Monthly Archives: February 2012

African Cup of Nations Round-up: Zambia Pay Ultimate Tribute to the Players of ’93

How about that then? Zambia defied so many odds to pick up the continental cup on Sunday, so lets look at how they got there…

The Story

Herve Renard’s men entered the tournament in a group with outside favorites Senegal, hosts Equatorial Guinea, and surprise package Libya – who really had a politically charged bit between their teeth. Many would not have favored Zambia to get out of that group, but after the opening day’s result – a 2-1 win over Senegal – they were immediately catching eyes. They followed up with a back-and-forth 2-2 draw with Libya, and then a 1-0 win over Equatorial Guinea saw them go through top of the group.

Christopher Katongo shows that 29 isn't "old"

They easily dispatched Sudan 3-0 in the quarter finals but then disaster seemingly struck. A hundredth minute goal by Andre Ayew saw Ghana get past Tunisia, and become Zambia’s opponents for the semis.

But moving up from the third favorites to the second favorites proved no problem for the now impressive Zambia. After absorbing huge amounts of pressure from Ghana – lead by the Ayew brothers, they finally buckled and gave away a penalty near the end of the first half. Up stepped Premier League wage villain Asamoah Gyan and, as in the World Cup quarter-final, he fluffed it as the Zambian goalkeeper parried away.

Right on the whistle for half time Zambia had an excellent chance and you sensed that the game was opening up. Ghana frustrated themselves more in the second half and A.Gyan was subbed off as his influence dissipated. At 78 minutes any suspicions that Zambia might have had their tactics right were clarified when Mayuka, a substitute, scored an absolutely perfect goal. Ghana failed to mount a response and were reduced to 10 men as Zambia booked their place in the final.

The Final

Inevitably their opponents would be the tournament favorites and three times finalists, the Ivory Coast. Truly it was to be a challenge for Zambia up against the likes of Drogba, Gervinho, the Toure brothers, and Boubacar Barry – who hadn’t conceded in nine hours. The Chipolopolo began the game with similar tactics to the Ghana game, but gained confidence in the second half and soon made it an open game. Then they gave away a penalty again as Gervinho ran into the box. Up marched Premier League top scorer 2007 and 2010 Didier Drogba to … miss.

Of course he blamed the spot

The game continued into extra time and Zambia looked equally good for a goal as Barry produced a magnificent save onto the post to keep The Elephants in it, and onto a penalty shootout.

The first five penalties (including one by Drogba) were all scored, as were the next two sudden death pens. It is worth noting that some of these penalties were among the best I had ever seen in a shootout, real top corner-ers. Finally, and after a massive run-up, Kolo Toure delivered a poor penalty to give Zambia an opportunity, an opportunity that Kalaba couldn’t take.

Next was Gervinho, who looked uncertain and clearly didn’t want to take a penalty, a fact that was made clear when he put the ball over the crossbar. This time Zambia didn’t miss the chance as Sunzu dispatched his kick to give Zambia their first ever title.

The win is made all the more poignant when the location was considered.

Libreville – 500 yards from the final resting place of the 18 players and 4 coaching staff that perished in the 1993 Zambian football team air crash. The win was dedicated to them, but the real dedication was within the players themselves and the performances they gave.

The Players

Zambia’s group stages goals were mainly scored by Christopher Katongo (awarded player of the tournament) and Emmanuel Mayuka – both of which looked threatening in every game. They possessed pace, lower centers of gravity, and confidence which coursed through their team.

Katongo seemed to be the experience of the team but for me Mayuka was the best player of the tournament. The Young Boys player scored less crucial goals in the group stage but his peach in the quarter-final is too good to ignore. A feigned back heel leads to a technically perfect curler that deserved to win most games.

Another less mentioned player that was instrumental to lifting the cup was Kennedy Mweene, the Chipolopolo goalkeeper.

Something noticeable about the competition was the inexperience of the goalkeeping. The very best goalkeepers don’t just do the right thing, they know what the right thing to do is. They have a set plan for every situation they have experienced – hence why they get better with age and younger keepers struggle.

Mweene regularly dominated his box, gobbling up everything that came near him. He provided decent shot stopping and a crucial save against Gyan’s penalty. Even though he was swamped with situations at times (particularly against Ghana) and didn’t deal with them all well, his head never dropped and he continually barked orders at anyone who came near him. This gave Zambia an iron defence that all stemmed from Mweene.

The Goal

Mayuka’s goal was the best of the tournament for me but I’ve already shown it to you so here’s the runner-up:

Immaculate. As if Yaya didn’t have enough in his locker already.

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Man United v Liverpool was a pretty standard game. It played out as you’d expect; Rooney finished professionally, United conceded a cheap goal, Liverpool couldn’t capitalise on any other chances. it wasn’t too predictable, but fairly routine.

Its level of predictability was nothing compared to that of the pathetic, masturbatory, hypocritical, callous way in which Sky Sports and the personnel unfortunately involved conducted themselves.

Your journalism is to society as napalm is to flesh

What follows is a reasonably accurate account of the state of society we live in.

Before the Game

One of Those Weak Richard Keyes Replacements (Guy): So Manchester United Liverpool, a classic game. Welcome Gary and Jamie, is it a shame that a tie this great has been surrounded with so many unsavory issues?

Neville: Who even are you? Like, did you play football?

Redknapp: Yeah I think it is. We’ve got players like Rooney and Gerrard today and two of the biggest clubs in English football. What we want today, what we really need and what the game really needs is to have a good game of football. We want to be talking about the game afterwards not all the issues.

Guy: Quite right. We want to see the action on the pitch. Let’s hear from Sir Alex Ferguson.

Shreeves: Sir Alex, there are lots of things surrounding this game, is it just a case of keeping focused on the game?

Ferguson: Yer, I think it is. As I said aboot the last game, we just need to drop it and move on. We don’t need anything to stoke the fire any more.

Guy: “Drop it and move on” says Sir Alex Ferguson, will that be the message in the dressing room Gary?

Neville: I don’t like Liverpool. Everyone just needs to focus on the football.

Guy: Let’s keep the action on the football. It’s Man United Liverpool next, on Sky Sports.

Half Time

Guy: Well plenty of incidents in that half, what’s your reactions on Luis Suarez refusing to shake Patrice Evra’s hand?

Neville: So what? I don’t like Liverpool, these are all parts of the game, of the passion. I think Valencia has bee–

Guy: We can go to Geoff Shreeves now to hear some drama.

Shreeves: Here’s some words that you want to hear: Evra. Suarez. Confrontation. Police.

Guy: Confrontation. Suarez. Evra. Police. Moving away from these issues, who’s had the best chanc–

Redknapp: It’s what happens. Look, presenter man, if you meet someone on the street you don’t like, you aren’t gonna shake his hand are you? If Suarez doesn’t want to shake his hand that’s his choice.

Guy: Okay guys, let’s look at some footage of Suarez, despite Johnson, Valencia, and Rooney being the most influential players on the first half.

Full Time

Guy: Well what an action packed game we’ve had here. Did the handshake set the tone for the game?

Neville: United won. I won. I have become stronger.

Redknapp: Yeah it did. I think Suarez should’ve shaken Patrice Evra’s hand. But Rooney today was absolutely–

Guy: We have some slow motion footage of the handshake from two different angles, let’s analyse it.

Neville: I like confrontation. I like Man United.

Redknapp: The two players didn’t shake hands. No one should have shaken hands so we could avoid this travesty.

Guy: Let’s hear from Sir Alex Ferguson again with Geoff Shreeves.

Shreeves: Sir Alex, what did you make of Luis Suarez’s refusal to shake Evra’s hand at the beginning of the game?

Ferguson: Why don’t I answer in a series of headlines for the overly sensationalistic press to use?

Shreeves: Wouldn’t that undermine your programme notes and the statements you gave to the press before this and the last game you played against Liverpool?

Ferguson: Nah, we haven’t goot to play them for a while now. Here you go: ‘Suarez is a disgrace’, ‘Liverpool should sell Suarez’, and the word ‘Terrible’.

Guy: Well that about wraps it up here today, we wanted a football game but unfortunately you can’t escape the drama around Luis Suarez. My Thanks to Gary and Jamie on what was a … great? Was it great? I didn’t really see it…

Fletcher: Was I even on this show?

It’s a sad sad world we live in.

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Capello Resigns: You Don’t Need To Look Far For His Replacement

So Fabio Capello has finally gone the whole hog and packed in the England game. It’s a mutli-faceted tale involving some of England’s most loathed ingredients (the press, John Terry) and football. But let’s not get bogged down in details, let’s look at a picture I knocked up on Paint.

Because you are as simple as the public is unhappy

Has the FA made a mistake? Has Capello made (multiple) mistakes? Has the… public made mistakes? Wait no, that last one is unthinkable. But none of this matters, what matters now is getting a replacement before Polkraine catches England with its pants down.  So let’s have gander at the men hurriedly polishing their CV’s as we speak.

SvenGoran Eriksson

Why not? I know that question is usually a bad sign when introducing an idea but really. Sven knows a few of the players which reduces the blending time that we don’t have, and has plenty of international management experience from Mexico and the Ivory Coast. He wasn’t the most attacking manager but England did reasonably well under him: Quarter finals in the 2002 World Cup, 2004 Euros, and 2006 World Cup.

He moved England up twelve places in the FIFA World Rankings during his tenure, finished top of qualifying in each group (including the 1-5 Munich game), and only ever lost three competition games. England would be fine as long as we didn’t somehow meet Felipe Scolari.

Plus some of the lads could do with a bit of competition for the ladies.

'Sven Sven Sven, Sven-Goran Eriksson'

Harry Redknapp

The first thing I heard from Martin O’Neill after the Middlesbrough Sunderland cup game was that ‘Arry ‘deserved’ the job. This seems to be the general consensus from every sports journalist right now.

There’s no doubt that the Artful Tax-Dodger has made Tottenham a force to be reckoned with and has them playing some of the best football in England at times but could he do it on an international level? No doubt he would love to have his hands on the likes of Walcott and Gerrard, but would his fairly unplanned and sometimes gung-ho style work with the English game?

I guess the problem is that these questions can’t be answered without trying him out. This is of course, if he would be willing to leave Tottenham Hotspurs. It took long enough to get him out of court! Plus he has a major crush on the Champions League which looks like being a date come the end of the season.

I’m sure he is enjoying his time there and becoming a title contender (nearly), but maybe £7.1 million-a-year paychecks would persuade him.

Just be careful if those wages seem to be going to 'Rosie'...

Stuart Pearce

Firstly, as a coach under Capello, he posses excellent knowledge of the players, situation, and job. Secondly he has been the England U21 manager for five years with impressive results: 3rd place in the 2007 Championship and 2nd in the 2009 Championship. He is English, he was a distinguished player, he would be respected by the players, he would give honest accounts of situations, he even signed my England shirt.

He’s a manager who would be as patriotic as the fans behind him.

Of course he would have to leave the two jobs he currently has, but is essentially an English management under-graduate who just needs some faith. We’ll see how he fares against the Netherlands at the end of the month, I’ll be whole-heartedly backing him.

The Numbers

So how do these candidates stack up against Capello? I’ll leave you now with some statistical food for thought in the form of a hard to translate and misleading table.

Manager Games Played Win Percentage
Fabio Capello with England 42 66.67%
Sven-Goran Eriksson with England 67 59.70%
Stuart Pearce with England U21 41 56.10%
Harry Redknapp with Tottenham 180 50.56%
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