Monday, 29 October 2012

Clattenburg's clangers: Still trying to verify veracity of this picture!

United we stand: I suspect this is a dodgy picture

A REFFING DISGRACE. There is no other way to describe a weekend of enthralling – but highly controversial – action in the English Premier Division.

In two days of screaming injustice, the so-called greatest football league in the world contrived to produce THREE questionable results thanks to the whistle-while-you-work brigade.

At Arsenal, Mikel Arteta’s scrambled winner over QPR was shown to be off-side when the Spaniard hit the bar with a header before ramming the ball over the line on the rebound.

At Everton, Liverpool were denied a clear last-minute Merseyside Derby winner when the unloved Luiz Suarez was robbed of a last-minute hat-trick and a 3-2 win.

And most infamously of all, there were two incidents at Stamford Bridge which suggest the top-of-the-table clash between Chelsea and Manchester United was radically altered by a man in black called Mark Clattenburg.

This morning Clattenburg, the man chosen to referee the Olympic final between Brazil and Mexico at Wembley a month ago, stands accused of abusing two Chelsea players, one of them racially.

Before that the 37-year-old from Newcastle had sent off two Chelsea players with the match evenly balanced at 2-2, the Blues staging a remarkable comeback after United had taken an early 2-0 lead.

The first sending off of Branislav Ivanovic was fair enough but the second – a second yellow for Fernando Torres “simulating” after being clearly fouled by Johnny Evans – was simply ridiculous. And though the referee can always blame his assistant, Javier Hernandez’s winner was certainly off-side too.

Remember, Clattenburg is the guy who was told he would never referee again in January 2009 after “breaching his contract” and sending threatening emails to business associates  over debts of £175,000 (R2million).

A few months later Clattenburg was at it again, sending off Craig Bellamy and telling the Manchester City bench at Bolton: “How do you work with him all week?”

In 2010, Clattenburg was the referee who controversially allowed Manchester United’s Portuguese star Nani to score when Tottenham goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes had placed the ball for a “ghost” free-kick.

Now Chelsea are claiming Clattenburg called Juan Mata, scorer of a wonderful free-kick on Sunday, “a Spanish twat” when he was cautioned in the 76th minute.

Chief executive Ron Gourlay, with Mikel and manager Roberto Di Matteo, demanded an apology after the game but Clattenburg refused and Chelsea released a statement yesterday saying: “We have lodged a complaint with regards to inappropriate language used by the referee and directed at two of our players in two separate incidents.”

For all Clattenburg’s past we can make no real allegations of bribery or match-fixing. As Sir Alex Ferguson said afterwards: “The boy was touched and he made a meal of it. He could have carried on and scored. But the winner was off-side, we had a bit of luck there.”

With previously unbeaten Chelsea boss Roberto di Matteo complaining “all the decisions went United’s way”, the usual accusations against United began. Are they justified? Well, yes, if you consider how many penalties and red cards go the way of the ageless old Scotsman Ferguson.

It’s not corruption, it’s just the Fergie way. Officiate poorly in Sir Alex’s eyes and you’ll never referee a big game again – and you can expect a dressing-room visit not to mention a satanic choir of complaing Red Devils.

Referees like Howard Webb have long been accused of being on a United contract, but the truth is they are just scared to offend the 70-year-old who has been in charge for 26 highly-successful years.

What the weekend’s injustices demand is not an investigation in to United but a review system for football. Both codes of rugby, all forms of cricket and Grand Slam tennis use various replay systems, and as I 
suggested on eNews yesterday, football has to follow suit.

Give the referee a 30-second time-out to ask the television official if an incident is as it looked, let him make 
a considered decision with replay evidence. Most top-flight matches go in to six or seven minutes of added time anyway, surely the game has time for a quick break to avoid catastrophic refereeing errors?

If FIFA and the FA continue to ignore such demands, the questions around United will never be answered.

Friday, 26 October 2012

All the predictions before a wicked weekend: from Chiefs to Pirates, Gunners to Blues

On target for Chiefs last week: Majoro

It's a massive weekend for football here and abroad. In South Africa, Kaizer Chiefs must attempt to resume their all-conquering Q1 form at Maritzburg United tonight while lowly AmaZulu go to Orlando on Sunday hoping to plunder the Pirates in a battle of the jolly Rogers.

In Cape Town tomorrow, coachless Ajax are out to halt the Johan Neeskens revival at Mamelodi Sundowns which actually resulted in a Telkom KO goal against AmaTuks during the week, the Msandawana's first strike since Noah began boat-building.

In England, the two European crisis clubs are in action tomorrow. Arsenal must end their slump against rock-bottom QPR and Manchester City simply have to overcome Swansea. The Merseyside derby and Chelsea v Manchester United suggest a Super Sunday lies in wait.

And just to prove I do notice La Liga, I can't see Barcelona producing anything less than a rampant win at Rayo Vallecano on Saturday night at 10pm South African time but Real Madrid, beaten by Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League this weekend, may stutter again when they go to the holiday island of Mallorca on Sunday night at 9.30pm.

My predictions for the weekend’s fixtures below, with a line of explanation:


Maritzburg United 2-2 Kaizer Chiefs
Maritzburg is no longer an easy trip, not even for the table-topping Amakhosi
SuperSport United 0-1 Bidvest Wits
Gavin Hunt’s bus may not deny the big-spending, new-look Clever Boys

Platinum Stars 0-1 Free State Stars
A meeting of Stars eclipsed by Steve Komphela’s travellers from Bethlehem

Ajax Cape Town 1-3 Mamelodi Sundowns
Still without a coach, Ajax may struggle to stop Neeskens’ Msandawana revival

Golden Arrows 2-0 Chippa United
Former Chippa boss Manqoba Mngqithi is back to fire the Arrows

Moroka Swallows 2-1 Black Leopards
Birds should swoop in a week over-shadowed by Sunday Chidzambga’s life-ban

Bloemfontein Celtic 0-0 University of Pretoria
Steve Barker’s early charge appears to be stuttering, Celtic blooming

Orlando Pirates 3-1 AmaZulu
Jolly Roger de Sa takes on Rogered Palmgren. Only one result.

Aston Villa 0-1 Norwich (1:45pm South African time)
Coming off the back of their victory over the Gunners, Canaries are flying

Arsenal 3-1 QPR (4pm)
Arsene Wenger simply cannot leave the Emirates pointless tomorrow night. Can he?          

Reading 1-1 Fulham  (4pm)   
Defeat for relegation-threatened Reading unthinkable at home

Stoke 2-1 Sunderland (4pm)    
After the draw with Newcastle, Sunderland may not relish a trip to Potteries

Wigan 0-2 West Ham (4pm)    
Sam Allardyce’s promoted Hammers secure their place in the top half

Man City 3-0 Swansea (6.30pm)
Roberto Mancini’s under enough pressure, time for the millionaires to perform      

Everton 1-3 Liverpool  (2.30pm) 
Liverpool show no Mersey in their bid to catch the arch-rivals

Newcastle 2-2 West Brom  (4pm)    
Toon in tune in Europe this week, but Baggies are a stubborn bunch

Southampton 0-2 Tottenham (4pm)    
After the 4-1 surrender against the Hammers, Saints in trouble against Spurs

Chelsea 3-2 Man Utd (5pm)
THE BIG ONE: got to be a Blue day, despite Champions League failure this week

Thursday, 25 October 2012

OFFICIAL: The African Cup of Nations Group of Death is NOT South Africa's Group A! Here's how we know...

The only way is up: President Zuma draws Cape Verde last night

There is one simple way of showing – with a level of scientific accuracy but no footballing nous – why Bafana Bafana boss Gordon Igesund can be reasonably happy with last night’s yawn-a-minute AFCON 2013 draw.

It amounts to a simple mathematical formula for each of the groups drawn to compete in qualifying for the 29th African Cup of Nations, which we now know will kick-off with South Africa playing the volcanic Cape Verde Islands at Soccer City on January 19 next year.

All you have to do to highlight the Group of Death is add up the current FIFA rankings of each team and the lower the total, the tougher the task. On that basis, we can come up with this:

GROUP A (Durban)
South Africa 76
Angola 83
Morocco 75
Cape Verde 51
TOTAL: 285

GROUP B (Port Elizabeth)
Ghana 31
Mali 27
Niger 137
DR Congo 103
TOTAL: 298

GROUP C (Mbombela)
Zambia 41
Nigeria 63
Burkina Faso 91
Ethiopia 118

GROUP D (Bafokeng)
Ivory Coast 16
Tunisia 45
Algeria 24
Togo 93

Clearly, on that basis, Group D is our Group of Death, rated 107 FIFA ranking points tougher than South Africa’s Group A, with all four sides capable of finishing in the top two spots and emerging from their pool.

But there are other reasons for Gordon to be happy with the draw. For instance Angola, Cape Verde and Morocco are three nations NEVER triumphant over Bafana in competitive action.

The nine volcanic islands of Cape Verde (there are actually ten, but one cannot sustain a permanent population), which lie 570km west of Africa, produced a footballing miracle by edging out Samuel Eto’o’s four-time winners Cameroon in their final qualifying round.

But with a population of just 500,000, the former Portuguese colony (uninhabited prior to discovery in the 15th century) have lost both times they’ve come across South Africa on the football field, 2-0 in Bloemfontein and 2-1 in their capital, Praia. Sure, they've risen over 150 places in a little over two years but surely they can't travel all this way and stun Africa on January 19?

Angola saw off Zimbabwe to qualify – but only on away goals after a dynamic double from a bloke called Mateus Alberto Contreiras Goncalves in Luanda. The 29-year-old striker, known as Manucho, was due to be a great African star when he signed for Manchester United eight years ago, but he made only one competitive appearance at Old Trafford in three seasons.

As his career dwindles in Spain and Turkey, Manucho remains a threat. His 21 goals in 38 Palancas Negras appearances suggests trouble, but if Igesund can wrap him up in Siya Sangweni and Bongani Khumalo, the chances are Bafana will extend an unbeaten record of six games, three wins and three draws when the nations meet in Durban on January 23.

It’s Morocco, ranked just one better than South Africa, which should worry those headed for the Moses Mabhida on January 27. Though Bafana boasts two wins and a draw against a side slipping down the world rankings, Igesund will know the arrival of new coach Rachid Taoussi, in place of Belgium Eric Gerets, saw the Atlas Lions turn a 2-0 deficit in Maputo in to a 4-0 romp in Marrakesh in their final qualifying effort against Elias Pelembe’s Mozambique.

Igesund was all smiles after the draw at the Albert Luthuli International Conference Centre in Durban, which dragged on for nearly two hours after three too many speeches pushed Africa’s moment in the spotlight to a mere sideshow on a night of Champions League action in Europe which showcased so many African stars on Wednesday night.

Igesund, like all of us, held his breath when Nigeria emerged as the last ball drawn from the goldfish bowl. They ended up in Mbombela with champions Zambia and Gordon admitted: “It was touch and go! I though we were going to get the Nigerians! But look, all draws are tough and it was really a fairly good one for us. I think Morocco can be giants in Africa.”

Igesund’s counterpart Taoussi said: "It's a good group. It's hard, since South Africa is the host country and has home support."

Nigeria, who take on Burkina Faso first in Nelspruit, may be the shock troops of SA2013 with vast local ex-pat support. Coach Stephen Keshi, fresh from a 6-1 qualifying thumping of Liberia, played down his chances, insisting Burkina Faso, champions Zambia and Emmanuel Adebayor’s Togo are all “very good”.

But somehow, with the aging Ivory Coast in the Group of Death, a Nigeria v South Africa confrontation on February 10 at Soccer City seems as likely an African finale as any.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

The road to Soccer City: all you need to know about tonight's AFCON draw in Durban

Coasting: Zambia celebrate in February this year

TONIGHT at 8.30pm, all will be revealed. The Chief Albert Luthuli International Convention Centre in Durban will show its balls and the African Cup of Nations, hosted in South Africa from January 19 to February 10, will show its true colours.

It’s only eight months since Zambia’s epic triumph in Gabon - the change of calendar from even years to odd means everything has had to be sorted out in 12 months rather than 24. After a condensed qualification process which doesn’t even allow group winners automatic access to the 29th edition of CAF’s continental showdown, nobody doubts AFCON will be tough.

Tonight we find out just how tough when 16 balls are placed in four seeded goldfish balls to reveal who will play who on the road to the final at Soccer City.

The dream draw for Group A? South Africa, Angola, Niger and Cape Verde. The nightmare? Bafana, Nigeria, Algeria and lowly-ranked sleeping giants DR Congo.

We can only pray that the days of FIFA-sanctioned warmed balls and fixed draws are behind us. But whoever comes out with South Africa, qualification will not be easy  - especially if Didier Drogba and the Toure brothers are fit to play for the Ivory Coast. What we do know is that Bafana Bafana will kick-off the competition as the top-seeds in Group A with the opening game at Soccer City on January 19.

Their next two games will take place at Durban’s Moses Mabhida Stadium. Should they top Group A, they will then face a quarter-final in Durban too. But that would be expecting a lot from a side rated 10th of the qualifiers according to the latest FIFA/CAF rankings (see table at the foot of this blog).

Though Bafana Bafana have not lost a game against African opposition on home soil since Guinea in 2008 (a 15-game list that includes Zambia, Senegal and Ivory Coast), Gordon Igesund has his work cut out if he is to complete the first of his harsh requirements in the job of national coach.

Igesund, with defeats against Brazil and Poland in direct contrast to wins over Mozambique and Kenya in his four friendlies since he assumed control from Pitso Mosimane and caretaker Steve Khompela, will have Bafana’s credentials tested by Zambia at Soccer City on November 14.

With African opponents yet to be lined up for friendlies on December 23 in Durban and Johannesburg on January 13, SAFA today have confirmed a friendly against Norway in Cape Town on January 8.

According to the powers that be at SAFA, Igesund HAS to reach the AFCON semi-finals – and he may find the going tougher than expected despite the absence of seven-times winners Egypt and four-time winners Cameroon.

More than 2,000 guests – including President Jacob Zuma – will fill the ICC tonight to see the deeply questionable CAF head Issa Hayatou oversee the draw which will see one team from each pot selected for the four qualifying groups.

Top seeds: South Africa, Zambia, Ghana, Ivory Coast.

Second seeds: Mali, Tunisia, Angola, Nigeria.

Third seeds: Algeria, Burkina Faso, Morocco, Niger

Fourth seeds: Togo, Cape Verde, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia.

That means South Africa could face a nightmare qualification featuring a resurgent Nigeria, Algeria/Morocco and DR Congo, raising the ghost of 2010, when Bafana became the first World Cup hosts to fail to qualify for the knock-out phases, going out on goal difference despite a shock win over 1998 Champions France.

The easiest route? I’d say Angola, Niger, the lowest ranked team in the tournament, and Cape Verde, shock conquerors of Cameroon in the final qualifying round.

If Togo don’t secure the release of Emmanuel Adebayor from Tottenham in January, they could be a plum fourth pot draw too, while Burkina Faso in pot three would be relief of sorts.

However the draw turns out, it’s worth listening to South Africa’s greatest footballing export when it comes to judging Igesund’s chances of success.

Lucas Radebe, in Durban for tonight’s draw, told CAF: “It’s going to be too difficult for Gordon. There’s a lot of expectation but I don’t think we can win it.

“People look back to the 1996 winning squad and what we achieved, but a lot has changed since that time. It's unfair on the current team.

“You look at 1996, we had a stable team. We had been together for a long time and had gelled well leading up to the tournament. Now there’s been chopping and changing of players.

“There’s a new manager as well. Yes, we are playing at home and naturally that should be an advantage. But if we get out of our group we would have done extremely well.

“It will take a lot of commitment and sacrifice for any team to win this competition. Look at a big team like Cameroon, they didn’t even qualify. The Cup of Nations is difficult to predict.”

"Once you’re in the knockout phase anything can happen. You can get all the way to the final but I don’t think we can win it.”

But Radebe told CAF online: “There has been a lot of criticism levelled at Bafana, but for next year, every South African will have to give the team full support. Home support is the biggest incentive we can have. It will surely uplift the morale of the players.”

Amen, Lucas.


16           1             Côte d'Ivoire                  
24           2             Algeria               
27           3             Mali                    
31           4             Ghana                
41           6             Zambia                              
45           7             Tunisia               
51           10           Cape Verde Islands                        
63           13           Nigeria
75           18           Morocco
76           19           South Africa                     
83           20           Angola               
91           23           Burkina Faso                    
93           24           Togo                   
103         30           Congo DR                         
118         33           Ethiopia
137         42           Niger

Monday, 22 October 2012

Collins Mbesuma: The former Chief who saved Pirates when they needed it most

Double trouble: Collins Mbesuma has scored twice, twice

“It’s not going to be easy because Orlando Pirates have good strikers. But I will do my best.”

Those were the words uttered by Collins Mbesuma when he signed on the dotted line for Dr Irvin Khoza on August 15, 2012, a full seven years after leaving the employ of the Iron Duke’s arch-rival Kaizer Motaung.

A quick refresher course: way back in 2004/2005 Mbesuma – then barely out of his teens - scored a record 39 goals in all competitions to help Ted Dumitru’s Amakhosi pip the Bucs to the PSL title. The lad from Luanshya was hailed as the next big thing to come out of Africa.

But the European dream didn’t quite work out. Mbesuma, though wanted by Sam Allardyce at Blackburn Rovers, chose a notoriously dodgy transfer to Portsmouth, where he played just four games before things fell apart at Fratton Park.

That was followed by a loan move to Portugal’s Maritimo and an unhappy spell with Bursaspor in Turkey, where his time-keeping was called in to question amid a welter of suspensions.

Mbesuma returned to South Africa in 2008 and tried his hand with Mamelodi Sundowns and Moroka Swallows before finding his feet again at Golden Arrows in Lamontville, where he played 43 games and scored 18 goals to attract the attention of Dr Khoza and his man with the cheque book, Screamer Tshabalala.

Nobody expected much from the experienced feet (and head) of the 28-year-old Zambian, who played only a minor role in his nation’s historic African Cup of Nations triumph last year.

Mbesuma’s best days were behind him, we were told. And they came in the gold-an-black half of Soweto. In that emotional Zambian AFCON triumph last year, Mbesuma played a total of 42 minutes, he was written off as past it and lacking commitment.

He arrived at Pirates as Augusto Palacios’s final signing, saying: “I will just have to prove myself. I want to be successful with Pirates and win things with them. I think I need competition and I know Pirates is a big team so I just want to compete.”

Compete? He’s done more than that. A lot more. With Tokelo Rantie inexplicably allowed to slip away and Takesure Chinayama and Benni McCarthy injured, Mbesuma has proved the unlikely saviour for the new Bucs coaching duo of Roger de Sa and Eric Tinkler.

When they needed inspiration while trailing promoted upstarts AmaTuks 1-0 at Loftus Versfeld a fortnight ago, it was Mbesuma who provided the goals either side of Andile Jali’s penalty to seal a much-needed 3-1 PSL victory against the unbeaten students.

And when they came up against lively Leopards in the Telkom Knock-out on Saturday, there he was again, striking both goals in a 2-0 triumph which left most people raving about the form of Lehlogonolo “Vieira” Masalesa and Sifiso Myeni, both De Sa products from his Clever Boys days.

Yes, De Sa can claim some credit for his former Witsies, but without Mbesuma’s goals, where exactly would Pirates be right now?

With last season’s top-scorer McCarthy approaching fitness and Chinyama also due to return, De Sa has only praise for Mbesuma’s unexpected revival: "I have never doubted Mbesuma's scoring abilities. We are working on improving his fitness and he is making progress. He is showing a lot of commitment and has been doing a lot of work after training."

Mbesuma bubbles: “I must thank Irvin Khoza for giving me a chance to play for Pirates when most of the experts were doubting my ability.

“I feel I have regained my old confidence and I am playing alongside players who can make my job easier, it makes me proud to play for Pirates.”

Question is: with Mbesuma scoring four goals in two games – and another in a friendly during the international break – will there be room anybody else against AmaZulu on Sunday?

A shortened version of this story appeared as my Neal & Pray column in The New Age newspaper today. See every Tuesday...

Friday, 19 October 2012

Bafana Bafana assistant coach Thomas Madigage dies in road accident driving to visit his sick mother

Tragic: Thomas Madigage and Gordon Igesund

THOMAS MADIGAGE is dead. The Bafana Bafana assistant coach, loved by all, passed away last night on the notorious 145km stretch of the R37 between Burgersfort and Polokwane on his way to visit his sick mother.

There is no easy way to convey news of that nature. Confirmation of Madigage's passing came at first light and the outpouring of grief on the social networking sites offers the first hint of just how popular the "man in the hat" was in this country.

SuperSport United chairman Khulu Sibiya said this morning: "I'm devastated. As a footballer, let me tell you, I still have great memories of him as a 16-year-old boy. I remember when we beat Kaizer Chiefs, he scored this amazing goal to win the BobSave.

"Thomas was just a pillar of strength. He was just complete. Off the field, what a perfect gentleman. He would never pass somebody without greeting. We have lost a perfect human being.

"Thomas did not see a footballer. He saw a person. When we signed a new youngster, he would take him aside and find out how he lived. He knew every player's family."

Bafana Bafana captain Bongani Khumalo said: "I will forever remember and learn from Thomas. I am devastated by his loss which will leave a huge void in my life. My sincere condolences to his family and friends. RIP Tommy. I will miss you, but will never forget you and will do whatever possible to make sure your legacy endures on and off the field of play."

Wrecked: Thomas Madigage's car after the accident
Madigage hit an animal on the notorious stretch of road and died on the scene. My friend Lucy Magkopa, who lives in the area and travels there regularly, confirms that donkeys and cows often stray on to the road, unfenced for long stretches.

Brigadier Hangwani Mulaudzi of the Limpopo police said: "We can confirm that Thomas was alone in the vehicle. He passed away last night between 10pm and midnight. There was one car towing a caravan in front of him. That car managed to swerve and avoid the donkey but he could not. His car hit it."

Madigage was 41. Famous for his "lucky" ZCC hat and touchline celebrations, he was taken before his time, having recently returned from South Africa's Tuesday night 2-1 win over Kenya. Just as it appeared he was helping to create a side capable of doing the nation proud at AFCON 2013 next year, he has been taken from us.

In July, the SuperSport United assistant coach, who won three PSL titles with Gavin Hunt, was head-hunted by new Bafana boss Gordon Igesund.

Igesund said at the time: "I knew immediately who I wanted, it had to be Thomas. I called Gavin and he was reluctant to lose him. But I said it was for the country and he agreed. Thomas and I had a long chat about the hat! He's such a great guy."

While Igesund was too upset to talk this morning, Hunt said: “I’m absolutely gutted, absolutely devastated. We were more than work colleagues, we were great mates off the field.

“We spent hours and hours chatting about life; not even football, more about life. When he got the Bafana job he actually didn’t want to go. I said to him that he has got to do it. I do think that I pushed him over the edge to go.

“I told him it was a lifetime opportunity and I was so glad. If you look at what’s happened, that he had the opportunity to have a taste of it.

“He can rest well now. It’s just such a pity that he won’t be there for the Africa Cup of Nations in his own country next year.”.”

Madigage himself, typically self-effacing, said of his role with Bafan: “There were people with better qualifications who deserved this job more than me, but with the grace of God I have the opportunity to serve the nation and I am very thankful. We need the support of the country as this team belongs to every South African.

“I have had successful people around me - coaches like Shane McGregor Bruce Grobbelaar, Pitso Mosimane and Gavin Hunt – those are the people who have groomed me and allowed me to share my football knowledge with them.

“I also have to give thanks to the PSL for allowing me to apply my skills. SuperSport United deserve a lot of credit for giving a former player a chance to be on the technical team immediately after hanging up my boots because not a lot of clubs would have done that.

“I have known Gordon for 20 years and we have been on the opposite side of football teams in that period. We will be working together for the first time. I know he has great man-management skills and he has the ability to get the best out of his players. I know the players as I have been in the background and I know the mentality they have.

“We want to play winning football and we want to see results. We have a goal to at least reach the semifinals of the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations and qualify for the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil. We should just look towards the future.”

Football journalist Mathews Mpete told eNCAnews this morning: "I know he was on his way to visit his sick mother. To us he was one of those guys who didn't want to be at the forefront.

"On Sunday, when Gordon had a stomach bug, Thomas had to talk. He was so happy to have beaten Kenya. He was a religious person who would pray for you. He knew football, he would spend all night talking football until 3am, entertaining us, enjoying music.

"It's a sad day for South African football. People like Thomas Madigage cannot be replaced." 

Monday, 15 October 2012

Rantie and Sandilands to start against Kenya as Igesund reveals secrets of Bafana camp

Mind the holes: Igesund and Parker training yesterday

GORDON IGESUND has revealed he will play former Orlando Pirates striker Tokelo Rantie and Mamelodi Sundowns goalkeeper Wayne Sandilands for the first time in the must-win friendly against Kenya tomorrow night.

The Bafana coach, under pressure just three games in to his reign after the 1-0 loss in Poland on Friday night, refuses to buckle, insisting: “I always said the first four games would be about looking at the players, coming up with a settled squad for AFCON in January. That is my priority.”

Igesund also revealed how two key players – in-form Kaizer Chiefs goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune and Orlando Pirates centre-back Siya Sangweni – had both suffered injuries while training at Nairobi’s national stadium.

A distinctly grumpy Igesund, speaking to Robert Marawa on Metro FM, said: “The conditions are not the greatest, it’s a very, very bumpy pitch.

“Siya Sangweni and Itumeleng Khune both hurt their ankles. There are holes everywhere. Both are treatable. Siyabonga will be okay I’m sure.

“I’ve asked for sand to be laid down, fill the holes up. It’s not great. I want to avoid injuries to our players and the opposition.

“Training today wasn’t great, the ball was bobbling. But it’s raining quite hard, so I’m hoping it won’t be so bumpy for the game. It might make it easier to keep possession.

“I’m definitely going to make changes, this is our whole plan for the first four games. I need to look at players, this is our last game like this.

“If we can get 75 percent of the team ready, great. We haven’t got any combinations yet. We haven’t had chance to decide how we counter-attack, defend, shuffle across. Our dead-balls… we haven’t done any of that yet.

“I want to turn this squad in to a unit, a team before January.”

Igesund, who lost 1-0 in Brazil and beat Mozambique 2-0 in  his first two games in charge, knows a win tomorrow night is imperative with Kenya ranked a lowly 128th in the world and 27th in Africa. Bafana are currently listed at 76 by FIFA and 19 by CAF, putting them 10th among the 16 qualifiers for AFCON 2013 in South Africa next year.

Igesund confirmed: “I will change three of four players. I’ll definitely start with Sandilands in goal. Rantie has to get a shout, I have to look at him. He’s the type of player I have to consider, he gets in behind defenders, he’s got pace, he’s got strength, he’s looking good in training.

“I won’t make too many drastic changes, I want to do well. Delron Buckley, with his experience, uses the ball properly, he will definitely get a chance tomorrow.”

Though Igesund bemoaned the injuries which have left him experimenting at right back, he added: “I won’t make too many changes in defence. We’ll look at Sangweni overnight. I’ll probably start with the same two centre-backs, Sangweni and Bongani Khumalo.”

Controversial selection Ricardo Nunes, the left wing-back born in Johannesburg and now playing his football in Slovakia, is likely to get another chance to prove his worth for the nation he left as an eight-year-old.

Igesund said:  “Ricardo puts a great ball in to the area. I think that’s where the game will be won tomorrow. We need to get the ball in there and get the big lads challenging.

“We’ve still got quite a bit of work to do. We will get better, obviously we will get better. We haven’t started coaching yet, the combination plays. We will create more chances.

“I wasn’t quite happy with the amount of chances we created Poland. All these little situations, every game is telling us more about our players.

“Dean Furman and Kagiso Dikgacoi I’m very happy with in midfield. They can both play as holding players. KD is getting forward for Crystal Palace in England… and in training. One can stay, one can go. We haven’t worked on these situations at the moment.

“I need sooner rather than later to get the bulk of the squad sorted out.

“It’s a good atmosphere here at the moment, everybody wants to play. That’s a very good sign, the attitude in training is good. Working hard, encouraging each other.

“The most important thing is when a team-mate respects you. That’s a big start, that’s what’s happened so far.”

Igesund revealed how he’d had a “familiarisation” session with his players while in Kenya, explaining: “I was watching training and I realised they didn’t know each other’s names. They were going er…er…er when they called for the ball. It’s normal. Some of them have never met before.

“It’s important they share rooms, find out if their team-mates married, got kids, hobbies. It’s all part of building a team that can work hard for each other, fight for each other. I want them to become friends, know that they’ve got each other’s back.

“It’s normal they didn’t know each other. When Rantie, Ndlovu came, certain players didn’t know each other. They were just whistling. They are very new to each other.

“I have given some thought to the teams that have qualified. When AFCON starts on January 19, we have to be ready for everybody, Ghana or Nigeria. There are a couple of big guns up there. Senegal getting knocked-out wasn’t a surprise. Cameroon was a bit of a shock.

“But the gap has closed, the teams in Africa are much closer together. It’s about playing well as a team, how badly do they want it?”

Upsets, upstarts and uproar: if AFCON 2013 is anything like the qualifiers, South Africa is in for a rip-roaring January

Dakar moments: an Ivory Coast fan is lifted to safety on Saturday night

SO it’s official. The Confederation of African Football lists these sixteen nations to kick-off the 2013 African Cup of Nations in South Africa on January 19: Algeria; Angola; Burkina Faso; Cape Verde Islands; Democratic Republic of Congo; Ethiopia; Ghana; Ivory Coast (ranked 1); Mali; Morocco; Niger; Nigeria; South Africa (hosts); Togo; Tunisia and Zambia (holders).

But that simple statement of fact hides so much drama after an absorbing – and violent – weekend of AFCON final qualifiers. Every one of them comes with a story, a tale of triumph over adversity.

Just over 500km west of Africa, the Cape Verde Islands epitomise the glorious unpredictability of international football. I’ve actually been there. Now a tourist hub, the islands were uninhabited before Portugal “discovered” the archipelago of 10 volcanic lumps of rock in the 15th century.

But the world’s 51st strongest footballing nation will be among the survivors popped in to the hat when the final draw for AFCON 2013 is made in Durban on October 24.

On Sunday, playing against four-time CAF champions Cameroon boasting the world’s best-paid player Samuel Eto’o, the islanders held on to win 3-2 on aggregate in Yaounde after their shocking 2-0 first leg win in Praia.

The sold out 60,000 Ahmadou Ahidjo stadium was silenced by an early Antonio Pereira goal. The legend that is Eto’o – back after an eight-month ban for boycotting a game against Algeria in a row over bonus payments - made the equaliser for Achille Emana and then hit the woodwork as the football-mad nation of 20million attempted to overcome a group of rocky islands with a combined population of 500,000.

A late goal from Fabrice Olinga – a 16-year-old product of the Samuel Eto’o Foundation - put Cameroon 2-1 up and two goals short of qualifying, but they could not stop the delirious islanders from reaching their first EVER major tournament.

Afterwards, Eto’o threatened retirement and offered to move in to football administration in an effort to “clear up the mess” in Cameroonian football.

Though the Cape Verde Islands are unlikely to bring many fans to South Africa, the opposite applies to the Ivory Coast, Africa’s No1 nation, currently 16th in the FIFA world rankings.

Their match in Senegal was abandoned after 74 minutes with the Ivorians leading 6-2 on aggregate after two goals from former Chelsea superstar Didier Drogba.

Amid frightening scenes at the Leopold Sedar Senghor stadium in Dakar, players and fans had to be escorted from the stadium by police, who reported 10 injuries. Senegal coach Ferdinand Coly admitted: "For the players, it was traumatic, especially the young ones. We are going to face some difficult days but Senegal will accept the sanctions.”

As yet there has been no statement from CAF, though they DO list the Ivory Coast as having qualified for South Africa on their official website yesterday.

Nigeria are also expected to be well supported at AFCON – particularly after their 6-1 triumph over Liberia - but there was no joy for Zimbabwe, pipped on an away goal by Angola after a brace from former Manchester United striker Manucho Goncalves.

Mozambique, 2-0 up after the Elias Palembe-dominated first leg in Maputo, were sent packing after a 4-0 defeat against Morocco in Marrakesh, while another of our neighbours, Botswana, went out 7-1 on aggregate after a 4-1 home defeat against a useful-looking Mali.

Former Arsenal and Manchester City striker Emmanuel Adebayor – now at Tottenham - was on target for Togo in a 2-1 win over 2012 co-hosts Gabon. The Togolese had a particular motivation behind their qualifying crusade, having originally been banned for the tournament for withdrawing from Angola 2010 when they were shot at by bandits on the way to the tournament.

South Africa’s World Cup qualifying rivals Ethiopia saw off Sudan on away goals after a 2-0 win in Adis 
Ababa made the aggregate score 5-5 but the rapidly improving Central African Republic, also in Bafana’s group fighting it out for Brazil 2014, were put out by a late Alain Traore goal for Burkina Faso.

Niger – Bafana’s nemesis in the last AFCON qualifying tournament - were going out against Guinea until late goals from Mohammed Chikoto and Issoufou Garba turned things around and made Niger, at 137, the lowest ranked team to make it in South Africa next year.

Equatorial Guinea, 4-0 down after the first leg against the Democratic Republic of Congo, went 2-0 up after 35 minutes in Malabo but the miracle recovery was not to be as Youssouf Mulumbu replied for the Congolese in a 2-1 defeat which put them through 5-2 on aggregate.

Any hope Libya had of overhauling a one-goal loss first time out against Algeria – officially the second strongest side in Africa - did not last long in Blida with El Arbi Hilal Soudani and Islam Slimani scoring within seven minutes and the home side cruised to a 2-0 victory, 3-0 on aggregate.

The 16 survivors from the original 47 who entered the tournament WILL attract fans to South Africa – the Ivory Coast’s host of superstars should help make up for the absence of Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Botswana – but the failure to show ANY of the AFCON qualifiers on local television over the weekend was a disastrous marketing move.

Mvuzo Mbebe, CEO of AFCON 2013, has his work cut out. But if the tournament itself produces half of the drama of the final round of qualifiers, we should be in for a cracker after Christmas.


16           1             Côte d'Ivoire                    
24           2             Algeria               
27           3             Mali                    
31           4             Ghana                
41           6             Zambia                              
45           7             Tunisia               
51           10           Cape Verde Islands                        
63           13           Nigeria
75           18           Morocco
76           19           South Africa                     
83           20           Angola               
91           23           Burkina Faso                    
93           24           Togo                   
103        30           Congo DR                         
118        33           Ethiopia
137        42           Niger

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Friday night in Warsaw: the friendly against Poland nobody really wanted. PLUS: the weekend's final AFCON qualifiers

Ready for Warsaw: Gordon Igesund's Bafana in Poland yesterday... that's Ricard Nunes, middle row, third from right

It’s the friendly football match nobody wanted. South Africa versus Poland on an unforgiving Friday night in Warsaw. Gordon Igesund tried to get it called off. Steven Pienaar retired to avoid it. Even original host city Bydgoszcz rejected Bafana, and the Poles were forced to shift the game to their capital.

That’s not a bad thing. Apart from having too many zees, a riot broke out in Blydgoszcz when they hosted the 2011 Polish Cup final. And we can expect the odd racist chant tomorrow night, the Poles are famous for it. Would you want to play for fun against a team with the unpronounceable nickname “Bialoczerwoni”?

But the game goes on for South Africa against a rugged side filled with Bundesliga stars and ranked 22 places above them by FIFA. And remember, Bafana Bafana have won only once in Europe - that was against not-so-mighty Malta in 2005.

New Poland manager Waldemar Fornalik, with one eye on Tuesday’s key World Cup qualifier against England, must be wondering why they bothered.

His inspirational captain Jakub Blaszczykowski injured an ankle last weekend playing for German champions Borussia Dortmund against Hanover 96 and is out of BOTH games. Goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny of Arsenal remains crocked and most bizarrely of all, local Legia Warsaw striker Marek Saganowski suddenly finds himself diagnosed with heart problems.

Still, he has star man Dortmund’s Robert Lewandowski to pit against the fearsome Orlando Pirate Siya Sangweni and struggling PSV Eindhoven keeper Przemyslaw Tyton will make way for former Manchester United understudy Tomasz Kuszczak, now at Brighton, in goal, which should cheer South Africa's expat Polish population estimated at over 30,000.

On an unbeaten run of EIGHT home games, Fornalik – brought in after hosts Poland crashed out of Euro2012 in the group stage - has also called up Legia Warsaw winger Jakub Kosecki and Gornik Zabrze’s Arkadiusz Milik – an 18-year-old with five goals in seven matches this season - but neither have yet been capped by the Poles.

Fornalik says of 22-year-old Jakub, the son of Polish legend Roman Kosecki, who scored twice last weekend against Wisla Krakow: "He's a young player who has played very well this season. Those goals are proof of that. Like Błaszczykowski, he plays well on the flanks and has excellent 1-on-1 skills."

Igesund, who is more intent on preparing for a mid-summer AFCON 2013 at home than playing in Eastern Europe in autumn, has his full named squad to choose from, though veteran strikers Siyabonga Nomvethe and Benni McCarthy were left at home in rehabilitation rather than frail care.

Bernard Parker, the prolific Kaizer Chiefs striker, will lead the line with Dino Ndlovu, who has recovered from the shoulder injury he picked up in the 1-0 defeat against Brazil in Sao Paulo.

The Maccabi Haifa striker said: "If we play with the same mentality we had in Brazil, we should be fine. It’s good to be back. I have played some matches in Israel and my injury is fine.

"The spirit is high which should perhaps work in our favour, we should be okay against Poland."

We're banking on a team that looks like this: Khune; Nthethe, Khumalo (capt), Sangweni, Nunes; Myeni, Dikgacoi, Furman, Buckley; Ndlovu, Parker.

But all eyes will be on unknown Portuguese-South African Ricardo Nunes, 26, who left South Africa as a youngster to join the Benfica academy. Now playing for MSK Zilna in Slovakia, Igesund has had two days to assess the talents of his Johannesburg-born left-sided wingback.

Nunes admits:  “I’ve only seen South African football on the internet, but some of my African team-mates at Zilna talk about the skills there. And I saw the Brazil highlights, so I am confident we can beat Poland.

“I am very excited to be here with my new international team-mates. It was a very special moment to be called up by the land of my birth. I had to sort out my papers first with Fifa before I could accept the call-up but I’m here now!”

While Igesund goes about his unenviable task in Warsaw – I can’t see Bafana winning, a draw would be great - the real African action this weekend comes with the second legs of the AFCON 2013 final qualifiers.

By Sunday night we will know the identities of all the 15 teams headed to join hosts South Africa in January.
Traditional continental big-guns Cameroon need to overcome a 2-0 deficit against the Cape Verde Islands, with Indomitable Lions superstar Samuel Eto’o due to return to the team.

Didier Drogba’s Ivory Coast are 4-2 up against Senegal, but the Elephants can’t afford to slip up in Dakar. Reigning African champions Zambia have put their squad on double-bonuses as they defend a slender 1-0 advantage over Uganda in Kampala.

Elias Pelembe must recover from his mugging last week - which forced him out of Mamelodi Sundowns' defeat against Platinum Stars - to lead Mozambique to Marrakech after their rousing 2-0 first leg win of Morocco in Maputo. The Mambas would be basically playing at home if they get drawn to play at the Mbombela Stadium.

The full AFCON fixture list looks like this:
Saturday 13th

Malawi (0) v (2) Ghana (Lilongwe; 14:h30)
Black Stars should cruise to their 19th AFCON appearance

Botswana (0) v (3) Mali (Gaberone; 15h00)
Sadly, the Zebras have no chance even in Gaberone

Uganda (0) v (1) Zambia (Kampala; 15h00)
No Rainford Kalaba, but I back the champions to edge it

Tunisia (2) v (2) Sierra Leone (Monastir; 20h15)
Eagles of Carthage can get through on a 0-0 draw

Senegal (2) v (4) Ivory Coast (Dakar; 20h30)
South Africa needs Didier Drogba and the Toures to qualify

Morocco (0) v (2) Mozambique (Marrakech; 21h00)
Black Mambas have every chance of making it, just

Nigeria (2) v (2) Liberia (Calabar;  17h00)               
Super Eagles will be popular here but it’s tough

Sunday 14th

Cameroon (0) v (2) Cape Verde (Yaounde; 16h00)
With Praia knowledge, Lions should be indomitable

Angola (1) v (3) Zimbabwe (Luanda; 17h00)
Cracker in Luanda, the Warriors should just about make it

Togo (1) v (1) Gabon (Lome, 17h30)
Emmanuel Adebayor should be fit, should be enough for Togo

Equatorial Guinea (0) v (4) DR Congo (Malabo, 20h00)
Plenty of local Congans happy to see their side waltz in

Burkina Faso (0) v (1) Central African Republic (Ougadouguo; 20h00)
CAR not the easy victims they used to be, could make it

Algeria (1) v (0) Libya (Blida, 20h00)
Desert Warriors should add to Libya’s current woes

Ethiopia (3) v (5) Sudan (Addis Ababa; 15h00)
Will we see 8 more goals? Hard to call

Niger (0) v (1) Guinea (Niamey, 17h00)
Niger were lucky to escape a beating in Conakry.

Monday, 8 October 2012

The Sundowns crisis: sadly this is an attempted explanation, not a solution.

When will the Sun top going Down: Johan Neeskens

If there’s one thing Mamelodi’s long-suffering fans deserve, it’s an explanation of the deepening gloom at Sundowns.

On Saturday at the Lucas “Masterpieces” Moripe Stadium in Atteridgeville, the most expensively assembled squad in the country slumped to yet another PSL defeat, this time a limp-wristed 1-0 surrender against Platinum Stars.

To their credit, after the attack on Johan Neeskens following the defeat at Moroka Swallows a week before, the fans took this one on the chin. Heavy security, one arrest and creeping fatalism appear to have calmed the Msandawana fans, once proud to follow South Africa’s answer to Brazil.

But they deserve an explanation for a run of eight games without a win since the streaky 1-0 victory over promoted Chippa United when they kicked off their PSL season on August 11.

In six league games since then, a strike force which includes some of the most expensive stars in the country has produced just two goals and a single point. They haven’t scored in 360 minutes of PSL action in a slide which sees only AmaZulu below the Brazilians in the table.

In the midst of all this, I met two men who know the inside story at Sundowns at a coffee shop not far from their Chloorkop training venue last week.

Though both could be considered to have their own agenda, the lurid tales of life under billionaire Patrice Motsepe made for a fascinating morning. Bank cards with R53million credit being used to buy drinks, Johan Cruyff’s academy being paid an annual R1million and meetings lasting deep in to the night, not all of them involving the unfortunate Neeskens.

Most worrying off all was the repeated claim that a “gang of former players and hangers-on” are constantly chipping away at the Dutch legend’s authority, talking to players behind his back, railing against a man who likes to be driven in the back seat by members of his highly-paid technical staff.

Two characters at the club like to involve themselves heavily in the transfer of players and the signing of contracts. They apparently feel foreign coaches don’t have a proper grip on their beloved club and believe Motsepe’s largesse should come their way rather disappearing off into a European bank account.

There were suggestions that a third man – a member of the Sundowns board with something of a track record – actually encourages fans to cause unrest and knows the individual who attacked Neeskens at Dobsonville.

I have names, but I won’t divulge them. Clearly such tales are nonsense, the fanciful imaginings of men with axes to grind. Possibly.

What can be said is this. General manager Kenneth Makhana has not be a great success, I have many twitterers calling for the return of his popular predecessor Natasha Tsichlas. The ever-growing technical team appear to be following their own agenda. The 30-strong squad is top heavy and over-burdened with midfielders and strikers.

Up front, Neeskens found himself greeted by a galaxy of stars after Trott Moloto’s busy off-season: somehow he managed to add the sought-after Edward Manqele and Eleazar Rodgers to a strike force which already included Emmanuel Baffour; Richard Tebogo Henyekane, Anthony Laffor, th nearly forgotten Kaltlego “Killer” Mphela and Nyasha Mushekwi, the Zimbabwean cup specialist who was denied a move to Furthe in the German Bundesliga.

Juggling with so many expensive acquisitions cannot have been easy for Neeskens, a man who has spent most of his career working as a No2 in highly-organised, cohesive structures.

There can be no question Neeskens has lost the dressing room. With Elias Pelembe given the weekend off for personal reasons at Atteridgeville on Saturday, Teko Modise looks to have lost the spark again, chances were missed, an acceptance of inferiority is creeping in.

And of course, Motsepe – a mining magnate with R23billion to play with – has problems underground of late. When he talks strikers, it has little to do with football these days.

He did find time to back Neeskens over the weekend. Before a “normal” meeting with the players, he announced: “Johan is a great coach. We’ve made it clear we believe in him, we support him.”

With the fans chanting for former Bafana boss Pitso Mosimane’s return, Motsepe added: “Our supporters must be educated. You win, lose or draw, you go through ups and downs. Those who threaten violence must not be allowed to enter our stadiums.”

So Neeskens is not under threat. And he’s not about to resign, despite the sharpening of vuvuzelas among some elements at the club. So there you are Sundowns fans, you have your explanation. But sadly, no solution.

Mamelodi Sundowns results this season:

06 Oct 2012
Mamelodi Sundowns
Platinum Stars
Lucas Moripe Stadium
30 Sep 2012
Moroka Swallows
Mamelodi Sundowns
Volkswagen Dobsonville Stadium
26 Sep 2012
Mamelodi Sundowns
SuperSport United
Lucas Moripe Stadium
15 Sep 2012
Golden Arrows
Mamelodi Sundowns
Moses Mabhida Stadium
02 Sep 2012
Mamelodi Sundowns
Maritzburg Utd
Lucas Moripe Stadium
26 Aug 2012
Moroka Swallows
Mamelodi Sundowns
Volkswagen Dobsonville Stadium
22 Aug 2012
Kaizer Chiefs
Mamelodi Sundowns
Soccer City Complex
18 Aug 2012
Mamelodi Sundowns
Moroka Swallows
Lucas Moripe Stadium
11 Aug 2012
Mamelodi Sundowns
Chippa United
Lucas Moripe Stadium
05 Aug 2012
Mamelodi Sundowns
Kaizer Chiefs
Loftus Stadium