibility that Julio Leal may have unearthed a real nugget. The manner of his winner – cool control on a long ball from captain Lucky Lekgwathi, easing past the defender to ram the ball beyond bemused Cosmos goalkeeper Avril Phali – suggests there’s plenty more to come.

After his heroics which led to wild celebrations from under-pressure Brazilian boss Leal, the “unknown Buccaneer” grinned: “I really don’t have much to say! I was just sitting on the bench, analysing the weaknesses of their defence, when the boss put me on.

“I came on when there was a lot of pressure. It was 1-1 and could’ve gone either way. It was a matter of taking that information I had gathered and then putting it in to practice, which I did.”

Rantie has played for Ferroviario de Beira and Clube Desporto de Maxaquene (there’s video of him in action at in Mozambique and spent time with Swedish club IFK Hässleholm before arriving at Orlando on a season-long loan after scoring twice for the Stars of Africa Academy in a 3-2 friendly defeat against the Buccaneers.

Farouk Khan, the man behind the Stars of Africa outfit which discovered Rantie and re-established his credentials after he left Sweden following work permit problems, says: "Rantie will come in handy for Pirates when it comes to scoring goals, Tokelo is a great player and I think he will also add value to the Under-23 national side and Bafana Bafana when they see him."

Rantie may lack the reputation and hairstyle offered by Bongani Ndulula and the more established Pirates strikers but come Wednesday night’s Premier League clash and the Telkom Knock-Out quarter-final three days later – both against the reviving Moroka Swallows - he may just get the chance to prove his worth with McCarthy and Thulasizwe Mbuyane both doubtful.

For now though, he lives with the memory of that first Pirates strike: “It still feels like a dream. I don’t know how to explain it. Just amazing.”

Friday, 28 October 2011

Kaizer steps in to save his Chiefs: when saying sorry is simply the right thing to do

Kaizer Motaung proved on Thursday that he is as sharp off the field at 67 as he was on it, when he was tearing American defences apart 40 years ago.
Affectionately known as “Tshintsha Guluva” for his ability to confound the opposition, the founder and father of Kaizer Chiefs came out with a humble apology for his son Bobby’s behaviour with impeccable timing – about an hour after I called for South Africa’s greatest footballing icon to do exactly that on Twitter and Facebook (see
While so many of the South African newspapers preferred to focus on the Currie Cup and cyling (The Star in particular!), the captaincy saga at the Amakhosi has been the real sporting story of the week. And in one brave statement, Kaizer has eased the fears of an estimated 14 million Amakhosi with these words: “I would like to convey, with great humility, my heartfelt regret and unreserved apologies at the offence these comments have caused to many of our supporters; people who are at the heart of Kaizer Chiefs.”
When I suggested football manager Bobby Motaung, Kaizer’s son, had upset the fans on Thursday, I was subject to personal abuse and anonymous phone calls – though there was also a significant groundswell of support for daring to reflect exactly how repugnant nepotism is, even in a family-run business.
Bobby, while shrugging off the storm over Jimmy Tau’s loss of the captain’s armband without conviction, said at his press conference: “As for those who dream that Bobby Motaung must step down, that Bobby Motaung must go, it is a dream! Bobby Motaung goes nowhere. I was not appointed by ANC or IFP. I did not apply for this job, I did not submit a CV. My father invested his life in this club, this is a family business. You must understand that. I will be here as long as this company exists.”
Such arrogance is simply unacceptable to the legions of Amakhosi fans who pay good money to watch their side and buy their gold-and-black replica shirts. As I said on Thursdsay: No fans means no club. That is the universal mantra of global football, no matter who runs the club or how much money is pumped in to it.
I would love to delve further into the email exchanges, the twitter twangles, the Facebook furore, the conflicts (total responses number 3,000 and rising as I write) which surrounded Thursday’s blog, which gained more hits than any of my stuff, even during the World Cup last year when I was launching a stout defence of South Africa’s ability to host a near-perfect tournament.
Suffice to say, 90 percent of the responses were positive. A cruel minority were unbelievably personal and abusive. Many called for a boycott of their beloved club, starting in Polokwane on Saturday night, when they face Platinum Stars for a second successive week after last Sunday’s dreadful 2-1 Telkom Knock-out defeat.
Kaizer Motaung has ensured that boycott will not go ahead. The Peter Mokabe stadium will be rocking. Chiefs will kick-off against the Dikwena at 8.15pm on Saturday night with Tinashe Nengomasha captaining the team while goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune, a good choice in my opinion, will take over the armband when he is fully recovered from a bout of pneumonia in a fortnight.
As always, the ageless Kaizer is one step ahead of the game. I believe his apology justifies everything I wrote on Thursday. It may even save Bobby Motaung’s job, though many are still calling for his head. But that isn’t the point. Below, lifted from the Kaizer Chiefs website, is the full text of the executive chairman’s statement.
Read it. Understand it. Kaizer Motaung may run a family business, but unlike his son, he recognises Kaizer Chiefs also belongs to the estimated 14 million Amakhosi fans within South Africa’s borders and beyond. Kaizer has given the club back to the people. End of.
The Executive Chairman’s Statement
Following the press conference yesterday when the team’s captaincy issue was addressed and at which the Football Manager made certain unfortunate comments, I would like to convey, with great humility, my heartfelt regret and unreserved apologies at the offence these comments have caused to many of our supporters; people who are at the heart of Kaizer Chiefs.
We are only here because of their support over the years and I would like to assure our supporters that we will never take their support for granted; we sincerely appreciate that Kaizer Chiefs’ success has been due to their unflinching support whether we have won or lost.
Like most teams we too have our challenges and because of our profile some of these challenges have to be addressed under the glare of the public eye. The emotive nature of the game of soccer means that, at times, comments are made in the heat of the moment and should be considered in that light. This is however not making light of certain comments which I consider are inappropriate.
We intend to do our utmost to honour the support we receive and I personally would like to reassure our supporters that my personal endeavour is to make them proud of being Kaizer Chiefs fans by winning and by conducting ourselves with grace and humility.
Mr. Kaizer Motaung, Executive Chairman

Thursday, 27 October 2011

The Great Amakhosi captaincy saga: Why Bobby Motaung should prepare his CV.

“Everything we do is in order. If there is a baby crying in the house, it does not mean there are issues between the father and the mother. The issue of the captain does not mean that there is a crisis at the club. This chapter must be closed.”

With those words, Bobby Motaung probably thought he was drawing the great Kaizer Chiefs captaincy saga to a graceful conclusion.

The Amakhosi’s “football manager” is deluded of course. But that’s what happens when you’re the son of the Amakhosi’s founder, when your sister Jessica runs the marketing side of the nation’s biggest club and your currently-injured brother Kaizer Junior – arguably a better cricketer than footballer in his youth - is on the physio’s couch waiting to return to the lead role.

In fact, if you’re a Motaung, it must be hard to keep a grip on reality 41 years after the heroic Kaizer returned from the United States and took South African football by storm.

That Kaizer Motaung is a footballing colossus is not in dispute. That Tshintsha Guluva (rough translation: Confounder of Defenders) was unearthed as a 16-year-old prodigy by Orlando Pirates at the tender age of 16 is fact. That former West Ham star Phil Woosnam spotted him playing in Zambia in 1968 and took him to Atlanta Chiefs where he became a US All Star is the stuff of South African soccer history.

The question is : can the 67-year-old entrust the running of the club he established in 1970 to his children and still count on the unquestioning support of an estimated 14 million Amakhosi ?

Two weeks ago, when Chiefs captain Jimmy Tau was reported to have resigned the captaincy, Bobby told Robert Marawa’s excellent Discovery Sports Centre show on Metro FM that there was no problem, Jimmy was still the captain, he had NOT had a row with coach Vladimir Vermezovic and that “everything is normal. There is no story here”.

After the listless Telkom Knockout defeat against Platinum Stars over the weekend, an under-pressure VV emerged to tell us Bafana Bafana goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune would be elevated to the captaincy.

But just last season, the 24-year-old Khune admitted: “I'm still young and certainly not ready to be a captain. I still need two more seasons or so before I can say I'm ready. Right now, I joke around with everyone from youngsters to senior players.

“Now can you imagine if I come to training and start dishing out instructions to the very same youngsters I was joking with? They will think I'm mad because I was joking with them a few seconds ago. So for the next two years I need to cut down on the joking and playful ways before I can say I'm ready to be a Chiefs captain,”

Months later, Khune is the new on-field leader of the Amakhosi. Backed by a gathering of “four captains” available to the Amakhosi. Tau’s name is not among them. Distrust, disbelief, dissonance reign supreme. The club appear to be running rough-shod over the truth, with their faithful millions left to guess the reality.

Just what happened to Tau? Why Khune? On Monday, Tinashe Nengomasha, the teak-tough Zimbabwean, was appointed captain. A mere 24 hours later, Khune was installed, though he did not feature in VV’s “four captains”: Kaizer Junior, George Lebese, Nengomasha and Tlou Molekwane.

Now I am reliably informed Nengomasha will “probably” captain Chiefs in the League game against Platinum Stars this weekend as Khune needs another two weeks to recover from an untimely bout of pneumonia.

The club said the Khune decision had been taken after consultations between VV, his technical team and club management. No mention was made of Khune’s admission that he was too young for the job for at least another two years. Nor of his current ailment.

Last season Chiefs, winners of 78 trophies in those incredible 41 years since the Kaizer from Orlando East came home, saw arch-rivals Pirates win an unprecedented treble. In pre-season, Pirates picked up the Carling Black Label Cup to further upset their Sowetan rivals, ironically on the back of a glaring Khune penalty shoot-out miss. Some say you can still see his spot-kick in orbit over Johannesburg.

This season Chiefs are already out of two cups and adrift in the title race, questions are rightly being asked.

So Bobby stepped up to the plate at the club’s high-tension press conference on Wednesday and told us Khune was the right choice, that everything was running fine, that there had never been any dispute with Tau. He told us: "We have deliberated on this issue and where the story came from. But it is normal to have internal issues and where a player might disagree. Jimmy is just one of the 27 players in the club and available to do duty when called upon by the coach. He is contracted to Kaizer Chiefs."

Then Bobby produced his trump card. His surname.

With these words he destroyed any scrap of credibility he had left: “As for those who dream that Bobby Motaung must step down, that Bobby Motaung must go, it is a dream! Bobby Motaung goes nowhere. I was not appointed by ANC or IFP… I will be here as long as this company exists.

“I did not apply for this job, I did not submit a CV. My father invested his life in this club, this is a family business. You must understand that. We are all working to ensure Chiefs dominate.”

Yup. Like the school bully with the headmaster father. The wayward prince with the elderly regent as his protector. Nepotism at its worst. While the thousands of Kaizer Chiefs fans fork out their hard-earned clash to follow their team and buy the new gold-and-black striped “zebra” kit, the Motaung family are apparently impervious to outside pressure.

It can’t be right. Clearly, there was substance to the Tau story. And it’s plain Khune is being forced to take the captain’s armband with Kaizer Junior waiting in the wings to take charge when he’s fit. Not a bad choice, but increasingly difficult to sell to the success-hungry Amakhosi hordes.

Bobby went on to say: "We have lost two cups already and we are worried about that, and now we have to fight for the league and the remaining cup.”

With Platinum Stars back on the agenda in a league clash this weekend, he ended with: "Our message to our supporters is that let us give the coach a chance."

Your supporters? That faithful bunch who continually talk about Amakhosi rising to the occasion? Without the finger-waving millions, Bobby, Kaizer Chiefs would be nothing. The same can be said of every professional football club.

And if I were you, I’d be looking very carefully at this quote from VV on Wednesday when he was asked why the excellent Siphiwe Tshabalala was not considered for leadership: "Tshabalala still wants to go overseas. If you make him captain and then he leaves in January then what do you do?"

No fans, no Tshabalala, no club. Start preparing that CV, Bobby. Next time, you may need it.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Fireworks from Balotelli... but is he crackers? Everything you need to know about Super Mario

Mario Balotelli is backing firework safety as England’s Guy Fawkes day – November 5 – draws near. If that sounds like a boring PR stunt, read on. Balotelli is no damp squib, he’s a raging bonfire of the vanities.

Manchester City’s madcap striker – the first African to play for Italy after he taken from his penniless Ghanaian parents aged two – is never boring. Just last Saturday night, BEFORE scoring twice in Sunday’s “Six in the City” Manchester derby win over United, Balotelli’s house was set alight when “a friend” let off fireworks in his luxury home.

Yesterday’s Manchester Evening News reports that Balotelli will NOT face legal action after the fire in plush Mottram St Andrew. A fire brigade spokesman said: "The blaze was investigated and as there didn’t appear to be any criminal intent, the matter was closed."

Then the controversial footballing icon came out in support of the “Treacle Fire Safety Drive For Bonfire Night”, saying: "Fireworks are dangerous. I didn't set any fireworks off, it was a friend of mine. I didn't know anything about it until I heard the shouting coming from the bathroom.

"Luckily, nobody was injured, and my friend apologised to me for the damage to my house. It was a really stupid thing for him to do... and I was really, really angry with him about it. Be careful out there on November 5.”

And all these burning issues had to be addressed before Sunday’s cracker when he was booked following his first rocket in the 6-1 win over United when he stripped off his light blue shirt to reveal the legend: “Why Always Me?” on a carefully printed undershirt. He left the ground afterwards high-fiving city fans from his convertible Bentley, worth an estimated £250,000 (R3m). But more about those cars later.

City travelled to Wolves for a Carling Cup clash expected to produce further fireworks last night, but Balotelli may be rested for the clash. The £120,000-a-week star is currently staying in a 5-star Manchester hotel while his simmering house is repaired, at a cost of around R5m.

Before the Manchester derby, Balotelli reassured anxious City fans: "The real Mario is coming now and it isn't the same Mario as last year. This year it's going to be better, I hope. It has to be better.

“ Last year, because of my injury, I couldn't play at the top but I train good now and I feel good and that's how it should be always. I'm getting better all the time.”

Showing remarkable prescience before scoring his sixth goal in five games, he added: “It's four goals in four games now and I hope to God it will be five goals from five after Manchester United on Sunday.

"I’ll try to stay at home more. Maybe I'll stay in with my family, my brother or girlfriend.

"They weren't here last year. That's definitely helped. I am also growing up."

Growing up? Aw, come on! Balotelli is still capable of just about anything – and in a world of boring platitudes, the man stands out like Joey Barton and Herschelle Gibbs as a personality who spices up our sporting lives.

Still just 21, few doubted Roberto Mancini’s foresight when he swooped to lure the sulky striker from Inter Milan for £24m (R280m). After all, he was constantly barracked by his own fans at the San Siro, then-boss Jose Mourinho described him as “unmanageable” and a new start was just what he needed.

Italy holds grim memories. Balotelli’s Ghanaian parents, Thomas and Rose Barwuah, were forced to put young Mario in the care of Italians Francesco and Silvio Balotelli when he was just two.

Mario claims “they abandoned me”, but the Barwuahs insist their son had intestinal problems which needed expensive treatment, so they allowed him to be fostered by the rich Milano family – daddy Balotelli was a lawyer. The Barwuahs found themselves shunned by their son and unable to intervene as his behaviour grew increasingly more bizarre.

Things came to a head in June, 2010 when police officers in Milan found Balotelli and three friends in an Audi car with a gun, amid reports of gunfire. It turned out to be a toy cap gun. Not long afterwards, Balotelli was forced to apologise to Inter fans for appearing on TV in the shirt of hated rivals AC Milan.

And so off he went to join Sheik Mansour’s multi-billion revolution in Manchester a mere 14 months ago. It didn’t take long for the tall Ghanaian-Italian to make his mark, with his bizarre hairstyles and collection of expensive cars.

Mancini insisted he could tame the “wild child” but so far he has picked up £300,000 in club fines and been sent off twice.

Though he helped City win the FA Cup last May with a goal-happy Man of the Match performance, his highlights have to be contrasted with the low points: a Carrington training ground punch-up with fellow former Ghanian Jerome Boateng, another fight with captain Vincent Kompany and an infamous incident where he threw a dart at a youth team teenager.

In July, Mancini was seething again, when Balotelli attempted to back-heel a penalty against David Beckham’s LA Galaxy – and missed.

And then there are the cars. He has a collection, currently estimated at eight. So far he’s been fined over £10,000 for various offences and has had various motors impounded 27 times for parking in the wrong place.

He crashed his £120,000 Audi R8 sports car in Manchester last August and was then stopped by police who found £25,000 (R275,000) in cash in the glove compartment. Asked why he was carrying such sums, he replied simply: "Because I can". And all that after having his £150,000 Maserati ruined by a bagful of kippers left in the boot by his team-mates at the training ground.

And then there are the women. He arrived in England with Miss Italy finalist Melissa Castagnoli, then dated Sophie Reade, who shot to fame on the reality show Big Brother. He allegedly went off with her best friend before opting for his current squeeze, Italian actress Raffaella Fico.

With his five-finger hat, bizarre outfits and punk hairstyles, Mario is a tabloid dream for the celebrity hungry British press. And the quotes just keep on coming. When asked what he thought about Arsenal midfielder Jack Wilshire, he replied: "What's his name? Wil... ? No, I just don't know him."

But Mancini keeps the faith. After the “Six in the City” derby triumph, he said: "I hope we arrive at the day when Mario has changed because, after this, he becomes one of the best three players in the world, like Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo."

For a more balanced assessment – Mancini is currently consumed by his spat with striker Carlos Tevez - perhaps David Platt, the extremely well-behaved former Arsenal and England midfielder, is worth listening to. Now Mancini’s No2 at City, Platt reckons: "He will lose concentration but you can snap him back out of it. He is never down for a week — it is 10 seconds and then he is out of it. He is an enigma."

"I don't think Mario is a difficult player to manage. He is not someone who sulks. People saw his talent but they perhaps saw it in fleeting moments last season.

"His behaviour has always been good but there have been too many ups and downs in terms of his concentration levels. But they are there and have been for a good two to three months now."

And the “Why Always Me?” t-shirt? Here’s Balotelli’s take: "I did it for many reasons but I'll leave it for other people to figure out what it means. I'm sure people can work it out.

"Chappy, our kitman did it for me, I told him the words and he printed them. He is a good guy Chappy, one of the best!

"Will I do it again? No, because otherwise I'll get booked every week, so it was a one-off for United!"

Monday, 24 October 2011

Dynamic Pattison could be headed for Moscow as Khumalo hopes for Reading return

Sundowns midfielder Matthew Pattison could be going to Russia with love - after a trial with Dynamo Moscow.
Pattison, widely considered to be unlucky not to feature in Bafana Bafana's World Cup squad when South Africa hosted the World Cup last season, has been absent from Johan Neeskens' Mamelodi millionaires for a week after going on trial to the Russian capital.
While Dutch master Neeskens is being pilloried for his decision to drop goalkeeper Wayne Sandilands for the 3-0 defeat against Moroka Swallows on Saturday, a gloriously oblivious Pattison, 24, revealed: "I went to Moscow for three days and I only got back on Friday. I was on trial at Dynamo."
After seeing Sundowns team-mate Katlego "Killer" Mphela rejected after a similar visit to Glasgow giants Celtic two months ago, Pattison is understandly coy about his chances of a long-term contract with Dynamo.
Often over-looked by new boss Neeksens this season Pattison added: "Maybe I might go back to Moscow again, who knows? I'm not too sure so I will have to wait and see.
"I have to keep my options open, because I'm a free agent at the end of the season. My agent is speaking to Dynamo.
"You have to take care of your own interests and if it is not working out, then you got to move on."
But Pattison is only too aware of the pitfalls of a move overseas to further his career. Bafana Bafana central defender Bongani Khumalo was all set for a glittering career with Tottenham Hostpur when he moved from then-champions Supersports United for R15m in January.
Tman who scored his first international goal in the historic World Cup win over France in 2010 finds himself on loan at Championship club Reading - and unable to hold down a first team place at the Madejski Stadium.
Khumalo, also 24, started first four matches of Reading's crusade to regain Premier League status but injury and the vagaries of coach Brian McDermott's selection process has left him out in the cold at Reading... and Bafana.
Khumalo hasn't played since his Carling Cup defeat against Charlton Athletic at the end of August but insists: "I feel good and strong and ready to play so I just have to wait for my chance."
He told "We're doing quite well right now, so it is unlikely things will change right now – all I can do is keep working and make sure I'm ready.
"I think I've finally settled in now but it has been a tough year for me. I'm getting used to the pace of the game and feeling more confident now."
Reading's lack of enthusiasm saw Khumalo - once considered a certainty as former Supersports United team-mate Morgan Gould's defensive partner - replaced by Siyabonga Sangweni in Pitso Mosimane's Bafana line-upBut after missing the embarrasing 0-0 draw against Sierra Leone - and the misguided post-match dance when Bafana's players though they had qualified for the 2012 CAF Nations Cup - Khumalo confesses: "It's one of the things but the rule is there so we just have to move on now."
Meanwhile Davide Somma, the Bafana striker who suffered a ligament injury at Leeds United last July, may be available at a reasonable fee to one of South Africa's major clubs.
Somma, born in Edenvale near Johannesburg, forged his goal-getting reputation in the United States before moving to Italy where he made inroads as a professional striker. But after impressing with Leeds last season - and making his hastily arranged South Africa debut against the USA - he may now be considered a saleable asset at Elland Road.
With Orlando Pirates suffering numerous injury problems to their big-name striker Benni McCarthy and Kaizer Chiefs struggling for form, a move for Somma is seen as "probable" in the current climate.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Four out of four for England in Europe... but will United v City confirm the Premier League is the world's No1?

It’s a little ditty unlikely to emerge as a chart-topping single, but when Gooners sing “one-nil to the Arsenal” they know a job has been done in the old, unfussy style once the domain of north London’s highly-successful red-and-whites.

They were chanting the old mantra after the streaky 1-0 win over Marseille at the Velodrome on Wednesday night, just as they did in 1993 when George Graham’s defensive-minded side overcame a highly-talented Parma in Copenhagen to win the now-defunct European Cup Winners’ Cup.

It was that strange winter, when Graham had a solid defensive unit built around David Seaman, Lee Dixon, Nigel Winterburn, Steve Bould, David O’Leary and Martin Keown, when Arsenal fans coined their chant. Back in the days before Arsene Wenger’s neat, attacking style, Gooners were proud to frustrate the opposition and hit them with a single, late goal – more often than not from a corner.

Based on French giant’s PSG’s “Allez Paris Saint Germaine” chant, you’d have thought that, under Wenger, Arsenal were no longer interested in singing about dour 1-0 victories. You’d be wrong. At the heavily under-reconstruction Velodrome on Wednesday night against an Olympique Marseille going through all kinds of problems of their own, the old resilience was back.

Given that Wenger’s fancy fantasy football approach has failed to yield a trophy since the 2005 FA Cup triumph over Manchester United, Aaron “Rambo” Ramsey’s late, late bombshell was all that was needed to resurrect the old Graham mantra.

And of course Arsenal’s win over the group leaders was not the only Premier League victory of the night. Chelsea, coming up quickly on the rails in the domestic title race, thumped in five without reply against Belgian outfit Gunk, sorry Genk, to complete a perfect week for English fans.

Both Manchester outfits, City and United, managed to win their first Champions League games of the season on Tuesday night. The current top two in the EPL, winless in Europe before this week, were also reliant on late goals before their crunch Manchester derby on Sunday.

And amid the flurry of “our Premier League is the best in the world” responses to the week’s Champions League results, comes this daring boast from Manchester City’s Dutch clogger Nigel De Jong.

Rendered infamous for his kung-fu antics during last year’s World Cup final against Spain, De Jong, 26, goes into the Old Trafford clash on Sunday insisting: "Of course everyone at City believes we can go there and win. We're going there as No 1 and the aim is to stay No 1.

"The pressure is still the same as it was last year. But what has changed is that we are now No 1 in the league going into this derby.

"We don't have any point to prove. We've shown our quality throughout the season. We don't need a game against United to show how good we are - it's two of the best teams in England going up against each other and I expect it to be a great game.”

De Jong also responded to Arsenal boss Wenger’s claims that players – particularly former Gooners Emmanuel Adebayor, Gael Clichy, Samir Nasri and Kolo Toure perhaps – only join City for Sheik Mansour’s oily millions.

He said: "You have to be honest, they pay good wages and everyone can earn a good living here — but it's not about that.

"This side can be part of history as well because it's been so long since we won the title. That's the main reason myself and other players signed here."

And De Jong has a point. United have looked a little dodgy of late. They threw away a two-goal lead against Basle, hardly sparkled against novices Norwich City and needed two late Wayne Rooney penalties against gladiatorial Galati this week.

Will the balace of power change in Manchester on Sunday? Will City and United produce the kind of derby which convinces the world the English Premier League is the world’s dominant domestic force? Watch this space.

My prediction? United 2-1. City boss Roberto Mancini may have produced the moment of the week when with his delirious celebrations after the late winner over Villarreal on Tuesday night, but in truth he is hardly fit to lace Sir Alex Ferguson’s dancing shoes.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Fallen giants Marseille make Arsenal's problems look puny: 15th in the table, huge debts and they aren't even safe in their beds!

Arsenal fans may be feeling a little sorry for themselves this season – but Gooners should have a look at the fortunes of fallen French giants Marseille, tonight’s Champions League opponents.

The only French club ever to win the European Cup – they did it in 1992-93 when the controversial Bernard Tapie was in charge – are making Arsene Wenger’s problems look puny.

We could start with plain old domestic form. In England, Arsenal are currently 10th, just back in the top half of the Premier League, after their Robin van Persie-inspired 2-1 win over Sunderland last weekend.

Olympique de Marseille? In the far weaker Ligue 1, they could only manage a goalless draw at Toulouse where midfielder Charles Kabore was sent off on Saturday night. That left France’s World Cup-winning captain Didier Deschamps and his troubled troops 15th after 10 matches, 14 points behind table-topping Paris St Germain, with just one win to their credit this autumn.

While Arsenal’s board proclaim loud support for Wenger, Marseille’s owner Margarita Louis-Dreyfus complains: “The team aren't playing like they should given all the money that I've put in, if I was a true businesswoman, I would have already sold the club.”

And after the latest crisis meeting at the Velodrome, Marseille defender Rod Fanni wasn’t fannying about. He said simply: “Our team is unwell. It's difficult to explain but without doubt, it's a confidence problem."

And it doesn’t end there for the footballing respresentatives of the second largest city in France. How about this for a unique problem: over the past two years, 10 of their players have suffered “home jacking” in the Mediterranean port famously plagued by crime.

In July, Brazilian defender Vitorino Hilton was at his “security-gated” home with 10 family members when an armed gang of six broke in just before midnight. They held the footballer's relatives hostage before hitting Hilton on the head several times with a gun and escaping with “cash, jewellery, computers and designer bags”.

Hilton, who has subsequently moved to Montpellier, said: "As I'd been hit on the head, I was bleeding a lot, my children panicked. They wanted to go back to Brazil.”

In March, Marseille’s big-name Argentinian midfielder Lucho González was left traumatised after an armed gang attacked him and his family at home in neighbouring Aix-en-Provence. In a bid to protect their players – and ensure potential new signings won’t be put off by the local criminal gangs – Marseille have had to set up private security patrols around players' homes.

Not that they can afford it. Last Friday the club declared a £13.5m (R150m) loss for the previous financial year. Though penny-pinching Arsene Wenger hasn’t won a trophy since Patrick Vieira’s penalty won the 2005 FA Cup, Deschamps managed to break his club’s 17-year trophy drought – reaching all the way back to that subsequently discredited Champions League triumph – in 2010 with a Ligue 1 title.

But since then Deschamps has been involved in an ongoing war with sporting director Jose Anigo and the fans, who believe the former French “water carrier” as he was once described by Eric Cantona, is too negative.

This year they are managing about a goal a game as they struggle for survival, let alone a place in the European qualifying spots.

Though Wenger may covet strikers Loic Remy and Andre Ayew, Marseille’s dynamic duo, he will be aware that Deschamps’ record signing last season - Andre-Pierre Gignac – was forced to attend a pre-season “fat-camp” in Italy and was nearly consigned to Fulham on loan in January.

Ironic then, that Wenger and Arsenal arrive at the Velodrome intent on snuffing out the one speck of light in Marseille’s tunnel of doom – the Champions League. While their domestic form has been decidedly dodgy, Olympiakos and the heavily-fancied Borussia Dortmund have both been beaten in Group F with Ayew – son of the great Abedi Pele – scoring twice in their emphatic 3-0 win over the Germans.

I’ve been to the Velodrome four times to watch both football and rugby. It’s an intimidating venue in an intimidating city. Largely uncovered and still boasting that unique cycle-track shape, the 60,000 capacity is currently limited to 42,000 loud Marseillais during renovations. But it’s not an easy place to go as Manchester United found out last season when they were held 0-0 there in the round of 16.

Wenger says: "Marseille are a good team but they are under pressure a little bit like we are in the league because they didn't start as strong as they would have expected.

"That puts more pressure on you. They have done well in the Champions League, certainly, because it is a competition where there is a bit less expectation and they are less under pressure."

And Wenger, like Deschamps, knows all about pressure.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

It's official: Why South Africa failed to qualify for African Nations Cup 2012 as published by CAF

Regarding Group G, Niger, South Africa and Sierra Leone have all finished tied on 9 points each, with Egypt bottom of the group with 5 points. In such a case, when two or more teams are equal on points, article 14 of the competition regulations applies as follows:
In case of equality of points between two or more teams,after all the group matches, the ranking of the teams shall be established according to the following criteria:
14.1 Greater number of points obtained in the matches between the concernedteams;
14.2. Best goal difference in the matches between the concerned teams;
14.3. Greater number of goals scored in the group matches between the concerned teams;
14.4. Greater number of away goals scored in the direct matches between the concerned teams;
14.5. Goal difference in all the group matches;
14.6. Greatest number of goals scored in all the group matches;
14.7. A drawing of lots by the Organising Committee of CAF.
Therefore, in application of rule 14.1 CAF has considered only results of matches between the concerned teams, i.e. Niger, South Africa and Sierra Leone (discounting Egypt as the bottom team with 5 points - hence not concerned anymore), resulting in the following ranking based on 4 matches played by each teams concerned:
- Niger: 6 points
- South Africa : 5 points
- Sierra Leone : 5 points.
Niger is therefore qualified to the final phase.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

How South Africa can STILL qualify for CAF 2012... even if they don't top Group G

A huge sporting weekend for South Africa could yet end in twin-pronged success for the Rainbow Nation’s rugby and football teams.

Though the Springboks face a daunting task overcoming Australia in the Rugby World Cup quarter-finals on Sunday morning in Wellington, Bafana Bafana face a seemingly impossible task in qualifying for the African Nations Cup on Saturday night.

With group leaders Niger set to face an Egypt Under 23 side – new coach Bob Bradley from the US is unlikely to encourage a major upset – South Africa’s clash with Sierra Leone becomes almost meaningless in terms of qualifying as Group G leaders.

But the message to Pitso Mosimane’s men in Nelspruit tomorrow night is clear: Win by five or six and qualification as one of two “best runners-up” could yet be gained.

This morning the extremely capable Minister of Sport and Recreation, Filkile “Bliksem Hulle” Mbalula confirmed the the game will be televised live on the SABC1 at 5pm on Saturday evening after a payment of £3m to SAFA. It’s a must-watch... a must-win – even if Niger beat Egypt to clinch the group.

Here’s how it works: The ten group leaders qualify automatically but (whisper it) the two best runners-up will also travel to the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations finals.

It’s a complicated formula where matches against the bottom sides in the pool – seven-times winners Egypt in Group G - do not count. CAF were forced to make that move after Mauritania withdrew from Group F, leaving them with just three teams in the pool.

Consquently, South Africa’s hard-fought home win over the Pharoahs, courtesy of Katlego Mphela’s last-minute strike, and the away draw in Cairo will NOT count towards Baf Baf’s tally.

That means Pitso’s men go into their final game against Sierra Leone with four points and places them SIXTH in the current table. But a big win over Sierra Leone, coupled with some fairly probable results elsewhere, could leave South Africa in the top two runners-up positions, ensuring qualification. offer this explanation of how things can pan out for South Africa if they win in Mpumalanga and move to seven points:

Sudan (seven points from three games): Sudan play Ghana at home and a defeat will see South Africa move above them on goal difference. A draw will see Sudan retain their place above Bafana, while a win will mean Ghana finish second in the pool with seven points and it will come down to goal difference as well (Ghana are currently on +5).

Libya (seven points from three games): Libya are away in Zambia where a defeat would see Bafana move ahead of them. A draw will mean Libya maintain their position ahead of Bafana, while a win for them against the Zambians would move Chipolopolo to second but with only six points and below Bafana.

Angola (six points from four games): Angola cannot improve their points tally as they play wooden-spoonists Guinea Bissau, so Bafana would move ahead of them with a win.

Central African Republic (five points from four games): These calculations assume that Morocco will beat Tanzania at home. If CAR then draw in Algeria, they will finish second in the pool with six points and behind Bafana. If they lose in Algeria by more than two goals, the Algerians will rise to second and will have six points. If CAR win in Algeria then they will stay on six points as Algeria will finish bottom and the points from the match will not count towards their tally.

Nigeria (four points from three matches): If Nigeria beat Guinea at home 1-0 or by two clear goals then they will top their Group B and Guinea will drop to second with nine points and above Bafana (that is unless Madagascar pull off a highly unlikely win in Ethiopia which would drop Ethiopia to seven points). If Nigeria draw at home they will stay second with five points. If Nigeria lose, they remain on four points.

Zimbabwe (four points from three matches): If Zimbabwe win in Cape Verde and Mali win in Liberia, then Zimbabwe will finish second on seven points, and would need to boost their goal-difference by winning by three clear goals. If Zimbabwe draw in Cape Verde they can still only finish second and would have five points. If Zimbabwe win and Mali draw or lose in Liberia, they will drop to second and at best can finish with six points, below Bafana.


Grp Team Pld W D L GF GA GD Pts

I Sudan 3 2 1 0 3 0 +3 7

C Libya 3 2 1 0 2 0 +2 7


J Angola 4 2 0 2 4 5 -1 6

D CAR 4 1 2 1 3 3 0 5

B Nigeria 3 1 1 1 6 3 +3 4

G South Africa 3 1 1 1 3 2 +1 4

A Zimbabwe 3 1 1 1 2 2 0 4

F Gambia 3 1 0 2 4 5 –1 3

H Burundi 3 0 2 1 2 3 –1 2

E Cameroon 3 0 2 1 1 2 –1 2

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

In an All Black world without King Carter, Slade is the pretender: your guide to the RWC Quarter-finals

In an All Black world without the majestic Dan Carter, the commonly-criticised Colin Slade is king.

While Rugby World Cup hosts New Zealand remain mired in gloom after Carter, 29, injured himself in training last week, the All Black assistant coach Wayne Smith moved quickly to maintain morale in a rugby-mad nation aching for a glimpse of the Webb-Ellis trophy since 1987.

Smith, not short on hyperbole, stepped in to assure the krushed Kiwis: “Colin is not too different from Daniel really. He's got a good skill set. He's a brave kid physically, he's strong in his defensive channel.

“We have not lowered the bar at all. There is a lot of belief in Colin. In my experience if you walk in the company of people who believe in you, then you can achieve anything and our expectations are really high. "

Methinks he does reassureth too much before Sunday’s quarter-final against the rugged outsiders Argentina.

Slade, 23, utterly failed to shine in his two starts in the famous black jersey against Japan and Canada. He has come on during comfortable victories over Tonga and France. In that final pool game against Canada, scrum-half Piri Weepu landed a perfect four out of four kicks while Slade, after scoring just five out of ten, was left to spent the last 25 minutes out on the wing.

Though a natural No9, Weepu is a popular choice to replace Carter as kicker, but Smith insists that despite the loss of the “world’s best fly-half”: "Our plans remain the same, expectations are exactly the same, belief in the squad is exactly the same, so we don't see that anything has changed."

What Smith neglects to mention is the truth. Slade has grown up in Carter’s bootiful shadow, and came through Christchurch Boy’s High School five years behind his fly-half rival. He was forced to move to the Highlanders from his hometown Crusaders in the Super 15 this season. Other promising Kiwi fly-halves like Nick Evans and Stephen Donald have headed for Europe and given up trying to be Carter’s stand-in.

That’s why Aaron Cruden, the 22-year-old fly-half for the Manawatu Turbos in the National Provincial Championship was the “official replacement” when Carter’s left adductor longus tendon snapped after just four kicks in training last week. Slade made his All Black debut when he replaced Cruden against Australia in the Tri-Nations last year. Neither man is truly considered to be a Carter in the making. Slade’s performance in this year’s Tri-Nations defeat against the Springboks in Port Elizabeth proved that point.

Graham Henry’s post-traumatic quotes are closer to the truth: “It's devastating. This was going to be Daniel’s pinnacle, this was his scene, this World Cup in New Zealand. It was going to be his big occasion."

New Zealand, favourites at this World Cup as they are before most global rugby contests, last played the Argies five years ago. They won 25-19 in Buenos Aires and have been spying on the Pumas in training this week. Smith admits: “Argentina’s entire game comes from what they do up front. We are expecting a huge test.

"They are actually pretty smart as well, they have probably given away the least penalties - they are going to attack us."

Wing Cory Jane and full-back Israel Dagg, both injured in the penultimate qualifying win over a below-par France, are both expected to recover for the Argentina game, which follows South Africa – with batterproof Bakkies Botha fit again – playing against an Australian side shoved into the “southern” half of the draw by giantkilling Ireland.

The northern hemisphere clashes see England, under-fire for their off-field activities, planning to play the off-form Jonny Wilkinson at fly-half with Toby Flood at inside centre following injury to the much-maligned Mike Tindall. Opponents France, in even more disarray than the English, will arrive more in hope that belief though Marc Lievremont insists: “The World Cup starts here.”

Perhaps the most attractive quarter-final will be played first in the Wellington biscuit tin, where Ireland – with the ageless Ronan O’Gara once again the indisputable fulcrum – take on an injury-free Wales, who produced a devastating 66-0 win over Fiji to complete their qualification.

Welsh Stephen Jones insists bravely: "What's important is that we implement that and try and manipulate defences so that we can play a great style of rugby."

My predictions on what will be a surprisingly low scoring weekend with drop goals rather than tries at a premium:


Wellington: Ireland 15, Wales 12 (6am in England, 7am in South Africa)

The Irish came in to the World Cup on the back of four depressing warm-up defeats – but topped their group for the first time in RWC history thanks to the shock win over Australia and the final 36-6 thumping of Six Nations rival Italy. Wales crushed Fiji to finish runners-up to South Africa – they were unlucky to lose by a point to the champions – and have looked the most positive of the Northern Hemisphere sides. Given that Wales beat Ireland 19-13 – thanks to a sneaky line-out move which put Mike Philips away for the decisive try – in their last Six Nations clash, most pundits are backing Wales. But with Declan Kidney upping the stakes, the experienced Irish may just have the edge if Wales attempt to play an expansive game.

Auckland: England 12, France 6 (8.30am in England, 9.30am in South Africa)

Billed as the weakest of the quarter-finals, this is all about French unpredictability and English stiff upper-lip. History records centuries of war between the cross-channel rivals and this will be no different. French veteran Imanol Harinordoquy issued a deeply sarcastic “I love England” during the build-up this week, and added he expects: “Lots of fight, lots of kicking maybe.” After the shock defeat against Tonga, it’s hard to know if Les Bleus will be stung by the criticisms and destroy the English... or whether they’ll revert to type and surrender, as their football team did in the last FIFA World Cup. Ultimately, these are two teams struggling for form and cohesion. With Wilkinson and Flood ear-marked to start, England will kick the French to death as they did with Wilko and Mike Catt in the soggy 2003 semi-final.


Wellington: South Africa 22 Australia 15 (6am in England, 7am in South Africa)

The Wallabies beat the Springboks home and away in the Tri-Nations, but neither side will set much store by those results, played out with the World Cup foremost in the national consciousness. Truth is, Australia have yet to recover from the shock defeat against Ireland and Quade Cooper has yet to prove he’s the fly-half to set the team alight after guiding the Queensland Reds to the Super 15 crown this year. The Boks, unimpressive against Wales in their opening game, have put together a reasonable run since though they will miss the gargantuan boot of Frans Steyn. Pieter de Villiers has handled his injuries well, the camp is cheerful... and in Morne Steyn they have proven match winner. But it’s up front, where living legends Victor Matfield, Bakkies Botha and Danie Russouw a enjoying their last hurrah, that this one will be won. If the old men stay strong, the Boks will do it.

Auckland: New Zealand 22, Argentina 12

Richie Macaw’s foot injury has been subjected to almost as much scrutiny as Dan Carter’s groin in a host nation desperate for global conquest. If Macaw is fully-fit, the All Blacks will Haka their way all the way to the final. Given enough possession, the Kiwi back line is the most impressive you’ll find. Israel Dagg, Sonny Bill Williams, Ma’a Nonu and Cory Jane are all capable of destroying the Argies – but if the Pumas front up and restrict possession they may make it difficult for the best side in the tournament. Ultimately, this World Cup is headed for a popular Ireland v New Zealand final... but neither the Springboks, the Wallabies nor the Poms will allow that to happen without a fight.

Monday, 3 October 2011

Wenger blasted as "two-bob" after Spurs defeat...and Arsenal's woes go on and on

Arsene Wenger became embroiled in another “no handshake” row after Arsenal’s bitterly disappointing 2-1 defeat against North London rivals Tottenham last night.

Wenger, who has refused to shake hands with several Premier League rivals in the past, apparently refused to acknowledge Spurs coach Clive Allen after the derby clash with the former White Hart Lane striker describing the Frenchman as “two bob” – a cockney reference to a worthless character.

Allen, part of a vast footballing dynasty, needed a talking to by a nearby police constable after an apparently foul-mouth altercation with the Gunners’ boss after the game.

The pair also clashed during last year’s 3-3 draw between the two sides. Allen, the scorer of 202 goals in 418 games during a prolific career, failed to make an appearance during his brief spell at Arsenal in 1980. He told The Sun in London: "Wenger refused to shake my hand. He says he didn't see me or hear me — but he's two bob he is, two bob.

“I didn’t call him any dirty words though."

Wenger, under huge pressure after Arsenal’s worst start to a season for 58 years, said: "I shook the hand of the manager Harry Redknapp and the assistant manager Kevin Bond. How many hands do I have to shake? Is there a prescription?

"No words were exchanged and if the story of the game is Clive Allen, you must ask him. He wanted to make himself the story? I think yes."

Pictures in the British press today show Allen clearly attempting to shake Wenger’s hand as he headed for the White Hart Lane tunnel after a match which saw fans from both sides involved in obscene chanting.

Arsenal fans targeted former striker Emmanuel Adebayor, suggesting he should have died when his Togo team were attacked by gunmen before the African Nations Cup in Angola last year. Spurs supporters responded with the age-old paedophile slurs against Wenger.

Redknapp, whose side are now comfortably better off than their traditionally more successful rivals in terms of points and playing staff, said: "Arsene shook hands with me and I'm pleased with that. I think Clive went to shake hands and he missed him. He didn't see him.

"But if he's going to shake hands, either do it and mean it or don't do it at all. If he doesn't want to, he shouldn't.

"OK, Clive wasn't happy but Arsene shook my hand and, for me, that was it."

With his side 15th in the Premier League table having lost four out of seven so far, Wenger -who famously refused to shake the hand of then-Manchester City boss Mark Hughes in 2009, grumbled: "We played with the handbrake on in the first half. We got back to 1-1 but then we didn't push on enough. That shows we are not playing with confidence."

Rafael van der Vaart scored the 10,000th goal in Tottenham history just before halftime and Kyle Walker clinched the victory with his first for the club in the 73rd minute after Aaron Ramsey's equaliser for Arsenal.

Wenger, who saw Polish goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny let the winner slip through his hands, also lost full-back Bacary Sagna on the brink of the international break this week. He said: "We are very worried about his injury, the first signs don't look good. It's the fibula and ankle that needs to be checked ... he was pushed quite hard. I don't know what happened when he landed, did he land the wrong way?''

Sunday, 2 October 2011

They think it's Gaul over as France repeat the sins of their footballing cousins: Shame, failure, disappointment. And those are the positives.

Just when French fans thought things couldn't get any worse than their showing at the 2010 FIFA World Cup, along comes a side playing with the odd-shaped ball intent on casting even further shame on a proud sporting nation.

Gauling indeed. The parallels are considerable. In South Africa last year, a squad riven by divisions and managed by a man due to be replaced after the tournament (the controversial Raymond Domenech knew Laurent Blanc was leaving before the tournament) lost to lowly ranked hosts Bafana Bafana and went home in disgrace.

This time the unloved Lièvremont has seen his Les Bleus slip into a Rugby World Cup quarter-final berth to play England despite defeat against minnows Tonga, but he is little happier than Domenech was last year, when the President got involved in a post-tournament inquiry.

Yesterday Lievremont – who will be replaced by Philippe Saint-Andre after the World Cup - said of his nation’s most embarrassing rugby defeat: "Never has qualification tasted as bitter as this. We have to refocus on the quarter-finals and talk about our pride, solidarity and honesty.

“I thought I had experienced everything in terms of shame. But this time round, it's been an extremely violent feeling again. Each missed pass, each missed tackle, I took them as a deep personal failure.

"I would have liked for us to gather around a few drinks yesterday, to talk, to share thoughts, to tell each other that it's a beautiful adventure, all things considered. And I was disappointed.

“I got us some beers to release the pressure and we all split in different directions. It's a kind of disappointment."

Lievremont said of the agents –fortunate to work in a domestic set-up without a salary cap like the other Northern Hemisphere nations - who frequent his camp: "I've got respect for them and think highly of them, I talk to them openly. I think it is reciprocal even though I am under no illusions.

“We live in a society where image matters. I saw players with their agents before and after the game instead of regrouping as a team. They have their career to manage, and the media to please. "

So who is French rugby’s openly rebellious Nicolas Anelka? Lievremont won’t say. But he did add: "French rugby laughed at the football team last year. But we didn't get off the bus either."

In the past Lievremont has refused to speak to the press, refused to resign and described his players as cowards. But after the Tongan humiliation, perhaps the greatest upset in Rugby World Cup history, he was simply at a loss.

Gloomily he growled: "For some, I might just be a second division coach, absolutely not competent to train a team of the level of the national squad. Some compare me with Raymond Domenech. You must know that I have got an immense respect for him.

"He did fight. I know what that means and I have absolutely no intention to give up. I've got my share of responsibilities, but do you sincerely think that it is because of my management that we failed to be committed in the game?"

There are other problems. Centre Aurélien Rougerie dislocated his shoulder against Tonga while his probable replacement, Fabrice Estebanez, has been cited for a dangerous tackle. And then there’s history. In both 2003 and 2007 England ended France’s World Cup progress. Lievremont summoned the last of his courage to tell a worried rugby nation: "Naturally, I am a fighter. I believe in this team, in a group of men who hopefully know how to pick themselves up."

Ouch. England, despite another plethora of off-field allegations and Delon Armitage’s citing after the narrow win over Scotland, are favourites to win the quarter-final in Auckland next Saturday. But with the French, who knows?

Lievremont clearly has no idea what to expect: “I have got experienced and talented players. But maybe not as talented as I thought. But I repeat. I have absolutely no intention of giving up.”