The group stages of the African Cup of Nations concluded today with a couple of surprise inclusions making up the quarter-finals of the competition which begin on Friday.
The biggest surprise came about in Group A where Cape Verde, making their first appearance in the tournament finals, managed to get through a tough group unbeaten. Having drawn their first two games against hosts South Africa and Morocco, Cape Verde were losing their final group game against Angola with ten minutes to play before they turned it around to win 2-1. The hero for the Blue Sharks was Heldon Ramos whose stoppage time winner allowed Cape Verde to finish second in the group behind South Africa on goal difference and progress ahead of the much fancied Morocco.
The other surprise is Burkina Faso who progressed in first place from Group C and helped play their part in eliminating defending champions Zambia from the competition. Burkina Faso, who have previously only graced the knockout rounds of this tournament once in seven attempts, easily defeated Ethiopia and drew with fellow group qualifiers Nigeria as well as Zambia who needed to win the last group match in order to qualify for the last eight.
Côte d’Ivoire are still most people’s favourites to win the competition having finished top of Group D ahead of Togo, Tunisia and Algeria. The likes of Yaya Touré, Gervinho and Didier Ya Konan have helped the Elephants to two wins and a draw, the same record which graced Group B winners Ghana. The Black Stars began their campaign with a 2-2 draw against Congo DR but finished it perfectly by defeating Mali, who also qualified from the group, and Niger who were the only team not to score in any of the group games.
South Africa v Mali (02.02.13)
Ghana v Cape Verde (02.02.13)
Côte d’Ivoire v Nigeria (03.02.13)
Burkina Faso v Togo (03.02.13)
Twenty one people have been sentenced to death in Egypt as punishment for their involvement in the football riots of Port Said last year in which 74 people were killed.
Riots occurred on February 1st 2012 following an Egyptian League match between Al Masry of Port Said and Al Ahly of Cairo in which fans of the home team, following their 3-1 win over the record champions, charged at Al Ahly supporters and accusations have also been made against the police who have been accused of not doing enough to prevent the trouble on the day. In a situation where political tensions are already potentially at breaking point at any time, the ruling of this case inevitably brought about rioting in Port Said whereas in Cairo the verdict was greeted with celebration.
Egypt’s football league has been suspended since the Port Said disaster and is due to be resumed in February this year. However, two years after the revolution which helped to topple former president Hosni Mubarak, events in relation to this case will inevitably provide doubts as to whether the country is ready to resume hosting top flight football matches at a time when the country is still politically sensitive.
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.
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.
The 2012 FIFA Ballon d’Or ceremony has been held in Zurich with the undoubted star of the show once again being FC Barcelona and Argentina sensation Lionel Messi. He has picked up FIFA’s top award for individual footballers for the third consecutive year since FIFA’s World Player of the year and France Football’s Ballon d’Or awards merged in 2010, and his fourth overall.
The 25 year old has already achieved more in his career than most players would ever dream of but the personal accolades still keep rolling in for a player whose setting of a new record for scoring the most goals in a calendar year has grabbed lots of headlines despite the relative lack of success for his club side in 2012. Messi, with 41.6% of the vote, beat off challenges from Real Madrid’s Portuguese superstar Cristiano Ronaldo (23.68%) and FC Barcelona team-mate Andres Iniesta (10.91%).
FIFA’s Manager of the Year went to Vicente del Bosque, the UEFA European Championship winning coach of the Spanish national team having secured 34.51% of the vote which put him ahead of Real Madrid’s José Mourinho (20.49%) and former FC Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola (12.91%)
In the women’s game top honours went to Abby Wambach, the American thoroughly deserving the accolade following a year in which her goals helped secure the Olympic gold medal for the USA women’s team in London. She won with a 20.67% share of the vote putting her ahead of five-time former winner Marta (13.5%) and compatriot Alex Morgan (10.87%). Coach of the Year went to Pia Sundhage, the Swede having led the United States Women’s national team to their gold medal, with 28.59% of the vote compared to challengers Norio Sasaki (23.83%) and Bruno Bini (9.02%).
FIFA’s Ferenc Puskas award, which goes to the scorer of the goal adjudged to have been the best, went to Miroslav Stoch for his goal against Gençlerbirliği in a Turkish Super League match (see below). He beat off competition from Colombian superstar Radamel Falcao and Brazilian hot shot Neymar, the winner of last year’s award in this category.
FIFA’s Presidential Award, a sort of lifetime achievement award given to an individual, team or organization that has made an outstanding contribution to the game, was given to German football legend Franz Beckenbauer. “Der Kaiser” won everything there was to win in the game with FC Bayern München and the German national team and has played a vital role as a coach and as a football ambassador since he gave up his playing career in the early 1980s. The Fair Play award went to the Uzbekistan Football Association whose record in terms of fair play on the field has been exemplary throughout the last twelve months.
Finally, the FIFA/FIFPro World XI for 2012 was announced. This team is voted for by users of the FIFA website:
Iker Casillas (Goalkeeper); Dani Alves, Marcelo, Gerard Pique, Sergio Ramos (Defence); Xabi Alonso, Andres Iniesta, Xavi Hernandez (Midfield); Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Radamel Falcao (Attack)
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.
The 2012 African Cup of Nations begins this weekend with two host nations, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon, which have such a limited record in this competition. The former has never qualified for an African Cup of Nations before and will be an unknown quantity to most observers of this year’s tournament whilst the latter have competed in just four previous tournaments and have only progressed beyond the group stage on just one occasion when reaching the last eight in 1996.
Indeed there is quite a strange feel about the Cup of Nations this year if only for the fact that defending champions, and record winners of the tournament, Egypt will not be there as they failed to qualify this time out finishing bottom of their qualifying group behind Niger, South Africa and Sierra Leone. Egypt, seven times winners of the trophy, made history in the most recent tournament two years ago in Angola when winning the competition for a third consecutive time, the first time this had ever been achieved. Another African powerhouse, Cameroon, failed to qualify as they were always playing catch-up on qualifying group winners Senegal who topped the table with a five point margin on the four-time winners.
With the absence of two of the most successful nations in the tournament’s history this year could be the year that a nation such as Senegal or Ivory Coast finally get their hands on the cup again whilst there will be many amongst the sixteen nation tournament who will be hoping to spring a surprise.
GROUP A: Equatorial Guinea; Libya; Senegal; Zambia
Hosts Equatorial Guinea should enjoy this tournament seeing as it will be their maiden appearance but they will have a tough group to negotiate. Senegal are amongst the favourites to win the competition even though they are one of the strongest countries never to win the trophy before having ended up empty-handed in twelve tournament finals appearances. Libya were one of the two best runners-up to qualify for the finals and have done against the backdrop of civil war and one can only hope that a good showing in this tournament will help to heal some of the wounds that have torn the country apart in recent months. Zambia made the quarter-finals in 2010 and will be hoping of a repeat performance as a minimum requirement this time out.
GROUP B: Ivory Coast; Sudan; Burkina Faso; Angola
1992 champions Ivory Coast, in the absence of Egypt and Cameroon, will be the favourites to win this year with a host of stars based in some of Europe’s top leagues. Players such as Salomon Kalou, Didier Drogba and the Touré brothers of Yaya and Kolo will have high expectations of getting their hands on the trophy especially as they will compete in one of the easier groups of the tournament. Sudan, like Libya in Group A, qualified as one of the two best runners-up and have a squad which comprised of players based only in their home nation, the only such squad to do this in this tournament. Both Burkina Faso and Angola participated in the 2010 tournament with the latter unable to progress beyond the group stages and the latter, as tournament hosts, reaching the quarter-finals. With the strength of the squads in this group it is more than likely that this will be the case again this time around.
GROUP C: Gabon; Niger; Morocco; Tunisia
Gabon will have the honour of hosting the 2012 African Cup of Nations final in its capital of Libreville on February 8th but whether the co-hosting nation will be there is debateable. Gabon has qualified for the tournament for only the fifth time in its history and has only got beyond the group stage on one occasion. However, home advantage does give Gabon hope of reaching the last eight this time but the likelihood of the two North African superpowers of Tunisia and Morocco finishing in the top two spots in Group C is strong given both teams’ strengths within their squads. Each of those nations can be classed as a good outside bet to win their second title whereas the final team in this group, Niger, did impress in qualifying finishing top of a group containing both Egypt and South Africa but have no previous form in the finals to speak of with this being their maiden appearance.
GROUP D: Ghana; Botswana; Mali; Guinea
Outside of Egypt and Cameroon, Ghana is the most successful nation in this tournament having appeared in a record eight finals winning it on four occasions. However the glory days are becoming a distant memory for the Ghanaians who last won the African Cup of Nations in 1982 and are desperate to claim a fifth title especially as they finished in second and third places in the last two tournaments. Mali and Guinea should battle it out for one of the two quarter-final spots from this group but Botswana, who are participating in their maiden finals, will arguably be one of the weaker sides in the competition.
Kashiwa Reysol’s FIFA Club World Cup dream ended today at the hands of South American champions Santos FC. Neymar was amongst the goals for the Brazilians as they claimed a 3-1 win against the J-League champions whilst earlier in the day North and Central American champions Monterrey CF won the 5th/6th place play-off, getting the better of African champions Espérance Tunis by the odd goal in five.
Santos, in their first game of the new look Club World Cup, may have won the game against their hosts but Kashiwa continued to do themselves proud in this competition. Following earlier defeats of Auckland City and Monterrey, it was always going to prove tough to jump the final hurdle into the final but Kashiwa certainly weren’t overawed. Nonetheless Santos did what they had to do in a game which could prove to be a useful workout ahead of a potential final against FC Barcelona.
Quality strikes from Neymar and Borges gave Santos a two goal lead at the break but Hiroki Sakai reduced the arrears ten minutes into the second half to provide Kashiwa with a ray of hope. The hosts, however, would suffer a further setback in the 63rd minute when Danilo restored Santos’ two goal lead which they would preserve for the remainder of the game. Santos will now face FC Barcelona or, in the event of a massive shock, Asian champions Al Sadd in Sunday’s final and hope to claim a first world title since their second Intercontinental Cup win in 1963.
The day’s other game saw Monterrey CF restore some pride in the 5th/6th play-off against Espérance Tunis in a game which saw plenty of goals. Espérance, who controversially lost their quarter-final against Al Sadd, went ahead after half an hour to a Yannick N’Djeng goal only to see Monterrey turn the match on its head just before half-time with Hiram Mier and Aldo de Nigris getting on the score sheet.
Monterrey carried on where they left off in the second half with Jesus Zavala’s close range header increasing their lead to two goals but the Tunisians weren’t finished and made it a tight finish when Khaled Mouelhi scored from the penalty spot to make it 3-2 with a quarter of an hour left on the clock. However the Mexicans held out to ensure that they would chalk up a maiden victory in this tournament and they will hope, along with their African counterparts, to win their respective continental titles once more in 2012 and have another shot at world glory in Japan next year.
Kashiwa Reysol and Al Sadd have booked their semi-final places in the FIFA Club World Cup following hard fought victories over Monterrey CF and Esperance Tunis respectively.
Kashiwa, representing the host nation Japan as the 2011 J-League champions, needed a penalty shoot-out to get past North and Central American champions Monterrey after the two teams had played out a 1-1 draw. Leandro Domingues gave Kashiwa the lead in the 53rd minute only to see Humberto Suazo restore parity just five minutes later and the rest of the game proved frustrating for both sides as neither team could kill off their opponents. In the shoot-out Ryohei Hayashi converted the crucial final kick as Kashiwa went through 4-3 and secured themselves a meeting with South American champions Santos FC in the final four.
Controversy reigned in the other semi-final between African champions Esperance Tunis and Asian Champions League holders Al Sadd. Khalfan Ibrahim and Abdullah Koni had given Al Sadd a two goal lead by the 50th minute but Oussama Darragi pulled one back on the hour mark. However the Tunisians had two goals controversially ruled out for offside, decisions which so enraged one supporter who ran on to the pitch. Al Sadd, who are based in Qatar, now look ahead to a semi-final clash with European champions FC Barcelona who will be in fine mood following a 3-1 win against Real Madrid in last night’s El Clásico.
Real Madrid took the lead after just 22 seconds as Karim Benzema took advantage of some uncharacteristic woeful defending by Barcelona only for the visitors to equalize on the half hour mark through Alexis Sanchez. Further goals in the second half from Xavi and Cesc Fabregas helped secure the three points for Barcelona who can go into the FIFA Club World Cup knowing that their arch rivals are not going to be so far ahead when they come back from Japan. Had Real Madrid won last night they would’ve been six points clear with a game in hand. Following last night’s result, however, Barcelona are now on the same points but Madrid, nonetheless, still have the advantage of an extra game to play.
Uganda have won the CECAFA Cup for the twelfth time as they needed the drama of a penalty shoot-out to overcome the challenge of Rwanda in today’s final.
Uganda became the cream of east and central African football again following a game in which all of the goal scoring action took place in the second half of normal time. Rwanda took the lead six minutes after the break through Meddie Kagere only for Uganda to equalize thanks to an Isaac Isinde strike in the 77th minute. Rwanda regained the lead just two minutes later with Kagere grabbing his fifth goal of the tournament, making him the top scorer along with Rwandan team mate Olivier Karekezi, before the latter was unfortunate to put through his own net in the 80th minute.
Extra-time was needed to try to decipher a winner but no further goals were forthcoming, therefore taking the match into a dramatic penalty shoot-out. Rwanda had the early advantage when scoring their first two penalties, compared to Uganda’s one, but they lost their nerve in the business end of the shoot-out when missing all of the last three kicks. This allowed Uganda to claw their way back into the shoot-out with their last two penalties successfully converted by Hamis Kizza and Andrew Mwesingwa to seal a 3-2 win and to regain the title they have won more than any other nation.
Earlier on in the day host nation Tanzania were involved in the third/fourth place play-off but they were defeated by Sudan with Mohammed Eldin’s goal in the 84th minute the only goal of the game.
Record champions Uganda are through to the final of the CECAFA Cup, a competition for countries from Central and East Africa, following an extra-time victory over outgoing champions and tournament hosts Tanzania today. Uganda will face Rwanda in the final after the latter triumphed over Sudan in the other semi-final also played today.
Uganda, who have won this annual tournament on eleven occasions, had qualified for the semi-finals by virtue of a second place finish in Group B, just one point behind Burundi, before eliminating Zimbabwe in the quarter-finals on Tuesday to set up today’s clash with Tanzania. Mrisho Ngassa gave Tanzania the lead on 18 minutes, a lead they preserved until half-time, and the home fans were optimistic going into the second half. However Uganda equalized just before the hour mark thanks to Andrew Mwesigwa and with no further goals in normal time the game had to be extended by another thirty minutes. In extra-time Uganda secured a place in the final of this competition for the third time in four years with goals from Emmanuel Okwi and Isaac Isinde to give Uganda a 3-1 win.
Rwanda qualified for the semi-finals having topped Group A with a 100% record over Zimbabwe, Tanzania and Djibouti before going on to dispose of Zanzibar in the quarter-finals. Sudan were the team to be conquered by Rwanda today but the game proved to be a tight contest. Jean-Claude Iranzi gave Rwanda the lead on eight minutes before Sudan went on to restore parity with a Ramadhan Agab equalizer in the 68th minute. The game looked to be heading to extra-time but the Rwandans managed to score their winning goal in the 79th minute with Olivier Karekezi hitting the target.
The third/fourth place play-off involving Tanzania and Sudan will kick-off finals day on Saturday with the final between Uganda and Rwanda to be played after the termination of the earlier game.