Stoppage Time – International Football Blog

CAF: South Africa hosts while Zambia defends African Cup of Nations

Posted in African Football, International Football by peterbein on January 17, 2013

Following their home triumph in 1996, can South Africa emerge victorious in 2013?

South Africa hosts its second major international football tournament in a little over two years from Saturday. Having hosted the 2010 FIFA World Cup the “Rainbow Nation” is preparing for the 2013 African Cup of Nations, the 29th edition of the competition, and will hope to restore themselves as a force in African football following a particularly difficult decade.

This will be the second time that South Africa plays host to the tournament. The first time, back in 1996, saw the country return to the international scene following an enforced three decade absence due to the country’s previous position on issues of apartheid. Having returned, however, South Africa emerged victorious and claimed the African title for the first time when defeating Tunisia 2-0 in the final. Apart from the following tournament, when the “Bafana Bafana” ended up losing 2-0 to Egypt in 1998, the South Africans haven’t come close to winning the trophy since. Could home advantage prove to be a lucky omen once again? South Africa feature in Group A alongside Angola, Morocco and tournament debutants Cape Verde.

One team which hopes to put a stop to the hosts’ ambitions is Zambia. The surprise package in 2012, Zambia weren’t even spoken of as a potential champion before the tournament kicked off yet managed to carry off the trophy for the very first time having edged the Côte d’Ivoire 8-7 on penalties following a tense goalless final. The title holders scraped into this year’s tournament as well due to another penalty shoot-out, this time a 9-8 success against Uganda in the 2nd qualifying round after their two-legged clash finished 1-1 on aggregate. With the difficulty of qualifying over with, Zambia will compete in Group C along with two-time winners Nigeria, Burkina Faso and 1962 winners Ethiopia who are competing in their first African Cup of Nations for the first time since 1982.

Zambia surprised everybody by winning the 2012 African Cup of Nations

Amongst the traditional heavyweights of African football, Egypt are once again conspicuous by their absence. The record champions, who have won the title seven times, failed to qualify in 2012 and were once again found wanting in 2013 having gone out at the first qualifying round stage at the hands of Central African Republic. After Egypt, the most successful country in African Cup of Nations history is Ghana with four title wins. However the last of those wins is becoming a distant memory and should The Black Stars win the trophy for the fifth time it will be their first success in this tournament since 1982. Ghana will headline Group B which includes two nations who have yet to win the trophy, namely Mali and Niger, and a country which has won the title twice but under different guises. The Democratic Republic of the Congo, to give the country its present name, were previously victorious in 1968 as Congo-Kinshasa and six years later as Zaïre.

Côte d’Ivoire, who have made more tournament finals appearances (19) than any other nation, haven’t had much luck since winning their one and only title in 1992 having reached and lost two further finals. The Elephants will hope to go one better this time and have been put into Group D along with 2004 champions Tunisia, 1990 winners Algeria and Togo, who have now confirmed Emmanuel Adebayor’s participation in this year’s competition.

The top two teams in each group will progress to the knockout stage. At this point the remaining octet will not only be fighting it out for the African Cup of Nations trophy but also to represent the continent of Africa in the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup in Brazil later this year. Whoever emerges triumphant in South Africa this year will expect to play against world and European champions Spain in their Confederations Cup group, a prize every bit as rewarding as lifting the silverware itself, along with South American champions Uruguay and Oceania champions Tahiti.

South Africa: Orlando Pirates beat Moroka to Premiership title

Posted in African Football by peterbein on May 22, 2012
Orlando Pirates

Orlando Pirates celebrate with the ASBA Premiership trophy

Orlando Pirates (Played 30, points 58) are the ASBA Premiership champions for the second consecutive year following their 4-2 win away at Lamontville Golden Arrows last weekend. A brace from Benni McCarthy proved crucial for one of South Africa’s most decorated clubs, his two goals coming in the last half an hour of the game to help push his team over the winning post. Nearest challengers Moroka Swallows needed to win, which they did with a 1-0 victory away at Maritzburg United, but also needed the Pirates to lose. Instead it was the Johannesburg-based Pirates who triumphed by a two point margin and, thus, seal their place in the 2013 CAF Champions League. SuperSport United, three times league champions, finished the campaign in third spot with a 2-1 win at Bloemfontein Celtic while Mamelodi Sundowns and Kaizer Chiefs make up the rest of the top five. At the bottom of the table Jomo Cosmos, who were promoted as First Division champions last season, go straight back down again with a poor return of 19 points from 30 matches played.

South Africa: Champion Pirates open new season with win

Posted in African Football by peterbein on August 14, 2011

ABSA Premiership logoThe 2011-12 South African football championship kicked off this weekend with defending champions Orlando Pirates celebrating an away win at Black Leopards while there were also wins for Kaizer Chiefs, Moroka Swallows, Bloemfontein Celtic and Platinum Stars. Three matches out of eight were drawn this weekend including the two Sunday fixtures.

Orlando Pirates, who scraped the ABSA Premiership title last season by virtue of goal difference from Ajax Cape Town, got their new campaign off to a winning start with a 2-0 win at Black Leopards. Bongani Ndulula struck early after just eleven minutes to give the champions a dream start and the match was decided with twenty minutes remaining when Benni McCarthy, back in his homeland after fourteen years playing in Europe, scored to double the Pirates’ lead.

Last season’s runners-up Ajax Cape Town got off to a bad start, losing by the same 2-0 score line away at Platinum Stars with Lantshene Phalane and Elias Ngwepe (penalty) putting the visitors to the sword. Bloemfontein Celtic enjoyed the biggest win of the opening weekend with a 3-0 victory away at Golden Arrows with Clifford Mulenga bagging a brace for the visitors. Kaizer Chiefs (2-1) and Moroka Swallows (3-1) also started the season with victories with Jomo Cosmos and Santos Cape Town respectively on the receiving end of a defeat.

Six teams had to be content with a point on the opening weekend with Free State Stars and three-time champions SuperSport United drawing 1-1 on Saturday whilst the two Sunday fixtures involving Mamelodi Sundowns v AmaZulu (0-0) and Maritzburg United v Wits University (2-2) ending all square.

South Africa: Shock defeat for champions to open the new season

Posted in African Football by peterbein on August 30, 2010
Ryan Chapman

Ryan Chapman scored the third goal in Bidvest Wits' 3-0 win over champions SuperSport United

The new South African Premier Soccer League (PSL) championship kicked off this weekend with champions SuperSport United hoping that they can make it four-in-a-row this season. They were to suffer a shock defeat on the opening day, however, with Bidvest Wits University (BWU) scoring a famous 3-0 victory at home to the champions. Having already seen Brent Carelse sent off in the first half SuperSport United were to concede three goals in the last 25 minutes of the game.

BWU took the lead after 65 minutes after a well worked free-kick was fired home by Brad Phillips but it wasn’t until the dying moments of the game that the game was sealed for Bidvest. Thando Mngomeni scored the penalty spot with three minutes to go after Sifiso Vilakazi was brought down in the box by Ricardo Katza. Ryan Chapman made absolutely sure of the three points with his strike three minutes into stoppage time to give Bidvest Wits a dream start to the 2010-11 campaign and will hope to finish better than last season’s tenth place in the final standings.

The two big names of South African football, Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates, both got their campaigns off to a winning start. The Chiefs had an easy 2-0 home win over the Golden Arrows with Valery Nahayo and FIFA World Cup hero Siphiwe Tshabalala getting on the score sheet in the second half. The Pirates, meanwhile, had to come from behind to grind out three points against Vasco Da Gama with Lucky Lekgwathi and Isaac Chansa sparing the Pirates’ blushes after Sibusiso Zuma had given Vasco the lead. Mamelodi Sundowns, who lost the title by a single point last season, were grateful to Sibusiso Zuma who scored a brace in the final fifteen minutes of the match to secure a 2-0 win at home to Moroka Swallows.

Ajax Cape Town got their new campaign under way with a 2-0 win over Bloemfontein Celtic. Brent Evans’ 91st minute penalty secured the victory after Ajax had led through Thulani Serero’s 34th minute strike. There were also winning starts for Platinum Stars and AmaZulu both of whom secured 3-2 wins against Mpumalanga Black Aces and Maritzburg United respectively. In the weekend’s final game Free State Stars and Santos were unable to break the deadlock and both had to be satisfied with a point each following a goalless stalemate.

FIFA World Cup Review – Africa

Posted in African Football, International Football by peterbein on July 15, 2010
Bafana Bafana fans

South African supporters were amongst the most colourful in the tournament

In our review of the FIFA World Cup Stoppage Time – International Football Blog looks at the fortunes of host continent Africa.

For many months before a ball was kicked in South Africa there were many fears about some of the problems within the country, with issues such as crime at the forefront of people’s minds. In January 2010 there were many critics who took advantage of the situation in Angola during the African Cup of Nations tournament where the Togo national team bus came under fire and used this to further the cause of taking the World Cup away from Africa. Thankfully this did not happen and as the last four weeks have shown, as well as previous sporting tournaments held in the country, South Africa knows how to put on a great show and should be proud despite the early exit of its national team from the tournament.

The Bafana Bafana had some of the most colourful supporters in the World Cup and they certainly made the most noise, not just because they were the host nation but for the vast amount of vuvuzelas at each of the stadiums. The instrument is something that football fans around the world either came to love or hate but there was no denying the increased volume added to the atmosphere in the stadiums. Come the opening day of the competition South Africa drew their first match against Mexico with Siphiwe Tshabalala putting the hosts ahead before Rafael Márquez gave El Tri a share of the spoils. It was unfortunate that the next opponents for South Africa would be the surprise package of the tournament Uruguay who would eventually reach the semi-finals. South Africa were on the receiving end of a 3-0 drubbing due to a brace from Diego Forlán and a late stoppage time goal from Álvaro Pereira. This meant that a big enough win over France and a big enough win for Uruguay or Mexico in the other final group match would be enough for South Africa to reach the last sixteen. Sadly, despite achieving a 2-1 win over the 1998 FIFA World Cup winners thanks to goals from Bongani Khumalo and Katlego Mphela, South Africa missed out due to an inferior goal difference behind Mexico.

The pride of Africa in this tournament would be Ghana. Having finished in second place in Group D, two points behind winners Germany, Ghana played against the United States in the round of sixteen and had Asamoah Gyan to thank for it was his goal early in extra-time that separated the two sides in what was a tight contest, the Black Stars getting the 2-1 victory to set up a quarter-final against Uruguay. In what was arguably the match of the tournament Sulley Muntari gave Ghana the lead on the stroke of half-time only to see Diego Forlán restore parity ten minutes into the second half. However it was events at the end of extra-time that would really get the world talking. Firstly Luis Suárez was sent-off in the last minute for handling the ball on the line when it was almost certain to go in. Ghana’s player of the tournament Gyan, who had already scored twice from the spot in the tournament, fluffed his lines when it mattered most and hit the bar from the resulting penalty, thus providing the necessity for a penalty shoot-out after the extra-time period. With the weight of expectation upon their shoulders Ghana were unable to progress due to missed penalties from John Mensah and Dominic Adiyiah which denied Africa a World Cup semi-finalist for the first time.

One of the biggest disappointments in the competition were Cameroon who, with one of the world’s best strikers in Samuel Eto’o in the team, never looked like they could be a threat and were duly beaten in all three of their group matches by the Netherlands, Japan and Denmark. Ivory Coast were, for the second tournament running, unfortunate to be drawn in the “group of death” with the likes of Brazil and Portugal as well as the World Cup rank outsiders North Korea. The third of these teams accounted for the Ivory Coast’s only victory in the competition with the Elephants going down to Brazil and picking up a point in their game against Portugal. On account of their 7-0 win over North Korea Portugal just had enough to qualify for the next round meaning that Didier Drogba and co had to miss out once again. Last, but not least, Algeria performed admirably in Group C although they could only gain one point from three games, that coming in their 0-0 draw with England. After narrow 1-0 defeats to both Slovenia and United States the north Africans could leave the tournament with their heads held high as they were far from disgraced in their results. With a bit more luck it could’ve been them rather than England who qualified for the round of sixteen but, alas, it just wasn’t their time.

FIFA: Groups A and B Review

Posted in International Football by peterbein on June 22, 2010
Raymond Domenech

Raymond Domenech saw his France team go out of the tournament with a 2-1 defeat to host nation South Africa

GROUP A: URUGUAY 3 /7; MEXICO 3/4; SOUTH AFRICA 3/4; FRANCE 3/1

Unfortunately for South Africa they made history by becoming the first host nation not to make it to the knockout stage of a FIFA World Cup but they did restore some pride by chalking up their first win of the tournament against a French side whose internal strife under coach Raymond Domenech has been well documented. Bongani Khumalo and Katlego Mphela were the men who did the damage for Bafana Bafana in Bloemfontein giving the hosts a 2-0 lead at the break. Florent Malouda pulled one back for Les Bleus with twenty minutes of the game remaining but the celebrations were gradually beginning in Rustenburg where Uruguay won by a Luis Suárez goal in the first half and the Mexicans, despite defeat, knew that the South Africans hadn’t done enough to overturn the goal difference in their favour. Uruguayan coach Oscar Washington Tabárez will be relieved that his team have avoided one of the tournament favourites, Argentina, in the next round and may now fancy their chances of springing an upset later in the competition. Mexico, however, will have painful memories of the most recent FIFA World Cup in Germany where they were knocked out of the competition by Argentina, the team who they now face in this year’s Round of Sixteen.

Diego Maradona

Unlike his French counterpart, Diego Maradona saw his Argentina team win all three group matches

GROUP B: ARGENTINA 3 Games/9 Points; SOUTH KOREA 3/4; GREECE 3/3; NIGERIA 3/1

With all due respect to lovers of Greek football it is one of the great reliefs of the tournament that Otto Rehhagel’s Greece team is out of the tournament after playing some of the most negative football I can remember seeing in a FIFA World Cup tournament. They kept Argentina at bay for 77 minutes but the deadlock was finally broken when Martin Demichelis scored the opening goal from a corner kick to cue customary manic celebration on the touchline from El Diego. Veteran striker and substitute Martín Palermo sealed the game for the Albiceleste in stoppage time turning in a rebound from a Messi shot and Argentina deservedly go through to face Mexico in Johannesburg. Sadly for African football Nigeria were unable to become the first side from the continent to reach the next stage after managing a 2-2 draw against South Korea. After taking the lead early on through Kalu Uche Nigeria surrendered the lead early in the second half after the Asian side had turned it around with goals from Lee Jung-Soo and Park Chu-Young. Ayegbeni Yakubu did dispatch a 69th minute penalty kick to give Nigeria hope but they were unable to break Korean resistance any further and it was South Korea who reached the last 16 with a tie against Group A winners Uruguay, who they will meet in Port Elizabeth on Saturday, June 26th.

FIFA: Argentina win again; Greece get first victory; France stumble to defeat

Posted in International Football by peterbein on June 17, 2010
Gonzalo Higuaín

Gonzalo Higuaín scored a hat-trick for Argentina in their 4-1 win over South Korea

Having lamented the lack of real action in the opening week of the FIFA World Cup, with only Germany being spared from any criticism due to their fantastic 4-0 triumph over Australia, the tournament now seems to have opened up and the goals have been flying in over the last two days of action. Many pundits have suggested, quite justifiably, that every team in the competition was frightened to lose in their opening matches and, therefore, placed an emphasis on defence with no real inclination to attack. But now that every team has played their opening game it is evident amongst those teams that have played their second matches already that there is an instinct to attack that wasn’t there before. Suddenly the action is better and the games have become more of a spectacle. Today’s action is a case in point.

The Group B table saw Argentina top after the first round of matches and it remains the case after the second round as the Albiceleste saw off a spirited South Korea side by four goals to one with the brilliant and, in my humble opinion, under-rated striker Gonzalo Higuaín scoring the first hat-trick of the tournament. Argentina, though, did have to rely on a bit of luck to take the lead after a 16th minute free-kick from the left by Lionel Messi was inadvertently turned into his own net by Park Chu-Young from six yards out. The second goal for Argentina began in the same area of the pich with a cross from Maxi Rodríguez flicked on by Nicolas Burdisso, an early substitute for Walter Samuel who went off with a hamstring injury, and Higuaín was able to direct the ball goalwards at the far post to double the lead. At this point the Argentines were coasting the match but were given a wake-up call from South Korea when Lee Chung-Yung dispossessed Martín Demichelis on the edge of Argentina’s penalty area and tucked it past Sergio Romero to pull one back on the stroke of half-time.

The second half would belong to one man and that man was Gonzalo Higuaín. His second goal was a true poacher’s effort with Messi and Sergio Agüero combining well with the former’s shot hitting the keeper and a post before crawling along the line where a grateful Higuaín tapped it home to make it 3-1 with thirteen minutes to go. Three minutes later and he’d got his hat-trick thanks once again to some fantastic work between Messi and Agüero. Messi fed Agüero with a lofted ball into the box, with Agüero supplying a beautifully weighted cross over to Higuaín at the far post and his header sealed what was a well-deserved scoreline for a team who have seemingly found their rhythm in this tournament now.

In the other Group B game Greece, who had started the tournament so appallingly in their opening game against South Korea, looked to be heading in the same direction after just sixteen minutes when Kalu Uche’s long distance free-kick somehow avoided everybody in the box and deceived Greek keeper Alexandros Tzorvas into diving the wrong way. But the Greeks finally got that bit of luck when Nigeria’s Sani Kaita was shown a red card in the 33rd minute for kicking out at Vasilis Torosidis after a needless scuffle on the touchline. This provided the perfect platform for the 2004 European champions to get back into the game and, with just seconds of the first half remaining, they did just that. Even then Greece, who hadn’t scored a single goal in World Cup finals football before today, finally broke their duck thanks to a cruel deflection, Dimitris Salpingidis’ shot came off Lukman Haruna and sent the keeper the wrong way to make the score 1-1 going into the break. From the second half the Greeks took the game to the Super Eagles who had decided to try and hold on to what they had. But constant Greek pressure soon paid off in the 71st minute when Torosidis, the man at the centre of the red card furore earlier in the game, saw Alexandros Tziolis’ shot from the edge of the box parried by Nigerian keeper Vincent Enyeama and it was Torosidis who put the rebound in from just inside the six yard box to give his country its first ever victory in the FIFA World Cup after they lost all of their previous four games from the 1994 and 2010 tournaments. In the final Group B matches, to be played on Tuesday June 22nd at 20:30 local time, Argentina meet Greece whilst South Korea face off against Nigeria.

Javier Hernández

Javier Hernández gave Mexico the lead in their 2-0 win over France

Group A had already seen the host nation South Africa crumble to an efficient Uruguay side on Wednesday night, Diego Forlán’s contribution of two goals and an assist for Álvaro Pereira saw the two-time winners victorious to the tune of three goals to nil to silence the vuvuzelas in the crowd. Thursday saw the second game in the group for France and Mexico, both of whom drew their opening matches in the tournament, therefore a win was absolutely imperative for both teams to stake a serious claim of further progress in the competition. Despite the lack of goals in the first half the Mexicans gave a good account of themselves and were clearly the hungrier of the two teams. The French, personified by their expected star of the tournament Franck Ribéry, were lacklustre, devoid of ideas and barely threatened their opponents all night. The second half saw Mexico break the deadlock on 64 minutes when Javier Hernández, who came on as a substitute just ten minutes earlier, beat the offside trap and had all the time in the world to take the ball past a helpless Hugo Lloris and into the French net. The game was won fifteen minutes later when another second half substitute Cuauhtémoc Blanco dispatched a penalty kick which had been won when Patrice Evra brought down Pablo Barrera in the box. The celebrations started in the stadium and the result seriously hinders French chances of qualification to the next round. In the final Group A games, to be played on Tuesday, June 22nd at 16:00 local time, group leaders Uruguay and Mexico meet each other in Rustenburg, with both teams knowing that a draw will be enough to take them both through, while South Africa plays against France in Bloemfontein in what will almost certainly be their last match in their home tournament.

FIFA: Draws all round on opening day

Posted in International Football by peterbein on June 12, 2010
Siphiwe Tshabalala

Siphiwe Tshabalala scored the opening goal in FIFA World Cup 2010

So after all the wait the FIFA World Cup finally kicked-off in Soccer City yesterday for the tournament’s opening game between hosts South Africa and their opponents Mexico. After the opening ceremony, and a couple of welcome speeches from FIFA President Sepp Blatter and South African President Jacob Zuma, the action got under way and it was Mexico who looked the most dangerous team in the first twenty minutes. Bafana Bafana were looking shaky at the back straight from the off with goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune called into the action stopping efforts from Giovani Dos Santos, arguably Mexico’s best player on the day, and Guillermo Franco. The key moment of the first half came eight minutes before half-time when Carlos Vela had a goal disallowed for offside and it seemed that the footballing gods were looking down on South Africa for their big day in the spotlight.

This view seemed to lend itself further credibility ten minutes into the second half when Man of the Match Siphiwe Tshabalala was played through by Teko Modise and he unleashed a fantastic left-footed strike into the top right hand corner to cue celebrations and the biggest blast of the Vuvuzela horns all afternoon. Something tells me that the Vuvuzelas will end up being the most annoying thing about the World Cup as the noise generated by thousands of people blowing into them at the same time makes it sound like the largest swarm of bees anywhere. Thankfully, for Mexico, Rafael Márquez was able to silence the horns, albeit very briefly, in the 78th minute when he was played onside by Aaron Mokoena and he fired hard and low to the keeper’s left to restore parity for the Mexicans. The game was due a grandstand finish and it almost got it in the 89th minute but, after a classic bit of route one football, Katlego Mphela’s shot hit the post and the 1-1 result was perhaps greeted with relief from both sides in the end.

The second game of the day saw two former world champions collide when Uruguay faced-off against France and it would have to go a fair way to beat the entertainment provided by the opening match. Sadly both teams were seemingly incapable of lifting themselves for football’s biggest tournament and played out a pitiful goalless stalemate which was only notable for the sending-off of Uruguay’s Nicolás Lodeiro who had come on as a second half substitute and remained on the pitch for a mere seventeen minutes. After the opening day of the 19th FIFA World Cup all four teams in Group A are on one point each with South Africa and Mexico occupying the top two places due to goals scored. In the second games in Group A South Africa meet Uruguay in Pretoria on Wednesday, June 16th with France playing against Mexico one day later in Polokwane.

FIFA World Cup – 24 Hours To Go

Posted in International Football by peterbein on June 10, 2010
Nelson Mandela

Former South African president Nelson Mandela holds the FIFA World Cup trophy

With only twenty four hours to go until the start of the FIFA World Cup in South Africa the excitement levels are beginning to reach fever pitch and no more so than with yours truly. This is the first World Cup tournament that I will be blogging about and there will something to write about on most days with the calendar for the next month taken up with 64 games in 32 days. It will be a fantastic showpiece for the African continent, which hosts the tournament for the first time ever, and Stoppage Time – International Football Blog will provide you with opinion and reports from the world’s biggest sporting event.

The first ever FIFA World Cup tournament that I remember watching on the television as a child was the 1986 event in Mexico and the memories of Diego Maradona’s ‘Hand of God’ goal followed by his wonderful second in Argentina’s 2-1 win over England are the most poignant in my mind. Four years later was, without doubt, the World Cup that I enjoyed the most in my life so far. Italia 90 may not have contained the most exciting football ever but, as somebody resident in England, it was a special mood which gripped the nation as the Three Lions unexpectedly reached the semi-finals only to lose via the lottery of penalty kicks and, thus, denied a place in the final in which, I have a feeling, would’ve seen England get revenge on El Diego and his petulant Argentina side. The 1994 tournament entered new territory and saw the United States of America host the event for the first time and, from a commercial point of view, was a success which has stood the game in that country in good stead ever since. However the final was pretty poor (only a tiny bit worse than the 1990 final between West Germany and Argentina in my opinion) and was only memorable in that Brazil won their first world title for twenty four years. The 1998 tournament was a decent spectacle and lightened up by a French side with the marvellous talent of Zinedine Zidane, whose two goals in the final against Brazil capped off the tournament in style. The 2002 tournament saw many shocks in the first jointly hosted event in Japan and South Korea. Japan made it to the second round while their Asian neighbours, unbelievably, made the semi-finals having knocked out Spain and Italy along the way before losing to Germany. It was, if anything, more surreal than anything but it did make a nice change to see new faces in the latter stages even if the eventual finalists (Germany and Brazil) gave that tournament a belated sense of normality. The most recent tournament in 2006 was a resounding success and for the hosts Germany it was very nearly a fairy tale triumph at home to match their 1974 competition win. Only eventual winners Italy denied the Germans the ultimate victory at the semi-final stage and the tournament will forever be remembered for a certain French player’s rush of blood when headbutting Marco Materazzi in the final. Now is time to put all of that behind us as we await this year’s spectacle in South Africa.

So what am I looking forward to the most? First of all it will be interesting to see, after all of the criticism dished out over the last couple of years, whether the event will be an organisational as well as a footballing success. I personally hope that the South Africans make a great job of it, especially after the number of critics increased after the tragic shooting of the Togo national team in January’s African Cup of Nations tournament in Angola. FIFA president Sepp Blatter has often been accused, more often than not  justifiably so, of being more concerned in geopolitics and his decision to ensure that the FIFA World Cup went to South Africa after the setback suffered in the vote for the 2006 event is a case in point. But, no matter what the politics of the situation are, the issue of utmost importance now is that the tournament goes ahead and it succeeds. The country is fanatical about sport and this has been proven since the country’s return back into the international fold in the early 1990s by the hosting of the IRB Rugby World Cup in 1995 and the ICC Cricket World Cup in 2003. With the experience gained from the hosting of such events can the South Africans hope to re-assure the world that they are capable of hosting football’s world showpiece tournament whilst, at the same time, projecting itself as a wonderful country to visit.

Secondly I am looking forward to seeing all of the thirty two teams compete in what I hope and believe will be the most open tournament ever. Many people doubt that the likes of North Korea and New Zealand can get very far but this is the world’s biggest stage for countries of that level to shine and they may prove more difficult to beat than people realize. But even if, as expected, the lesser lights of the tournament get knocked out at the group stage there are still many teams who genuinely harbour realistic hopes of winning the tournament. European champions Spain are many people’s favourites and they may never have a better chance of winning their maiden FIFA World Cup but there will be a decent number of competitors who hope to deny them the title. Fron South America come the usual suspects Argentina and Brazil while the Europeans will depend on the champagne football of teams like Portugal and the Netherlands, the spirit and hard work of England, the ruthless efficiency of Germany, the organisation of Italy and the flair from France. The hopes of African football fans may rest on the shoulders of the Ivory Coast who have many good players plying thier trade in European club football whilst the hosts, although far from amongst the favourites to win, will have a very noisy crowd behind them, not least because of the Vuvuzela horns which will be blown at every opportunity by the fanatical South African supporters.

Stoppage Time – International Football Blog will be casting an eye over the whole tournament and we hope that you will stay with us on this very exciting footballing adventure. To get you in the mood here is the official FIFA World Cup 2010 anthem, entitled “Wavin’ Flag” by K’naan, which I’m sure you’ll become familiar with in the next four weeks:

FIFA: World Cup Guide – Part One

Steven Pienaar

Can Steven Pienaar guide his South Africa team beyond the group stage?

With only days to go before the big kick-off in Johannesburg “Stoppage Time – International Football Blog” provides you with a guide to each of the thirty two finalists in South Africa this summer. In a three-part series we start off with the teams that qualified from Africa and North America (Note: FIFA World Rankings correct from May 26th):

SOUTH AFRICA – Qualified as hosts; FIFA World Ranking = 83

Things didn’t always go so easy for the organizers of the South African World Cup bid but the stadiums and infrastructure now seem to be in place for a successful tournament. The national team, known as Bafana Bafana, didn’t compete in the African Cup of Nations earlier this year so it’s hard to gauge how competitive they can be but they will hope to reach the knockout stages. Will find it difficult against France, Mexico and Uruguay and could be the first host nation not to make it beyond the group stage of a FIFA World Cup.

Coach: Carlos Alberto Parreira

Star Player: Steven Pienaar

CAMEROON – Winners of Africa Group A; FIFA World Ranking = 19

Cameroon were made to work for their World Cup place having gone toe-to-toe in their group with improving Gabon. One of the more fancied teams from the African continent, along with Ivory Coast,  to provide a challenge in the finals. Since qualification they have reached the quarter-finals of the African Cup of Nations only to fall to eventual winners Egypt. Will hope to pip Denmark into second place in their group.

Coach: Paul Le Guen

Star Player: Samuel Eto’o

NIGERIA – Winners of Africa Group B; FIFA World Ranking = 21

Nigeria thought they hadn’t done quite enough after their final qualifying game, a 3-2 win over Kenya. Fortunately for the ‘Super Eagles’ news came through that their rivals Tunisia had surprisingly been beaten by Mozambique therefore allowing Nigeria to qualify by a point. Nigeria reached the semi-finals of the African Cup of Nations this year losing to tournament runners-up Ghana. They may be missing John Obi Mikel to injury but their aspiration will be to finish at least second in their group behind Argentina and ahead of South Korea and Greece.

Coach: Lars Lagerback

Star Player: Obafemi Martins

ALGERIA – Winners of Africa Group C (following a play-off against Egypt); FIFA World Ranking = 30

In the final group match Algeria were one minute away from direct qualification for the finals but Egypt’s late second goal meant that a play-off was necessary to separate two teams who had identical records after six matches. Algeria won the play-off played in neutral Sudan 1-0 to go through at the expense of their eternal rivals. Since qualification Les Fennecs reached the semi-finals of the African Cup of Nations but were subject to revenge by Egypt who thumped their World Cup conquerors by four goals to nil. With teams such as England, the United States and Slovenia in their group a third place finish seems the best they can hope for.

Coach: Rabah Saadane

Star Player:Karim Ziani

Ghana National Team

Ghana may struggle to progress from a tough group

GHANA – Winners of Africa Group D; FIFA World Ranking = 32

Secured qualification with a game to spare in an easy group that contained Mali, Benin and Sudan. Reached the final of the African Cup of Nations earlier this year but were beaten by record champions Egypt. Although they have some good players they don’t appear strong enough to progress from a group containing Germany, Serbia and Australia but still have the potential to shock any perceived superior opponent on their day.

Coach: Milovan Rajevac

Star Player: Sulley Muntari

IVORY COAST – Winners of Africa Group E; FIFA World Ranking = 27

Like Ghana, the Ivorians qualified for the finals with a game to spare in a group that contained Burkina Faso, Guinea and Malawi. Since qualification for South Africa the Ivorians were expected to do well in the African Cup of Nations but could only reach the last eight before being knocked out by fellow World Cup qualifiers Algeria. Didier Drogba’s presence means that the ‘Elephants’ will fancy their chances of getting out of the group stage but they will have their work cut out against the likes of Portugal and Brazil but should beat North Korea.

Coach: Sven-Göran Eriksson

Star Player: Didier Drogba

UNITED STATES – Winners of CONCACAF Group; FIFA World Rankings = 14

The United States topped the six team group in North and Central America to qualify for the finals and can be proud of securing a place at their sixth consecutive World Cup tournament. Since qualification for the finals the United States reached the final of the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup having beaten tournament favourites Spain in the semi-final before losing by the odd goal in five to Brazil in the final. All in all the Americans have a good chance of progressing to the Round of 16 stage.

Coach: Bob Bradley

Star Player: Landon Donovan

MEXICO – 2nd in CONCACAF Group; FIFA World Ranking = 17

Mexico struggled early on in the World Cup qualifying campaign and changed their coach in the process. New coach Javier Aguirre steadied the ship and secured the runners-up spot in the group lying just one point behind their neighbours United States. The Mexicans are the current champions of North and Central America having won the 2009 CONCACAF Gold Cup tournament defeating arch-rivals USA by an amazing 5-0 scoreline. El Tri will fancy their chances of progress beyond the group stage as they compete in one of the most open groups of the tournament along with France, South Africa and Uruguay.

Coach: Javier Aguirre

Star Player: Rafael Márquez

HONDURAS – 3rd in CONCACAF Group; FIFA World Ranking = 38

Honduras took the final spot in the group in the most dramatic fashion. Their 1-0 victory away at arch-rivals El Salvador was coupled with the USA’s last minute equalizing goal in the 2-2 draw against Costa Rica, the loss of two crucial points denied the latter a place at the World Cup. In the 2009 CONCACAF Gold Cup the Hondurans lost 2-0 in the semi-finals to United States. Success for Honduras will be if they don’t finish bottom of a group containing Spain, Chile and Switzerland.

Coach: Reinaldo Rueda

Star Player: David Suazo

Honduras National Team

The Hondurans are appearing in their first FIFA World Cup since 1982

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