Monday, 28 October 2013

BIGGER GAME NEXT WEEK: the ultimate Soweto Derby verdict from Orlando Pirates boss Roger de Star

The one that got away: Kingston Nkhatha
A single SMS from Orlando Pirates boss Roger de Sa says it all about Saturday’s controversial Soweto derby: “Like before. Bigger game next week.”

With Saturday night’s African Champions League final first leg looming, Kaizer Chiefs fans can breathe a huge sigh of relief. Kingston Nkhatha’s off-side equaliser  – clearly scored with a little help from linesman Enoch Molefe’s unflagging support – will not be the subject of intense scrutiny for the rest of the week.

Roger and his Buccaneers have bigger fish to fry.

The final against champions and seven-time African champions Al Ahly – this Saturday in Orlando and the next Saturday in Egypt – is all that matters to the Buccaneers.

Roger is far more interested in picking out the raft of veteran Ah Ahly players who have said they will retire after the showdown, and in the news that their goalkeeper Sherif Ekrami stands accused of “faking injury” during Egypt’s lamentable 6-1 World Cup qualifying defeat against Ghana a fortnight ago.

That’s why Roger didn’t even both getting involved in the off-side debate while twitter got itself in a twist of “Enoch, Enoch. Who’s There? Kingston Nkhatha” jokes on the internet and the role referee Victor Hlungwayo played in the PSL encounter.

It’s not like refereeing controversy is new to the Soweto Derby. This year alone, we have had Major’s off-side effort in the Carling Cup final and Morgan Gould’s penalised “push” in the MTN8 semi-final.

Instead, Roger chooses to highlight the positive, saying: "Hopefully we can do our nation proud on Saturday – I’m even hoping to see a lot of yellow jerseys at Orlando, supporting us!”

Getting the message: Roger's SMS on Saturday

With Chiefs coach Stuart Baxter, incredibly, admitting: “If either side had gone for broke, they would have claimed the points,” we had Roger accepting: “We’re happy enough with a draw. It was a fair result from where I was.

"Both teams had chances. They played their game on the counter and we played our passing game, sometimes not as fluidly as usual, but we had our moments.

"It's not a bad result for us, away from home. Maybe next time we will play with fresh legs.”

And really, that’s the point. Orlando Pirates completely outplayed the double-winning South African champions for the first 25 minutes, playing good football.

But those endless flights to the heart of Africa took their toll and by the end, Pirates were happy to accept the Nkhatha injustice and settle for a point which, deceptively, leaves them bottom of the PSL, level with Golden Arrows on four points.

Of course, if they win their five games in hand, they’d go four points clear of current leaders SuperSport United and Moroka Swallows, but that’s for later.

For now, this week, this day, this moment, Roger and his over-worked squad have only one thing in mind. And it’s this: “We haven’t got that star on our shirt yet. That is our priority. That has always been our main aim.”

BOLLOCKZ! my show on, airs every Thursday from 9am. See the Ballz channel on for our growing collection of interviews with the big names in South African football.

You can also follow me on for all the latest sports news… and read my “Neal and Pray” column every Tuesday

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Saturday, 26 October 2013

BOLLOCKZ ON BALLZ! Roger de Sa (Orlando Pirates), Rob Shepherd (Daily Mail) and Joe Crann (Soccer Laduma) videos are HERE!

Here's my interview with Roger de Sa on my football show BOLLOCKZ! on Thursday, where Roger told me how his first-teamers are barely training at the moment given the number of games they are playing at the moment.

With today's Soweto Derby imminent, Roger also explain that Lucky Lekgwathi was playing in friendlies and available for the big game against Kaizer Chiefs. He said: "Lucky is probably a better footballer than Ayanda Gcaba but he is approaching 38. Gcaba is more athletic. It's about horses for courses."

I also spoke to Rob Shepherd, the English Daily Mail's "Grapevine" columnist about European football - he said Russia should not be allowed to host a World Cup given levels of racism suffered by Yaya Toure and Manchester City in Wednesday's 2-1 win at CSKA Moscow.

And he mentioned my once-impressive throw-ins!

My producer Comfort Kheswa and I also talked to Soccer Laduma's Joe Crann, who CONFIRMED Orlando Pirates AND Kaizer Chiefs will compete together in the African Champions League next season if the Buccaneers beat champions Al Ahly in the two-legged final on November 2 and 9.

BOLLOCKZ! my show on, airs every Thursday from 9am. See the Ballz channel on for our growing collection of interviews with the big names in South African football.

You can also follow me on for all the latest sports news… and read my “Neal and Pray” column every Tuesday

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Thursday, 24 October 2013

EXCLUSIVE: BOLLOCKZ! talks to BOTH Soweto Derby coaches before the big one: MUSONA is OUT, MAJORO is FIT, LUCKY is AVAILABLE... and KHUNE is on the phone to clubs in Europe!

BOTH Soweto Derby head coaches appeared on my football show BOLLOCKZ! on this morning - and between them they settled all the big questions looming before Saturday's sold-out showdown.

First Roger de Sa, fresh from the 1-1 draw in Tunisia against Esperance which put his team through to the African Champions League final, came on to congratulate his jet-lagged troops on their 4-0 Telkom Knock-Out quarter-final win over Golden Arrows last night.

Derby date: De Sa and Baxter

Roger explained how his players decided to stay in camp on their return from Tunisia via the United Arab Emirates on Monday afternoon, saying: "It's been a terrific ride for us, it's had it's ups and downs but the players have been brilliant all the way through.

"The players are barely training at the moment, they don't need a fitness coach they're playing so many games. I guess one day we may "hit the wall" but for now we're doing okay, man management is getting us through. Training at the moment consists mostly of playing with the ball and stretching.

"What I can tell you is our captain Lucky Lekgwathi IS fit. He DID suffer a death in the family, he missed some training but he played a friendly while we were away and he's playing another one today.

"Like everybody else he has to compete for a place in the side. Ayanda Gcaba is probably not as good as Lucky but he is more athletic. Lucky is nearly 38, he's still a great player but it's horses for courses.

"Gcaba suited out strategy against Esperance. It's up to Lucky now to work his way back in to the side. As far as I'm concerned there are NO SINISTER FORCES a work here!"

Kaizer Chiefs boss Stuart Baxter made time before the AmaKhosi training session this morning to reveal: "I have to tell you Knowledge Musona (who dislocated a shoulder after scoring the last-gasp equaliser in the Telkom Knock-out against Free State Stars on Sunday) is out for the derby.

"We're not sure how long he's out for, but you know what a dislocated shoulder can do. How it can pop again, even when you feel like you're recovered. It won't be giving him much piece for the next couple of weeks.

"But I have options. We could push Bernard Park up to No9, we've also got Kingston Nkhatha who looked sharp in training - and I can confirm Lehlohonolo Majoro is fit. He had a slight niggle in the groin area but he's fine now.

"He could be the automatic option with Knowledge out."

Baxter also confirmed: "Simphiwe Tshabalala is back in training and everybody else is raring to go."

The Scotsman, the first foreigner to win the PSL title in his first year in the PSL, added high praise for his goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune before the big derby, insisting: "He's not just one of the best in Africa, I'd throw that a bit wider and ask who's better than him in Europe. He's got the attitude to match his talent.

"Even as we speak he's on the phone to several professional clubs asking about his signature!"

You can see the Roger de Sa video here:

BOLLOCKZ! my show on, airs every Thursday from 9am. See the Ballz channel on for our growing collection of interviews with the big names in South African football.

You can also follow me on for all the latest sports news… and read my “Neal and Pray” column every Tuesday

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Monday, 21 October 2013

Orlando Pirates: Official statement from chairman Dr Irvin Khoza on reaching the African Champions League final

In the chair: Dr Irvin Khoza

Dr Irvin Khoza has just released the statement below after his Orlando Pirates returned home from Tunisia today, having qualified for the final of the African Champions League for the first time since they became the first South African side to win the tournament in 1995.

It's fascinating and brilliantly written. Too often we have wondered about his role in the crusade which has ranged from the Comores and Zambia, via a torrid to trip to the DRC and group games in the Congo and Egypt, twice.

I guess now we know. He DOES retain a healthy interest in his Sea Robbers. He has input. And he tells it well. How about this: "To the team I say, be conscious for consciousness is as important as competence."

And as his side reached the final on the back of two defeats and three successive draws, the Doctor accepts:  "Our journey to the final can hardly be referred to as a juggernaut."

Khoza also reveals he has ‘imvuselelo’, chats with the lads, where he tells them to work on body language and focus on history.

As his Buccaneers prepare for their home and away final against seven-time champions Al Ahly on November 2 (Orlando) and 9 (Egypt), he ends with: "The success of Orlando Pirates is not for the Buccaneers alone. It is for our nation and region."

Here's the statement in full:

There has been a conversation within Orlando Pirates Football Club that I believe it is now the right time to share with the nation.

I have visited with the team from time to time to do ‘imvuselelo’ – to continue a conversation to make sure that all our energies and efforts work in concert towards a common goal. After qualifying for the semi-final, I wrote a letter to the technical team and each of our players. I deemed it important that they knew, from me, that their success was witnessed. It can be soul destroying to have unwitnessed achievements.

In this letter I tell every member of the team that we are on a path of history. I recall that they survived what commentators termed the ‘group of death’ – that many could not see us through the two Egyptian giants. I commended the players for being conscious on the ball, off the ball and when the ball was in transit. I commented specifically about their body language. I shared with them my observation that their body language meant business and that they played for each other.

I reminded the team that we had unfinished business in Tunisia – that in Tunis, in 2006, against CS Sfaxien that we lost in the semi-final. We had planned to play our Saturday match against Esperance in red. Unfortunately we were forced to use a combination of the black top with red pants and socks to avoid any clash of colours. It was after-all in Tunisia that we launched our red jersey in 2006.

I believe that it is time for me to let in the nation on the conversation. The outpouring of support and emotions by our nation cannot go unacknowledged. I am a proud South African who shares a country with compassionate fellow citizens. I am heartened by the media’s coverage in the SADC region where our brethren down South of Africa see Orlando Pirates’ step by step achievements, as their own.

Our journey to the final can hardly be referred to as a juggernaut. The devotion and sacrifice demanded to achieve a juggernaut was, however, consistently displayed by the Orlando Pirates team en-route to this all important final. Our team had to encounter a path with TP Mazembe, Zamalek, Al Ahly and Esperance who together have won the CAF Championship eighteen times.

The first leg of the final at Orlando Stadium on the 2nd of November will be the 15th game played by Orlando Pirates since the beginning of the competition. The team played a further nine games in the PSL, this notwithstanding the four ABSA Premiership games that had to be postponed.

A route to the final that included AC Leopards, the 2012 CAF Confederations Cup Champions; Zamalek , five-time CAF Champions League Champions; Al Ahly, the defending seven-time CAF Champions League Champions; and Esperance, two-time CAF Champions League winners is no mean achievement. This achievement talks to more. It talks to the competitive league that the PSL is.

Most of the teams that have dominated the CAF Champions League play in leagues that are two-horse races dominated by two teams always in contention for the top spot.

The PSL is highly competitive and hence not predictable. It is also punishing in its schedule that includes the ABSA Premiership and three cup competitions. I have to commend the Orlando Pirates players for not complaining, at any stage during this grueling contest. It is worth noting that when Zambia won the AFCON, most of its players were playing in the PSL.

The success of Orlando Pirates is not for the Buccaneers alone. It is for our nation and region. I pray that Orlando Pirates success in the Championship spur Bafana-Bafana to another AFCON win reminiscent of the 1996 success after Orlando Pirates triumphed in 1995.

To the team I say, be conscious for consciousness is as important as competence. This final will require that you are as aware as you are able; mindful as you are experienced, sensible as you are skilled, awake as you are fit. One attribute without the other will result in lapses that you now know you cannot afford at this level of the competition.

I would like to thank our South African Ambassador in Tunis. Thank you for creating a home away from home for our team.

Thank you to the media here at home and in the region. Your interest, confidence and support grew with the progress the team made in the Championship.


Dr Khoza's admission - that Orlando Pirates have not gone through the African Champions League like a juggernaut - is borne out by their road to the final (below, taken from the website).

Pirates horde: OR Tambo today (with thanks to OPFC)

Incredibly, including the stormy passage past DRC's TP Mazembe, the Buccaneers have played 10, won three, drawn four and lost three in the Champions League - and their last FIVE, reads NO wins, two defeats and three draws.

But that won't bother Dr Khoza or Roger de Star as he is now known. With their national league suspended Al Ahly are an aging side with star players aiming to retire after the final. Pirates beat them 3-0 at Al Gouna before the nail-biting 0-0 draw to finish the Group A.

Pirates returned amid tumultuous scenes at OR Tambo yesterday with Roger breaking his silence after the tense semi-final draw in Esperance: "We've got a Telkom Cup match with Golden Arrows on Wednesday night so we're going straight in to camp, we'll just carry on doing our thing.

"Esperance was tough, the crowd were intimidating and there were lasers everywhere. Testing conditions. But we were outstanding, my players were fantastic.

“It’s been a wonderful turn-out at the airport today. I want to thank the fans, the minister & the MEC, and all the media gathered today."

Journey to Final
Preliminary Round
Orlando Pirates 5-0 Djabal
Djabal 0-4 Orlando Pirates
(Aggregate: 9-0 to Pirates)

1/16th Round
Zanaco 0-1 Orlando Pirates
Orlando Pirates 2-1 Zanaco
(Aggregate: 3-1 to Pirates)

1/8th Round
Orlando Pirates 3-1 TP Mazembe
TP Mazembe 1-0 Orlando Pirates
(Aggregate: 3-2 to Pirates)

Group Stages
Gameweek 1 : Orlando Pirates 0-0 AC Leopards
Gameweek 2: Al Ahly 0-3 Orlando Pirates
Gameweek 3: Orlando Pirates 4-1 Zamalek
Gameweek 4: Zamalek 2-1 Orlando Pirates
Gameweek 5: AC Leopards 1-0 Orlando Pirates
Gameweek 6: Orlando Pirates 0-0 Al Ahly

Orlando Pirates 0-0 Esperance TP
Esperance TP 1-1 Orlando Pirates
(Aggregate: 1-1 Pirates win on away goals rule)

BOLLOCKZ! my show on, airs every Thursday from 9am. See the Ballz channel on for our growing collection of interviews with the big names in South African football.

You can also follow me on for all the latest sports news… and read my “Neal and Pray” column every Tuesday

BOLLOCKZ! is backed by - have a look at their site for my latest sports betting advice!

Sunday, 20 October 2013

FINAL ANALYIS Drawlando: when a criticism becomes a compliment and Roger reaches for De Star

BACK TO RED! Rooi Mahamutsa

SIX months can be a lifetime in football. In half a year, the beautiful game can evolve beyond recognition, particularly in the heart of a throbbing Soweto. The very meaning of words can change, villains are born as heroes fade, African giants are cut down and rendered pointless pygmies.

When champions Orlando Pirates stumbled over the line in third-place after a series of draws at the end of last season, they were gleefully derided as “Drawlando” largely by Kaizer Chiefs fans, relishing their refound double-winning dominance.

This season, after a series of quite miraculous ties, the word “Drawlando” has turned from criticism to compliment. The second-leg draw against Kaizer Chiefs which put the Buccaneers in to the MTN8 final, the desperate final point against Al Ahly which saw them in to the knock-out phase of the African Champions League… and on Saturday night, the epic 1-1 draw which put them past Esperance on away goals.

Incredible. Counting the first leg 0-0 stalemate against the fearsome Tunisians at the Drawlando Stadium and the drawn MTN final which they lost on penalties to Platinum Stars, Pirates have drawn FIVE of their last SEVEN fixtures.

But in that time, Rogério Paulo Cesar De Sá has become simply Roger de Star as the apparently hopeless crusade for a second African Champions League title grinds towards an epic home-and-away conclusion.

The bizarre retirement of Benni “Goalmachine” McCarthy has been forgotten in the wake of Lennox “Bracela” Bacela’s move from Bloemfontein Celtic, the inspirational skipper Lucky “Sinister” Lekgwathi has been supplanted in the space of 90 epic minutes by one Ayanda “Stand-in” Gcaba.

We should mention too, the rise of Senzo “Spotstopper” Meyiwa at No1 after years of Moeneeb “Slimkat” Josephs in a heartbreaking glove story and the rise and rise of Lehlogonolo “Vieira” Masalesa whenever a midfield reinforcement was required.

And most importantly of all, the injured Siya “Ironman” Sangweni finds himself edged out in the defend-and-score stakes by Rooi “Mooi” Mahamutsa, goal-scoring hero of Tunis.

From the bitter hangover of the double-treble slump at the end of last season, Orlando Pirates find themselves two steps (how we wish it was a single final at a neutral venue) from continental domination for the first time since the slowly dimming legends of 1995.

Everything has changed. Reputations, fortunes, buzz words, heroes; they’ve all altered radically in six turbulent months, a period during which, I believe, has been despite the club chairman, no because of.

What was it Roger de Star said before a crusade which has flitted from Comores to Angola and on to a blacked-out DRC, from Egypt twice to the Congo and Tunisia? “"We have been underdogs since the first game we played in this competition, and that is fine, we are good with that, no problem.”

Winning is for sissies. Missed chances are a mere detail only SABC football analysts harp on about. Don’t bet against another two draws to clinch the crown.

And so the the FINAL DETAILS: Pirates play Al Ahly, penalty shoot-out winners over Cameroon's Coton Sport, at Orlando on November 2 in the first leg. And the trophy will be decided in Egypt on November 9.

And if you doubt Pirates can do it against the seven-time winners and reigning champions, try this from Don Mattera, an extract from his poem compiled last year on the 75th anniversary of Buccaneering football:


Drawlando. Shout it: DRAWLANDO! You know it makes sense.

BOLLOCKZ! my show on, airs every Thursday from 9am. Roger de Star and Alan Freese both lined up for this week. See the Ballz channel on for our growing collection of interviews with the big names in South African football.

You can also follow me on for all the latest sports news… and read my “Neal and Pray” column every Tuesday

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Thursday, 17 October 2013

EXCLUSIVE: SAFA President Danny Jordaan laments "people who play politics with South African football"

DYNAMIC DUO: Nelson Mandela and Danny Jordaan
celebrate South Africa being awarded the 2010 World Cup

NEWLY ELECTED SAFA president Danny Jordaan reacted with disbelief today when he was asked to respond to rumours suggesting kit sponsors Puma had “just” terminated their contract with Bafana Bafana.

Jordaan, elected to the top job on September 28 after a long-running battle with ineligible rival Irvin Khoza, Jordaan snorted: “This is so strange! How can you kill a person twice?

“Puma announced they were withdrawing their sponsorship on January 4 this year when Kirsten Nematandani was president. We have known about this for months. The Sunday Times wrote all about it eight months ago.

“But now, today, they say Puma have withdrawn. I have the letter from January showing Puma had already pulled out.”

Jordaan, who saw off Khoza’s proxy Mandla "Shoes" Mazibuko to win the presidency last month, always knew the knives would be out for him once he became the most powerful man in South African football.

Now 62, Jordaan has spent his life fighting against sporting injustice – he turned his back on his own cricket and football career and was banned for his part in the Apartheid sports boycott in the days when Khoza was not involved in sport (see these links and among many others) - and Jordaan remains confident he can lead South African football to a brave new era.

Only one winner: Khoza and Jordaan

Now a key part of CAF while helping Morocco and Brazil to prepare for upcoming AFCON 2015 and World Cup 2014 tournaments, Jordaan laughed: “Somebody is playing politics with South African football again. That’s what they do. But it doesn’t bother me, we have plans in place.

“Everyone’s saying sponsors are deserting SAFA now I’m president, but I can tell you the ABSA decision was taken BEFORE I took over.

“I have their letter, dated September 26. But people have their own agendas. They are putting politics ahead of football.

“As Gordon Igesund told you this morning Neal, we are ready with our Master Plan to change the face of our football. Our technical committee has come up with the names and our Under 17 and Under 20 teams will get new coaches and we will see a revival.

“We have the R500m FIFA Legacy Fund available to help with development, and we are dealing with that every day.

“These are the real stories. Not some eight-month old tale about a sponsor withdrawing. Please tell your friends: you can’t go to a funeral twice!”

BOLLOCKZ! my show on, airs every Thursday from 9am. See the Ballz channel on for our growing collection of interviews with the big names in South African football.

You can also follow me on for all the latest sports news… and read my “Neal and Pray” column every Tuesday

BOLLOCKZ! is backed by - have a look at their site for my latest sports betting advice!

EXCLUSIVE: Gordon Igesund: The Master Plan that will put Bafana among the world's top 20 - and Africa's TOP THREE

GORDON IGESUND is ready to unveil his “master plan” with new SAFA president Danny Jordaan – and he firmly believes he can put South African football in the world’s top 20.

Currently ranked 61st by FIFA and cruelly forced out of the World Cup by Ethiopia, Igesund was eager to appear on my football show BOLLOCKZ! to reassure Bafana fans: “We are on the right track. It won’t happen overnight, but we will reap the benefits.”

With detractors suggesting Puma had ended their sponsorship of Bafana yesterday – they actually announced their termination on January 4 this year - Igesund insists: “It’s been a very tough year but the national team has come on in leaps and bounds, we need to put things in perspective.

“When you really start looking at the whole situation, one can see there’s been huge improvement. Over the last year we’ve restored pride and passion in the team. A lot of commitment from the players.

“Previously it was just a static situation, the same group of players playing every week for Bafana. We’ve introduced a lot of young players to the squad, our technical team has worked hard to find them.”

Turning specifically to last Friday’s 1-1 draw against Morocco in Agadir, where a packed house of 46,000 were celebrating the opening of a glittering new stadium, Igesund pointed out: “Against a team with a lot of good players from Spain and Germany, people who play against players like Ronaldo and Messi every week, we put up a performance.

“Passion, commitment. It makes me happy. We had two 20-year-olds, two 21-year-olds. It wasn’t actually a well-drilled team, it was our first match together. Playing for your national team should be the ultimate for any player.

“Now I’m getting emails from South Africans all over the world. Players who play in the Scottish Second Division asking me to keep an eye on their performances.”

Appointed last year after disappointing World Cup Group A draws against Ethiopia at home and Botswana away, Igesund – the only man to win the domestic PSL title with four different clubs – reflects: “Overall it’s been a great year. Very positive things have happened. It’s not easy to go to Morocco, they were desperate to win. My centre-halves had never played together before. These things take time.

“There were five or six players who had never played together before. There was a period when we were playing the ball around, their fans starting applauding us.

“We’ve got a new identity now. The same style, philosophy, we want to attack teams. We’re scoring goals. I’m happy with the way things are going but there is an awful lot of work still to do.

“The big problem is development. Imagine if our youngsters had played in Under 17, Under 20 teams. Some of these guys? It was their first taste of international fooball at any level

“We need to develop players for the national team. They’ve had to come straight in to the Bafana line-up.

“Our Under 17s and Under 20s aren’t active at the moment. But we’re working on that. We need players coming through who know how to react, know their role. It’s not easy but we’re getting there.

“We need to make sure our players are involved in FIFA competitions, play in Europe, play the German Under 23 team. Gain that experience. That’s what’s important.

“That’s all going to happen. The announcement of our new Under 17 and Under 23 coaches will happen in the next couple of weeks. We want a youngster of 21 to have played 30 games for Bafana.

“We acknowledge things haven’t been done properly in recent years. We have to stop the quick-fix. Look for long term solutions. But it takes time.

“The structures are all in place, we just have to make the announcement. Kagiso Nthle is only 19. He needs to grow up playing against players like Ronaldo, Under 15, Under 17, eventually they get to the senior national team and THEY KNOW. They can mark him, they can do this.

“It’s all very exciting but it’s not going to happen overnight. In five or six years, we’ll see the benefits. There’s another group of players out there we don’t know about. Players who are going to be the superstars, as we’re talking, 20 youngsters of 15 or 16 with tremendous ability. We have to develop them.

“We need top quality coaches, the school football, the amateurs at grass roots level. Even from nine years old. Real Madrid have just beaten Barcelona to sign a NINE YEAR OLD! That’s what we need to be doing.

“Time flies. He’s NINE now, but in five years he’s a professional signing for a club. We were isolated for many years, now we have to find these players.

“I can talk about it with you for hours and hours, but we have to put it into practice, which we haven’t done for years.

“Every player who plays for Bafana HAS to come through our structures. Our AFCON and COSAFA squads? We had 17 players who had NEVER played for Bafana at any other level.

“Our football will be among the best in the world. We have the players, with touch, mobility. They need good coaching. They need these structures. But it’s not going to happen overnight. We have to start the process now. This is why we are where we are right now.

“When I read the Sports Minister’s comments, I was very pleased about this. Everyone can see the national team has come on in leaps and bounds. I enjoy criticism, football is about opinions, but reall and truly, we are on the right track now.

“We’ve got tough times ahead of us, but after that, our country will benefit. We’ll be in the top 20 in the world, the top three in Africa.

“Sometime in the future there has to be an African winner of the World Cup. Why can’t that be South Africa?”

BOLLOCKZ! my show on, airs every Thursday from 9am. See the Ballz channel on for our growing collection of interviews with the big names in South African football.

You can also follow me on for all the latest sports news… and read my “Neal and Pray” column every Tuesday

BOLLOCKZ! is backed by - have a look at their site for my latest sports betting advice!

Monday, 14 October 2013

The usual suspects: Africa's World Cup hopefuls head for the last 90 minutes of qualification with the "Big Five" favourites for Brazil

Brace yourself: Nigeria's Emmanuel Emenike

Nearly four years and an Arab Spring or two after the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, it’s the usual suspects who are looking likely to qualify for Brazil 2014.

Nearly four years on, Cameroon, Nigeria, Ghana, Ivory Coast and Algeria – the five sides who qualified with hosts Bafana Bafana in the last global footballing saga – are once again the favourites to fill Africa’s ‘big five’ qualifying spots after the first legs of CAF’s unjust qualifiers.

Favourites Ghana don’t take on riot-ravaged Egypt until tomorrow night, when they play their first leg in Kumasi but Didier Drogba’s Ivory Coast and African Nations Cup champions Nigeria cruised to their expected first leg victories over the weekend.

Former Chelsea veteran Drogba scored the opening goal for the Elephants against Senegal with Lamine Sane then providing an own goal before another Chelsea old boy Salomon Kalou made it three in the 50th minute.

Newcastle’s Papiss Cisse pulled one back for Senegal but it was Arsenal’s unwanted Gervinho, now playing in Italy for Roma, who pulled the strings for the Ivory Coast, playing a part in all three goals and setting up Africa’s top-ranked nation for qualification with a two-goal cushion.

The Cote D’Ivoire have gone 20 games without defeat in World Cup qualifying – they’ve won 14 and drawn six since a 3-2 loss against Cameroon in September 2005.

Nigeria coped reasonably well in Addis Ababa against South Africa’s Group A nemesis Ethiopia. The loudly backed home side, desperate for a first World Cup finals appearance, dominated early on and – after a goalless first half - deserved to go ahead in the 57th minute through Behailu Assefa.

 But it was that man Emmanuel Emenike – who played for two years in South Africa five years ago with Mpumalanga Blacks Aces and FC Cape Town – who silenced the Walya Antelopes with an equaliser followed by a last-gasp penalty to secure a narrow away advantage before the return to Nigeria.

Game of the weekend came in Ougadougou where Burkina Faso saw off Algeria but gave away what could be two decisive away goals in a 3-2 win over visiting Algeria. The Burkinabians, finalists at AFCON in South Africa earlier this year, went 2-0 up through Jonathan Pitroipa and Djakaridja Kone.

Sofiane Feghouli and Carl Medjani made it 2-2 before Fortunate Dusseldorf-based Aristide Bance, who had a first half penalty saved by Adi Mbolhi, scored the winner from the spot after a highly-controversial 86th minute handball decision. Algeria remain in pole position despite defeat though Stallions coach Paul Put insists: “We will go to Algiers with every intention of qualifying.”

Tunisia, only in the play-offs because upstarts Cape Verde fell foul of the rules, gave Cameroon a tough ride in Rades but couldn’t find a way past the Indomitable Lions’ French-based goalkeeper Charles Itandj.

With Chelsea’s experienced on-loan striker Samuel Eto’o returning for the umpteenth time after international retirement, Cameroon nearly snatched it through Peirre Webo. This one might be the tightest second leg of the lot, but Yaounde should be celebrating when the second legs are played in mid-November.

And what of South Africa? Held 1-1 by fellow-non-qualifiers Morocco in Agadir on Friday night, this from Dean Furman on Twitter sums it up:  “Solid showing for Bafana last night against a strong Moroccan side. Congratulations to the young boys making their debut. Hopefully the start of big things in the future.”

BOLLOCKZ! my show on, airs every Thursday from 9am. See the Ballz channel on for our growing collection of interviews with the big names in South African football.

You can also follow me on for all the latest sports news… and read my “Neal and Pray” column every Tuesday

BOLLOCKZ! is backed by - have a look at their site for my latest sports betting advice!

Thursday, 10 October 2013

EXCLUSIVE: Clinton Larsen on leaving Bloemfontein Celtic: I was NOT forced out. There was NO interference

Time off: Celtic head coach Clinton Larsen
CLINTON LARSEN revealed the full background to his shock resignation at Bloemfontein Celtic this week insisting there was “no interference” during his reign as head coach in Mangaung.

Larson left after the 4-0 TelkomKO defeat against Mamelodi Sundowns last weekend, insisting: “I have not made any decision on where I’m going.”

Talking on my football show BOLLOCKZ! on (see video below), Larsen told me: “It was a long time coming, three to four weeks. To summarise the season so far, I was not happy as the head coach with the results we were getting.”

Former Orlando Pirates and Manning Rangers midfielder Larsen, 42, departs with his fanatically-followed Phunya Sele Sele a mediocre 11th in the PSL and OUT of both the pre-Christmas knock-out competitions.

As frank as ever, the man who publicly berated referees for their “big club” bias earlier this season said: “I took the decision myself to leave the club and let Bloemfontein Celtic move forward. I had four great years and the club, never been out of the first eight – I just felt it was right to step back and let a new man take on the challenge.

“I’ll definitely stay in the game, I love it too much. It was a very emotional decision. I’ve come to love the club and the people at the club. I was NOT forced out. I could have stayed for a big pay-out but I remain on good terms with the chairman Jimmy Augousti and who knows what could happen in the future?

“I like the job I do, I enjoy going to work on a daily basis. Next week I’ll see my agent and find out who has been in touch.

“I’m still in Bloemfontein but I will be going on holiday with the family for two weeks. I know Polokwane City have been in touch but I will not make a rushed decision. That isn’t my style.

“At this point Boebie Solomons is interim boss at Celtic. I have no idea what the club are planning. I’ve got a great relationship with Boebie. A lot of people think he wanted my job but that’s not the case.

“They don’t have to look much further than Boebie for a great manager.”

With memories of last season’s Telkom KO final triumph over Sundowns still firmly in mind (who can forget the Augousti victory dance at the Moses Mabhida last December?), Larsen insisted: “I want to categorically state there was no interference from ANYBODY at the club from the day I started when I was working under Owen da Gama four years ago.

“I would not have stayed if there was any interference. I got the full support of the management and technical director Mich D’Avray. Nobody ever influenced team selection, training or tactics. I left on my terms.”

With this afternoon's departure of Ernst Middendorp at Maritzburg United, Larsen could be almost immediately replaced by the 54-year-old German with the "team of choice" now an option for Clinton.

That would continue the managerial merry-go-round following Mark Harrison's shift from Chippa United to Golden Arrows, bringing the total PSL coaching departures this season to FOUR including Duncan Lechesa's initial termination at Polokwane City nearly a month ago. 

BOLLOCKZ! my show on, airs every Thursday from 9am. See the Ballz channel on for our growing collection of interviews with the big names in South African football.

You can also follow me on for all the latest sports news… and read my “Neal and Pray” column every Tuesday

BOLLOCKZ! is backed by - have a look at their site for my latest sports betting advice!

Saturday, 5 October 2013

SEVEN GAMES, ONE WIN, FOUR GOALS: why Drawlando Pirates desperately need Lennox Bacela to find his scoring boots

Drought: Lennox Bacela

SINCE THEIR MTN8 semi-final first leg win over Kaizer Chiefs, Orlando Pirates have been widely praised for their progress on several fronts.

Reaching the final of the MTN8 and the last four of the African Champions League has certainly taken the pressure off Roger De Sa after a rocky end to last season, when the double-treble winners finished trophyless.

But a quick review of their recent form suggests serious problems in the Buccaneer camp – and I’m not referring to Lucky Lekgwathi.

Veteran captain Lekgwathi was mysteriously dropped for the MTN8 final defeat on penalties against Platinum Stars in Durban last week, and the 37-year-old followed up with a newspaper column revealing there are “sinister forces” at work in Orlando.

A picture of De Sa in animated discussion with Screamer Tshabalala behind the scenes in Durban did nothing to settle nevers in the Sea Robber camp.

And late on Saturday night, in an attempt to explain Lekgwathi’s absence from the 0-0 draw against Esperance where he was serving a two-match ban, reports emerged that Lekgwathi has suffered the death of an aunt and illness to his father.

Nobody in the camp will explain the Lekgwathi situation. I spoke to injured full-back Patrick Phungwayo, but he was under orders to tell me: “What we have to do is get on with it and put these things to one side. We are on the verge of the African Champions League final, that is our focus.”

But Saturday’s toothless effort against the Tunisian champions suggests the real sinister forces surround the Pirates’ inability to score goals.

Have a look at this run of results since that 1-0 Soweto Derby win in the MTN8 semi-final first leg on August 24:

LOST: 1 Sept: Zamalek: 1-2 (away) African Champions League Group A
LOST: 14 Sept: AC Leopards 0-1 (away) African Champions League Group A
WON: 18 Sept: Polokwane City 1-0 (home) PSL
DRAW: 22 Sept: Al Ahly 0-0 (home) African Champions League Group A
DRAW 24 Sept: Kaizer Chiefs 1-1 (home) MTN8 semi-final second leg
DRAW: 28 Sept: Platinum Stars 1-1 (neutral, lost 3-1 on penalties) MTN8 final
DRAW: 5 October: Esperance 0-0 (home, Champs League semi-final, first leg)

I make that SEVEN games with ONE win. Four draws were compounded by the MTN final loss to Platinum Stars at the Moses Mabhida.

You can’t deny a couple of those draws were vital – that’s all they needed to progress against Kaizer Chiefs and Al Ahly – and if they win their 4 games in hand, they could go top of the PSL by FOUR clear points.

But most worrying of all is their goal tally over the last seven games: Pirates have scored just FOUR goals and conceded FIVE.

The much-hyped Lennox Bacela, after a useful start following his move from Bloemfontein Celtic, has only scored ONE – from the penalty spot against Chiefs  – in the eight games since August.

Roger himself said after another goalless effort against Esperance: “We had enough chances to score at least one. At this level you have to take those chances.

“A 0-0 draw isn’t that bad. We did okay. We battled hard against one of the best sides in Africa.”

When the SABC pitch-side interviewer suggested much-hyped Esperance were “ordinary”, De Sa did well to keep his equilibrium, saying: “They’re a good side, believe me. They will take their chances at home. But we just have to get one in Tunisia.

“We’ve got something to work with. We’re still in it.”

BOLLOCKZ! my show on, airs every Thursday from 9am. See the Ballz channel on for our growing collection of interviews with the big names in South African football.

You can also follow me on for all the latest sports news… and read my “Neal and Pray” column every Tuesday

BOLLOCKZ! is backed by - have a look at their site for my latest sports betting advice!

Thursday, 3 October 2013

The story of former Arsenal and Liverpool legend Michael Thomas, hero, legend, title-winner... and a great fan of South Africa

It's up for grabs now! Michael Thomas, right, starts his epic celebration
after winning the title for Arsenal at Liverpool in 1989

MICHAEL THOMAS is in South Africa for the TENTH time. The Arsenal and Liverpool legend LOVES the country. On my football show BOLLOCKZ! this morning he said: "I can't get enough of South Africa. It's my second home. Wonderful place, wonderful people."

Currently staying in Tshwane with the mysterious MOLE, our regular undercover football analyst, before a family wedding, Michael will be BACK in November, for a Liverpool legends clash with Kaizer Chiefs on November 16.

THE BOLLOCKZ! Michael and I at the Ballz studio

The names reel off his tongue. Every one a hero to audiences around the world, from Africa to Asia, where the English football remains a sporting staple.

"Bruce Grobbelaar, Mark Wright, Alan Kennedy, Jan Molby, John Barnes, Gary McAllister, Robbie Fowler, John Aldridge, it should be a great trip. There will be a lot of reminiscing!

"We fly over on the 10th, will spend a few days in Johannesburg doing football clinics and a golf day at Houghton, then we go down to Durban for the Kaizer Chiefs game on the 16th.

"I've never seen the Moses Mabhida Stadium, but I hear it's great. Shame Arsenal haven't got a legends team coming over too!"

Michael is no ordinary former footballer. Raised in Stockwell, London, he overcame the then-severe problems of discrimination to rise to the very top of the game. And the crowning moment came in 1989 when, in the final game of the season, Michael scored the injury-time winner which clinched the title for Arsenal in a 2-0 win at Liverpool's fortress Anfield.

It's a moment few elderly Gooners will forget. The commentator screaming "It's up for grabs now!" as he broke through on Alan Smith's pass, enjoyed a fortuitous deflection... and slipped home goal which took the championship to Highbury on the narrowest-ever margin.

Fever pitch: Thomas and Tony Adams in 1989
That goal inspired Nick Hornby's classic book "Fever Pitch" which was followed by a block-buster movie of the same name. Few ignore the chance to raise the topic, with Ballz owner Darren Scott greeting Michael with a smacking kiss when he walked in to the studio this morning.

Lifelong Arsenal fan Scott explained: "When Michael Thomas scored that goal, I actually pulled a muscle on the couch when I was watching it on the television."

Michael went on to play for Liverpool, scoring in the 1992 FA Cup quarter-final against Aston Villa and the winner in the final against Sunderland at Wembley.

Now 46, Michael Lauriston Thomas was capped three times by England and in a career which also included Wimbledon, Portugal's Benfica plus Middlesbrough and Portsmouth on loan, he played 315 games, scoring 33 goals.

Today he runs a security firm called "Stop Taking the Michael" and lives near Liverpool between trips to South Africa and around the world.

He has strong views on a variety of subjects, though he tends to shy away from the high profile analysis spotlight. He says: "I can't believe we're taking the World Cup to Qatar, even they don't play at that time of the year. It's just ridiculously hot. We're stopping off at Qatar on the way home from South Africa - I'll tell you how hot it is!

"The World Cup has got to be shared about a bit, and I loved the way South Africa hosted it. But you can't have countries having it twice like Mexico and Germany."

On the more personal subject of his celebration after THAT "Fever Pitch" goal (the video features in our interview on Ballz radio (see below)), Michael grins: "I nearly broke my neck trying to do a handstand... but it wasn't as bad as when Tony Adams lifted Stevie Morrow after winning the League Cup at Wembley. Morrow was the hero, he fell and broke his shoulder and couldn't go up to get his medal!"

Having enjoyed a range of top coaches, Thomas has this verdict on his favourite boss: "I'd say Roy Evans at Liverpool was a great coach. He let us play. George was a great coach defending wise but he never let us just play.

"That's why I left Arsenal at the end of the day, because I wasn't enjoying the football. Jose Mourinho's the same today. As long as everyone gets back and defends, works for the group, he's happy."

As for Arsenal's hopes in the Champions League after impressive wins over Marseille and Napoli, Michael is pretty certain Arsenal will progress, insisting: "They said it was the Group of Death, but I said at the time the only tough side is Borussia Dortmund. I was always sure they could beat Napoli.

"Me, Tony Adams, (former soap opera star) Tom Watt and Paul Davies will all be going to watch Arsenal at Dortmund, we'll go through the EuroTunnel, sit there and enjoy the game!"

BOLLOCKZ! my show on, airs every Thursday from 9am. See the Ballz channel on for our growing collection of interviews like the one above.

You can also follow me on for all the latest sports news… and read my “Neal and Pray” column every Tuesday

BOLLOCKZ! is backed by - have a look at their site for my latest sports betting advice!