Peter Goldstein


 
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 this event.

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2006 African Nations Cup - Wrapup



    If you're ever browsing this website, take a look at the section on the 2002 World Cup. We've got full statistics for each game, including lineups, goal and substitution times, player details, etc., all you could ask for, really. Plus a little something else: courtesy of Ruud Doevendans, each game has ratings for Quality, Intensity, and Excitement. It's a nice idea, and worth extending. In fact, every game, league, cup, and international, should have such ratings. Why? Because then a century from now, when people see that Egypt and Côte D'Ivoire played 120 scoreless minutes at the Final of the 2006 Nations Cup, they'll know it was no snooze. In fact, it was a heck of a game, one of the best of the tournament, and without doubt a worthy Final.

    Admittedly, for the first 20 minutes or so, it looked like we were in trouble. With the teams worn down from five intense games, they were nervous and tentative, uncertain how to make things happen. The bulk of the passes went awry. There had actually been a good scoring chance: in the 6th minute, Amr Zaki, through on the right of the area, shot wide. But if you needed a tooth pulled without anaesthesia, now was a pretty good time.

    But all at once the teams found their sea legs (desert legs?), and we had ourselves a contest. Egypt had the bulk of the possession, using their technical game to rotate the ball and look for openings. Ahmed Hassan was running the show as always, and Mohamed Aboutreika was dropping deep to extend midfield control. Crosses were particularly dangerous, and if big man Mido had been in the lineup, Côte D'Ivoire would have been in serious trouble. Luckily Jean-Jacques Tizié was in excellent form, coming off his line several times to claim or deflect. Meanwhile Mohamed Abdelwahab and Emmannuel Eboué were engaged in an epic struggle on the left of attack. It was good stuff all around.

    At the other end things were happening too. The Elephants were limited to counterattacks, but the pace and quick reactions of Didier Drogba, Kanga Akale, and Arouna Koné were extending Egypt's defense. The Pharaohs had received an unlikely break when Wael Gomaa went off injured in the 21st minute. He was replaced by Ahmed Fathi, not as strong, but noticeably quicker, and better able to cope with the counterattack. In fact, the whole back line was having their best game of the tournament, for once timing their tackles well, not letting anyone by. Mohamed Barakat, Egypt's fastest man, was tracking all the way back on the right to help out. The Elephants were just a tiny bit off rhythm, and couldn't make the big play.

    The second half began with more of the same. Little more than a minute in, Aboutreika headed an Amr Zaki cross just wide. Egypt kept up the possession game, kept up the crosses. Abdelwahab was still testing Eboué. Côte D'Ivoire counters continued to fall just short.

    Round about the hour mark, though, the dynamics began to change. Henri Michel had kept up his platoon system, exchanging several players each game; Koné, Akale, Emerse Faé, and Blaise Kouassi, starters tonight, had all been on the bench for the semifinal. Egypt had played almost the same eleven every match. And slowly, inevitably, the Pharaohs began to tire. Kalou came in for Akale, and the Elephants got some traction in midfield. Koné was getting harder to contain on the right of attack, and more men were finally getting forward in support. Now it was Egypt who were limited to the counter.

    In the 77th minute came the game-winning chance. A combination between Koné and Faé found the latter on the right near the corner flag. Double-teamed, he still manged to slip the ball free to Koné on the right side of the area. Kone sent it low for Drogba, coming toward goal at the top of the six-yard box. And he put it over the bar. About ten feet over the bar. He hadn't exactly been unmarked; Mohamed Barakat was just behind, nipping at his heels. But any striker worthy of the name, much more one who plays for Chelsea, buries that chance.

    And a few minutes later it looked like the Pharoahs had stolen it. From 30 yards out, Hassan met a Kolo Touré clearance first time, stinging Tizié, who couldn't hold it. Mohamed Shawky surged through to get the rebound, and Tizié saved brilliantly with his legs. Amr Zaki got the loose ball, and with a couple of neat touches, poked it into the open goal. He took off for the stands in ecstasy. The crowd went off the scale.

    But referee Mourad Daami of Tunisia said no. What could have happened? The replay made it clear. After Tizié saved Shawky's shot, the two got tangled. And Shawky had very clearly held Tizié down, keeping his right leg on the keeper's chest. It was absolutely the right call--and if a certain other call hadn't happened about ten minutes later, Daami would be a hero to referees everywhere.

    Now we were in extra time--although not before, in the 91st minute, Drogba had missed another chance. To be fair, only a half-chance, on Eboué's cross to the far post. Côte D'Ivoire were still getting the better of the play, still looking the likely winner.

    Then came the call. Kouassi semi-cleared an Abdelwahab cross, and he and Barakat went for the loose ball in the area. Both got their legs up a bit. Both went down. Penalty. It was so obviously not a penalty that the replay was unnecessary. Once again the home side had been scandalously favored in the final minutes.

    (You wonder about conspiracy theories, though. Divine in the semifinal and Daami in the Final both made outrageously bad calls. But to that point, neither had noticeably favored the home side, and both had actually disallowed an Egyptian goal when they could have looked the other way. That's no way to run a conspiracy. More likely, the pressure just got to them. No excuse, of course.)

    But luck was with us. Ahmed Hassan, who had been 3 for 3 from the spot, hit the right post. And back we went. In the 101st minute substitute Baky Koné, who had scored in extra time against Cameroon, let fly with a blast from the right that Essam El-Hadary tipped brilliantly over the bar. The game was still Côte D'Ivoire's for the taking.

    But the goal just wouldn't fall. In the 107th minute Baky just couldn't get to a pass from Drogba. In the 109th Eboué got through but shot wide. At the other end an Egyptian corner kick got cleared after a short melee. And time ran out.

    The PK shootout was like most PK shootouts, with heroes, scapegoats, and more tension than you could stand. The key sequence was the first pair of kicks. Hassan, to his immeasurable relief, sent Tizié the wrong way and smashed it in. Then El-Hadary saved from Drogba. Against both Morocco and Cameroon, Drogba's first choice had been to slam it low to the keeper's right. Maybe El-Hadary had seen the films, or maybe he just guessed. But Drogba, tired, didn't get enough on the shot, and Egypt were ahead.

    But not home and dry. With the score 2:1, substitute Abdelhalim Ali missed his kick. He missed it about as badly as you can miss. He's 22 years old. The camera showed him with his face in his hands, wailing. We didn't see his reaction when, on the ensuing kick, El-Hadary went to his left and saved from Baky Koné. A few minutes later Aboutreika, who had been among the steadiest performers at the tournament, got the winner.

    Despite the PK controversies, Egypt were worthy champions--certainly as worthy as Côte D'Ivoire would have been. True, they probably wouldn't have won the tournament away from home. But you have to play somewhere, and in a place like Africa, the richest countries, which are the ones likely to have the best teams, are also the ones likely to host. Nothing you can do about it. Host teams have now won 44% of Nations Cup tournaments. (In Asia, where a similar situation prevails, it's 46%. Compare 25% in Europe, where the talent is more widely distributed.)

    Some thoughts on the competition as a whole. It was an odd sort of tournament, with lots of fine play, but very few outstanding 90-minute performances. The only team to look dominant, Cameroon, got eliminated in the quarterfinals. Wildly inconsistent teams like Senegal and Côte D'Ivoire made the final four, where exciting teams like DR Congo and Guinea did not. Although most teams were committed to attacking football, goal-scoring was low. That's because 1) it was a good tournament for keepers; 2) it was a rotten tournament for finishers. I don't think I've ever seen so many sitters missed in a single tournament, not even in a 32-team World Cup.

    Oh, and 3) the referees. Despite the late PK scandals, the men in the middle did a fairly good job. Sure, they missed calls here and there, and a few of the games could have used more cards. But on the whole they were competent and in control. But the linesmen? Oh my goodness. I'm not sure which is larger: the number of blown offside calls or the number of atoms in the universe. At least they were consistent: 99% of the missed calls went against the attacking team. There wasn't a single illegal goal in the entire tournament--but that's because they were calling everything offside. At least a dozen scoring chances went by the boards because of ill-timed flags.

    Since this is Planet World Cup, not Planet Nations Cup, we'll leave out the standard team-by-team rundown, and instead concentrate on the five sides that'll be in Germany this summer. First, though, a couple of all-tournament teams.


FIRST TEAM:

GK - Vincent Enyeama (Nigeria)
RB - Chidi Odiah (Nigeria)
CB - Kolo Touré (Côte D'Ivoire)
CB - John Mensah (Ghana)
LB - Ibrahima Camara (Guinea)
M - Jean II Makoun (Cameroon)
M - Diomansy Kamara (Senegal)
M - Ahmed Hassan (Egypt)
M - Pascal Feindouno (Guinea)
F - Samuel Eto'o (Cameroon)
F - Francileudo Dos Santos (Tunisia)

SECOND TEAM:

GK - Jean-Jacques Tizié (Côte D'Ivoire)
RB - Geremi Njitap (Cameroon)
CB - Zvenyika Makonese (Zimbabwe)
CB - Radhi Jaidi (Tunisia)
LB - Joseph Musonda (Zambia)
M - Mohamed Aboutreika (Egypt)
M - Matumano Zola (DR Congo)
M - Pape Bouba Diop (Senegal)
M - Yaya Touré (Côte D'Ivoire)
F - Henri Camara (Senegal)
F - Didier Drogba (Côte D'Ivoire)

And now to our World Cup representatives:


Togo


    It's back to the drawing board for the Hawks. The botched preparations, the airport bonus dispute, and the Keshi-Adebayor flap added up to a first-class embarrassment. But let's not kid ourselves: although the team played below its potential, they also showed severe deficiencies, of the kind that could get them embarrassed once more in Germany.

    The big problem is the back line. No one played particularly well, and only right back Emmanuel Mathias didn't look completely out of his depth. We'd heard that centerback Jean-Paul Abalo was over the hill; judging by his perfomance, he's already halfway across Nebraska. Of the other centerbacks, Tchangai Massamesso looked the best, which isn't saying much. Both left backs, Zanzan Atte-Oudeyi and Ludovic Assemoassa, were disasters. Kossi Agassa is a very good keeper, but he's going to need considerably more protection.

    There's no easy solution. Togo have been hoping to convince long-time holdout Kodjo Afanou to play centerback, but Afanou has preferred to emphasize his club. Well, now he doesn't have a club anymore, having recently cancelled his contract with Bordeaux. Any other options are buried deep in the depth chart.

    Midfield showed a little promise, particularly Alexis Romao and Yao Aziawonou in the middle. Romao might be an effective hard man, and Aziawonou is a solid player with a rocket left foot. But neither is going to add much to the attack. Sherif-Touré Mamam and Moustapha Salifou had occasional moments pushing forward, but neither seems to be World Cup class right now.

    Up front, there's Emmanuel Adebayor, late of Monaco, now of Arsenal. He's a great player, and when he was actually on the field, showed plenty of class. But he can't do it all by himself. It's a shame we didn't get to see him pair much with Kader Coubadja, his usual partner. Coubadja missed the proverbial chance your grandmother could have scored, but also showed a little bit of skill and intelligence.

    Right now the Hawks have a very long way to go. They're not a one-man team, but Adebayor is without question a jump above the rest of the side. Keshi got them to the World Cup on cohesive play and team spirit, but his leadership capacity may now be gone for good. Rumors have been flying about European coaches, and we simply don't know what's next. But Group G is the weakest group, and four months is a long time. With fresh blood on the field and/or the bench, and a renewed sense of purpose, Togo can be a different team come June.


Angola


    How often do you get exactly what you expect? The qualifiers suggested Angola were a middling team, and a middling team they are. There's talent in all areas, just not a lot of it. Unlike Togo, though, they seemed to play near their potential--which may or may not be a good omen.

    Angola may have scored only 12 goals in 10 games in the qualifiers, but the front line showed some promise. Flavio is a technically sound sort who does a lot of running and creating. Maurito scored a beauty of a goal against Togo. Mantorras saw little time (and wasn't too pleased about it--he says he'll quit the team after the World Cup), but he's shown a bit of class at Benfica. The disappointment was Akwá, who just couldn't get the ball in the net. If he gets back in form, Angola will have a decent strike force.

    The midfield was OK, if a little short of inspiration. Playmaker Figuereido has his creative moments, but is more bustle than style. Edson is a strong, straight-ahead type, with good balance, somewhat short of pace. The best of the bunch is Andre Makanga, a very good defensive midfielder, tough and mobile. Hopefully the return of Gilberto, who missed the tournament with injury, will add some punch.

    Defense could be a problem area. Starting left back Yamba Asha is now officially suspended for the World Cup; his replacements, Marco Abreu and Delgado, were no more than ordinary. Kali, the Portuguese-league centerback, should be the bellwether--but he was coming off a suspension of his own, and was inconsistent. Word is they're trying to recruit veteran Porto centerback Pedro Emmanuel for the squad; if he says yes, that'll be a huge addition. The rest of the line, with home-based players Jamba, Jacinto, Loco, and Lebo-Lebo vying for spots, looked at best decent, at worst shaky. João Ricardo, the clubless keeper, made one fine save but was otherwise undistinguished.

    Angolans were largely disappointed in the team's performance, but the Palancas Negras finished pretty much where they belonged. They just missed the quarterfinals--a goal either way would have done it--and right now they're no better than the top 8 on the continent. Will that be enough for a respectable performance in Germany? Their opponents (Mexico, Portugal, Iran) are good but not exceptional, and having seen the display in Egypt may not take them too seriously. If Akwa suddenly finds the range, they could upset a few apple-carts.


Ghana


    Those weren't the real Black Stars out there--at least we hope not. Without Michael Essien and Sulley Muntari for the whole tournament, without Laryea Kingston and Sammy Kuffour and with a half-strength Stephen Appiah for the final game, they fell at the first hurdle. Actually, until the game against Zimbabwe, they had nothing to be ashamed about: a close loss to Nigeria, a close win against Senegal. But the finale left a bitter taste, and the commitment of the squad is being questioned.

    Even without the midfield stars, the team showed their characteristic strength and weakness. They're an excellent defensive team, who mark well all over the pitch. John Mensah had a marvellous tournament at centerback, and if Kuffour is healthy, they'll be a formidable pairing. (He'd better be healthy; Issah Ahmed isn't up to the task.) John Paintsil and Emmanuel Pappoe did the job at fullback, and Sammy Adjei, despite a nervous moment or two, looked like an international-class keeper.

    Up front, though, the problems remain. They got only one goal in three games, and it was a bit of a fluke, Matthew Amoah scoring from the narrowest of angles against Senegal. Amoah has joined Borussia Dortmund, and maybe a spell in the Bundesliga will raise his game, but who else is there? Asamoah Gyan, the Serie B striker, is untested at top level, but he has to be better than JoeTex Frimpong and Prince Tagoe, both of whom bombed in Egypt. The logical call is Isaac Boakye of Arminia Bielefeld, but for some reason Ratomir Dujkovic isn't a big fan. He's running out of options, though.

    Hopefully the midfield will be back at full strength come June. The least likely to be there is Kingston, who got a whopping four-game suspension for an altercation with Habib Beye of Senegal. What did he do? As near as anyone can tell, only a Rivaldo-class injury-fake-plus-dive. Four games for that? But it's good to see they're clamping down, I suppose. Big suspensions are often reduced on appeal, but the federation missed the appeal deadline. So right now he's out. A possible replacement is young Kevin Boateng of Hertha Berlin, but he's eligible for both Ghana and Germany, and hasn't made his choice yet.

    We still have no idea how good Ghana are, and we won't until this summer. The federation wisely decided to stick with Dujkovic, despite widespread calls for his head. Like we say, he's put together a tough defensive team, and defense goes a long way at the World Cup. Get everyone healthy, keep them all happy, and turn the lads loose--and we'll see.


Tunisia


    Ah, Tunisia, the Old Faithful of African football. Four games, and nary a surprise--unless you count the beating the second string took at the hands of Guinea. What you see is what you get: organization, energy, stability. Two years ago, it was enough for the title, but that was at home. In Egypt, they were probably one of the four best teams, but fell short of the semis via PK's. So what does it mean for Germany?

    It means look at the group. Saudi Arabia--probable win. Spain--probable loss. Ukraine--probable scoreless draw that no one in the universe would watch unless you paid them very large sums of money. Goal difference the determinant. See how easy that is?

    As ever, what Tunisia lack is creativity. For the crucial game against Nigeria, Roger Lemerre showed his hand: Bouazizi, Chedly, Namouchi, Melliti, a midfield without the slightest pretense to imagination. (Namouchi has had his moments in the past, but he seemed ground into mush with the rest of them.) On the bench were Slim Benachour and Chaouki Ben Saada, the instinctive players, the ones with genius. And that's what we can expect at the World Cup too.

    On the upside, we can also expect strikers Francileudo dos Santos and Ziad Jaziri. Until the quarterfinal, Dos Santos was his intelligent, precise self, the guy you never notice but who gets the goals when you need them. Jaziri, the dribbler and creator, had his best game against Nigeria, and should beat his share of defenders in Germany. Haykel Guemamdia, the rising star, didn't show much.

    On defense the star was, as usual, Radhi Jaidi, who after a slow start swallowed up strikers with his usual power. Karim Hagui was a reliable partner. The fullbacks were a bit of a disappointment: Hatem Trabelsi faded after a good start, and Jose Clayton showed why left back is the weak spot. Ali Boumnijel, the Ancient Mariner, made one sensational save and helped give away two soft goals, which is par for the course. Don't bet on him if Shevchenko gets a breakaway.

    The Carthage Eagles are an easy target--for the press, anyway. On the field they test you to the limit. Unfortunately, most World Cup teams have wider limits than Tunisia's. They've found themselves an easy group, and should contend for a second-round place. But don't expect anything more--and don't expect them to make you forget Brazil. Or DR Congo. Or to take the garbage out during the games.


Cote D'Ivoire


    The Elephants were greeted by cheering throngs at the airport, and good for them. They've been alternately worshipped and insulted, and it's nice to see them in the positive part of the cycle. But their achievement at the Nations Cup was a curious one. All the way to the Final, wins over Cameroon and Nigeria, loss on PK's to the host, you can't complain. But not once did they look like a championship side. Their best game was the semifinal against Nigeria, but the special circumstances--both teams coming off extended PK shootouts--made that game hard to judge.

    In fact, Côte D'Ivoire leave the tournament as they entered, with a fundamental uncertainty in midfield. Didier Zokora was up to speed at the anchor spot, and Yaya Touré emerged as a player of quality. But unfortunately they play the same position. Touré showed power, skill, and intelligence, but when forced to contribute to the attack, he came up short. And since he can't run the show from the middle, you're stuck with the inconsistent Gilles Yapi Yapo and Emerse Faé cutting in from the right. On the left, N'Dri Romaric (technique) and Kanga Akale (pace) together make exactly one good player. Bonaventure Kalou plays only one position: in the hole behind the strikers. How do you make it all work?

    Up front the news is better. Didier Drogba may have missed the key chance (and the PK) in the Final, but he's still the real deal. Arouna Koné is a rough diamond, but showed flashes of genius. Baky Koné will be a valuable joker. Remember, too, that Aruna Dindane missed the whole tournament.

    In defense there were pluses and minuses. Emmanuel Eboué started slowly at right back, but by the end his pace and attacking instincts made him a real asset. If he gets enough playing time at Arsenal, he could develop into a winner. Kolo Touré is still his magisterial self. The left side of the line is less assured. Blaise Kouassi and Abdoulaye Meite took turns being inconsistent at the other centerback spot. Arthur Boka at left back was no more than ordinary. Fortunately, keeper Jean-Jacques Tizié was in great form, and should be an important figure this summer.

    There's no doubt Côte D'Ivoire are a good team. But they want to be more, and in Germany they'll need to be more. Argentina, Serbia & Montenegro, Holland, the Group of Mass Destruction. There's still plenty of work before they're competitive with that lot. The team has depth, but depth only comes into play in the later stages of the tournament. Henri Michel's best move? Slip a few million bucks to Sepp Blatter and arrange to switch groups with Togo.



 

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