World Cup 2006


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    Articles related to CAF 2006 WC qualifiers:

    Preview May 22, 2004
    Update Aug 8, 2004
    Update Mar 17, 2005
    Update Apr 23, 2005
    Update Jun 24, 2005
    Update Sep 19, 2005
    Wrap-up Oct 8, 2005




    Update: Africa after round 6

    by Peter Goldstein

    Group 1

        What at the beginning looked like a fairly straightforward group has turned into the best race of all. Big favorites Senegal are on top with 13 points, but with only four games to go, they're in a dead tie with Zambia and Togo, and while the Lions of the Teranga are still the logical choice, this one now looks like it'll go to the wire. With Togo's last-minute road victory over Mali, the schedule now treats all three teams equally: each has 2 home games and 2 road games; each gets to host one of the other contenders. All three teams won in round 6, and all are in good form, so your guess is as good as mine how this will play out.

        At first glance Senegal's 6:1 win over Liberia appears pretty impressive. Guy Stephan started three strikers (El Hadji Diouf, Henri Camara, and Manamdou Niang), and despite the absence of regular midfielders Pape Bouba Diop and Salif Diao, the team ran riot over the Lone Star. By general consent Diouf, with 2 goals and a dominant showing, was man of the match. Khalilou Fadiga, back after long absence, was excellent in an unaccustomed central midfield role. Just about everything went right, and the score was an accurate reflection of Senegal's control.

        Except you sort of have to consider the state of the opposition. Liberian coach Kadalah Kromah resigned in November, and because of financial constraints, they couldn't appoint a new man until 3 weeks before the match. Plus, the man they chose, Joseph Sayon, also known as Kofi Bruce, wasn't all that highly regarded--in fact, the acting sports minister said that he was "not competent" for the job. (Hey--how many people have thought that but never had the guts to say it?) The press agreed, calling it a "shocking decision," and argued that the choice should have been all-time nickname man Wilfred "Green Banana" Gardner.

        And then there was the small matter of players. Liberia relies heavily on overseas pros; they're not in high-level leagues, but they're better than what the home competition has to offer. Against Senegal the ministry said they couldn't afford to pay the wages of the overseas players, so they'd have to go with a local side. Eventually they managed to get in a few players from Greece, Ghana, and the USA, but it was still largely a home-based squad. Oh, and the few pros who made it at one point threatened to seize the team uniforms if they weren't reimbursed for their tickets. Under such circumstances they're lucky it was 6:1 instead of 16:1.

        So let's not get too excited about Senegal's win. For their part, Zambia kept pace with a routine 2:0 home win over minnows Congo, who had problems of their own. Like so many low-level African countries, they get big ideas but can't follow them through. They had promised coach Christian Letard a development program, all sorts of resources, etc., but couldn't deliver. Letard criticized the FA publicly and was sacked, leaving them on short notice with a pair of local coaches.

        Zambia had suffered a blow, too, when South Africa league striker Harry Milanzi failed a doping test. But their new scoring star, Collins Mbesuma, was dry, healthy, and ready to play, and he got the second goal of the game, bringing his total to 4 for the round. Elijah Tana got the opening goal on a free kick in the very first minute, and Zambia eased home. Of course, how many were actually watching is unclear--at one point a pylon in the stadium collapsed, dislodging a swarm of bees and causing spectators to flee.

        If you can avoid getting stung, Zambia is quite an interesting study. Unlike Senegal and Togo, they have a substantial contingent of home-based players, who link up effectively with the legionnaires. As we've noted before, Kalusha Bwalya rotates some of the foreign players, partly to save money, but also to expand the player pool. Against Congo, for example, Jacob Mulenga (France) and Edwin Phiri (Sweden) were left off, but Boyd Mwila (Sweden) was called in. And although some important regulars from Angola (Tana, Ian Bakala) and South Africa (Mbseuma, Christopher Katongo) were on the squad, 6 of the 11 starters were home-based, including left winger Felix Katongo, the consensus man of the match. Another local player, attacker Davies Mwape, was given only his third cap. It's a difficult balance to maintain, but so far, so good--next round they travel to Togo, and we'll know more.

        Togo, under the tutelage of former Nigeria international Stephen Keshi, continues to surprise everyone. In round 6 they pulled a dramatic victory out of the hat at Mali--trailing 0:1 late in the second half, they got a 78th minute goal from Moustapha Salifou and the 90th minute winner from Sherif Touré. As you might have heard, the game had to be suspended at that point, as the Malian fans, upset at a disastrous campaign, went on a rampage, causing mass destruction in the city, burning down the FA headquarters, and threatening to kill the players. (At least in Zambia it's only bees.)

        But rather than focus on the carnage, let's look at the Togo side. It's mostly a European-league squad, but (Emmanuel Adebayor the honorable exception) it's hardly top-drawer. In fact, many of the starters aren't even regulars at their clubs. Defender Ismaila Atte-Oudeyi sits on the bench at Lokeren; midfielder Salifou has only recently broken into the lineup at Oberhausen; attacker Abdel Coubadja is a cipher at Sochaux; keeper Kossi Agassa has played only one game at Metz. Sherif Touré doesn't even have a club, having failed a tryout in MLS. Defender Eric Akoto, riding the pine at Erfurt, recently had a successful tryout at SK Brann in Norway, but the club offer wasn't high enough, so he's inactive as well.

        At least a few of the starters see regular time: Defenders Daré Nibombe (Mons) and Yaovi Abalo (Amiens), attacker Junior Senaya (Basel). But it's hardly an imposing roster, and Keshi right now is looking like Coach of the Year in CAF. The win at Mali was a milestone: Togo's very first road victory in a World Cup qualifier. It practically sealed them a Nations Cup spot, their fourth in the last five tournaments. And now it's time to think big. The next two games will tell the tale: home to Zambia, at Senegal. If they can run the gauntlet, you might actually have heard of a few of their players come October.

    Group 2

        South Africa is lucky. They're lucky to be hosting the World Cup come 2010, and they're lucky to be sitting atop the group with 12 points. And you wonder--are the two kinds of luck connected?

        Let's back up a bit. In round 6 South Africa, playing at home, defeated Uganda 2:1. A very normal result--except they didn't really deserve to win the game. For one thing, Uganda created more chances. For another, if Hassan Mbiru hadn't missed a late opportunity alone in front of goal, the game would have been a draw. And for a third, and most important, the whole match would have been different had not Nigerian referee Chukwudi Chukwujekwu awarded South Africa a penalty in the 21st minute, a penalty that everyone agreed was inexplicable. One SA paper noted quietly: "The decision from the Nigerian referee bemused all watching." Another SA paper, more loudly: "The fact is that Sibusiso Zuma was not even remotely fouled in the goalmouth. He actually fell over a prone Ugandan while making a terrible hash of trying to meet a close-range cross from Quinton Fortune." And the Ugandans? Sports minister Charles Bakabulindi called the PK "the most catastrophic decision I have seen in sport."

        OK, refs make mistakes. But somehow they usually favor the home teams, and the prestige teams, and the teams that are going to host the World Cup a few years down the road and therefore need to qualify right now so their confederation won't be embarrassed. Is that too cynical? You tell me.

        Anyway, it was a poor performance by Bafana Bafana, and an excellent one by the Cranes, who under new head man Mohammed Abbas put on their best show of the qualifiers. They equalized in the second half on a PK of their own, one so obvious even Mr. Chukwujekwu couldn't ignore it. For South Africa, only Delron Buckley came out with any honor, although Steven Pienaar should get some credit too, scoring the game-winner in the 71st minute off Buckley's cross. Benni McCarthy? He didn't even start, because coach Stuart Baxter benched him for arriving only 24 hours before the game. The whole team seemed uninvolved, as if they only needed to show up to win. That happens sometimes. But nothing less than first place will do, and "luck" won't always be on their side--will it?

        And as for luck, the lads got a bit extra when DR Congo and Ghana drew 1:1 in their big showdown game in Kinshasa. The two teams are now tied for third on 9 points, 3 behind Bafana, and with both having to travel to Johannesburg it'll be hard to catch up.

        The game was particularly disappointing for the Simbas, who failed in front of 80,000 fans. Even with Shabani Nonda in the lineup after 2 years' absence, they never really found their rhythm. The Black Stars used an aggressive pressing game, and overall controlled play; although Asamoah Gyan may have handled the ball before scoring the opener, there was no dispute that Ghana were the stronger side. Joker Mbuta Mbala made a second-half equalizer for Nonda, but DR Congo were fortunate to escape when Ghana couldn't take advantage of some late opportunities. Simbas coach Claude LeRoy took a lot of criticism for his tactics, but in truth it looked more like a flat performance against good opposition.

        DR Congo is certainly a team with talent, with a decent selection of pros: defenders Herita Ilunga (St. Etienne) and Hervé Lembi (Kaiserslautern), striker Kabamba Musasa (Istanbulspor), Lomana Lua Lua (Portsmouth, unavailable for the game), and of course Nonda, plus a few from Ajax Cape Town in South Africa. Mbala, who's in Israel this year, has been outstanding on the left of attack. On the whole Leroy has done fairly well, given the normal insanity at the Congolese FA. But there's not much margin for error in this group, and the team will have to work hard to stay within range until the last round game at South Africa. A Nations Cup spot looks far more likely.

        Ghana is feeling a bit better. They gave a strong performance under new head coach Ratomir Dujkovic, especially considering the absence of Michael Essien and Sammy Kuffour. Youngster Dan Coleman of Hearts was a particular standout in defense, and Stephen Appiah and Sulley Muntari showed their class in midfield. But they continue to be plagued by striking problems, and there's really no solution in sight. Gyan was the only true striker to start the game, and although he did get on the board, he missed good chances early and late. But they now have a very tough fixture out of the way, and should dispose of Burkina Faso at home before the June 17 trip to Johannesburg.

        Have you been reading this section carefully? Of course you have. And so you've spotted that Ghana and DR Congo are tied for third. And South Africa of course is in first. Which means that someone else has to be in second--and that someone is Cape Verde. That's Cape Verde, area about 4000 square kilometers, population about 400,000, current FIFA ranking 143, a mere 37th best in Africa. The standings say they have 10 points, and the schedule says that on June 3, they get to host South Africa, and a home win puts them in first place with only three games to go. Huh?

        Don't be surprised. OK, be surprised, but don't be shocked. Cape Verde has been on a rapid rise in the past few years, as coach Alexandre Alinho recruits player after player with the proper ancestry. Most are from the Portuguese leagues, although top man on the squad is attacker Carlos Morais "Calò" from Qatar, who got both goals, including an 87th minute winner, in the recent victory at Burkina Faso. Want to know who these guys are? Take a second to follow this link. Not exactly a bunch of household names, are they? Even that Cafù guy is the wrong Cafù. But as the BBC notes, Alinho keeps plugging away, refusing to take no for an answer in the recruiting wars.

        The new personnel are obviously the key to Cape Verde's emergence. But Alinho has shown himself to be a smart tactician as well. Against Burkina Faso, for example, the team started off holding its ground, letting the opposition reach the center line, but defending aggressively in their own half. After the interval, they emerged with a more attacking approach, with Calò getting the opener only 3 minutes in, and just missing a second shortly afterward. Cape Verde kept the play equal for the rest of the game, and the late winner was by no means unjust.

        Of course, they can't beat South Africa. Except--all the way back in round 1, the teams played in Bloemfontein, and although the home side won 2:1, by common consent Cape Verde played well enough to draw. Who knows how a struggling Bafana will respond in the arid islands so far from home? Who knows how great is the pride of home-based players Bubista (age 40) and Romy (age 19)? And who knows who Alinho can snare before then--did you notice that one of his targets at Belenenses is named Pelé?

    Group 3

        The Group of Death has become the Elephant Walk. Ivory Coast slammed Benin in round 6, and with only four games to go they seem impossible to stop. They're on 15 points, well ahead of Cameroon (11), Egypt (10), and Libya (10), and even in Yaoundé and Cairo they're giving up hope.

        It's the story of the year in Africa, and a long time in coming. Ivory Coast first sprang onto the international scene in 1987, finishing third at the World U-17s. Five years later, they won the Nations Cup by beating Cameroon and Ghana back-to-back on penalty kicks. They were the next big thing, and it seemed only a matter of time before they qualified for the World Cup. But the promise never materialized. In 1994 they just missed, going out on goal difference to Nigeria, and next time around they were stunned in the preliminaries by Congo. A revival in 2002 fell short, as they finished second to Tunisia. They haven't done much in the Nations Cup, either; after losing in the semis to Nigeria in 1994, they haven't been near the Final since.

        So what's different this year? Well, it helps to have Didier Drogba, who's reached the heights in one of the prime leagues in Europe. But there's a lot more. His partner, Aruna Dindane of Anderlecht, is a regular scorer in the Belgian league, and his trickery is the perfect complement to Drogba's strength. There are other well-known names in the side, such as Bonaventure Kalou (Auxerre) and Kolo Touré (Arsenal), but some new young players have also made a difference. In the midfield, Didier "Maestro" Zokora (St. Etienne), 24, has become a two-way player deluxe. Left back Arthur Boka (Strasbourg) is only 22, and his forays have provided additional impetus to the attack. The program continues: at the tender age of 21, Marc André Zoro Kpolo (Messina) just got his first start for the team, and although he was playing out of position (RB instead of CB), performed admirably in both attack and defense.

        All in all, this team just has the look of class. Most of the starters are regulars at top European level, and Henri Michel is as accomplished an international coach as you'll find. With four games to go, the schedule is ideal: they get the tougher games (Cameroon, Egypt) at home, and the easier ones (Libya, Sudan) on the road. Let's not call them a "shoo-in" quite yet--but assuming they stay healthy, they're the nearest thing.

        There's not much to say about the rest of the field. For Cameroon, Artur Jorge seems no more commanding than Winnie Schäfer. Despite a wide advantage in possession and scoring chances, they needed a last-minute goal to beat Sudan at home. The team has grown stale, and desperately needs some new players, but no one seems ready to step up. Rudolph Douala (Sporting Lisbon) may be a possibility: he had a good game against Sudan on the left of attack. But the long-time search for a playmaker continues to be fruitless.

        In Egypt, they have very little to play for. They host the next Nations Cup, so they qualify automatically, and they can add, so they know Ivory Coast is almost out of reach. And by the way, the whole FA board just resigned in protest against government interference. Still, they scored an excellent 4:1 win over Libya last time out, which suggests that new coach Hassan Shehata has a surer hand than Marco Tardelli. A repentant Mido not only played, he scored a goal, and emerging youngster Emad Motab grabbed a brace. But the team still has to travel to both Cameroon and the Ivory Coast, and a WC spot seems very farfetched. At Nations Cup 2006, though, they should be one of the favorites, so let's watch closely.

        Libya's bubble has unfortunately burst. The loss to Egypt dropped them from second place to fourth, and so traumatized was coach Mohamed El-Khemisy that he resigned. (An overreaction, to be sure, but in a country where the current head of the FA is named Gaddafi, you might as well play it safe.) But the Nations Cup is not out of reach, and to give it a run they've brought back Croatian Ilija Loncarevic, who was El-Khemisy's predecessor. Even 4th place may be enough, since if Egypt finishes in the top three the best 4th place team will qualify. As a long-time minnow, they're not used to the pressure, and the big loss to Egypt may be a blow to their self-belief. We'll find out on June 3, when they host Ivory Coast.

    Group 4

        This is still a two-way race between Nigeria and Angola, but the advantage is turning decisively toward the Super Eagles. With the home win against Gabon, they now have a two-point lead, and although both teams have two games home and two away, Nigeria hosts the head-to-head match on June 17. In fact, a win there might effectively wrap up the spot with a couple of games to spare.

        That doesn't mean it's all smooth sailing in Nigeria--when is it ever? Against Gabon, playing at home, they didn't break the 0:0 deadlock until Nwankwo Kanu entered the game in the 77th minute. With his first touch he sent in a cross which Julius Agahowa headed in, and a few minutes later Kanu himself scored the clincher. So of course there were the inevitable grumblings--coach Christian Chukwu didn't consult assistant Austin Eguavoen on the lineup, he left hobbling players like John Utaka and Ifeanyi Udeze in the game too long, the team played longball well after it was clear it wouldn't work, Kanu should have come in earlier, keeper Vincent Eneyama is clubless and shouldn't be starting, etc., etc…how much time have you got?

        But no one really thinks Nigeria will fail to qualify. Unless, of course, they get kicked out of the competition. They're still in trouble with FIFA over Decree 101, the law which gives the Nigerian government regulatory powers over the FA. I don't think FIFA wants to boot them out of the cup, but at some point Nigeria will have to show things are changing, or grease the appropriate palms, or both. Oh, well, I'm sure they'll work it out. The real action will come after the qualifiers, as Chukwu tries to hang onto his job. Every ten minutes we'll hear a different rumor, and before the draw everyone but Joseph Ratzinger will have been touted for the spot.

        As for Angola, their hopes took a sizeable hit with the 0:2 defeat at Zimbabwe. It was their first loss of the competition, but quite a loss it was. After a tight, even first half, the Mighty Warriors hit top form, and simply played the Angolans off the park. The Palancas Negras were missing veteran striker Akwa through suspension, but it wouldn't have mattered, because they were beaten in every area of the game. No one had much to say afterwards, except "the better team won"--but teams challenging for a WC spot shouldn't get dominated like that. Particularly disappointing was the back line, which after a strong start to the competition has started to show gaps. It's a home-based unit, and although coach Oliveira Gonçalves looked at some Portuguese league players for possible cover, he stayed with the same starters against Zimbabwe. Good news is that striker Rafael Nando of Hertha Berlin has agreed to join the squad, but right now they don't seem to have the firepower to challenge Nigeria.

        We should say a few words about Zimbabwe, who with their win over Angola have put themselves in pole position for the third spot and a Nations Cup berth. The game was highlighted by goals from left winger Shingi Kawondera (last seen caught in a night club during the buildup to last fall's big Nigeria match) and striker Benjamin "The Undertaker" Mwaruwari (last seen scoring for the side four years ago), and everyone agreed it was the best Zimbabwe showing in many a year. In 2004, after many near-misses, they played in their first Nations Cup, and a second straight spot would confirm their status as one of Africa's solid second-tier teams. The two games in June, home to Gabon and at Algeria, should determine whether they make it.

    Group 5

        This remains the most complicated of the groups--or maybe not. With round 6 wins from Morocco, Tunisia, and Kenya, and with the makeup Tunisia-Kenya scheduled for August, the standings look like this:

    Games Points Morocco 6 12 Kenya 5 9 Tunisia 5 8 Guinea 6 8
        Although all four teams are in the running for the Nations Cup, a close look reveals the WC berth is likely between Morocco and Tunisia. And maybe only Morocco. Guinea is almost out: 4 points behind, and they still have to travel to Tunisia. Kenya, with a game in hand, seems within range, but that game is at Tunisia, and overall there are serious doubts about their quality. Tunisia is in range too, and have 3 of their 5 games at home, but they have only one minnow left, Botswana on the road. Finally, Morocco may have to travel to Kenya, but they also get two minnows at home, Malawi and Botswana, and could very well be clear of the field by the final game at Tunisia. (OK, so it's still pretty complicated. But I still say Morocco and Tunisia, and probably Morocco.)

        The Morocco-Guinea game was a real struggle, and the Atlas Lions, largely uninspired, were fortunate to prevail 1:0. They actually had the ball in the net twice in the first five minutes, but both were disallowed without argument, and the rest of the first half it was Guinea that had the better of the argument. Moroccan coach Badou Zaki changed his usual 3-5-2 to a 4-4-2, and a pressing Guinea had more control of the midfield. The turning point came in the 42nd minute, when key Guinean defender Dian Bobo Baldé drew a foolish red card for kicking Abdelsalam Ouaddou. At that point all Guinea could do was hold on, and Youseef Hadji's 62nd minute rebound tally was one of the very few chances. Guinea actually had an excellent chance to equalize near the finish, but Thiam Dumba was denied by keeper Saled Sinouh, who at 29 was getting only his second start in a tournament game.

        There's nothing wrong with winning ugly, and as noted, Morocco remains the favorite. Over the campaign they've rarely impressed, but they're a solid team, and seem to know how to get results. In 6 games they have the following goal totals: 1,1,1,1,5,1. But they also have the following results: D,W,D,D,W,W. Out of 30 teams in the competition, they're the only one without a loss. And the low scores may be a bit misleading, since star striker Jaouad Zairi wasn't match fit until the last two games. But they're a bit short in midfield creativity--Hadji is pretty much the only man right now--and that means they'll always have to eke it out against the stronger teams.

        Speaking of short in midfield creativity, Tunisia, who's been struggling in that area for decades, may have found a star in young Hamed Namouchi, the Rangers man who recently chose Tunisia over his native France. And there's also good news about striker Heykel Guemamdia, who could very well be headed for Lyon. In fact, after the win against Malawi, everything's looking up.

        Unfortunately, the problem with a win against Malawi is that it's a game against Malawi. The final score was 7:0, and although it's hard to argue with 7 goals, the fact is Malawi is barely bothering these days. Coaching disputes, money problems, player dissatisfaction, etc. have eviscerated the side, and on the road they didn't even put up token resistance. So we really don't know whether the game was a step up or just a holiday. What we do know is that the pressure is very strongly on Tunisia. The June 3 match at Botswana is by no means a gimme--playing at home, the Zebras beat Kenya and almost drew with Morocco. And although Tunisia gets Morocco at home in the final game, they have to play Kenya twice and Guinea once before they get there. Given Morocco's easier schedule, they'll have to be at their best to stay within range.

        As for Kenya, who knows? Second place with a game in hand looks great, but with the exception of a home win over Guinea back in November they've done nothing to show they can play with the big boys. Morocco, the same Morocco that can't seem to score more than a goal per game, stomped them 5:1, and they haven't played Tunisia yet. The recent 1:0 home win over Botswana showed pluses and minuses: Kenya dominated the action, but seemed disorganized in attack and missed a bunch of chances to run up the score. Coach Mohammed Kheri got it right when he said "a win is a win," but that doesn't get you to Germany.

        It might get you to Egypt, though, and that seems to be all the team and press are thinking about. To be honest, it's hard to see Kenya in the same league with Morocco and Tunisia. With the exception of the marvelous Dennis Oliech, who got the goal against Botswana, it's an ordinary roster. After Kheri recalled a few Scandinavian-league pros to the team, the Daily Nation commented: "Whether or not these guys they call professionals actually play serious soccer in Europe is anyone's guess." (Hey, this is a Norwegian-run site, so no insults, please.) In any case, Kenya doesn't have the money to compete: they can't even afford to send coaches to scout the opposition. So a Nations Cup berth is the logical goal. But the schedule is very tough: two with Tunisia, at Guinea, home to Morocco, and the only minnow, Malawi, on the road. Unless they show more class very soon, even the best-fourth-place spot might be out of reach.


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