Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Cheeky monkey: Mark Clattenburg finally gets his whistle back tomorrow night

Black mark: Clattenburg and Mikel

MARK CLATTENBURG will return to refereeing tomorrow night for the first time since his outrageous exhibition of wayward whistling at Stamford Bridge on October 28.

But while the 37-year-old from Newcastle goes back to work, Chelsea’s Nigeria international John Obi Mikel faces a charge of misconduct from the English Football Association, with the outcome expected later this week.

Though Chelsea have yet to recover from Clattenburg’s machinations nearly a month ago, the referee in question was the fourth official at White Hart Lane for Tottenham’s win over West Ham on Sunday.

And Clattenburg will be in possession of the whistle for the first time when Norwich travel to Southampton tomorrow night. It is unlikely he will use the word “monkey” at any point.

The FA’s official website says simply: "Chelsea’s John Obi Mikel has been charged by The FA for an alleged breach of FA Rule E3 in relation to his side’s game against Manchester United on 28 October 2012.

"It is alleged that in or around the Match Officials’ changing room at the end of the fixture, Mikel used threatening and/or abusive and/or insulting words and/or behaviour.”

Mikel has not denied the charge – in fact, he wants a personal hearing to explain the circumstances surrounding the matter. He has until Friday to do that. Why does he want a hearing? Because he feels aggrieved. He feels he was right. He heard the racist word “monkey” used by the referee.

I believe Mikel heard Clattenburg used the classic Geordie expression “cheeky monkey” though some suggest he said “I don’t give a monkey’s” during the match.

And several sources report Clattenburg calling Juan Mata “Spanish twat” when things became heated late in the game.

Those expressions sound worse in isolation than they do in print. “Cheeky monkey” is by no means a racist insult, it is generally used affectionately towards children in Britain, though few would dream of using those words where a Nigerian midfield enforcer is concerned.

As for “I don’t give a monkey’s”, that’s a post-war phrase meaning “I couldn’t care less” which has largely fallen into disuse south of the Tyne.

“Spanish twat” is probably the worst of the allegations, though it would be difficult to accuse Clattenburg of racism over that particular nationalistic outburst, all part of his chatty refereeing style.

So Clattenburg has been “cleared of any wrongdoing”. The FA say: "We have concluded the investigation into alleged misconduct by Mark Clattenburg during the match between Chelsea FC and Manchester United FC on Sunday 28 October 2012. No disciplinary action will follow against Mr Clattenburg.”

But how is it that Clattenburg, a referee who has a history of bad debt, bad tempered emails and bad decisions, escaped unpunished from what Chelsea clearly believe was a clear case of abuse against TWO of their players – Mikel and Mata? To the point where chairman Bruce Buck has apologised in person and compensation may have to be paid?

After all, Chelsea have yet to recover from the events of that fateful last-gasp 3-2 defeat against Manchester United. They haven’t won a game since, they’ve crashed off the top of the Premier League and out of the Champions League.

And to cap it all, miraculous European conqueror Roberto di Matteo has been sacked as coach in the aftermath, replaced amid loud boos by unloved former Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez.

Clattenburg sent off two Blues – Branislav Ivanovic and, more controversially for diving, Fernando Torres – and awarded United an off-side winner before finding himself confronted by the usually phlegmatic Buck and several others in his dressing room after the match, where the accusations of abuse flew.

Initially, Chelsea wanted action taken against Clattenburg for verbally abusing both Mata and Mikel, but on October 31, they chose to pursue the matter on behalf of Mikel alone.

The FA statement on that read: "On Wednesday 31 October Chelsea FC contacted The FA and confirmed that the club had conducted an internal enquiry and that they did wish to proceed with a formal complaint in relation to one of the allegations of abuse. The club did not wish to proceed in relation to the other allegation. The club provided witness statements from two players, Ramires Santos do Nascimento (“Ramires”) and John Obi Mikel.”

Ramires and Mikel were interviewed by The FA on November 5 where the FA also used video footage of the match. Chelsea provided "unbroadcast television coverage of the game from static cameras" which The FA showed Ramires when he was re-interviewed on November 15.

The FA also revealed that its findings showed that Ramires' first language is not English and that Mikel "was much closer to the referee than Ramires and did not hear what it is suggested was said to him."

The three other match officials, who were also witnesses in the case, said Clattenburg did not utter the "alleged words" via their communication gadgets. But would Mikel and Mata have reported the words if they hand’t been uttered? I doubt it.

Though Sir Alex Ferguson leapt to Clattenburg’s defence – insisting with absolutely no basis that Clattenburg would “never do that” – there can be no question a display of very poor refereeing was punctuated by very poorly chosen words.

But the FA appear to feel that doesn’t matter. Punishing Mikel for his righteous indignation does. Do 
they give a monkey’s?

Monday, 26 November 2012

Roger and OUT: why Palmgren had to part ways with AmaZulu

Swede dreams: Roger Palmgren

AMAZULU reacted swiftly to their weekend plunge back to the foot of the PSL – by finally sacking Swedish head coach Roger Palmgren.
The final straw came on Sunday, when Mamelodi Sundowns finally registered their second win of the season to creep off the bottom, courtesy of a 1-0 win at Bloemfontein Celtic.
AmaZulu went down 1-0 to Free State Stars at the Moses Mabhida and despite a recent resurgence of sorts – they stand 11th in the Q2 table with a win over AmaTuks and a draw against Sundowns last week – management was forced to act.
Usuthu General Manager Peter O’Connor said on the club website: “We met with Roger and advised him that his services have been terminated with immediate effect and informed the players and the technical team of what has happened.
“Fani Madida will be caretaker coach until we have announced the new coach which will hopefully be will soon.”
Under the Swede this season, AmaZulu recorded two League wins - but one of them came while Palmgren was on leave attending a family bereavement in Sweden.
Palmgren’s career has been largely African based with his spells in charge of the Sierra Leone national side dominating a CV which also features the DR Congo and Rwanda before he arrived in South Africa in 2009 to take over at Thanda Royal Zulu.
Palmgren told www.soccerladuma.co.za yesterday: “I’ve been replaced, some changes had to be made. I’m quite disappointed, we had a record season last season but this season I didn’t get the players I wanted.
“I’m very proud of what I’ve achieved and we’ve produced a lot of talent. This season didn’t go well from the start, but that’s football.”
Madida will probably be in charge for the December 5 clash at Leopards as AmaZulu attempt to improve on a record of 12 games, two wins, three draws and seven defeats.
Despite last Wednesday’s draw at Sundowns, Palmgren – who still boasts Bafana’s veteran AFCON  winning coach Clive Barker on his staff – must have known it was only a matter of time before AmaZulu did what rock-bottom QPR did to Mark Hughes in the English Premier League last week.
Palmgren is not the winner of the PSL sack race this season – he trails in a distant sixth behind  Maarten Stekelenberg (Ajax Cape Town), Roger Sikhakane and Mngqithi (both Chippa United), Muhsin Ertugral (Golden Arrows) and Augusto Palacios (Orlando Pirates).
This story also appears with my regular Tuesday Neal & Pray column in www.thenewage.co.za tomorrow.
The PSL Q2 table appears below:
1 Orlando Pirates    4..4..0..0..10..1..12
Mburg United       4..3..1..0..6..2..10 
3 Kaizer Chiefs        4..3..0..1..8..5..9
4 Plat Stars                4..3..0..1..6..3..9

5 FS Stars                  4..2..1..1..3..2..7 
6 Bloem Celtic          4..2..0..2..3..3..6
7 Leopards                 4..2..0..2..3..6..6 
8 Chippa Utd            4..1..2..1..7..6..5
9 Sundowns              4..1..2..1..4..5..5

10 Ajax CT                 4..1..1..2..4..5..4
11 Amazulu                4..1..1..2..2..3..4
12 Wits                        4..1..1..2..3..5..4
13 SuperSport U       4..0..3..1..5..6..3 

14 AmaTuks               4..0..2..2..2..4..2 
15 Swallows                4..0..1..3..4..9..
16 Arrows                    4..0..1..3..2..7..1 

Sunday, 25 November 2012

By popular demand: the PSL Q2 table. And yes, Pirates are top, Arrows are bottom.

This is how the PSL Q2 table looks four games in, halfway to the second R2.5m bonus of the season:

1 Orlando Pirates    4..4..0..0..10..1..12
Mburg United       4..3..1..0..6..2..10 
3 Kaizer Chiefs        4..3..0..1..8..5..9 
4 Plat Stars                4..3..0..1..6..3..9

5 FS Stars                  4..2..1..1..3..2..7 
6 Bloem Celtic          4..2..0..2..3..3..6
7 Leopards                 4..2..0..2..3..6..6 
8 Chippa Utd            4..1..2..1..7..6..5 
9 Sundowns              4..1..2..1..4..5..5

10 Ajax CT                 4..1..1..2..4..5..4
11 Amazulu                4..1..1..2..2..3..4
12 Wits                        4..1..1..2..3..5..4
13 SuperSport U       4..0..3..1..5..6..3 

14 AmaTuks               4..0..2..2..2..4..2 
15 Swallows                4..0..1..3..4..9..
16 Arrows                    4..0..1..3..2..7..1 

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Why the Telkom KO showdown between Sundowns and Celtic on December 1 HAS to be the Teko Modise final

Cup jinx: Teko Modise, 29, has yet to win a major trophy

AFTER two enthralling semis there is only one way to tag the Telkom Knock-out showdown on December 1 between miraculous Mamelodi Sundowns and blooming Bloemfontein Celtic: it’s the Teko Modise final.

On Saturday night, Msandawana defied their status as the PSL’s worst side this season, holding off Gavin Hunt’s bus-parking, bar-busting SuperSport United 1-0 in Polokwane.

The Peter Mokaba Stadium was treated to a cup tie of the highest order as Johan Neeskens prowled the touchline knowing that, despite his legendary Dutch pedigree, he should have left Chloorkop weeks ago.

After just 15 minutes, the enigmatic Eleazar Rodgers, picked up by Sundowns when Santos were relegated last year, latched on to the end of the improving Anthony Laffor’s cross to score the only goal of the game.

From there on in, it was a case of draw-specialist Hunt – with a win, a loss and eight wins in the PSL – trying to unpark his bus and find a route to an equaliser against relegation-haunted opposition.

It so nearly came in the dying moments with SuperSport hitting the bar and having a penalty appeal turned down, but a relieved Neeskens said afterwards: “I must give my boys a big compliment, I think they deserved it. We saw an exciting game with both teams competitive. They have only lost one game in the league.

“In the second half they put more people upfront, so it was difficult to defend - they were unlucky to hit the crossbar. I think it is a terrific result and it will give everybody a boost.”

The bustling ball of energy which is Hunt was predictably less enthusiastic: “I’m disappointed not to reach the final,” he growled, “Decisions haven’t been going for us lately. We came so close, we should have had a penalty.

“It was an exciting semi-final. But we have to pick ourselves up now and get on with it.”

If Polokwane was exciting, the Charles Mopeli Stadium in Qua-Qua was soon renamed Kwaaa-Kwaaa as local rivals Bloemfontein Celtic took the lead twice in normal time (Letladi Madubanya and sub Lerato Manzini) only for Free State stars to peg them back with two well taken goals from Dove Wome.

In the end, it was the irrepressible Botswana striker Joel Mogorosi who decided the match in extra-time, his long-range header just beaten the out-stretched arms of Zambia’s AFCON winning goalkeeper Kennedy Mweene in the Stars goal.

Mweene, injured when teenagers stoned the Zambia bus after their midweek 1-0 win over Bafana Bafana at Soccer City, said: "I was fit. Luckily I was not too badly hurt. They were only youngsters, but these things should not happen. Thank God it wasn't serious. But I was ready to play and I'm disappointed not to make the final."

With head coach Clinton Larsen banned after his red card against Maritzburg United, Boebie Solomons took the post-match plaudits for Celtic, beaming: “They kept coming back at us but we never gave up. They equalised twice but we always came up with another goal.”

For Stars boss Steve Komphela, the only man in South African football capable of talking Gavin Hunt under the table, it was nearly too much: “I am so disappointed. Football is such a strange game. It makes you so excited.

“My belly was full of tension, it was so full I could burst. So I had to kick a chair to relieve the stress.”

And with Katlego Cambridge Mashego breaking his leg in two places, Komphela said: “Football is like a war, there are casualties. There are no prisoners of war. We will miss him.”

And so to the final on December 1. The venue has yet to be decided but with Charles Mopeli not attracting many pre-match pop concerts, the surface was good, the crowd loud… so perhaps we could look forward to another Kwaaa-Kwaaa showdown. The Orlando Stadium remains favourite, though Moses Mabhida and Nelson Mandela Bay have both been mooted.

And in the background looms the figure of Teko Modise, the Sundowns midfielder who holds the dubious distinction of being the best modern South African footballer NOT to have won a trophy.

Modise was picked up by SuperSport United  after winning the Mvela Golden League Player of the Season while playing for City Pillars during the 2005/2006 season. After two seasons with Matsatsantsa a Pitori when they finished 6th and 7th in the PSL, he was spotted by Orlando Pirates.

But while he was strutting his stuff for the Buccaneers and winning Player of the Year awards in 2008 and 2009, Teko had to be content with seeing SuperSport United win three titles in a row.

Then, when he left for Sundowns after a fall-out with Ruud Krol, the Buccaneers won two successive trebles after Modise's depature. Meanwhile Daine Klate, in direct contrast, had won FIVE titles on the trot with SuperSport and Pirates. All of which led, predictably, to talk of a Modise trophy jinx.

After his side crashed out of this season’s MTN8 against Moroka Swallows, Modise said: "It's very disappointing. We can't be talking about this same thing year after year."

This time, with Modise back to something approaching his best, won’t just be about Msandawana and Phunya Sele Sele. It will be the Teko Modise final. And I think the trophy-winning jinx may soon be at an end.

Friday, 16 November 2012

Pirates and punishment: Why clubs MUST take responsibility for their unruly fans

Fan trouble: at the Orlando Stadium in August

THERE was a football story which very nearly slipped under the radar this week, a tale far more worrying than Bafana's 1-0 defeat against AFCON champions Zambia or Banyana's final 4-0 CAF defeat against those dodgy gals from Equatorial Guinea.

Very quietly, a day after announcing their “learning centre” to help the local community, Orlando Pirates took their case over fan behaviour to arbitration, claiming the Buccaneers CANNOT be blamed for the behaviour of their Ghostly fans.

It might not sound important. Especially when you consider the club run by the PSL chairman - Irvin Khoza was re-elected unopposed last week - announced on the same day they were closing their youth academy due to concerns over age cheating.

All in all, with two fans arrested for stoning the Zambia team bus outside Soccer City, it hasn't been a great week for South African football. SAFA CEO Robin Petersen remains on the brink of being re-deployed and livewire Malmo striker Tokelo Rantie could be OUT of AFCON after going off injured against the Zambians.

But it's the reluctance of the Iron Duke to accept his club's liability for the behaviour of their fans which is of serious concern, with the African Cup of Nations kicking off here on January 19 when Bafana play the Cape Verde Islands.

The thing is, Pirates tend to see themselves as above the law these days. The case in point - trouble during last season's Telkom KO final against Wits - is not the only problem. I was at the Orlando Stadium when serious trouble halted their MTN quarter-final against SuperSport United.

I stood among the Ghost while referee Robert Smith was forced to suspend the game briefly when fireworks were throw - and then scurried to safety when the whistle went and fans invaded the pitch, furious about Smith’s decision to red card Benni McCarthy.

I said at the time action should be taken, REAL fines handed out and the threat of playing behind closed doors should have been wheeled out. Instead, the PSL disciplinary committee chose to charge Kaizer Chiefs for far less serious misdemeanours at Loftus against Sundowns a month before along with Pirates.

And then, on the day Gordon Igesund led Bafana for the first time on home soil against Mozambique, both cases were adjourned.  No action was taken. Then we had pictures of Johan Neeskens being pelted by Msandawana fans at Moroka Swallows, images that were flashed around the world.

If ever there was a time to clamp down hard on fan misbehaviour it is now. Instead, the chairman of the PSL (who also runs the NSL and is a vice president of SAFA, though he has decided NOT to run for Olympic chairman) apparently chooses to dispute his club’s liability.

Think carefully about this. I am not waging war against Orlando Pirates or the Iron Duke. Nobody would be that stupid in the current climate. What I am saying is that, instead of clamping down on the kind of embarrassing incident which happened after the Zambia game this week, we are disputing who is responsible.

Pirates have good reason to take such action. Their fans have several outstanding cases against them. First the Telkom Final, for which they received a R250,000 suspended fine which they failed to overturn on appeal.

Then, according to the excellent Mark Gleeson, my old pal writing for the Sowetan, we have:

15 February: Pirates charged after supporters threw objects at the Black Leopards goalkeeper twice in the second half of their match.

19 May: Pirates fans invaded the pitch at the Moses Mabhida Stadium after their title-clinching win over Lamontville Golden Arrows. The charge took two months to materialise. Case put on hold.

25 August: Pirates were charged after supporters threw an assortment of objects onto the pitch during the MTN8 semifinal second leg when SuperSport United won 3-0 at the Orlando Stadium. As I mentioned above, an Nyala armoured car was called in to action to protect the referee and several fans in SuperSport and Kaizer Chiefs shirts – as well as a press photographer - were injured after a pitch invasion.

Gleeson says that, over the past two years, Pirates have paid R250,000 in fines and after losing their appeal over the Telkom final, they owed another R100,000.

With the three further charges above still outstanding months after the problems occurred, Pirates could now face a bill of R1million for incidents since December last year. In most FIFA nations, the threat of playing behind closed doors would now have emerged.

For the double-treble champions to “boast” such a track record but remain unpunished seems almost unbelievable.

Then, on Wednesday, we had Pirates going to arbitration to change the globally accepted understanding that clubs SHOULD BE RESPONSIBLE for their fans.

If Pirates win their case, they will be able to shrug off the charges listed above, claiming they have nothing to do with their own fans’ behaviour.

The same will apply to Sundowns and Chiefs. But at the same time, how will future outbreaks of fan violence be dealt with? Who gets punished? Will security companies and the police be forced to attend in larger numbers – and could THEY then face fines for failing to control crowds?

Stadium security and conditions in Europe – particularly in Britain – were upped after a long history of hooliganism which kept women and children from watching football 20 years ago. But only because harsh measures were taken against the clubs involved – ALL English clubs were banned from Europe for five years after the Heysel disaster, several were forced to play in front of empty stadiums.

If Pirates – backed by their owner and PSL chairman Dr Khoza – succeed in escaping responsibility for their fans, who will keep the peace?

Of course the individuals who misbehave must be caught and punished, but it the club isn’t fined or forced to play behind closed doors, how will South African football EVER be able to ensure the security of vulnerable fans?

So far, we have had no public statement from Dr Khoza on the way his club is trying to escape responsibility for the fans who wear their replica shirts and buy their tickets.

But I’d suggest he think very carefully about who he supports here – his own PSL disciplinary committee, or the club he runs.

Monday, 12 November 2012

No Tower. No Major. Let's hope Gordon Igesund hasn't made his first mistake as Bafana coach

Major mistake: Lehlohonolo Major is in fine form
WHEN Bafana Bafana entertain the reigning African champions Zambia on Wednesday night in honour of Nelson Mandela at Soccer City, two of the nation’s form players will be watching the game on the television.

Despite Gordon Igesund’s insistence that he would be “picking players who are doing well for their clubs” the two men who have kept Kaizer Chiefs at the top of the Professional Soccer League table do NOT feature in his squad for the Nelson Mandela Challenge this week.

Mulomowandau Mathoho and Lehlohonolo Majoro – perhaps better known as the Tower and the Major – have been the driving force behind the AmaKhosi’s hugely popular ascent to the top of the local tree. While Igesund spent last week visiting Everton’s Steven Pienaar and Norwich City’s Andrew Surman, Mathoho was a Tower of strength in Chiefs’ wins over Golden Arrows and SuperSport United.

Lest we forget, Bernard Parker scored all the Chiefs goals early on – including a remarkable four against AmaZulu – to force his way in to Gordon’s squad. But with Kingston Nkatha also weighing in up front, Majoro - despite his new, boring hairstyle - is currently the nation’s form goal-getter with five goals in four games. He now trails Parker by one, with six PSL strikes.

And at the back, it is Mathoho – along with Igesund’s favourite goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune – who has ensured the AmaKhosi have conceded a league-leading five goals in 11 games.

Chiefs boss Stuart Baxter, looking more comfortable by the week, said after Majoro had scored both goals in the 2-1 win over previously unbeaten SuperSport United, said: “Major dares me to leave him out of the starting line-up. He trains well and he looks so threatening. I have to pick him.”

And Mathoho, man of the match in the midweek 3-0 win over Golden Arrows, was overlooked yesterday when Igesund decided to call up team-mate Siboniso Gaxa to replace the injured Siya Sangweni in central defence.

Gaxa, like fellow squad members Anele Ngcongca (Racing Club Genk, Belgium), Ricardo Nunes (MSK Zilina), Punch Masenamela (Mamelodi Sundowns) and Thabo Nthethe (Bloemfontein Celtic) is more of a full-back than a central defender. Which leaves us with SuperSport United's Bevan Fransman to fill the a hole and stifle Zambia's big Pirate, Collins Mbesuma.

Thus far, Igesund has used Orlando Pirate Sangweni at centre-back next to captain Bongani Khumalo, currently strutting his stuff for PAOK in Greece. Given Sangweni’s knee injury, the failure to call up Tower is probably even more startling than the decision to overlook Majoro for his team-mate Parker, Tokelo Rantie, Katlego Mashego and Kermit Erasmus up front.

After his strirring efforts last week, Tower grinned: “Credit should go to each and every one in the team. I do not do it alone; we win as a team.

“We need to make sure that we follow our game plan. Winning can be a habit.”

It’s a habit Gordon MUST have by the time AFCON 2013 kicks off at the same Soccer City venue on January 19 against Cape Verde Islands. Still, Igesund does have another form player to turn to. Sifiso Myeni continues to impress in Orlando, scoring the only goal against Steve Komphela’s men on Saturday to put the Pirates second in the PSL.

Coach Roger de Sa, another boss who appears to be enjoying himself lately, said of the youngster he first groomed at Wits: “Sifiso? I’m delighted. With his form and his goal-scoring ability. I know him pretty well and he is playing with a lot of confidence.

“At the moment he is carrying us.”

Hopefully he will carry Gordon’s Bafana on Wednesday night too. But you can’t help thinking the Tower and the Major would have made his task that much easier. 

Gordon spent today's press conferences and media chats outlining his successes and failures on the whistle-stop tour of the UK last week.

He told us he talked to Norwich City's South African-born Andrew Surman and explained: "He didn't seem interested, so I left it at that."

And Igesund went to great lengths to insist he "only went for a cup of coffee" with Steven Pienaar, who announced his international retirement last month. Gordon repeatedly stressed: "The subject of Bafana didn't come up. I wasn't there to beg him to change his mind. He's a man. It was a tough decision. We have to respect that.

"I spoke to Steve about his family - there was some good news about his wife - and I discussed football with him and his coach, David Moyes. Stevie said how much he was enjoying his football. But he says because of the condition of his groin, he can only train twice a week and needs a day to recover afterwards.

Steven Pienaar has been a great ambassador for this country for ten years. He deserves recognition for that. That's why I saw him. Not to make him change his mind. We just had a cup of coffee, that's all. He talked about the differences between Spurs and Everton, stuff like that.

"Is the door closed for Pienaar? Will he ever play for South Africa again? Look, I will never close the door on any South African who wants to play for his country. That's how it is."

The good news came in the shape of Kagiso Dikgacoi at Crystal Palace and Dean Furman, the Oldham Athletic captain. Igesund explained: "I visited both of them. I met KD's new coach at Palace, Ian (Holloway) and he was full of praise for KD. He's made a place for himself there in a very competitive league. I watched him played in a defensive role against Ipswich.

"And I phoned Ian after Palace won over the weekend and KD scored. They are top of that league, he is doing well. Ian said he can playing attacking or defensive. They love him there.

"And with both Oldham and Palace, I got what I wanted. I asked them to release KD and Furman a week early. FIFA stipulates they only have to be released two weeks before the tournament. But I've got their clubs to agree to let me have them on January 1.

"That was why I made the trip. To get to know these managers. To build a relationship. Some games, against local sides, I won't call their players. It's give and take.

"Now I have to build that relationship, with the managers in Begium, Holland and Greece too. That is my job.

"I also spoke to David Somma at Leeds. He's been out of football for a long time with a knee ligament problem but he's played two games for the reserves and he's nearly there.

"It's the same for Thulani Serero at Ajax Amsterdam. He is training again too. But for all these players, Morgan Gould, Killer Mphela and Benni McCarthy, they are back in training but they have to play for their club teams before I can seriously consider them.

"It isn't too late for any of them. But it's getting late. We kick off AFCON on January 19. Time is limited."

A shortened version of this story will appear as my Neal and Pray column in tomorrow's The New Age. See www.thenewage.co.za.

Equatorial Guinea, gender, nationality and human rights: Why Banyana's final demise deserves closer scrutiny

Double trouble: Genoveva Anonma, who scored twice against Banyana

BANYANA BANYANA’S epic attempt to lift the CAF Women’s crown may have come to an abrupt halt when they lost to hosts Equatorial Guinea 4-0 yesterday – but look under the veneer of a one-sided final and you'll find there are a couple of very good reasons for their failure to lift the continental crown.

The “women” who lifted the female African Cup of Nations in Malabo might be worth closer scrutiny following repeated questions over their gender and nationality.

My problem with Equatorial Guinea does not start with their women’s team. During the African Cup of Nations – generally the natural domain of male footballers – in January, I wrote this http://www.neal-collins.blogspot.com/2012/01/rampant-corruption-11-foreigners-and-1m.html explaining how the oil-rich nation works.

Although the second-smallest African UN member’s GDP is $35,000 per person, two-thirds of the population lives on less than $1 a day with a tiny elite living the high life.

In a notoriously undemocratic country scandalously low on human rights and poverty indexes, the Equatorial Guinea FA have been known to move the goalposts before – passports are granted to overseas players, birth certificates are altered and huge bonuses are paid to their footballers while the large majority of the nation starves.

At one point during AFCON2012, the team overseen by Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangu – the Equatoguinean president’s son - fielded NOT ONE player born in Africa’s “richest” nation as they turned to heroes born in Brazil, Liberia, Spain and Cameroon in a tournament hostly jointly with Gabon.

But when it comes to the women’s game – where NINE of the team were foreign-born - something really dodgy lurks beneath the surface. The tiny nation’s inexplicable rise up the women’s rankings may just have been achieved using MEN.

According to http://english.alarabiya.net/articles/2011/06/25/154809.html in 2010, during the last women’s AFCON in South Africa, the Equatorians were forced to drop “sisters” Salimata and Bilguisa Simpore from the team.

Ghana captain Florence Okoe said after her team’s defeat against the former Spanish colony: “It is not as if we are throwing sour grapes, just because we have lost. Rather, this is the fact and it is up to the organizers to do something about this. It is not good for African women’s football.”

And her teammate Diana Ankomah insisted: “You only need to have physical contact with them to know this, and we can tell from what happened most times during the match.”

The side ranked 62 in the FIFA women’s rankings – currently 5th in Africa behind powerhouse Nigeria – simply dropped the rugged “sisters” and carried on. No gender tests were carried out despite promises from CAF after official complaints were made.

FIFA’s response? With Equatorial Guinea pumping millions in to hosting a raft of international tournaments, Sepp Blatter’s people said: "No mandatory or routine gender testing verification examinations will take place at Fifa competitions.

"It lies with each participating member association to prior to the nomination of its national team ensure the correct gender of all players by actively investigating any perceived deviation in secondary sex characteristics and keeping complete documentation of the findings."

In other words: FIFA did NOTHING.

Equatorial Guinea's football federation, Feguifoot, claimed they were being subjected to a "campaign of defamation", adding: "Accusations about the supposed presence of men are totally unfounded. These allegations are being made by groups of people that watch with pessimism the progress made by Equatorial Guinean soccer."

Genoveva Anonma, who scored twice in yesterday’s final against Banyana and plays professionally for the German club USV Jena, told the BBC that she had already been gender tested after complaints from opponents, which she found "offensive".

South Africa’s team manager in 2010, Fran Hilton-Smith, was quoted at the time saying: "I think they are probably intersex and they think they are girls. That's the aspect that needs to be investigated.

"Fifa has to come up with some specific medical gender tests to establish whether these players are intersex. If they have 100% testosterone that definitely gives them an advantage. They shouldn't be banned but they should be helped."

Equatorial Guinea were also accused of fielding male players in 2008 when they last won the African women's championship. They are still the only country other than far larger near-neighbours Nigeria to win the title.

During this year’s AFCON they won all five games and scored 18 goals while conceding none.

The country’s president Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo overthrew previous dictator Francisco Macías Nguema on 3 August, 1979 in a bloody coup d'état. Since then some 12 unsuccessful coup attempts have occurred.

Equatorial Guinea has one of the worst human rights records in the world, consistently ranking among the "worst of the worst" in Freedom House's annual survey of political and civil rights and Reporters Without 

The press monitoring agency Borders ranks President Obiang among its "predators" of press freedom with the President banning "all political dissent" and appointing his son to the previously unknown role of "second vice president" and granting him diplomatic immunity from legal action being taken against him in France.

The Trafficking in Persons Report 2012 states "Equatorial Guinea is a source and destination for women and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking." The report rates Equatorial Guinea as a "Tier 3" country, the worst ranking.

President Obiang has been in power for 33 years – the longest-serving leader in Africa. Last year he announced plans for a new capital in the country, to be called Djibloho while the majority of his people lack access to electricity or running water.

And in the light of all that, who can blame Banyana for their final denouement or President Jacob Zuma for using state funds to improve Nkandla?

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Orlando Pirates at Sundowns: Benni's not back, Jali's out, Brazilians could go nuts

Just good friends: Roger and Benni

LAST season Loftus Versfeld was sold out for the PSL crunch clash between champions Orlando Pirates and big-spending Mamelodi Sundowns. The missus and I had to sneak through the gates with a little help from sympathetic gatekeepers in Tshwane.

It was standing room only for the clash between Johan Neeskens and Julio Leal - but for all the hype, the game ended disappointingly, 0-0.

Tonight the Buccaneers and Msandawana go at it again – only this time Pirates are the double champions and Sundowns are struggling.

With Dutch coach Johan Neeskens under huge pressure and billionaire chairman Patrice Motsepe hit by fan boycotts and poor form, the Brazilians will go nuts if their expensively-assembled side fail to lift themselves up the PSL table from their current spot just above rock-bottom AmaZulu.

But new Sea Robbers boss Roger de Sa is starting to learn about the pressure of being in charge of the Sowetan giants.

Though his side are fourth in the PSL, Pirates went out of the Telkom Cup on Sunday despite leading 3-1 at Bloemfontein Celtic after 90 minutes. And with Kaizer Chiefs leaving Golden Arrows quivering last night to retain their grip on the top of the table seven points ahead of their arch-rivals, De Sa knows defeat will leave the Ghost grumbling. Loudly.

And Pirates go in to tonight’s match without Andile Jali, their talismanic midfielder. Jali was selected for the national squad by Gordon Igesund this week – only to have his name scratched out when the full extent of the knee problem picked up at Celtic on Sunday was revealed.

This morning Pirates confirmed Jali is out for “at least two weeks” and his midfield partner Oupa Manyisa, who had the crucial penalty saved in the shoot-out on Sunday, is also struggling with a tight hamstring.

The official Pirates website insists “the technical team still has the likes of Onyekachi Okonkwo, Thandani Ntshumayelo and Manti Moholo at their disposal” and the entire nation was looking forward to the return of Bafana’s record goalscorer Benni McCarthy, injured in Igesund’s first game against Brazil way back on September 6.

It now appears Benni is NOT back. With McCarthy’s apparent hamstring strain reaching unexpected lengths and last year’s fall-out with the Wits boss De Sa and his assistant Eric Tinkler in the Telkom KO final yet to be publicly tested, a return was expected by most media outlets previewing the game this morning.

But inside sources suggest McCarthy remains out in the cold for reasons as yet unclear ... it all adds up to a fascinating night in central Tshwane.

My old mate Lucky Lekgwathi, forced in to an emergency full-back position on Sunday, simply says what Roger knows: "We need all three points tonight – we’ll need to concentrate. For the whole game. “We are not under-estimating MamelodiSundowns just because of their current position in the table. They are a very good team.

“We have to forget the past and focus on this game and win. If we score, we need to know how to defend, how to win the game.”

Which is exactly what they didn’t do against Celtic. Sundowns striker Anthony Laffor responds: “We all know that Pirates suffered that awful defeat in Bloem. They will come at us but we want it as bad as they do, if not more.”

The Liberian international added on the Sundowns website: “There is always pressure that comes with playing for a big club like Sundowns, and people are always trying to destabilize the team by creating all sorts of untrue stories that there’s no unity in the club.

"In the dressing room, we are a united family, and the coach, being our father, always makes sure that it stays that way”

“Our supporters shouldn't believe everything that they read, they must know that as Sundowns players, we are working very hard behind the scenes in restoring pride to this big brand, and I strongly feel that we are on the right track”

De Sa has pulled a major surprise by leaving Benni out and four-goal Zambian Collins Mbesuma on the bench, going instead with Zimbabwean Takesure Chinyama and Thulasizwe “JuJu” Mbuyanewho, who has yet to score a goal this season.

Mbuyane told kickoff.com: "I don't know whether it is luck or what that I'm always scoring against Sundowns. I am always fired up when we play them and if given a chance I am ready to work hard and won't disappoint."

Personally, I predict another draw – but let’s hope for a few goals this time around. History is against us though. Sundowns drew 0-0 at Ajax Cape Town in their last PSL clash, Pirates drew 0-0 at home to lowly AmaZulu.

The PSL tells us Sundowns and Pirates have met in 55 league matches since 1985. The Brazilians have 23 wins compared to 16 for Bucs, while 16 matches have been drawn.

And big daddy Neeskens may just find his troubled reign at Chloorkop will come to an end if Sundowns finish pointless tonight.

Monday, 5 November 2012

Game of the season followed by warmed balls... and Gordon's latest Bafana

Gotcha: The picture that proves Celtic goalkeeper Amour
Tignyemb moved off his line for the Manyisa penalty
IT’S not often you witness a side 3-1 up in the 90th minute of a quarter-final go crashing out of a cup competition. Yet somehow, that is exactly what habitual treble winners Orlando Pirates contrived to manage in Bloemfontein on Sunday.

Roger and out? For the Buccaneers’ hopes of defending the Telkom Knock Out it was certainly that. Comfortable progress was wrecked by TWO late Celtic goals which sees both Free State sides join the Tshwane rivals SuperSport United and Mamelodi Sundowns in the semi-finals after an epic weekend of knock-out action.
Predictably (I said so on twitter shortly before the draw) we have ended up with two derbies in the semi-finals, and I'm predicting a final at Irvin Khoza's Orlando Stadium now his beloved Pirates are out.That's what happpened in the MTN8 showdown and nobody complained. It's all about warming your balls at these draws, or so Diego Maradona told me once.  Gavin Hunt and Steve Komphela are tasked with derailing a lucrative Celtic v Sundowns final. 
Right on cue, SuperSport United midfielder Franklin Cale came up with this comforting quote after the draw: “I am happy, it is a lovely draw. I did not expect to play against Sundowns but I am happy with the draw."
But I digress. As the social networks buzzed with scathing critiques of Pirates coach Roger de Sa – particularly over his use of substitutes in perhaps the best game of the season so far – it’s worth noting blooming Celtic needed a little help to reach their semi-final against Free State Stars.
Firstly, consider the penalty that put Celtic on the scoresheet. After a scintillating free-kick from Daine Klate and a second goal from Oupa Manyisa, referee Victory Gomez surprised even the ardent home fans with his decision to penalise Siya Sangweni for a clumsy challenge on the edge of the area.
Lennox Bacela scored from the penalty spot, but within seconds in a five-goal second-half, Thabo Matlaba produced a scorcher to restore the two-goal cushion.
Then, with 90 minutes on the clock, Ruzaigh Gamildien’s head made it 3-2 amid a host of time-wasting Piratical injuries which included everything medical ailment known to man, apart from the traditional eye-patch.
And there was Botswana's Joel Mogorosi, after a ponderous Moeneeb Joseph punch, bicycle-kicking the equaliser in the fourth minute of extra-time. Pure footballing theatre which left the nation on the edge of their seats, at the Free State Stadium and at home.
Extra-time came and went without a clincher… and when it came to penalties if front of the impassioned Phunya Sele Sele fans, Celtic were perfect from Bacela to the nerveless Dominic Isaacs, who calmly clobbered the fifth and final nail in to Joseph’s sound-proofed coffin.
Celtic boss Clinton Larsen grinned: "Normally when you are trailing with minutes to go teams give up, but it was the opposite for my players. We showed a lot of character and commitment. We are starting to gel now.”
But Larsen failed to discuss the Bacela penalty during normal time – or the fact his beautifully-named Cameroon goalkeeper Patrick Amour Tignyemb, the man in the Petr Cech headgear, was a yard off his line for the decisive Manyisa penalty save in the shoot-out.
On top of that, De Sa – panned for replacing striker Collins Mbesuma with luckless Ndumiso Mabena and forced to put Lucky Lekgwathi on at full-back early on – had to contend with an injury to Andile Jali after he had made his three replacements. Jali limped through to the finish and even converted a spot kick, but in truth he was struggling through the vital stages. Perhaps that's why Gordon Igesund chose to leave him out of yet another Bafana squad today, though rumours of the reasons behind his glaring ommission continue to plague the social networks.
And then of course, we must consider history. For all their recent trophy-winning form the Pirates – who will have to lift the African Champions League, PSL and Nedbank Cup to complete a miraculous third successive treble – have not won at the Free State Stadium since 2008.
Now De Sa finds himself back in a must-win situation against reviving Mamelodi Sundowns at Loftus Versfeld in the PSL tomorrow night. But he does have an ace up his sleeve. The former Wits coach reveals: “Benni McCarthy will be in the squad. He scored in a friendly 2-2 draw against AmaTuks on Saturday and I can assure you that if he sits on my bench, he is fully fit.”
With one Piratical eye on the so-called spat with Bafana coach Igesund, De Sa added: “If Benni is ready to play for us, he is ready to play for anyone.”
Sadly, it all comes too early for the national squad named yesterday to face AFCON champions Zambia at Soccer City in the Mandela Challenge on November 14. We might have seen McCarthy face up against current Orlando Pirates top-scorer Collins Mbesuma.
Instead, it appears Igesund will opt for Bernard Parker and Benni's former strike partner Tokelo Rantie. Interestingly, both Wayne Sandilands and Moeneeb Josephs have been discarded as Itumeleng Khune's goalkeeping back-up with former Wits stopper Darren Keet, 23, asked to fly over from Belgium for the game.
Gordon's former Moroka Swallows striker Katlego Mashego earns a call up front, hardly a surprise considering his six goals for the Birds so far this season. There are also long-awaited recalls for Thanduyise Khuboni (Lamontville Golden Arrows), Thuso Phala (Platinum Stars) and Kermit Erasmus (Supersport United) in a squad Igesund describes as a "last chance" saloon.

Igesund claims he picked Orlando Pirates midfielder Andile Jali for the Zambia game but crossed his name off when it was revealed he would be out injured after the knee injury he sustained against Celtic on Sunday. He said: "Andile is a good player, I had him in the squad until they called this morning."
With the African Cup of Nations kicking off at Soccer City on January 19, Igesund and his No2 Serame Letsoaka will fly to England tonight to chat to foreign-based Bafana stars, and as I twittered last week, the trip WILL include a chat with Everton's Steven Pienaar.
Igesund said: "Look, we'll have a cup of coffee. I think I owe him at least that. We can't turn our backs on him. Steve has been a great ambassador for his country, he gave us 10 years of service.
“There was lots of criticism. Plenty of talk. People thought he shouldn’t be the captain. I want to ask him why he retired. It must have been a very tough decision based obviously on  being away for six weeks at a key part of the season in the UK.
“The main reason I'm flying over is to try to get my players released a week early, over Christmas. It is very important to have a relationship with these managers, we’ll try to look after each other.”
My expected starting line-up against Zambia: Khune; Ngcongca, Sangweni, Khumalo (capt), Masenamela; Myeni, Furman, Dikgachoi, Modise; Parker, Rantie.

Itumeleng Khune (Kaizer Chiefs)
Darren Keet (KV Kortrijk, Belgium)
Anele Ngcongca (Racing Club Genk, Belgium)
Siyabonga Sangweni (Orlando Pirates)
Bongani Khumalo (PAOK, Greece) (captain)
Bevan Fransman (SuperSport United)
Ricardo Nunes (MSK Zilina, Slovakia)
Punch Masenamela (Mamelodi Sundowns)
Thabo Nthethe (Bloemfontein Celtic)
Dean Furman (Oldham Athletic, England)
Thanduyise Khuboni (Golden Arrows)
Reneilwe Letsholonyane (Kaizer Chiefs)
Lerato Chabangu (Moroka Swallows)
Kagisho Dikgacoi (Crystal Palace, England)
Teko Modise (Mamelodi Sundowns)
Oupa Manyisa (Orlando Pirates)
Thuso Phala (Platinum Stars)
Sifiso Myeni (Orlando Pirates)
Siphiwe Tshabalala (Kaizer Chiefs)
Delron Buckley (Maritzburg United)
Bernard Parker (Kaizer Chiefs)
Katlego Mashego (Moroka Swallows)
Tokelo Rantie (Malmo FF, Sweden)
Kermit Erasmus (SuperSport United)