World Cup 2018 Best XI: France’s Champions Lead the Top Players in Russia

July 17, 2018


“After 64 games and more drama than any World Cup in at least 20 years, there’s one piece of business left to do: Pick a team of the tournament. It’s been picked as a team that might function together rather than just the 11 best players, and to avoid the temptation of packing it with France’s champions, a limit of four players per country has been self-imposed. In a 4-3-3 formation fit for the world stage, here is our 2018 World Cup Best XI.” SI – Jonathan Wilson


For all the ills of the world, World Cup 2018 showed that a bit of football done right can make the planet smile

July 17, 2018

“Monday morning dawns with a grim and crushing inevitability. Unless you’re peeling yourself off a Paris pavement, or drowning your sorrows in a Dubrovnik dive bar, the 2018 World Cup is over. As a month of sporting hedonism slips from present tense to past, real life and its hard borders re-sharpen their focus, bringing with them a cruel reckoning. It was only football, after all. It felt like more than that when Kylian Mbappe was burning through opposition defenders, or Lionel Messi was fighting back the tide, or Russia and South Korea were pulling off the unfeasible, or when England’s town squares throbbed with rasping songs and nervous tension and the prickly spines of a faint dream. But no: ultimately, it was only football, no more and no less.” Independent


World Cup 2018 goal celebrations: A statistical analysis of unbridled joy

July 17, 2018


“How would you celebrate if you scored at a World Cup? A jig by the corner flag, an emphatic sprint, jump and punch of the air, an emotional tussle with the goalnet, or just run as fast and far as you can until someone finally, gleefully leaps on you? Whether you’re a Milla, a Josimar or a Tardelli kind of guy, there are plenty of ways with which to physically revel in what, for most players, is the once-or-twice-in-a-lifetime act of scoring on the world’s biggest stage. Goal celebrations – often just as complex, slow-motion-worthy and memorable as the goals themselves – are an art form. But, just like everything else, they’re moulded by cultural trends, context and just pure momentary instinct.” Telegraph


France’s Benchwarmers Are Worth More Than Most Starting Lineups

July 10, 2018

“France enters today’s semifinal match against neighboring Belgium as the favorite to win the 2018 World Cup. At least on paper, though, France has been the least remarkable team of the four that remain: Les Bleus have scored fewer goals than each of the other semifinalists, they’ve possessed less of the ball than two of the other semifinalists, and they’ve taken the fewest shots.” FiveThirtyEight


Did Pelé–by playing a match in Nigeria–cause a ceasefire during the Biafran War?

July 10, 2018

“The story goes that in 1969 the great Brazilian footballer Pelé and his club, Santos, stopped the Nigerian civil war for 48 hours as the warring factions (Nigeria and Biafra) put aside their differences for a couple of days for Santos to play in the country. But did this really happen? And how come the world’s greatest player came to Nigeria in the first place? In this essay, I look back through the archives in search of the real story of Pelé in Nigeria.” Africa is a Country, W – Nigerian Civil War


Nigeria vs Argentina: Ever Banega’s return frees Lionel Messi from creative duties to inspire victory

June 27, 2018

“Argentina required a late goal from a hugely unlikely source – the right boot of Marcos Rojo – but their approach throughout their 2-1 victory over Nigeria was at least an improvement upon past displays. How much credit manager Jorge Sampaoli can take remains questionable, however, after various reports Lionel Messi and Javier Mascherano are effectively now running the dressing room.” Independent – Michael Cox

What’s wrong with Argentina? We now value ‘balls’ more than talent
“So many things are wrong with Argentina we do not know what is wrong; so much is happening no one knows what is happening. You could start an article on the news pages with that same line but they fit on the sports pages too because these are turbulent times for our football. It was not always like this. For many years, football made up for our long political, social and economic decline.” Guardian


From Elimination to Elation: Argentina Somehow Staves Off Early World Cup Exit

June 27, 2018


“It’s probably best not even to try to make sense of it. You have Lionel Messi in your side. You bring on Sergio Aguero to play alongside Gonzalo Higuain in front of him. You have taken off Angel Di Maria. You have just brought on Cristian Pavon. None of them look like scoring. Passes are misplaced. The shape has gone. Every attempt to advance, it seems, runs into a Nigerian wall. It’s the same story as against Iceland, as against Croatia. All of the ball, no penetration. And then the goal comes. You make all your plans, you squeeze in as many gifted forwards as you can, and somehow the vital 86th-minute winner is scored by Marcos Rojo turning up with no justification whatsoever to volley in a rare accurate cross from Gabriel Mercado. With his wrong foot.” SI – Jonathan Wilson

Argentina Takes Its Bad Self to the Knockout Round
“With time running out and his team on the brink of group-stage elimination, everyone in the world knew there was only one man Argentina could count on to find the winner against Nigeria. Yes, Marcos Rojo, the versatile defender who made nine Premier League appearances for Manchester United this season. Scorer of four goals in the last four years for club and country. Perhaps the last person you might expect to save his country by scoring a late goal, other than Argentina forward and chronic international choker Gonzalo Higuain. Rojo’s claim, made in an interview after the game, that he told his teammates he was going to score is either a sign of a healthy, functioning ego or grounds for a psychiatric evaluation, even considering that one of those four goals in the last four years was the winner against Nigeria in the 2014 World Cup.” Slate

Argentina Survived the Group Stage. But How Far Can Messi Carry Them?
“On a team with Lionel Messi, Sergio Agüero, Gonzalo Higuaín, and Ángel Di María, few would have predicted that Marcos Rojo — yes, that Marcos Rojo; the one who scored just one goal in four seasons with Manchester United — would be the hero who put Argentina ahead of Nigeria and into the knockout stages.” The Ringer


Argentina Gets a Clean World Cup Slate After Marcos Rojo’s Heroic Volley

June 27, 2018

“Day 13 of World Cup 2018 is done, and the second night of simultaneous group finales brought another evening of memorable drama. Argentina got the victory and help it needed to survive and advance in a thrilling 2-1 win against Nigeria, while Iceland lost to Croatia 2-1. And in Group C, France and Denmark played a dreadful 0-0 tie that allowed Denmark advance to the knockout rounds as a second-place finisher, while Australia squandered its chance to make things interesting in a 2-0 loss to Peru.” SI


Chaos as Poland falls to earth with a bump

June 25, 2018

“It seemed to come completely out of the blue. Poland, a side that had stormed through the Euro 2016 qualifiers, made it to the quarter finals of the main tournament, qualified again easily for the World Cup, in the top 10 in the world rankings, blessed with world class players like Robert Lewandowski, have somehow tumbled out of the World Cup with a whimper not a bang, totally devoid of any of the qualities that have been their trademark over the last four years or so. How did this disaster happen?” Rightbankwarsaw


Why do African countries hire non-African football coaches so much?

June 23, 2018

“It seemed strange when in the run-up to Afcon 2013, Nigeria’s coach Stephen Keshi forcefully criticised African football associations for their preference for white coaches. That when Zambia, until this week the great success story of African football, had Hervé Renard to thank for masterminding their unlikely triumph last year in Libreville. Yet Keshi has a point. The success of Zambia under Renard should not obscure the fact that African football administrators have always failed to appreciate and make use of its own resources and talent. This is true of football as it is of Africa’s national economies.” Africa is a Country


Subs Spark Brazil, Musa Inspires Nigeria, Stars Shine for Switzerland at World Cup

June 22, 2018

“Day 9 of World Cup 2018 is done, highlighted by Brazil’s late 2-0 win against Costa Rica and the tears of Neymar, Nigeria’s breathtaking 2-0 victory against Iceland and Switzerland’s 2-1 comeback triumph against Serbia. The results set up what will be an incredible set of final matchdays across both groups. In Group D, only Croatia is through, and Nigeria, Iceland Argentina all remain alive for the second spot in the knockout stage. In Group E, no team has secured its knockout place yet, setting up a tense Brazil-Serbia encounter and an important Switzerland-Costa Rica one, even with Los Ticos being eliminated after their hard-fought loss.” SI


When Cameroon Convinced Themselves They Couldn’t Win

June 21, 2018

“If the spirits of Frantz Fanon and Steve Biko were hovering unseen above a football stadium in Naples in July, 1990, they would not have liked what they saw. But they would have found it sadly predictable. The stadium hosted a World Cup quarter-final between Cameroon and England. The more skilled team, Cameroon, lost. They were beaten not by England but by themselves.” Jacobon


Argentina Is The Team To Beat In Group D, But Can Messi (Finally) Win The Tournament?

June 12, 2018


“Lionel Messi still has not won a senior international tournament.1 His Argentina was defeated by Germany in the last World Cup and lost on penalty kicks to Chile in the final of the Copa America in both 2015 and 2016. La Albiceleste will be looking to win Messi the trophy he deserves, and for the first step on that journey, the team has been drawn into an entirely winnable group with Croatia, Iceland and Nigeria.” FiveThirtyEight


World Cup favourites choosing defensive-minded midfielders over deep-lying playmakers

June 11, 2018


“The most fascinating tactical development over the past few World Cups has been the increased popularity of the deep playmaker. Having nearly become extinct around the turn of the century, it’s notable that recent World Cup winners have generally depended upon a great creative influence from deep.” ESPN – Michael Cox (Video)


World Cup Preview 2018: Messi vs. Ronaldo, Magic Cats, Iceland!!, and the Entire Emotional Context in Which Much of Human Life Transpires

June 10, 2018

“Ladies and gentlemen, start your psychic octopuses. The biggest and strangest sporting event in human history resumes next week in Russia, where thirty-two men’s national soccer teams will begin the monthlong competition for the strangely un-cup-like trophy given to the winners of the FIFA World Cup. For many of the world’s best soccer players, the tournament offers a chance to become legends in their home countries and icons in the history of the game. For billions of soccer fans, the tournament offers a chance to participate in modernity’s most sweeping collective frenzy, a spectacle that will shape the emotional context in which much of human life transpires for the next few weeks. For the United States men’s national team, which did not qualify, the tournament offers a chance to feel gloomy while eating Cheetos on the couch.” New Yorker – Brian Phillips


Who’s the Best No. 10 at the World Cup?

June 9, 2018


“In Inverting the Pyramid: The History of Soccer Tactics, Jonathan Wilson describes the symbolism of the no. 10 as “the ‘free-spirited epitome of the artistry of soccer.’ And while free-spirits have become fewer and farther between as more money’s been poured into the game and managers have systematized their tactics, the no. 10 is still typically given to the most creative player on the team. Or, in Poland or Nigeria’s case, it’s given to a defensive midfielder best known for his ability to make tackles and pass the ball sideways. But each team has its reasons, and so with all of the World Cup squad lists now officially released, we each ranked all the nos. 10 set to play in Russia this summer, tallied the results, and came out with the following list. No. 1 is obvious, but that’s about the only spot we came close to agreeing on. Yes, someone, who shall remain nameless out of our sheer fear for his safety, didn’t put Lionel Messi first.” The Ringer


World Cup groups A-D preview – Football Weekly

June 9, 2018

“Max Rushden is joined by voices from around the world to preview World Cup groups A-D, including Danish royalty, Peruvian vigour and the prospect of a tournament without a French meltdown.” Guardian (Audio)


Your complete guide to all 736 players at the 2018 World Cup

June 7, 2018

“Biographies of every player in all 32 squads in Russia, including caps, goals, nicknames, hobbies and, once the tournament starts, ratings for every performance. We strive to give you an unbiased, trustworthy and in-depth view of the world’s most prestigious football tournament. If you think that’s worth something, then you can support The Guardian from as little as £1 – and it only takes a minute.” Guardian


Russia 2018 Group D – Betting Tips

June 7, 2018

“Two teams at this World Cup appear gloriously unpredictable: you wouldn’t be surprised if they reached the semi-finals; equally, crashing out at the group phase is eminently possible. The first is Portugal, and the second is Argentina. The link is obvious: underwhelming sides with plenty of defensive question marks, but captained by an all-time great. But whereas Cristiano Ronaldo tasted success with Portugal at the European Championship two years ago, Leo Messi is still searching for a first taste of international glory – the Olympics notwithstanding – for Argentina.” Betting Tips – Michael Cox


Who Will Win the 2018 World Cup? SI’s Expert Predictions and Knockout Brackets

June 4, 2018


“The World Cup kicks off June 14 in Moscow with a meeting between the two lowest-ranked teams in the field, which, in some ways, is quite appropriate. The competition is meant to be a crescendo, one whose drama and defining moments don’t occur until the very end. With the way the draw and schedule worked out, that’s precisely how Russia 2018 is shaping up to play out. Russia vs. Saudi Arabia will be a massive 90 minutes for the host nation, which can set its tone for the tournament in front of its partisan crowd. But once it’s over, the focus will shift to the traditional powers and the individual superstars who figure to have plenty of say in determining the 2018 world champion. …” SI


England blow hot and cold against Nigeria after Gary Cahill’s quick start

June 2, 2018

“The encouraging news for England is that Harry Kane is looking sharp, Raheem Sterling seems remarkably unaffected by all the recent scrutiny and, if Gareth Southgate’s team can play in the World Cup as they did here during the opening 45 minutes, perhaps it is not too outlandish to think they can make a decent impression in Russia, after all. Unfortunately that tells only part of the story and, with England, there always seems to be a cloud attached to every silver lining. Two-nil ahead at the break, Southgate’s team looked on course to win with ease. …” Guardian


Nigeria’s Will Troost-Ekong: ‘If there is racism we will make a decision’

May 27, 2018

“When England face Nigeria on Saturday they will line up against a man with a more quintessentially English upbringing than anyone in a white shirt at Wembley. Will Troost-Ekong was educated at boarding school in Bishop’s Stortford and speaks with the accent his parents intended when they sent him to these shores at the age of 12. Troost-Ekong, the son of a Nigerian father and Dutch mother, received a privileged education at Hockerill college and it also set him on the path to his career, although not one usually associated with a boarding school alumnus. …” Guardian


World Cup 2018 team previews: what you need to know about all 32 teams (ESPN)

May 25, 2018


“The 2018 World Cup might be missing some big nations, but that’s what makes this tournament the best in sports. Brazil are looking to bounce back from a travesty in 2014, while Spain, Argentina and France are hoping to dethrone defending champions Germany and their typically deep squad. Can Belgium or Portugal make a splash? Do England have what it takes to challenge too? ESPN FC is previewing every team ahead of the opening game on June 14 in English, Spanish and Portuguese to give a truly global feel to our team profiles. Here’s what you need to know about the 32 teams set to do battle in Russia beginning on June 14. …”
ESPN


2018 FIFA World Cup

May 25, 2018

“The 2018 FIFA World Cup will be the 21st FIFA World Cup, a quadrennial international football tournament contested by the men’s national teams of the member associations of FIFA. It is scheduled to take place in Russia from 14 June to 15 July 2018, after the country was awarded the hosting rights on 2 December 2010. This will be the first World Cup held in Europe since the 2006 tournament in Germany, and the first ever to be held in Eastern Europe. All of the stadium venues are in European Russia, to keep travel time manageable. The final tournament will involve 32 national teams, which include 31 teams determined through qualifying competitions and the automatically qualified host team. Of the 32 teams, 20 will be making back-to-back appearances following the last tournament in 2014, including defending champions Germany, while Iceland and Panama will both be making their first appearances at a FIFA World Cup. A total of 64 matches will be played in 12 venues located in 11 cities. The final will take place on 15 July at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow. …” Wikipedia


World Cup 2018 squad guide: Latest news and updates ahead of Russia (Independent)

May 25, 2018

“The 2018 World Cup is now only weeks away. The 32 countries have until the May 14 deadline to name their provisional squads for Russia with managers all over the globe currently scratching their heads as they bid to whittle down their long list of possibles and probables in time for the final June 4 cut off, just 10 days before the opener in Moscow. However, many teams – England included, – have already pledged to name their lucky few earlier with Gareth Southgate set to pick his 23 before the final pre-tournament friendlies with Nigeria and Costa Rica. …” Independent (Video)


World Cup 2018 groups: Your complete guide to the teams

April 5, 2018

“The World Cup draw is done and dusted with England drawn against Belgium, Panama and Tunisia. Here is your guide to the eight groups for the 2018 World Cup…” Telegraph


At African Soccer Event, Games of Cat and Mouse

January 30, 2018


“CASABLANCA, Morocco — Standing just inside the lobby of Casablanca’s Novotel, Koly Koivogui was hard to miss. Dressed in a bright red zip-up track top bearing the insignia of the Guinean national soccer team, Koivogui, a large, barrel-chested coach, stood guard. He was making sure that uninvited player agents or scouts did not harass members of his team on the eve of the 16-team African Nations Championship, a competition for national teams with rosters made up solely of players who play club games in their birth countries. …” NY Times


2018 African Nations Championship: Group-by-group guide

January 12, 2018


“The 2018 African Nations Championship (CHAN) in Morocco is the fifth edition of the tournament that features only players plying their trade in their own domestic championships. The Confederation of African Football (Caf) introduced the tournament in 2009 when Ivory Coast hosted an eight-team finals that was won by DR Congo. In 2011, the tournament – hosted by Sudan – expanded to 16 teams with Tunisia emerging as winners before Libya lifted the trophy in South Africa in 2014 and DR Congo won again in 2016, when Rwanda staged the finals. The holders and record two-time champions will not be in Morocco however, after losing to Congo Brazzaville in qualifying. …” BBC


Applause at the Draw, but Will Russia Keep Cheering?

December 3, 2017


“MOSCOW — Half a million fans — by current, suspiciously optimistic, estimates — will descend on Russia next year for what Gianni Infantino, the FIFA president, has already decreed will be the ‘best’ World Cup in history. Every single fan, he has decided, will have “an amazing experience.” Billions of dollars have been spent on new, or renovated, stadiums to host the finest players in the world: Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, Neymar and Kylian Mbappé. Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, on Friday promised a ‘major sporting festival of friendship and fair play.’ …” NY Times, The Ringer: The Four Must-Watch Games of the 2018 World Cup Group Stages (Video), NY Times – World Cup Draw: Group-by-Group Analysis


World Cup 2018 power rankings: Germany on top among qualified 23

October 12, 2017


“Twenty-three nations have booked their places for the World Cup in Russia, with the holders and Brazil looking in good shape but we rank England in 13th place, below Iceland.” Guardian (Video)


Afcon 2017: wider spread of talent makes winner impossible to predict

January 19, 2017

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Riyad Mahrez, Diedonnei Mbokani, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Mohamed Salah are among the stars at the Africa Cup of Nations.
“The pattern has become familiar: a country wins the right to host a tournament and there is excitement, then come doubts about costs and readiness, but in the days before the event, the negativity falls away and excitement takes over. Not here. In 2015, Gabon stepped in to replace Libya as the hosts because of the conflict there but, as the 31st Africa Cup of Nations approaches, there is a clear sense a significant proportion of the country does not want it to happen.” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson


Global Series | Top 10 African Players of 2015: Toure, Kidiaba and Brahimi feature

December 19, 2016

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“… 8. ROBERT KIDIABA Kidiaba is the veteran goalkeeper at TP Mazembe, is one of the most decorated African players in the game today. Kidiaba started off his career at AS Saint Luc, and his success there prompted the national team to take him to the AFCON in 1998. This brought attention to the young keeper, and he signed for Mazembe after the tournament. Ever since then, he’s been a constant in their side, winning league titles galore, and 3 African Champions League trophies as well.” Outside of the Boot


History of the BBC African Footballer of the Year award

November 18, 2016

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“Before the BBC African Footballer of the Year 2016 launches on Saturday, BBC Sport looks at all the previous winners. The prize started life as the BBC African Sports Star of the Year award in 1992, when Ghanaian footballer Abedi Pele was the inaugural winner. The format has evolved and now a shortlist of five players is announced following a poll of football journalists from every country in Africa – after which a public vote decides the best for that year. Names etched on the trophy include George Weah, Didier Drogba, Jay-Jay Okocha, Yaya Toure and Sammy Kuffour.” BBC


African players in the Premier League

March 20, 2016

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“Peter Ndlovu was the first. Now 246 African players have played in the Premier League since it began in 1992, scoring 1,776 goals in 14,210 appearances. Chelsea legend Didier Drogba has scored the most goals (104), Kolo Toure has made the most appearances (349) while Nigeria (35) has contributed the most players. As the Premier League live fan park comes to Cape Town this weekend learn all you need to know about African players in the English top flight.” BBC, BBC – You can read an accessible version of this graphic here.


Are DR Congo’s leopards rising from a prolonged slumber?

February 5, 2015

“With less than half an hour remaining in their quarter-final duel with Republic of Congo, it seemed DR Congo’s less than flattering AFCON campaign was destined for an ungainly conclusion – having just witnessed their limited yet well drilled neighbours move into an implausible 2-0 lead. It was at that point however where the fixture’s landscape shifted, as Republic of Congo – who prior to this tournament hadn’t tasted AFCON victory in 40 years -seemingly froze in the face of the momentous accomplishment that was within their grasp. Within minutes Dieumerci Mbokani had halved the bewildered Red Devils advantage, as a DR Congo suddenly rediscovered an attacking mojo that had been non-existent up to that point.” backpagefootball

Ivory Coast survive wobble against DR Congo to reach Cup of Nations final
“Could it be that one of the longest waits in football is at last coming to an end? For a decade, Africa has expected Ivory Coast’s golden generation at last to reach fulfilment and perhaps now, as the Elephants approach their third final in nine years, the itch will be scratched. Yet perhaps this isn’t even the golden generation any more: after all, only four players remain from the squad that lost to the hosts in the final in Egypt in 2006.” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson


Ivory Coast march on but this tale of two Tourés is far from pretty

February 1, 2015

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Kolo Touré / Ivory Coast
“The good news for Ivory Coast is that they’re through. They’re not playing with any great fluency or style, but they have made it through to the quarter-finals, where they will face Algeria, and there is at least about them a sense of purpose and defensive resolve. “We will fight like elephants,” said Kolo Touré after a second successive draw had left them needing to win their final game, against Cameroon, to progress and if that means presenting a solid barrier, absorbing blows before prevailing through a goal based on raw power, they did just that. Wednesday’s 1-0 win over Cameroon, a team who had beaten them 4-1 in qualifying, was classic Hervé Renard.” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson

Guinea and Mali to draw lots for Africa Cup of Nations knockout place
“The final place in the Africa Cup of Nations quarter-finals will be decided by the drawing of lots after Guinea and Mali drew 1-1. Both teams had played out 1-1 draws in their previous Group D matches, meaning lots will be required to decide who finishes second and will face Ghana. Every match in the group finished 1-1 except Wednesday’s other match, in which Ivory Coast beat Cameroon 1-0 to qualify. It is a remarkable set of circumstances and one not seen at the Africa Cup of Nations since 1988, when the drawing of lots sent Algeria through to the knockout stage at the expense of the Ivory Coast. Bizarrely, the draw will not be made immediately but at a meeting of Confederation of African Football officials on Thursday.” Guardian


Ghana’s loss to Senegal leaves Avram Grant in familiar territory

January 22, 2015

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“Avram Grant has faced enough hostile press conferences in his career to know that he got away lightly. The Ghanaian media was clearly disappointed by the 2-1 defeat to Senegal on Monday but it was relatively restrained in the way it dealt with Grant, who sat in familiarly morose pose as a bat fluttered back and forth above his head. Perhaps the gentle approach was born of a recognition that this was Grant’s first competitive game in charge, or perhaps it was simply that the poor performance wasn’t unexpected.” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson

Afcon 2015: Star players, prizes and stats from Equatorial Guinea
“The opening round of group games at the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations has delivered penalty misses, last-gasp winners, no goalless draws and some man-of-the-match presentations with a twist. The Confederation of African Football (Caf) has given fans the chance to hand out awards to the chosen star man in fixtures, but have they gone to the right players? Here, we put forward the round-one stars chosen by you, our reporters on the ground in Equatorial Guinea and African football’s governing body.” BBC

Zambia 1 Tunisia
“Tunisia made the most of Zambia’s wastefulness in front of goal as they came from behind to win. Emmanuel Mayuka opened the scoring when he blasted home a cross from the impressive Rainford Kalaba. But Mayuka was injured when stretching for a chance to turn the ball into an empty net and moments later Tunisia scored against 10 men when Ahmed Akaichi scored from two yards out. Tunisia improved after that and Yasine Chikhaoui headed home a late winner.” BBC


Favourites Algeria dealt AFCON minefield

December 7, 2014

“The pot compilation of yesterday’s 2015 African Cup of Nations draw always meant a strong viability for a series of heavy weight assortments, yet for the majority of sides assigned a spot in Group C their hand represented the nightmare assignment. The inevitably dubbed group of death compiles the intimidating quintet of Algeria, Ghana, South Africa and Senegal. If Algeria – undoubtedly Africa’s standout outfit in Brazil last summer and the continent’s highest ranked side – are to clinch a first crown in 22 years they must now do it the hard way. That being said as arduous as Algeria’s examination might appear, for their three opponents the Fennec Foxes represent the worst case scenario.” backpagefootball


Africa Cup of Nations’ lop-sided draw promises intrigue if not high quality

December 4, 2014

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Democratic Republic of Congo fan – African Nations Cup
“Given the seeding pots, the potential for an atrociously difficult group at next month’s Africa Cup of Nations was always there. The draw delivered, spectacularly and brutally. Algeria, the top-ranked team in Africa, the only one of the Cup of Nations qualifiers to reach the last 16 of the World Cup, were the danger lurking in Pot 2 and Ghana the unlucky seeds. But worse than that, Ghana had already been grouped with Senegal – by some distance the best team in Pot 4 – and, from Pot 3, the side that eliminated the champions Nigeria in qualifying, South Africa, resurgent under Shakes Mashaba.” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson


At least there is a Cup of Nations for Nigeria to fail to qualify for

November 21, 2014

South Africa's Eric Mathoho, left, and Nigeria's Ahmed Musa
“Twelve days after the Akwa Ibom stadium in Uyo was officially opened, it is already a site of ignominy. Nigeria fought back with two late Sone Aluko goals to draw 2-2 with South Africa on Wednesday, but preserving their unbeaten record against Bafana Bafana in competitive games is little consolation. Congo, whom Nigeria had beaten 2-0 on Saturday to have even a chance of qualification, held their nerve to win 1-0 in Sudan and so eliminated the defending champions from the Cup of Nations.” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson


Africa Cup Disrupted by Ebola Concerns

November 12, 2014

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“Fear of the spread of Ebola has now thrown Africa’s most important soccer tournament into disarray. Morocco was removed Tuesday as host of the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations and expelled from participating in the biennial championship after it sought to delay the 16-team event, concerned about a spread of the virus. No replacement host has yet been named for the tournament, which is scheduled from Jan. 17 to Feb. 8. The expulsion of Morocco was announced by the Confederation of African Football, or C.A.F., the regional soccer governing body, which accused Moroccan officials of being alarmist in wanting to delay the Cup of Nations by six months or a year. Ebola has not been detected in Morocco, the organization noted recently.”
NY Times


Departing Stephen Keshi finally pays the price of chaos in Nigerian football

October 17, 2014

Stephen Keshi
“Stephen Keshi was sacked as coach of Nigeria late on Wednesday night, bringing to an end a protracted and tawdry departure that has dragged on since the end of the World Cup. It’s a saga that reflects well on nobody and has left the African champions struggling even to qualify for next January’s Cup of Nations and it’s telling of how little football has had to do with the decision that it should have been taken a few hours after an impressive 3-1 win over Sudan that restored hope.” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson


It starts here… Africa Cup of Nations 2015 – 2nd round qualification preview

July 21, 2014

“In early May the long journey towards Morocco and the Africa Cup of Nations 2015 began for the sizeable percentage of African sides – indeed for Mauritania that voyage started way back in April with a preliminary round fixture against Mauritius. Before Africa’s elite, including champions Nigeria, endure the rigors of qualification the rest must be whittled down to just seven – having seen 14 sides depart during May’s first round, that number will be halved once again in the second round.” Just Football


Exit Happiness: Nigeria’s World Cup Run Comes to an End

July 2, 2014

“‘I haven’t heard the halftime yet,’ said Obie, one of the many Nigeria supporters on hand for the Super Eagles’ watch party at the Nigerian comfort-food spot Buka. He motioned toward a projection of the currently level France-Nigeria match and the broadcasters breaking it down at halftime, albeit inaudibly. ‘We’re so loud.’ Noise is a good thing to keep in mind when thinking about Nigeria’s presence in the round of 16 — noisy in appearance because of its lime-green jerseys, noisy because of Africa’s waning presence in the World Cup and the rallying cries joining the Eagles, noisy because of the atrocities happening in the northern part of their home country.” Grantland


World Cup: France sees off Nigeria to reach last eight

July 1, 2014

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“Redemption is not easy to attain. Four years on and the scars still remain. When France’s footballers left for Brazil, they were under no illusions — it cannot happen again. At South Africa 2010, ‘Les Bleus’ became a laughing stock as players and coaches clashed, strikes were threatened and results embarrassed a nation. Players were suspended, the entire country waged war on a group which had imploded and exited at the group stage after failing to win a single game. Four years ago the picture was grim.” CNN

France 2-0 Nigeria: France prosper when returning to a one-striker system
“France took a while to show their best football, but dominated the final half hour. Didier Deschamps’ big decision was whether to start striker Olivier Giroud or left-winger Antoine Griezmann, with Karim Benzema’s position dependent upon that choice. Giroud got the nod. Stephen Keshi was without Michael Babatunde through injury, and his latest attempt to solve the problem at number ten was playing Victor Moses there, behind Emannuel Emenike. Nigeria started strongly and dominated the first quarter of the game, but France slowly showed their quality.” Zonal Marking

Exit Happiness: Nigeria’s World Cup Run Comes to an End
“’I haven’t heard the halftime yet,’ said Obie, one of the many Nigeria supporters on hand for the Super Eagles’ watch party at the Nigerian comfort food spot Buka. He motioned toward a projection of the currently level France-Nigeria match and the broadcasters breaking it down at halftime, albeit inaudibly. ‘We’re so loud.’ Noise is a good thing to keep in mind when thinking about Nigeria’s presence in the round of 16 — noisy in appearance because of its lime green jerseys, noisy because of Africa’s waning presence in the World Cup and the rallying cries joining the Eagles, noisy because of the atrocities happening in the northern part of their home country.” Grantland

World Cup Players to Know: France’s Midfield General, Paul Pogba
“… But the brief on Pogba is thus: grew up outside of Paris, joined Manchester United at 16 under allegations that the club had, in effect, bribed his parents, played three games for the Red Devils in three years, refused to pen a new contract in 2012 because, he says, Sir Alex Ferguson “didn’t show me enough that he wanted me in his squad,” joined Juventus on a free transfer, was painted in the press by his former coach as a bigger problem than he was worth, and then promptly became one of the best midfielders on the planet.” Grantland

World Cup Tactical Analysis | France 2-0 Nigeria: Super Eagles’ impressive possession game not enough
“Paul Pogba lead a determined France through to the quarter finals against a Nigerian team that wasn’t going to give up that easily with Enyeama between the sticks. An own goal at the end however, killed the dreams of the African country that was never afraid to dream.” Outside of the Boot


Nigeria’s Coach Makes History

June 30, 2014

“Stephen Keshi is the first African to lead an African team to the second round. Progress in African soccer should not be measured only by how the continent’s teams progress through the World Cup brackets. You can also judge the pace of evolution by looking at who’s standing in the technical area. On Monday in Brasilia, Stephen Keshi will be inside the dotted white lines as his Nigeria side face France for a place in the quarterfinals. Even this early in the tournament, Keshi is a pioneer: the first African head coach to lead a team into the round of 16.” Fusion


Nigeria and Iran lower World Cup pulse with forgettable goalless draw

June 17, 2014

“Well, it had to happen some time. But at least it was a long time in coming. Thirteen games into the 2014 World Cup there was finally a match that was not very good. Not that it quietened this arena: there was noise in Curitiba, and lots of it, there was just not much else. For a moment this felt as if it was going to be enjoyable, the momentum with Nigeria, but that moment was brief; the opening seven minutes were exciting; the remaining 83 were not. And so Brazil has its first draw as well and a 0-0 draw at that.” Guardian


2014 Fifa World Cup: Guide to Argentina’s Group F

May 31, 2014

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“Style & formation: Argentina often fielded a bold 4-3-3 formation in qualifying, although a more conservative 5-3-2 was deployed for tricky away fixtures. The former system allows Lionel Messi to play as a classic number 10 behind two strikers – typically Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero and Napoli’s Gonzalo Higuain – who stretch play. But with Angel Di Maria deployed as part of a midfield three, the formation offers little defensive protection.” BBC – Argentina, Bosnia-Hercegovina, Iran, Nigeria

World Cup 2014 Tactics: How will Argentina set-up at the 2014 FIFA World Cup?
“The two-time winners topped the South American qualification for the 2014 FIFA World Cup and, as ever, will go into the tournament as one of the favourites. An Albiceleste victory on Brazilian soil would be the perfect way to rub salt into the wounds of the hosts and Alejandro Sabella’s men will be desperate to repeat the feats of ’78 and ’86.” Outside of the Boot


WC2014 Expert Interview: Why are expectations low despite Nigeria being African champions?

May 28, 2014

“A lot of Nigerian’s ply their trade in Europe. Do you think that doing so brings them an unfair share of attention, and hence greater chances of selection? Or is their experience in Europe deserving of a spot in the World Cup squad? The truth is that playing in Europe will more often than not give you a better chance of catching the attention of the national selectors. This has been more the rule than the exception over the years. However, coach Stephen Keshi has been bold enough in his three years in charge to give players from the domestic league a more decent run in his team so much so that the home-based players are no longer just mere ‘training materials’.” Outside of the Boot


World Cup 2014: Super Eagles can be the best of Africa

May 8, 2014

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“If there has been a consistent theme in these World Cup columns – and there has been at least one, honest – it is that the Ivory Coast are not as good as people think. Given they have vied with Egypt as the best African team of this century but have a much higher global recognition factor because so many of their players play in the major western European leagues, that’s perhaps understandable – but support for them goes against the evidence of the last Africa Cup of Nations. In South Africa, the Ivorians looked what they are: an ageing squad. Yaya Toure, of course, remains an exceptional player and his influence can still turn games, but with Didier Drogba now 36, he is increasingly having to do it alone.” Betting – Jonathan Wilson


Brave Nigeria bow out as Spain soldier on

June 24, 2013

“A courageous Nigeria team exited the Confederations Cup with their dignity very much intact despite being on the wrong end of a 3-0 scoreline against European and world champions, Spain. At the final whistle, the Super Eagles left the field as the spectators’ clear moral victors with the crowd chanting ‘Nigeria! Nigeria!’ albeit in suspiciously Brazilian accents.” ESPN (Video)


Uruguay 2-1 Nigeria: Tabarez switches to a back three, then to a back four, then to a back five

June 23, 2013

“Diego Forlan hit the winner on his 100th international appearance, as Uruguay unconvincingly defeated Nigeria. After a terrible performance against Spain, Oscar Tabarez brought back Diego Forlan into his starting XI, completely changed his midfield duo, and switched to a back three. Stephen Keshi swapped his two central attackers – Ideye Brown replaced Anthony Ujah, and John Ogu came in for Sunday Mba. Uruguay were a little fortunate to win this one – over the course of the game they hardly outplayed Nigeria, although they unquestionably had more quality in the final third.” Zonal Marking


Confederations Cup 2013: Spain remain team to beat in Brazil

June 14, 2013

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“Despite some resistance from the Republic of Ireland at the Yankee Stadium, they outgunned Giovanni Trapattoni’s men 2-0 in their last game before the Confederations Cup campaign gets under way in Brazil this weekend. On Sunday, the world and European champions play their first group game against Uruguay, as La Roja begin their bid to bring yet another international trophy back to Madrid.” BBC

Uruguay’s fighting spirit comes to the fore
“Uruguay turning up for a tournament on Brazilian soil is enough to send a shudder down the local spine. The other day Pele was remembering the World Cup final of 1950, and his father in tears as the sky blues came from behind to shock the host in Rio’s newly built Maracana stadium. Now Uruguay is back once more, this time for the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup.” The World Gane – Tim Vickery

Confederations Cup 2013: Spain team profile
“… Whether in a 4-3-3, 4-2-3-1 or 4-6-0 formation, the modern-day Spanish side, with a little help from their free-flowing Barcelona contingent, have ripped up the formation book – even winning tournaments with the false number nine/strikerless line-up. Barcelona’s Victor Valdes is expected to start the tournament as Spain’s number one goalkeeper in the major change from Euro 2012, with Iker Casillas missing out.” BBC

Face of World Cup host Brazil? Look no further than Neymar
“When the World Cup hopes and dreams of arguably the world’s most successful footballing country rest on your skinny shoulders, you’re going to need all the help you can get. It is not known what great works of literature Neymar chose when packing his suitcases for Barcelona, but he could have done worse than to seek solace in a little Shakespeare. Dank and drizzly though it can sometimes be, Santos’ Vila Belmiro stadium, our hero’s erstwhile home, is a long way from the gloomy battlements of Hamlet’s Elsinore. Nevertheless, there are more than a few parallels between the life and times of Brazil’s current idol and Shakespeare’s classic paean to troubled young manhood.” SI

Confed Cup Preview: 5 storylines to watch
“The Confederations Cup (June 15-30) is the ritual eight-team dry run designed to give the World Cup hosts the chance to iron out any kinks in their stadia and transport systems a year before the big show begins. The tournament pitches the hosts, reigning World Cup holders and six confederation champions (with Italy qualifying as Euro runners-up to World Cup holders Spain) into battle.” ESPN (Video)

A rare Confederations Cup – all the teams, for once, want to win it
“Tournaments are like birthdays: they are as significant as you want them to be. To many the Confederations Cup is a meaningless intrusion on the football calendar, a rinky-dink competition that proves nothing more than Fifa’s greed. After all, the World Cup already exists to establish the best team on the planet so what, other than money and attention-seeking, is the point of a mini-tournament between the leading teams from each continent?” Guardian

Starting anew: Deeper Spain lacks strong XI
“While club football’s evolution from a ‘team game’ into a ‘squad game’ has been widely acknowledged the past two decades, the situation at the international level remains uncertain. After all, major international tournaments are decided during the course of four weeks, rather than eight months. Whereas the speed and intensity of modern football ensures club managers frequently rotate their squad to prevent burnout in the spring, international managers often squeeze every last drop out of their regular starting XI.” ESPN – Michael Cox


Africa’s big guns are feeling the heat in World Cup 2014 qualifiers

June 4, 2013

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“The nearer it gets to its denouement, the more you look at the format Africa has chosen for World Cup qualifying and wonder. It is brilliantly absurd, a guaranteed way of generating drama, with the very real possibility that many of the continent’s grandees will miss out. Pre-qualifying whittled it down to 10 groups of four, with the group winners to play off in five two-legged ties for the five qualifying slots. In that the system makes no concessions to vested interests of established powers it is to be applauded, although its wisdom may be questioned if none of the continent’s big guns make it through: one bad day in October could be enough to see any side out.” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson


Nigeria 1-0 Burkina Faso: Nigeria triumph

February 11, 2013

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“Nigeria won the Africa Cup of Nations following a typically tight, tense final. Stephen Keshi was able to select Victor Moses (who had been a doubt) but Emmanuel Emenike was injured, and replaced by Ikechukwu Uche. Paul Put, who has tinkered with his formations and line-ups throughout the tournament, was able to name an unchanged side after Jonathan Pitroipa’s suspension was overturned. This was a disappointing game, both in tactical and entertainment terms. Nigeria played better football, but there were very few shots on target from either side.” Zonal Marking

Africa Cup of Nations 2013: Sunday Mba gives Nigeria victory at last
“It says much for the baffling politics of Nigerian football that a week before the Cup of Nations began there were moves afoot in the sports ministry to have Stephen Keshi replaced as coach. And it says much for the 52-year-old’s strength of character, his combination of thick skin, single-mindedness and good humour that he was able to ignore all the distractions so that he stood on the touchline in Johannesburg on Sunday night beaming as only the second man – after the Egyptian Mahmoud El Gohary – to win the Cup of Nations as both player and coach.” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson (Video)

Stephen Keshi has worked miracles for Nigeria, but will they keep him?
“Back in 2006, when Stephen Keshi was still manager of Togo, he gave an interview to a handful of journalists in a hotel lobby in northern Cairo. The first time I’d spoken to him, four years earlier in Bamako, he had been lying on a sun lounger by a swimming pool and, metaphorically at least, he still was. Keshi always gives the impression of being laid back. But for a moment, the hardness beneath showed through. ‘Some day,’ he said, ‘I will be coach of Nigeria and then they will know they have a coach.'” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson

Keshi avoids politics as usual by winning Africa Cup of Nations
“The Cup of Nations, in the end, was won and lost in the thunderstorm in Rustenburg. Nigeria had gone into its quarterfinal with hope but little concrete evidence of its abilities. Then it defeated the perennial favorites, Ivory Coast, 2-1 and discovered a profound sense that it would win the tournament. It went on to hammer Mali 4-1 in the semifinal before beating Burkina Faso 1-0 in Sunday’s final.” SI


Africa Cup of Nations semi-finals: giants set sights on a return to power

February 8, 2013

“As the dust settles after the quarter-finals, the landscape looks strangely unfamiliar. The favourites, Ivory Coast, have gone; the hosts, South Africa, have gone; and Egypt, who dominated the tournament in the last half of the first decade of this century, didn’t even qualify. So the Africa Cup of Nations will go either to one of the traditional powers of African football, Ghana or Nigeria, both of whom nurse the pain of years without a title, or to a first time-winner, Mali or Burkina Faso.” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson


Nigeria 4-1 Mali: a battle of attacking left-backs

February 8, 2013

“Nigeria qualified for the final by controlling the game in midfield and attacking with more speed. Stephen Keshi named an unchanged side from the XI that triumphed over the Ivory Coast at the quarter-final stage. Mali coach Patrice Carteron left out Samba Sow and Samba Diakite, with Mahamane Traore coming into the side on the left, and Mohamed Traore in the centre. Mahamdou N’Diaye returned in place of Adama Coulibaly. Nigeria dominated this match and fully deserved their victory.” Zonal Marking

Burkina Faso 1-1 Ghana: Burkina Faso dominate and win the game on penalties
“Burkina Faso upset the odds to qualify for the Africa Cup of Nations final. Paul Put made various chances to the side which beat Togo – in came Artistide Bancé upfront, and Prejuce Nakoulma on the right. With two holding midfielders, Charles Kabore became the number ten and Jonathan Pitroipa moved left James Appiah made one change – Wakaso Murabak replaced Albert Adomah. Ghana went ahead but Burkina Faso deserved the win – they pressed well, passed smoothly and Bancé was magnificent upfront.” Zonal Marking


Pitroipa hits extra-time winner

February 3, 2013

“Unfancied Burkina Faso will play an African Nations Cup semi-final outside their own country for the first time following an extra-time win over Togo in Nelspruit. Jonathan Pitroipa headed in the only goal of an otherwise tedious contest seconds before the half-time whistle in extra-time. The Rennes forward was one of the few creative influences and deservedly provided the decisive moment in a match that was hampered by a sandy surface at the Mbombela Stadium.” ESPN

Nigeria trample Elephants
“Tournament favourites Ivory Coast crashed out of the African Nations Cup at the quarter-final stage after they were beaten by Nigeria at the Royal Bafokeng Stadium. Emmanuel Emenike gave the Super Eagles the lead just before the break and although Cheick Tiote equalised early in the second half, Sunday Mba’s deflected effort won the game for Nigeria, who will now face Mali in the last four on Wednesday.” ESPN


African Cup of Nations: Quarter final preview

February 1, 2013

“After twelve days of soccer in South Africa, eight nations are set to battle it out as the journey towards the final of the 29th Africa Cup of Nations continues. South Africa, Cape Verde, Ghana, Mali, Burkina Faso,Nigeria, Ivory Coast and Togo have all booked their places in the last eight of the Africa Cup of Nations tourney. The Black Stars of Ghana will lock horns with the Blue Sharks of Cape Verde in the first of a series of four quarter final games starting on Saturday, January 29. Coming into the game as the clear under dogs, Cape Verde will undoubtedly hope their fairy tale story in South Africa continues especially after defying the odds to qualify for the next round ahead of the more fancied Morocco and Angola in Group A. Though they had eliminated Cameroon during the qualifiers for the tourney, little was expected from the debutants, who have so far defied expectations. The Blue Sharks boisterous march in the tourney, led by coach Lucio Antunes, has caught the attention of many soccer pundits.” Think Football

Emmanuel Adebayor puts Cabinda behind him as Togo go through
“Togo secured the draw they needed against Tunisia and so made it through to the quarter-final of the Africa Cup of Nations for the first time in their history. Those are the bald facts, but they don’t begin to tell anything like the full story of an extraordinary night at the Mbombela. It may not have been great football, but it was magnificent drama. The Sparrowhawks, exploiting Tunisia’s shambolic offside line, broke through again and again in the early stages and eventually took the lead after 13 minutes, Emmanuel Adebayor laying in Serge Gakpo, whose firm low shot from just inside the penalty area beat Moez Ben Cherifia.” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson


No North African side in the last eight

January 30, 2013

Algeria's Sofiane Feghouli and South Africa's Dean Furman
Sofiane Feghouli, Algeria
“Didier Drogba scored his first goal of the African Nations’ Cup to ensure Ivory Coast go into the quarterfinals on an unbeaten run in the competition. Their opponents in that match, Nigeria, and their place in the group was already decided but they surged back anyways from 2-0 down to draw level with Algeria. The group’s bottom-feeders left with their respect intact. Although Algeria failed to record a single win in the competition, similar to their 2010 World Cup, the much-talked about Sofiane Feghouli made his impact on the competition with a goal through a penalty and assist for Hilal Soudini. But Algeria’s disappointment was compounded with Tunisia’s exit which means that no North African team will play the quarter-finals of the 2013 ANC.” ESPN

Mali’s Seydou Keita hails ‘priceless hope’ brought to crisis-torn land
“For Mali, this is becoming a habit: win the first group game narrowly, lose to Ghana, do just enough in the third match to get through and set up a quarter-final against the hosts. What they did in Libreville a year ago, when they beat Gabon on penalties, they will have to do again on Saturday as they face a newly enthused South Africa in Durban.” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson (Video)

Tiny Cape Verde is Africa Cup of Nations’ Cinderella story
“When Cape Verde coach Lucio Antunes entered the press conference room in Port Elizabeth on Sunday, he found his team had gotten there before him. They were lined up on the dais behind the desk, bouncing up and down in glee as a African Football Confederation official sat sheepishly in the foreground, aware he had formalities to complete but unwilling to interrupt the jubilation. Defender Gege, wearing his shirt back to front, leapt on a chair and carried on dancing. Antunes, at 46 and a little too old for that sort of thing, initially looked a little uncomfortable but then, after some awkward shuffling, draped himself in the flag and began directing the celebrations. Usually, he directs planes.” SI – Jonathan Wilson

Salomon Kalou, Ivory Coast eye missing Africa Cup of Nations title
“he Africa Cup of Nations has always been one of my favorite international tournaments, and for the first time it’s possible for fans in the U.S. to watch every game live easily and legally, thanks to ESPN3 picking up the rights. One of the biggest storylines is whether a remarkable generation of Ivory Coast players — Didier Drogba, Yaya and Kolo Touré, Salomon Kalou, Gervinho and others — can finally get over the hump and win the tournament after falling short in each of the past four occasions.” SI