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: Quarterfinal Reviews
What makes a coach do it? When the greatest success of his career is but ninety minutes away, when the worship of a nation and the wonder of the world beckon, when he needs only to do once more what he's done so well already, what ghost, what demon enters his dreams, to whisper inevitably, irresistibly, "change your tactics"?
Ask Patrice Neveu. He'll have some sort of rational explanation, I suppose, but we know it won't wash. We can't explain it. It's the nameless doom of the football coach, the imp of pride or fear or intellectual restlessness. It's the way of the world. It's fate.
Guinea, of course, had advanced to the Nations Cup quarterfinals with a historic three straight wins. They had the continent in thrall. They had done it with pace, with style, with daring. And they had done it with a 4-3-3, with a centerforward, two wingers, and an outstanding central attacking midfielder by the name of Pascal Feindouno. Against Senegal in the quarterfinals, a team with suspect fullbacks, it was the perfect recipe. Let Feindouno pull the strings, run your wingers at them until they break, get your goals, rack up your fourth win, and climb yet another rung on the magic ladder.
But when the teams took the field, the layout had changed. There was a centerforward (Kaba Diawara), and a left winger (Fodé Mansaré), but on the right wing, where there should have been Ibrahima Yattara, or Ismael Bangoura, nothing. And Feindouno, the man who had run things so artfully from the center, had been shifted to right midfield, with his place taken by Ousmane Bangoura. Maybe the idea was to keep Feindouno away from Senegal's big central midfielders, and add some extra midfield strength in the slippery Ousmane. But what a waste of your best man, and how easily to pardon your opponent's weakness!
For a while, though, it looked as if one winger would be enough. After a short spell of early Senegal pressure, Mansaré took over. He ran at Ferdinand Coly time and again, and the veteran right back, giving it everything he had, just wasn't good enough. In the 16th minute Mansaré's cross should have been put away by Diawara--but it didn't matter, because even with Feindouno stranded on the other side of the field, Senegal couldn't hold out for long. Three minutes later Mansaré to Diawara again, and the ball was in the net, but offside. The goal arrived in the 24th minute, actually a fluke: Tony Sylva, having a nightmare tournament, kicked the ball right into Diawara, who retrieved the bounce and rolled it into the open net. But Guinea on the board first was no surprise at all.
Meanwhile, Senegal's attack was fitful. El Hadji Diouf was out injured, replaced by an ineffective Souleymane Camara. There was plenty of movement, but Henri Camara couldn't get the ball in danger positions. Frederic Mendy, getting his first start on the left side, was putting some pressure on right back Jabi, and it was by no means one-way traffic. But Kanfory Sylla was having a strong game in defensive midfield, and the Syli were confident, comfortable, and for the moment, better.
But without the second winger, the pressure they could apply was limited. And in the 39th minute they lost their first winger too. Coly, run ragged and injured, had to quit the field. Pape Malickou Diakhate came in at centerback and Lamine Diatta was shifted out to right back. Up against the big man's power and quick feet, Mansaré disappeared.
And that was it for Guinea. They wouldn't get another scoring chance from open play all afternoon. And suddenly Senegal came into the game. Diomansy Kamara was moving off the wing into the middle and getting creative. Crosses into the box had the keeper and defenders nervous. At halftime the Lions had all the momentum.
To their credit, Guinea came out energized for the second half, and for the first ten minutes were the stronger team. They got sort of close once, when--of course!--Feindouno found a man on the right wing (Ousmane Bangoura, moving diagonally from the center), and a cross came into the box. Mansaré, enveloped by Diatta, got a head to it but was off target. It wasn't too late to put in Yattara or Ismael Bangoura. With a real winger out there, how many more chances could they have made?
Instead it was Senegal's substitution that made the difference. In the 59th minute Souleymane Camara went out, Mamadou Niang came in, and the Lions revived. Two minutes later, Diomansy Kamara found Niang in a little space on the right near the top of the area; Ibrahim Camara poked the ball loose, but Kamara got there first and flipped in a neat cross for Pape Bouba Diop, who headed in.
It still wasn't too late. The game was evenly balanced, and although Niang was putting pressure on the Syli defense, Guinea might still find a way to pull it out. If only...and finally, there it was. In the 81st minute, Ismael Bangoura for Ousmane Bangoura.
But it was time for the ultimate irony: two minutes later Senegal got the winner. Feindouno, operating in the middle at last, was dispossessed by Bouba Diop (was that the point?), and Diakhate sent a long pass the other way. Dian Bobo Baldé had an easy play, but muffed it badly, and Henri Camara was free and running. With a remarkable effort, Baldé caught up and knocked the ball away, but Camara recovered and found Niang, who buried it. In stoppage time Niang and Camara combined for the third, and a beautiful Feindouno free kick in the final seconds was bitter consolation.
What's the lesson? From the keyboard everything's easy, and having guessed three of four quarterfinals wrong, I'm hardly the ultimate expert. But while tactical flexibility is a great virtue, so is consistency. If it works, don't change it unless you've got a very good reason. Neveu now goes back to Guinea--where he may or may not stay--and to his dreams. And you know what the demon is whispering: "Next time, a 3-5-2..."
The question mark in this match was the DR Congo defense. With starting centerbacks Gladys Bokese and Felicien Kabundi suspended, would the Simbas' back line crack? The answer was yes--but not the way you'd expect. Experienced centerback Cyrille Mubiala took one spot, and did OK. The other logical choice, Tshinyama Tshiolola, was doing so well in defensive midfield that Claude Leroy decided to keep him there. That meant moving classy left back Herita Ilunga into the middle--and he did OK too. So what was the problem? The new left back, of course. Ndandu Kasongo, with only 6 caps to his credit, was at fault for the first two goals. And although the Simbas rallied bravely, they never got back.
DR Congo was a longshot anyway, up against the home side and without Tresor Mputu, one of their top attackers. Leroy understandably played it conservative, with left wing Mbuta Mbala dropped back into midfield, leaving Lomana Lua Lua pretty much alone up front. Only 13 seconds in, the Portsmouth man broke loose and fired just wide, but it would be a long time before the Simbas had another look at goal.
Fortunately, Egypt weren't on their game early either. The Pharoahs pushed the attack early, with Hossam Hassan doing some neat work up front, and Tarek El Sayed a handful at left wingback. But on the whole the home side looked nervous. In the 7th minute Amr Zaki exposed the left back weakness, but hesitated, and Ilunga blocked the shot. There were lots of fouls, lots of balls bouncing just out of reach, some semi-sort-of-kind-of-chances that never quite materialized. With a half hour gone, the Simbas were certainly well in with a shout.
Then came the double disaster. In the 32nd minute a quick Egyptian counterattack found the back line exposed. Amr Zaki got the ball at the left of the penalty area, and Nasongo crossed over to shut him down. For the moment the threat was stifled--then Nasongo needlessly went in for the challenge, and Zaki went down. Penalty, no question, and Ahmed Hassan's spot kick made it 1:0. An energized Egypt poured forward, and eight minutes later Hossam Hassan slipped behind Nasongo, took Ahmed Hassan's pass, and finished clinically.
All over but the shouting, you'd think. But there's something a bit brittle about the Pharoahs, something sort of on the edge. They're not a good defensive team, and with a rabid home crowd ready to slaughter them if they lose, you never quite know when they'll fall off the curb. Essam El-Hadary was flailing about weirdly, like he'd just finished Chapter One of Peter Schmeichel's Goalkeeping Tips For Kids. The back line was getting pulled out of shape, making odd choices. And in first half stoppage time Abdelhazer El-Saqqa made the oddest choice of all when he redirected a harmless Cyrille Mubiala shot into his own net.
In the second half the Pharoahs figured they'd stick with their strength, and went on the attack immediately. But unfortunately Pascal Kalemba had progressed all the way through Dino Zoff's World Class Goalkeeping Techniques, and made a brilliant reaction save on Hossam Hassan. In the 48th minute a totally-out-of-his depth El-Hadary kicked the ball right to Mbala, and the winger let fly for the probable equalizer. But in the interim the keeper had speed-read Leap For Your Life: The Autobiography of Jean-Marie Pfaff, and blocked the shot.
It proved to be the Simbas' last look at the game. Leroy threw on an extra striker, Kabamba Musasa. Kalemba was playing his part, stopping everything in sight. But the Pharoahs kept some pinball defense handed it to Emad Motaeb for the third.
The last half-hour was a show for the fans, a show from the Simbas. That bright shining opener against Togo, two long weeks ago, had been vanishing like a desert mirage. Now they showed it was the real thing, as they laid all their marvelous talents on the pitch. But beauty doesn't pay the rent. Lua Lua made two marvelous moves, then scuffed the shot. Mbala left three defenders gasping, then hit the crossbar. The Simbas went out as they came in, with twists and tricks, top hat and tails. But the final goal went to Egypt, when Kalemba, on his only mistake of the night, let a free kick go by.
Alas for mortality. But let's salute the Pharoahs, who after all are under more pressure than any other team at the tournament. They've outscored the field with bright, energetic attacking football. What they lack in pace they make up in technique. With a club-level coach, only three players in Europe, and not a single doubtful call from the refs, they're in the semifinals. They're a great show, too--and best of all, still playing to packed houses.
We all know football is the greatest of games--give a sociologist time (and a book contract), and he'll gladly give you a hundred thousand words why. But the biggest reason is the simplest: it's so very hard to score. Football can humble and exalt like no other game, because the rewards for achievement are so rare and so glorious. Under the stress of this most difficult of endeavors, one man can look like a wizard and twenty-two men can look like fools. And millions can watch and wonder just how 90 minutes (and in some cases, 120 and more) can reveal so much about who we are.
Such was the story of Nigeria-Tunisia. The teams began the game as footballing aristocrats, using contrasting talents and tactics in the resolute pursuit of excellence. They ended as mere flesh and blood, helpless and exhausted. Nigeria advanced, and perhaps they deserved it, but by the end desert, not to mention talents, tactics, and excellence, was the furthest thing from everyone's mind.
With Jay-Jay Okocha and Wilson Oruma still unavailable, Nigeria were left with an outrageously young midfield. John Obi Mikel and Obinna Nsofor are both 18, both superbly talented, both thoroughly inexperienced. Yusuf Ayila, at 21, with seven caps, was the hardened veteran. (John Utaka was there too, but out on the wing, and he's really a forward anyway.) Tunisia opened just as you'd expect, with all-field pressure, trying to disrupt the lines of communication. It was furious and intense, Nigerian pace and skill vs. Tunisian determination. In the fourth minute Vincent Enyeama had to come off his line to stop Ziad Jaziri. In the fifth Francileudo Dos Santos got free but, caught in the whirlwind, shot early and weak. And in the sixth Obafemi Martins broke loose on the right, raced onto Ayila's through ball, and crossed into the area. Ali Boumnijel misplayed it, got only a hand on the ball, and Nsofor slammed in the rebound.
Deep breath. And once more at it. Nsofor found some space, and, thinking he was superhuman, shot from 25 meters, absurdly and wildly. Tunisia kept up the pressure. In the 14th minute, Hamed Namouchi beat Taye Taiwo to a high ball and headed on to Jaziri, who had beaten Joseph Enakarhire into the area. Jaziri went down. Penalty--but the replay revealed it was nothing of the sort. The contact was minimal, the dive perfect. (Let's give the refs some credit, though; it was the 27th game of the tournament and only the first clearly wrong PK call.) Jose Clayton stepped up to equalize--and Enyeama robbed him, diving to the right. All the neutrals in the world applauded; this was a game you wanted decided without controversy.
Eventually the teams settled in for some football. Nigeria had the pace of Martins and Taiye Taiwo, the technique of right back Chidi Odiah, and the skills (and immaturity) of Mikel and Nsofor. Tunisia had the power of Radhi Jaidi at the back, the trickery of Jaziri at the front, and the energy of Adel Chedli and Sofiane Melliti in midifeld. They had a big advantage in the air, repeatedly unbalancing the Nigerian central defenders. In the 23rd minute, Dos Santos, having his first off day of the tournament, should have converted a header off a corner. Nigeria were getting more chances, but spraying their shots all over the place. The game always seemed inches away from breaking open completely. There was ebb and flow, technique and determination, and the occasional wow, as when Nsofor flashed one just outside the post, or when Boumnijel parried a 25-meter blast from Ayila.
The half ended with the score still 1:0. Nigeria had been more spectacular, and overall the stronger side, but Tunisia had looked more solid, more likely to make the plays when necessary. And so it proved. Four minutes after the interval Taiwo got up slowly after a collision, and didn't get back to his position in time. Bouazizi got the ball in the open space on the right wing, and launched a perfect cross to the far post, where Karim Hagui burst in to head home. It was a classic Tunisia moment, using their intelligence, precision, and aerial advantage. They were level, and justly so.
So now we were back to the contrast of styles. And it's time to say a few words about John Obi Mikel. He's going to be a great player. He's already a very good one. But for the moment he lacks two things: 1) decisiveness in attack; 2) a left foot. For the next half-hour he was the most influential man on the pitch, but the killer play always eluded him. (But there was nothing wrong with his 67th minute through ball to Nsofor, which his comrade-in-teenage-arms put just wide.) Tunisia had nothing comparable, but they got one chance, almost. In the 68th minute their best playmaker, substitute Slim Benachour, sent Dos Santos in alone--but the flag was up. The replay? Oh-so-borderline. Maybe a centimeter offside.
And now to the final act. It had been a remarkable game, two very different teams stretching themselves and the other to the utmost. You were ready for the fitting conclusion, the solitary act of genius or perseverance. But about the 75th minute, the teams hit the wall. They had gone so hard for so long, and given so much, and suddenly they had nothing left. Instead of the unforgettable climax, we got that long familiar twilight attrition, Trying Not To Die Before Penalty Kicks. The teams were running up and down the field, dribbling here, passing and shooting there, but force, precision, and cohesion were gone. There was one close call: in the 88th minute Tunisian sub Haykel Guemamdia, the freshest man on the field, broke free on the right, got the ball to his left foot, and fired wide.
Nigeria won the PK shootout, just. When Ayila hit the bar, making two misses out of three, the Super Eagles looked beaten. But Chedli and Benachour shot weakly, and Enyeama saved both times. A few minutes later both keepers had scored, it was 6:6, and the tension was off the scale. You just hoped it would end with a great save, not a bad miss. And it did: Enyeama leapt to his left to block Riadh Bouazizi, and took off for the stands in joy.
The result had a sort of rough justice. Two years ago, the same teams had met in the semifinal. Playing at home, Tunisia received a dodgy late penalty to send it into extra time. The game eventually went to PK's, and Tunisia won. This time, with the same keepers in the nets, another dodgy penalty, but saved, and another PK shootout, but a different winner. Justice, maybe. But let's leave it aside. Nigeria-Tunisia 2006 wasn't really about justice; it was about 1) doing your best and 2) being human. In other words, it was about football.
This game was played on the same day as Nigeria-Tunisia, and it had the same result: a 1:1 draw, a protracted penalty shootout. But the feel was different. Nigeria-Tunisia was pure football; Cameroon-Côte D'Ivoire was sin and redemption. Everyone knew the story. The Elephants had lost the big game to the Lions and backed into the World Cup. Now, in Egypt, a Cameroon bent on restoring pride and supremacy had dazzled as Côte D'Ivoire had stumbled. To do the matchup justice would require many thousands of words, or else silence.
Aruna Dindane was back in camp for Côte D'Ivoire, and most observers thought he would start beside Didier Drogba. But he hadn't practiced with the team for two weeks, and Henri Michel made the safe play, going with Arouna Koné, who had looked so good against Egypt. There was a surprise at the other end, too: Rudolph Douala, who had looked useful on the right of attack, gave way to Daniel Ngom Kome. The man to watch was, of course, Samuel Eto'o, having the most dominant Nations Cup anyone could remember. Five goals, countless brilliancies. He played his usual free role, dropping deep, looking both to create and score.
The Elephants began brightly, with Drogba, Koné, and Kanga Akale putting pressure on the Cameroon back line, weakened by the loss of Raymond Kalla. They looked sharp and ready to play, unbothered by doubt or nerves. But the team's old problem--no thrust in midfield--soon asserted itself. With Bonaventure Kalou on the bench, there wasn't enough pressure through the middle.
And so Cameroon took over. They were playing fluently and comfortably as ever. Jean II Makoun continued his superb play, moving the ball around the field, finding the open man. Ngom Kome was making threatening runs on the right. It wasn't long before the Lions had a substantial advantage in possession.
But something was wrong. With the ball in the attacking third, the combinations wouldn't come. Geremi Njitap had acres of space on the right, but never seemed to know what to do with it. Achille Webo couldn't break free of his markers. Most of all, Eto'o was...not exactly invisible, but diminished in stature. He wasn't imposing himself on the game as before. The man most responsible was Didier Zokora, the Elephants' midfield anchor. Every time Eto'o came into his area, Zokora was alert and precise, and never gave him the space to operate. Deprived of the central channel, Eto'o found himself all too often wandering unconnected.
And so, when the chances came for him to score, he was off balance. In the 30th minute, unmarked, he met Makoun's cross at the penalty spot, but headed it weakly to Jean-Jacques Tizié. In the 39th, Makoun found him with a through ball, and he juked neatly to let Kolo Touré go by, but shot too low, and Tizié blocked it.
At halftime it was still 0:0, but surely it was only a matter of time. Cameroon was controlling the action, and a goal would eventually come. After all, these were the Indomitable Lions, arrogant, assured, with a world to win. But during the interval something changed. An inspirational talk by Henri Michel? (Hard to believe.) Tranquilizers in Cameroon's water? (Not likely, either.) Something, though, because when the game restarted the Lions' control was gone. Côte D'Ivoire held them off without much trouble--and did nothing themselves. For a scrappy 45 minutes the teams traded non-chances. There was little to get excited about. It was as if everyone, the Lions most of all, had forgotten what they were playing for. All that talk about revenge, about pride, about proving yourself, might never have happened. It was a late-season match between two mid-table teams going nowhere. Only in the 89th minute was there something to remember, as Tizié went high to tip over a shot from Timothée Atouba.
When extra time started, you feared the worst. You saw what had happened to Nigeria and Tunisia. But again something had changed during the interval. One minute in, a vicious shot by Emmanuel Eboué clanged off the crossbar, and substitute Bakary Koné squeezed in the rebound from 15 yards. This was the Côte D'Ivoire we'd hoped to see. A minute later Geremi rattled the crossbar too, but Ngom Kome couldn't control the rebound. No big deal: soon a header by Makoun found Ngom Kome slipping by Kolo Touré, and when the ball fell to substitute Albert Myong Ze, he put it in for the equalizer. This was the Cameroon we knew.
How do you figure it? Nigeria and Tunisia had been drained, but Cameroon and Côte D'Ivoire were energized, as if suddenly remembering the demands of the occasion. There were desperate lunges and leaps of the imagination. There were even a few half-chances, the most arresting coming in the 119th minute, when N'Dri Romaric almost poked it by Souleyman Hamidou. But no goals, and so once more to PK's.
It was hard to believe. Had Cameroon come this far only to find themselves in a lottery? Well, of course they would win it, as they had won the Nations Cup on penalties in 2000 and 2002. Except Côte D'Ivoire had done the same thing in 1992.
The series began appropriately with Eto'o and Drogba. Eto'o sent Tizié the wrong way and slammed it in high; Drogba duplicated his Morocco penalty with a hard low drive to the keeper's right. And we sat back to see the lesser mortals settle the issue.
Except they couldn't. A shot flew in, then another. And another. And a few more. And more. Hard, decisive shots. Wham! Bam! Smash! Tizié and Hamidou were trying, they really were, but you or I might have done just as well. Rack'em up--four, eight, twelve! It was like a shooting gallery. You expected someone to be handing out stuffed animals. Finally, after fourteen straight successful kicks, Jean-Jacques Tizié saved from Alioum Saidou. Bravo! Only he had come off his line early. (Well, of course he had come off his line early, what the heck else could he do?) And the ref spotted it. And Saidou got a second chance, and scored.
And the long night wore on. Now it was comedy. The players, such bitter rivals, were smiling, talking, embracing each other in the center circle. "Hey, how long you think we can make this last?" "You shoot high, I'll shoot low!" "How about a nightcap after the game?" The streak reached 20. Now Hamidou, the keeper, slowly rolled one in for Cameroon, with Tizié nowhere near. And Tizié returned the favor, with a sheepish smile.
Twenty-two straight, and we were back to Eto'o and Drogba. On his first kick, Eto'o had thrown in an ever-so-slight hesitation before connecting. Now he did it again--but he was tired, and the hesitation wasn't slight anymore. It was pronounced and disquieting. And fatal. He skied the ball over the bar, a là Baggio. Drogba coolly belted home the winner, and Côte D'Ivoire were in.
As we said before, many thousands of words, or else silence. But let's leave with a tribute to the Elephants, pilloried right and left as Cameroon took all the accolades. No one, least of all me, gave them a chance. Outplayed over the first 45 minutes, they established equality, got the first goal, and then converted seven straight penalties when a miss would have meant defeat. That's character. Well done--and may they make Africa proud at the World Cup.
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