Peter Goldstein is a professor at Juniata College in Pennsylvania in the USA. He has been
World Cup crazy since 1966. He will share his views about the past, present and future of
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2006 African Nations Cup: Group Stage Wrapup, Quarterfinal Previews
Another game, another win, another goal for Samuel Eto’o. With two substitute strikers, three substitute defenders, a second-string keeper, and minus their best midfielder, Cameroon strolled (literally, in the final minutes) to a 2:0 win over DR Congo. When the groups were drawn, the Lions were a clear favorite, but rarely has a team swept through with such insulting ease.
Not much to say about this one. After a few modest sorties, DR Congo decided to let Cameroon run the midfield, or maybe the Lions just took it. The underdogs played decent enough defense for half an hour, then it all went bad. First Geremi Njitap slammed in a vicious free kick, then two minutes later Eto’o beat the offside trap and dinked one in off the post. In the second half DR Congo attacked with a bit more purpose, but in the 72nd minute Gladys Bokese was sent off for doing the Simba Stomp on Achille Webo, and the game finished largely without incident. By the final few minutes Cameroon had stopped trying to score, casually stroking the ball about and waiting for the final whistle.
The Lions showed some depth at fullback, with Jean Ateba on the left and Benoit Angbwa on the right making their case for more time. The substitute forwards were less successful; neither Pierre Boya nor Albert Myong Ze made much of an impression, and Webo had to come on for the latter to add some verve. So who was the man of the match? Who do you think? With Jean II Makoun getting a rest, Samuel Eto’o transformed himself into a playmaker, as if there were nothing simpler in the world. He played in the middle and on both wings, and was a part of almost every important attacking sequence. He hit the gas or the brake, depending on the situation. He gestured to his teammates. He probably ordered pizzas for the squad at halftime. And the goal, number five for the tournament? A bit lucky, actually--it banged off the post, the keeper, and in. But there was nothing lucky at all about the preceding run and chest trap. And in the second half he could have had a couple more, denied once by the crossbar and once by a save from Pascal Kilemba.
In the end the Simbas were happy enough with the result, which sent them to the quarterfinal (just barely). But, like Angola and Togo before them, they had been outclassed. If you didn’t get a chance to see the games, go online, find someone who trades tapes, and treat yourself. And watch that number 9; he might amount to something someday.
Togo and Angola entered the tournament together and left it together, in a 3:2 free-for-all from which few emerged with any dignity. At the bottom of the list were the two linesmen, each of which made a horrendous offside call to rob Angola of a breakaway, the second coming in the 90th minute when a goal would have put the Palancas Negras in the quarterfinals.
But the players hardly covered themselves with glory. Akwá was one of the ones robbed (and got a yellow card for complaining about it), but he missed two open goals just to keep the karma even. Emmanuel Adebayor once again refused to suit up for Togo, claiming injury. Flavio scored two goals, but on both he failed to control the ball and only got a second chance through weak or absent defense. Then there was the endless list of players on both sides who put shots closer to the moon than the net. And a special commendation goes to Togo’s Kassim Guyazou, who exited after a half hour with a unique double: two yellow cards for two flagrant handballs.
Tied 1:1 at the time, Angola had a man advantage for the final hour, and despite the offside horrors, small excuse for failing to get the necessary goals. Second-string Togo keeper Ouro-Nimini Tchangirou made two outstanding second-half saves (and one in the first half too), but Angola squandered twice as many chances with muffed shots and nervous passes. Up 2:1 at halftime, they needlessly allowed a Togo equalizer on the counterattack, meaning that Maurito’s 85th minute super strike, the high point of the game, was wasted.
For Togo it was a dispiriting exhibition. It’s no disgrace to lose by a goal when down to ten men (although two flagrant handballs make a pretty pathetic red card). And to their credit they came from behind twice. But their defense was the far side of dreadful, and even before the sending-off they were distinctly second best. Adebayor’s absence was simply scandalous, and probably signals the end either for him or coach Stephen Keshi. Even in Africa, there can have been few such quick descents from hero to humiliation.
For Angola the fall from grace was somewhat shorter. No psychodramas, no grand embarrassments. They came, they saw, they didn’t play well enough. One win, one loss, and one draw sometimes gets you through, and sometimes it doesn’t. But given they played 11 vs. 10 for nearly half their 270 minutes on the pitch, it’s hardly a notable achievement. No one figures to lose their job, or their mind--but don’t expect rose petals at the airport either.
Consider Patrice Neveu, coach of Guinea. With his narrow beak and severe lack of hair, he looks a bit like an ostrich. And you could forgive him if, in the days preceding the Nations Cup, he spent a lot of time hiding his head in the sand. With the possible exception of Hassan Shehata of Egypt, he was the most ridiculed and abused coach at the tournament. He had led Guinea through a disappointing WC qualifying season, and for months the fans and press had insulted his tactics, his salary, and his looks. If he had a cute fluffy little dog, they probably would have insulted it too. In the runup to the tournament you couldn’t find a single good word about him from anyone. (I looked hard.)
Now, of course, he’s a god, having led Guinea to one of the most unlikely group stage sweeps in living memory. The fourth choice in the group when the tournament began, the Syli capped off their run with a comprehensive 3:0 win over defending champs Tunisia, and the only surprise was that the score wasn’t higher.
Sure, Tunisia rested most of their regulars. But so did Guinea. In the 15th minute Ousmane Bangoura drove home a neat pass from Ibrahima Yattara--neither had started the first two games. Before long the Syli were in complete control, outhustling the champs in midfield, raking them with long passes to the pace men on the wings. By the middle of the second half they had missed at least three good chances to put the game away. Tunisia had barely troubled Naby Diarso.
It was the 56th minute when Neveu figured he might as well shove in his stack of chips. He brought in his best defender, left back Ibrahim Camara, and his best attacker, Pascal Feindouno. And Tunisia folded. Thirteen minutes later Bangoura put through Feindouno, and a classical finish clinched the game. As the Guinea bench erupted, Neveu merely folded his arms and looked down. Was he suppressing a grin? In stoppage time Feindouno fed Kaba Diawara for a third, and there indeed was the grin, wider than the Sphinx. He looked like he didn’t quite believe it.
Right now Neveu has the magic touch. In the opener against South Africa, his three Bangoura substitutions combined for the two late goals. Against Zambia, substitute Ibrahima Yattara made the pass for the last-minute winner. And against Tunisia, substitute Feindouno was the executioner. Check William Hill Online--right now he’s probably 12/1 to replace Sven-Göran Eriksson.
For Roger Lemerre the game was a nasty wake-up call. The Carthage Eagles had been unstoppable against African opponents--15 straight games without a defeat--and must have thought showing up was enough. A surprise loss can be good for a team--except Tunisia now find themselves dropped into the tough part of the bracket, with Nigeria and Cameroon blocking their path. If they get stopped short of the Final, Lemerre won’t be too popular. But I’m sure Neveu will be more than happy to advise.
Zambia-South Africa was a bit of an embarrassment for all concerned. Both teams had badly disappointed: Zambia taking the lead twice and losing twice, South Africa just losing. Kalusha Bwalya obviously wanted it more, starting his regular 11 vs. Ted Dumitru’s second-stringers. And he got it, with a nice Christopher Katongo finish from a Clive Hachilensa cross in the 75th minute. But before then both teams had shown at length why they were going home early. Plenty of open play, plenty of action, and plenty of incoherence. Zambia deserved the win, but not by much. And South Africa become the first team in 20 years to lose three group stage games and go goalless.
It’s a good thing I don’t get paid for this job. Last column I laid out all of the many Group D qualifying permutations--and got one wrong. I said that if Senegal lost, Ghana would finish second even if they lost as well, because they had the tiebreaker on Senegal. What I overlooked was that if Ghana lost to Zimbabwe and Senegal lost to Nigeria, it would be a three-way tie between the non-Nigerian teams, and the tiebreaker would be three-way head-to-head goal difference, in which Ghana might lose out. But surely…
Murphy’s Law. Or, as it turned out, Ahmed’s Law. Because in a night of whirlwind finishes, the group panned out exactly that way, and when the simoom abated, Ghana were out, Senegal were in, and Zimbabwe had come within inches of a miracle.
Start with Nigeria-Senegal. The Super Eagles would be happy with a draw, and without their two main playmakers, Jay-Jay Okocha and Wilson Oruma, had little interest pressing the attack. Senegal pushed forward, and at times looked the better of the two teams, but after 45 minutes had done little but add to their list of improbable misses. Earlier in the tournament it had been El Hadji Diouf and Rahmane Barry; now, in turn, Lamine Diatta, Diouf, and Souleymane Camara missed with headers as the goal gaped (at least the latter two hit the post).
Nigeria had had no chances at all. Obafemi Martins continued ineffective, and Stephen Makinwa, the replacement for a disappointing Julius Agahowa, had been no improvement. John Obi Mikel, the playmaker by default, hadn’t done badly--but then it was his error in the 59th minute which finally led to a Senegal goal. He gave the ball away to Diouf, who sent Henri Camara through; Vincent Enyeama made a remarkable save, but Souleymane Camara was there to put in the rebound. Now that the Lions knew they could actually get a goal, they were ready to put the game away. In the 77th minute Henri Camara broke through again, and this was it--but again Enyeama made a brilliant stop, and this time there was no one to clean up the chance.
With the result of Ghana-Zimbabwe still in doubt, Nigeria had to rally quickly. Fortunately Austin Eguavoen had, for the third time, brought Nwankwo Kanu off the bench. All throughout the qualifiers Kanu had been a wonderworker as a sub, and the pattern held. His first wonder was a piece of hypnosis: in the 79th minute he beat Omar Daf and sent in a cross, which mesmerized Tony Sylva into a horrific mistake. Sylva simply let the ball go through his hands, and Martins, right in front of goal, couldn’t miss. (Barry, Diatta, Diouf, and Camara might have, though--OK, that was cruel).
Now Senegal were falling apart. Although a draw would mean elimination if Ghana won, they were hoofing the ball around aimlessly, without the slightest sense of how to go for goal. And in the 88th minute Kanu produced his second wonder, a perfect far-post header on a free kick, sending the ball back to Martins, who again finished the easy chance.
Senegal had lost, had been disgraced, and were out--except there was another game to be decided. Ghana were playing Zimbabwe, and for an hour it was a predictably ragged affair. Laryea Kingston was suspended, and although Stephen Appiah started, a foot injury obviously affected his game. Matthew Amoah, scorer of Ghana’s only goal in the tournament, was injured too. So the Black Stars had almost nothing to offer in attack. Zimbabwe had everyone healthy--although why Charles Mhlauri chose to start Gilbert Mushangazhike instead of an in-form Shingi Kawondera at striker was a mystery. But they were never likely to make much impression on the Ghana defense, and Benjani Mwaruwari, who had been so inaccurate he might have played for Senegal, missed their one good chance in the first half.
So, as we say, nothing happened for an hour. But against a top defensive team, there’s one infallible way to score: let them do it for you. Off a corner Cephas Chimadze floated a fairly harmless shot toward the net, and Issah Ahmed, subbing for an injured Sammy Kuffour, headed past a startled Sammy Adjei. Now those who had accurately figured out the qualifying possibilities realized that Ghana would be out unless they came back to draw, and if Zimbabwe could somehow win by 3 goals, the Warriors would qualify against all odds. But surely…
Ahmed’s Law again. In the 68th minute, with Ghana up in attack, Chimadze sent a long counter for a racing Mwaruwari. Issah Ahmed was there--and incomprehensibly put up his hand to deflect the ball. It should have earned him a straight red, denying a goal-scoring opportunity with a flagrant handball. But the referee missed it, probably because he was watching the ball bounce to Mwaruwari, all alone, who fired in the second. Twenty minutes to go, and suddenly the Warriors had the quarterfinals in their sights. It was impossible: Zimbabwe by three over Ghana?
Yes, it was impossible. But only because when in the 90th minute Chimadze’s perfect pass found Joel Lupahla and Lupahla put it in the net, the linesman raised his flag. From day one the refs had blown so many offside calls…you cringed when the replay came up…but miracle of miracles, he had it right. A yard offside. In the 94th minute Baba Adamu got one for Ghana, and if in the remaining 30 seconds they could score again--but no. Not that crazy. Senegal in, Zimbabwe and Ghana out.
Well. Where to start? With four of their five best players missing, and the fifth at half-speed, Ghana were never going to excel. But to go under in such a fashion was humiliating. Assuming the boys are fit for the World Cup, they’ll make a much better fist of it--not that it helps much now. As for Senegal, they frankly choked, and are unlikely to be bragging about their near-death experience. Only Zimbabwe (oh, yes, and Nigeria) came out with any honor. Dismissed by everyone, they played their strongest game of the tournament, and got some well-deserved breaks. If only the linesman had been as incompetent as a certain Planet World Cup columnist…
This story writes itself. You think Cameroon wants to win? Like maybe 6:0?
It’s been hard to avoid the feeling that the wrong team qualified for the World Cup. Cameroon, led by an incomparable Samuel Eto’o, have won, won, and won, to the thrills of the press and the spectators. Côte D’Ivoire have won a bit themselves, but notices have been considerably less appreciative. The Indomitable Lions have shown intelligent, cohesive attacking play; the Elephants have been throwing stuff and hoping it sticks. The men in green look like a team, the men in orange like a bunch of guys just getting acquainted. Is this game a sure thing?
Maybe not. Cameroon may have breezed through their group, but they had ordinary opposition. Remember, too, that Aruna Dindane missed the whole group stage. He’s Didier Drogba’s natural partner, a twisty attacker whose cleverness goes well with the big man’s power. Cameroon’s central defense looks like their weak point: Rigobert Song has been OK, nothing special, and Raymond Kalla tore a muscle against Togo and is out. Stephane Bikey, his likely replacement, is inexperienced, and had a few shaky moments against DR Congo. With Dindane, Drogba, and a suddenly in-form Arouna Koné testing the back line, Cameroon could find themselves distinctly vulnerable.
In midfield, though, the Lions look considerably more indomitable. Jean II Makoun has been superb, the assured two-way player the side have lacked since the death of Marc-Vivien Foë. Alioum Saidou has been a quiet strength in a holding role. Geremi Njitap has delivered some of his best play in years, at both right back and right midfield. Côte D’Ivoire have yet to find an effective combination. Bonaventure Kalou, as usual, is great one day, invisible the next; in the playmaker role, Emerse Faé and Gilles Yapi Yapo take turns showing potential and failing to fulfill it.
Their back line has been less than assured as well. When the teams meet, Kolo Touré will be the best defender on the pitch, but needs more help than he’s been getting. Marc Zoro or Emmanuel Eboué at right back, Blaise Kouassi or Abdoulaye Meite at centerback, it doesn’t matter: they’re not championship quality. How will they stop Eto’o, who’s having a Maradona-class tournament?
You look at the World Cup qualifiers and wonder what happened. Cameroon won both meetings, and were more convincing both times. That should have been enough. In fact, Cameroon became the first team in WC qualifying history to be displaced by a team they beat twice. But Côte D’Ivoire were more consistent overall, and that’s how you qualify. They finished first on merit, and if you point to Pierre Womé’s last-second penalty choke, I’ll remind you that the PK call itself was a scandal. The result was no less than justice.
But the qualifiers are past, and the World Cup is future. Here, at the African Nations Cup, the Lions are the better team. Does the better team always win? Of course not. And the omens so favor Cameroon that you’re tempted to pick Côte D’Ivoire out of sheer perversity. But when the better team really wants to prove they’re better, and the better team has the best, the very best player at the tournament, they should win. Bet on Cameroon.
A few days ago, this looked like a great matchup: two pure attacking sides, the host against the surprise guest. It still looks like a great matchup--if you’re an Egypt fan. DR Congo got steamrollered by Cameroon; worse, Gladys Bokese got a red card and Felicien Kabundi a second yellow, and so the Simbas will be without both of their starting centerbacks.
It may not be fatal. The Simbas hadn’t been using their regular centerbacks anyway: Cyrille Mubiala was hurt and Tshinyama Tshiolola had been playing defensive midfield. They’re teammates at Ajax Cape Town in South Africa, and with Mubiala available again, they should form a competent partnership.
But stability might matter more to the Simbas than other sides. Psychologically they’re a bit fragile: Bokese and Tresor Mputu have both seen straight red for needless lashing out. The squad lost their best player before the tournament started, when striker Shabani Nonda went down injured. In three games they’ve looked like three different teams: dazzlers against Togo, battlers against Angola, temporizers against Cameroon.
They’ll probably have to be a bit of all three against Egypt. The Pharoahs have a natural advantage and should go on the attack immediately. The Simbas will have to work hard, be patient, look for openings, then let their natural skills take over. They’ll also have to play a lot better than they did against the Indomitable Lions.
Of all the quarterfinals, this one offers the most interesting tactical possibilities. Egypt are the only team in the tournament that play three at the back, and with Mputu still suspended, the burden is on left winger Mbuta Mbala to get into the corner and cause damage. See if Claude LeRoy starts Kabamba Musasa, a second pure striker, to make up for the loss of Mputu. Look also to see whether Wael Gomaa, who man-marks crocodiles on his day off, can muscle Lomana Lua Lua off the ball. At the other end, let’s watch Mohamed Barakat, who usually plays on the right, and see if he makes an impact against left back Herita Ilunga, the most pedigreed of the Simba defenders. And who will replace the injured Mido up front, the direct Amr Zaki or the tricky Hossem Hassan?
Egypt has to be the pick here. After a remarkable show against Togo, the Simbas came back to earth, and were lucky to get through on goal difference. At their wild and wonderful best, they can puncture an Egyptian defense less skillful than physical. They’re a decent bet to score at least once. But even without Mido, Egypt probably has too many weapons. They’ve scored early in two of their three games, and another quick goal might mean a most productive night for the Pharoahs.
A true heavyweight bout, the Carthage Eagles and the Super Eagles. It’s a rematch of the ill-tempered semifinal of 2004, when, among other things, the Tunisian officials played the wrong Nigerian national anthem, the hosts got a doubtful 82nd minute penalty to equalize, and Tunisia eventually went through on PK’s. In 2006 Nigeria has managed to win three games in a tough group without once looking their best. Tunisia feasted on weak opposition, then took a powder against Guinea and paid the price. Not an easy one to call.
I’m going to go against the grain and guess Tunisia. Nigeria are the natural pick: for one thing, when they’ve advanced from the group stage at the Nations Cup, they’ve won their first knockout game, either quarterfinal or semifinal, the last nine times. They also have more pure talent, revenge on their mind, and the emotional advantage after the late rally against Senegal. Up front Obafemi Martins finally looked the part during the second half, and Nwankwo Kanu is the partner he’s been looking for. (Don’t be so sure Kanu will start, though; during the qualifiers he did by far his best work off the bench.)
At the same time, the team lacks something in the middle of the park. We don’t know if Jay-Jay Okocha or Wilson Oruma will be fit for the game, and John Obi Mikel, for all his potential, isn’t ready to run the show at this level. Christian Obodo has been a disappointment too. Tunisia know how to pressure in midfield, and Riadh Bouazizi is just the man to shut down what central attack Nigeria has to offer. I expect the Carthagers to harass the Supers and take them out of their game; when frustrated, Nigeria has retreated into longball, and that won’t get the job done.
Nigeria’s back line has also been inconsistent. Chidi Odiah looks good at right back, but Taye Taiwo, for all his attacking potential, has been beaten too often man-to-man. Joseph Enakarhire has been a pleasant surprise at centerback, but Joseph Yobo, the most celebrated of the back four, seems a little off his game. The best news at the back has been Vincent Enyeama, who has made several super saves, and looks like the kind of guy who can win the match for you. As against Senegal, he may very well need to be in top form for the Supers to advance.
Not that Tunisia don’t have their problems too. Radhi Jaidi has been erratic at the back, and we continue to wait in vain for some inspiration in midfield. But despite the embarrassment against Guinea, they’re a solid team, who play disciplined, accurate football. Hatem Trabelsi has been a two-way force at right back, and Francileudo Dos Santos has been in remarkable form. This one may go to extra time, to penalties even, but I’ll go with the champs to pull the upset.
A fascinating matchup, full of Camaras and Bangouras, the kind of game that could be high-scoring or low-scoring, close or a rout. Both teams are probably happy to have drawn the other, and yet neither really knows what to expect. Guinea progressed from stumblers to world-beaters, but it’s hard to believe they’re a genuine title contender. Senegal have been positive, dynamic, and ridiculously incompetent in front of goal, and collapsed on the verge of a great triumph. Anyone who predicts the exact result goes directly to the Football Pundits Hall of Fame.
The key matchups here will be on the wings, where Guinea loves to push the attack. Will Senegal’s fullbacks be up to the task? Ferdinand Coly isn’t quite the player he once was. Omar Daf, filling in for the suspended Habib Beye, looked a bit rusty in his first start. Fodé Mansare on the left and probably Ibrahima Yattara on the right will test them to the limit.
Senegal’s other problem is how to stop playmaker Pascal Feindouno, who is headed for the all-tournament team. Fortunately, their strong point is central midfield defense, with Pape Bouba Diop and Amdy Faye. If they can throttle Feindouno, the wingers may not get enough service.
At the other end Senegal will have a pace advantage: Guinea’s central defenders are strong, but not particularly quick. Look for them to play deep to try to hold off Henri Camara. An interesting individual matchup should be Diomansy Kamara, attacking on the right, vs. Ibrahim Camara, Guinea’s fine left back. (Unless it’s Diomansy Camara and Ibrahim Kamara.)
The logical pick here is Senegal, because they have much more top-level experience. Coly, Daf, Diouf, Diop, Diatta, and Henri Camara all got to the Nations Cup Final in 2002, and played prominent roles in the famous World Cup run. When you've beaten France and Sweden, Guinea should hold no terrors. The Syli have experience too, but not necessarily the best kind. Two years ago they outplayed Mali in the quarterfinal, but lost on a last-minute soft goal. That’s a mental block they’ll have to overcome. But the Lions have yet to deliver a consistent 90-minute performance. And the 2006 Syli don't seem to know they're supposed to lose. The sensible side of me says Senegal, the incurable romantic says Guinea. So let’s pick Guinea--what’s the point if you can’t dream?
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