Sunday, January 27, 2013

CAN 2013--Round Three

CAN 2013Laikala Syndicate Members,

What a fantastic past two days of football! After an indubitably sluggish start, we’ve borne witness to three straight days of “light em’ up” football!

The manner in which the Burkinabés demolished Ethiopia may not conform to my East African allegiances, but the elegant pageantry of such a high-scoring match will surely garner attention of an all-too-preoccupied world.

Today’s offerings were nothing short of spectacular. The anti-North-African inclinations of your friendly bookie were satiated in full. Viva Les Elephants! Viva Adebayor! An unreservedly exciting finish awaits us all, football fans. We’ll get to that right after your friendly bookie vents about the unavoidable/entirely predictable problem of watching the matches via peer-to-peer matches on his laptop.

--I’m not really interested in finding a “fuck buddy”. I don’t give a damn about your “fuck request”. After some probing and ruminative soul-searching, I’m not terribly interested in Russian Mail Order Brides either. Go ahead. Tell me that I can “fuck a different woman every day”. I already can. It’s called porn and it’s in my head.

--Speaking of these sad pop-ads that we have to fight through in order to watch a little football, what loser out there responds to a “fuck request”? Are you seriously telling me that some guy out there says, “……Me? Gosh Golly! I know she’s serious! She has to be serious! No other explanation for her using white text in standard font on a blue background. I’ve received a “fuck request”!

Editor’s retroactive notes:

There’s really no denying the fact the NUMEROUS PEOPLE actually click on such advertisements. Who the hell these people are, why in the hell they can’t masturbate privately/shamefully like the rest of us, and how in the hell they obtained “Top Secret” clearance in the United States Government are all questions beyond the scope of this paragraph. 

Dealing with such facts proves just as impossible as dealing with the fact that only 1 in 6 Americans can locate the Ukraine on a map. It’s simply unbelievable. My mind can’t process it. I choose to believe it simply isn’t true. Otherwise, THE WORLD MAKES NO SENSE!! 

--Dear Internet Ad Copywriters,

It’s all your fault. It’s all your fault that “Mad Men” is popular. People yearn for a time when THOUGHT actually went into advertising. “Penis Pill companies/Ron Jeremy’s psychoanalyst/John Holmes’ psychotherapist/Peter North’s chiropractor ‘HATE HIM’” doesn’t work.

You know something else? The “one ridiculously easy trick” tagline doesn’t work either. Anyone with some semblance of a mind isn’t interested in learning about how they can lower their cell-phone bills/reduce their mortgage payment/save money on car insurance premiums/increase the size of their cock/find their old High School Sweetheart/hook up with no strings attached using “this one ridiculously easy trick”!!!

What the shallow-data-trolling fuck is wrong with you people? More clear to the point, who the algorithm-obsessed-key-punching-automaton bunch of worthless losers ARE you people!?!?

Editor’s retroactive notes:

WHY??!?? I’m as interested in sex as much as any virile (or older and impotent) male. That doesn’t mean I’m dumb enough to fall for your pathetically primordial fodder!! I don’t accept your inclination that people are inherently dumb. I just don’t. Most people (in my experience at least) are too smart for their own good. 

You’ve got humanity all wrong. Circumstances dictate that we all spend some time whittling away the hours in rooms that are both lonely and dark. You people, however, have spent far too much time in such rooms. 

You’re the assholes who ensure that every time I try to watch a simple football game I have to deal with the “Hot and Thick Curvy Girls want YOU” Sidebar. Fuck you.

Editor’s retroactive notes:


Okay. That’s my miniature rant. Someday soon the day will come when Americans can watch African football without all this nonsense. For now we’ll discuss the football that transpired while most of us were fighting through this avalanche of garbage…

My updated stats:

Spread: 3-13
Straight up: 4-6-6

Hell, I don’t give a shit. So long as the money flows and the non-Arab African teams go.

The latest rankings:

1) Cote d’Ivoire (Previously #1)
Ivory Coast
The quote the enlightened and esoteric D’Angelo Barksdale directly, “The King stay the King”. Let there not a single lingering doubt remain. These Elephants have their eyes on the prize. They spanked a talented Eagles of Carthage squad. They dominated in possession throughout the full 90 minutes.

They sliced and diced their way through an experienced defensive corps, without so much as a hiccup. They owned the flanks. They finished with all the confidence of men who had just been blown by an entire cohort of Norwegian blondes. Most significantly, they did it all with neither Didier Drogba nor Didier Ya Konan in the starting lineup.

A beast of a game from the Gervinho of the gunners. Zokora, Soloman Kalou, Yaya Toure, and Lacina Traore were hungry from the start. They clawed and scraped their way to all manner of chances they had no business earning. What they couldn’t find the final touch for, Touré and Ya Konan buried in the waning moments. Magnificent arcing goal from the former and a two-touch treasure from the latter.

Had Traore had more luck, had Gervinho directed his cross a few centimeters downward, had the referee awarded a penalty after that blatant handball in the box by Khalil Chamman, had Kalou not have proved too antsy….christ, we would have seen a 7-0 match.

Be afraid of this “Team of Destiny”. Be very afraid. Be afraid of what head trainer Sabri Lamouchi had to say,

“Why didn’t I pick Didier Drogba? Because it seemed to me that the eleven players I picked were the best to overcome this Tunisian side.”

Brazen words from the manager of a dangerously awesome assembly
Editor’s retroactive notes:

D’Angelo Barksdale also got strangled to death with no advance notice ; ( ; ( 

2) Burkina Faso (Previously #5)
Burkina Faso
Not since Bill S. Preston Esquire and Ted “Theodore” Logan have I witnessed “Wild Stallions” so thoroughly ace an exam. Round Two saw your friendly bookie misplace hopes in all manner of disappointing teams. Angola, Congo DR, Zambia, Morocco.

No such shattered hopes here. I have been vindicated!

From CAN 2013—Round Two:

“Pitroipa is far from finished. We’ll hear from him along with other big names Kone, Kabore, and Bance. I reiterate that this has consistently been a strong team that merely needed to catch the right break. Looks as if they just might have got it.”


Money, money, money, money……..MONEY!


Money, money, money, money……..MONEY!

I need to calm down. I’ll turn down the O’Jays and put some pants on while I’m at it.

How does one begin to describe by FAR the tournament’s most thrilling performance? Reduced to ten men, the Burkinabes still managed to thrash the Antelopes 4-nil. What a pulsating match. I was so damned pumped I went to work and actually had a fantastic time. THAT’S HOW IT’S DONE!

The Lion’s Share of the credit belongs to my boy Jonathan Pitroipa. The former Hamburger SV man with the magic touch. His late game heroics against the Super Eagles remain the sole reasons the Stallions still compete. Could he really follow up that dazzling 95th minute run, juke, and setup? Hell yes. He was even more mesmerizing in this one.

Awarded the entire left flank after his sensational performance, he quickly established dominance over that entire strip of the pitch, setting up Bance, Sanou, and Traore with early through balls. As if that weren’t enough, he collected a full switch beautifully around the half hour mark, only missing out on the opening goal after some resolute defending from Hailu.

His dogged persistence had much to do with the run-up in play that led to Traore’s snatching up a loose ball and firing home a laser of a goal in the 34th. He’d directly set up Traore’s brace in the 74th with that sick little flick on. 

AS IF THAT WEREN’T ENOUGH, he’d pick out D. Kone five minutes later for another direct assist. AS IF THAT WEREN’T ENOUGH, he pushed himself hard to catch up with Benny Balima’s pass in the 95th for his very own goal.

As superhuman at Pitroipa’s play was, the entire team produced a gem of a match. Koulibaly and B. Kone were solid at the back. Backup keeper Daoduda Diakite came in cold for the red-carded Abdouldaye Soulama to stop a crucial penalty.

Though the effort may have been weak, keeping one’s nerves in such a situation must be lauded. Traore’s emphatic finishing was classic. D. Kone’s sliding finish in the 79th was about as lionhearted a piece of football as I’ve seen in a long time.

With Bance finally fit, I feel comfortable labeling this team “unstoppable”. Roll on, Stallions.

Editor’s retroactive notes:

Roll on all the way to the Semis. Nothing quite like winning an exorbitant amount of money from a football match. The more enlightened Europeans have decreed that gambling should be completely legal. Your turn, America.

3) South Africa (Previously #13)
South Africa
For the 50,000 plus Bafana loyalists who pensively trudged into Soccer City on Wednesday fearing the worst, redemption is now spelled I-G-E-S-U-N-D. A tremendous leap of faith from the beleaguered trainer, and boy did it ever reap miraculous dividends. Five intrepid tactical changes constituted an enormous gamble. Kudos to Gordon for finding the stones for such drastic action. Nothing quite like the thrill of going all in…when it happens to work of course.

After watching his secondary attack struggle to get the ball out of the middle of the park during 90 minutes of choppy football against the Blue Sharks of Cape Verde, Igesund elected to dispense with the midfield entirely and sit both his strikers. Majoro began the fixture on the bench. Surprisingly enough, so did Dutch prospect Thulani Serero. Instead he deployed his other two natural strikers Kathlego Mphela and Tokelo Rantie. Bernard Parker was relegated to Tshabalala’s attacking role on the left flank with Dean Furman and May Mahlangu replacing Dikgacoi and Lesothoyanye respectively.

The role played by Furman, this year’s token white guy for the astute observers, appeared to be that of a critical Schweinsteiger-esque holding midfield “Flight Director”. This enable Sangweni and Masilela to mostly ignore their defensive duties and push forward in the service of a suddenly monstrous seven-pronged South African offensive blitz.

The results proved nothing short of astounding. It was Sangweni who opened the scoring with that mind-blowing first time hit of a cross that took a deflection off of Angolan defender Luinguinha. He may have been gifted a fortuitous bounce, but the center back deserves immense credit for his flawless finish. In spite of their selection, Rantie and Mphela were exhibiting terrible finishing. Thankfully, a defender was on hand to show them how it’s done.

Effectively managing a squad doesn’t end at picking the right starting eleven. Igesund afforded his benched players an opportunity for redemption, subbing in Lesothoyanye at the restart and introducing Majoro in the 58th. It took all of four minutes for Majoro to erase all memories of his uninspiring debut when he out-deked the rattled Massunguna and calmly slipped the second goal past an over-committed Lama.

So here we are. Instead of writing the Bafana obituary, the rough outline of which was already swimming around in my head, I’m writing about how this team should be considered a shoe-in for the knockout-phases. Amazing how the tables can turn in tournament football, were one match is all it takes to make a contender out of a pretender.

Igesund all of sudden has a deep team, most of which has seen positive action. If there remains any cause for concern heading into the showdown with the Moroccans, it’s that he has too many choices and too much confidence. We’ll all watch whom he deploys with great interest. For now, it’s reasonable to assume he’ll make the right calls.

4) Togo (Previously #8)
Apologies for the flashback, but your friendly bookie delights in the rare occasion that he happens to be right:

From CAN 2013—Round Two

“It will get better. Adebayor’s moment of brilliance was brilliantly stifled by a suddenly possessed Boubacar Barry. Didier Six will have words with Serge Gapke about taking dumb opportunities at the expense of his mates. Vincent Bossou will take heart from his effective performance against Drogba. Nimbombe will eventually comprehend that his disallowed goal doesn’t mean he can’t bring it next time around. Relax, Sparrow Hawk fans. It WILL GET BETTER. Bookies honor.”

Who better than the legendary Emmanuel Adebayor to score against the run of play for a team with a back story that makes one’s heart bleed? Farewell Desert Foxes. Hello Sparrow Hawks. Onwards to the knockout stages.

5) Ghana (Previously #7)
Great news for all of us that the Black Stars are up and running. True, it wasn’t the most dominant win. True, Dauda absolutely should have been sent off the pitch after blatantly breaking the rules to rob the Eagles of an early goal.

Nevertheless, one must admit that Kwesi Appiah’s side deserved to win the game. They generated far more chances. The “Clash of the Primer Meridian Titans” was never going to be an easy match to win convincingly. No controversy. The Gold Coast Playas earned it.

So now then. How to get this attack actually coordinated enough to become fear inducing? As predicted Appiah jettisoned the largely ineffective approach he used against the Congolese. He slanted Asamoah Gyan over the left and brought Kwadwo Asamoah and Albert Adamoah to serve as striking companions. He shuffled Boye and Paintsil over to their preferred defensive positions and brought in Red Bull Salzburg’s Isaac Vorsah to shore up the defense. This enabled him shift Agyemang-Badu and Mubarak out to the wings for a five attacker spread.

Essentially, he implemented just about every change I advocated last round and the results--as anyone who’s ever made the mistake of listening to me knows--were largely ineffectual until Agyemang-Badu managed to hit the iron just past the half hour mark. That play itself had almost nothing to do with the lineup and most everything to do with some time invested in practicing set pieces on the training ground. The lineup also had nothing to do with the spot kick awarded after the vicious challenge on Agyemang-Badu some seven minutes later.

Editor’s retroactive notes:

Either I’m being too “nit-picky”….or….the use of a comma in the opening sentence of this paragraph was totally unwarranted. Tsk, Tsk. When will you ever learn, Vicey? (The comma there should be considered fully justified. 

Virtually all of the Black Star’s chances came off of free kicks or corners, leaving the question of the lineup still unanswered. At this point, however, it doesn’t really matter much as Appiah could start a 48-year-old Abedi Pele up front against Niger and probably still win big. Another much discussed absense that won’t matter is the suspension of Espanyol’s trigger man Mubarak.

In case you missed it, after he converted the match penalty, he lifted up his shirt to reveal a White T inscribed with the words “Allah is Great”. He knew it would earn him his second yellow, but hell it was worth it. After all the penalty kick woes this team has been through in international competitions, why not celebrate finally getting it right?

Editor’s retroactive notes:

The supportive tone is brought to you courtesy of the hard fact that “There is no such thing as religious strife in Ghana”. Christians and Muslims peacefully coexist. You want me to embrace Allah? Stop killing in his name. Period. 

Root for this team. Yes, even you bitter Americans. We need them to go deep in this tournament if only for the amusing stories. One guy likes to pull an Israeli Flag out of his shorts. Another is proud to proclaim “Allah u Akbar”. Asamoah Gyan, the talented captain, is forbidden from taking any more penalty kicks after he promised his dying mother who watched him miss that crucial one in 2010 World Cup Quarterfinals. Now that’s a story! I can only imagine my mother forcing me into a similar pact.

“Vicey, my son. Soon I shall shed this mortal coil. All I ask is that you stop embarrassing yourself.”  

Editor’s retroactive notes:

Sadly….this may actually occur one day ; ( ; (

6) Mali (Previously #2)
Few bright spots for Eagles fans to reflect upon after the Ghanaian defeat….or the increasingly prolonged stalemate in the Sawahel. Don’t get me started on that. Flanking the two Diarras on either side of Chiek Diabate was an inspired experiment, albeit one that bore no tangible fruit.

Nevertheless, this bookie remains hopeful. Another solid match for Barca’s Keita. A serviceable debut for Maiga. Average relief efforts from Samassa and Sissoko. Slightly below average performance from the two Traores and a real stinker from Mahamadou N’Diaye.

Look, these guys are allowed to have an “off” game every so often. Fate cruelly divined that they should all go through their adversity together. I maintain the faith. This crew remains too good to be shut out of the quarterfinals.

7) Nigeria (Previously #14)
Cursed I tell you. Cursed. John Obi Mikel missed the deserved penalty, and Zambian goalkeeper (yes, GOALKEEPER) Kennedy Mweene converts the undeserved one. Cursed. CURSED!

In spite of all the misfortune, fans of the snake bit Super Eagles have reason to believe that they do in fact glimpse light emanating from the end of the tunnel. The voodoo hex might yet be lifted. Keshi picked a fine lineup that didn’t disappoint. After Victor Moses received fitness clearance, he was assigned Yemenite’s left flank position, with Emmenike himself slotted to point man. The scrappy Spartak Moscow forward definitely earned his promotion to the center after a gritty performance against the Antelopes.

Keshi may not have had the courage to ditch the 4-3-2-1, but tinkered with it serviceably, giving Mikel’s central role to Igiebor. The sloppy synthetic pitch of Nelspruit virtually killed the short passing game, but Moses and Emmenike were able to connect splendidly on numerous occasions. As a duo they display exceptional lateral awareness.

Look for them to combine again in the upcoming match that will send the Eagles through. All that is truly needed is the integration of Musa, who once again exhibited poor-decision making. Perhaps Onazi could fill his role until whilst Musa figures out when to unleash long-range efforts, when to play square, and when to break.

Keshi’s 4-3-2-1 can work provided his players develop an understanding of how best to exploit the width of the pitch. Should current trends continue, they might go deep in the tournament yet. 

Editor’s retroactive notes:

“Balls deep”. That’s what I should have written. Vulgarity shall always remain a part of the Syndicate. Bookies honor.

8) Angola (Previously #11)
From CAN 2013 “Round Two”:

“With two matches yet to play, The Sables will not be gifted too many more opportunities. Fail to convert against the hosts and this team is likely toast.”

Now, now. It a’int quite over yet. In spite of more frustration for the aging Mateus and Manucho. In spite of the deplorable late-game theatrics from Amaro. In spite of Pirolito’s dip in form. In spite of Ferrin’s lack of options off the bench. In spite of all this, the Sable Antelopes remain my favorites to sneak into the quarterfinals.

They certainly maintain the talent to get the job done against an overachieving Cape Verdian side that must be exhausted after fighting two fast-paced sides to hard fought draws. The Moroccans may have salvaged a point against the group’s Dark Horse but they’ve left the door wide open for this much maligned club to find their stride at precisely the right time.

Even though the score-line might suggest otherwise, the Antelopes demonstrated enough for me in their second fixture. Manucho showed signs that he’s regaining his aerial touch with two solid efforts that Khune had to be on his toes to beat away. He even set up Mateus with a splendid glancing header back across, though the Portuguese target man couldn’t supply a fitting finish.

Mateus himself may be having difficulty with his stroke, but he cut back superbly for Afonso minutes after the restart. Manucho played with heart and resilience all the way down the stretch, even after the result was decided.

In summation, a quarterfinal berth for this team remains a manner of simple execution. It’s “hands-off” time for Gustavo Ferrin. Leave the side alone. Allow them to continue to play their way into form, peaking when it matters.

9) Tunisia (Previously #3)
Hahahahaha. DIE! DIE you indolent bastards. Welcome to the SIXTH installment of “Your friendly bookie doesn’t much care to expend too much energy on North Africa”.

This tournament couldn’t have turned out better.

10) Cape Verde (Previously #12)
Cape Verde
The Cinderella story continues to shape up nicely for the smallest nation ever to compete on this stage. Victory against their reeling former Portuguese colonial mates will see the Blue Sharks through to the knockout stages in an ascension sure to prove historic in the international football universe.

Here’s why I don’t see it happening:

Three of the four defenders—Nando, Fernando Varela, and Nivaldo—have logged 180 minutes. After turning in a sensational performance as a defensive duo during the South Africa match, Nando and Varela repeatedly pushed forward, engineering two out of the three prime scoring chances against the North Africans in Round Two. While that pair combined for a pair of deftly swung in crosses, Nivaldo also got himself involved in the rush. He truly stung Vozinha’s hands with a throbbing effort early in the match.

In short, this trio has delivered just about all that one can expect from one’s fullbacks over the course of the initial two rounds. Asking them to repeat these virtuosities appears an unrealistic request. Apart from Platini’s goal, which one may attribute to Vozinha’s poor decision to pursue a 30-70 challenge for the loose ball, the striking corps isn’t clicking.

Nhuck (also referred to as Heldon Ramos) cannot find the creativity to generate an effort that isn’t catching practice for the keepers. Ryan Mendes, Julio Tavares, and Toni Varela owe their looks at goal to the aforementioned atypical efforts of the downfield players.

Lucio Atunes will find himself with little choice but to send them forward again, leaving the entire right side of the pitch exposed and vulnerable. There’s certainly no guarantee that Manucho, Mateus, and Gilberto will exploit this area of the pitch, but one must confer upon them the benefit of the doubt. We should see some entertaining football from our Cinderella men bearing the mafia names as they bow out. They absolutely should, however, bow out.
Editor’s retroactive notes:

Every last prediction turned out to be wrong. Fernando Varela and Nando both scored in the subsequent match. Heldon Ramos performed admirably. Ryan Mendes indirectly contributed to an Angolan own-goal. Being completely wrong never fails to amp up my mood!! Prove me wrong, people. Pretty please : ) ; )

Ouch. The Leopards not only threw their chances of advancing away like a soaked rubber, they threw me in front of a damned bullet train:

11) Zambia (Previously #10)
Okay Chipololos. NOW you have my permission to start panicking. Could this really be the end of the line for the defending champions? Afraid so. I don’t care how high Kennedy Mweene’s Cloud 9 sails; he’s only the Vice Captain.

Captain Christopher Katongo played a wretched match. His unforeseen dip in form constitutes horrible news. Some reports have him suffering from a possible injury after catching more pitch than ball on an atrocious long-range effort.

As predicted, Renard had to sit Mbesuma in addition to yanking Chansa and Lungu early to avoid accruing double yellows. Katongo never quite seemed at ease with Mayuka beside him. That throws a wrench in Renard’s plans. He had clearly hoped use Mayuka as a substitute sparkplug once reinstituting Mbesuma. His backup plans are in peril too as Jacob Mulenga saw no action and Mukaka Mulenga might have done better to see none.

One potential solution would be to move Rainford Kalaba up front. The African journeyman’s stretch play was one of the few bright spots in a match that the Copper Bullets should consider themselves extremely lucky to have escaped with a point. One hesitates to write off this exceptionally talented team and their tactical master of a coach so early….but how can they really expect to top the red-hot Burkinabes?
Editor’s retroactive notes:

Christ did they ever fuck up. The goalless draw that ensued didn’t exactly qualify as a “Major League Fuck Up”, but it redefined the boundaries. 

12) Congo DR (Previously #4)
Democratic Republic of the Congo
From CAN 2013—Round Two:

“The inclusive mixture of European Club stars with domestic league players indicates that Le Roy is prepared to go for broke. He’s got tons of options, all of who have a penchant for attack and a hunger for goal. Hell, why NOT throw them all into the mix and see where it leads?

I’m rapidly becoming a zealous convert. A scant four days ago, I gave this squad 4-1 overall championship odds. After Sunday’s surprisingly pulsating coming-out party, I’ll drop that to 2-1.

Go Leopards, Go!”

Well…so much for that. It seemed perfectly plausible. Anderlecht teammates Mbokani and Kabangu remained in-step on the pitch together. Mulumbi and Makaidi debuted strongly. Even LuaLua even appeared poised to defy his age for one last magical tournament run.

Then the Niger match occurred……

What the Brazzalivian fuck happened? I have no clue. Mpeku and Mabilala were dispossessed easier than Linda Blair on Vicodin. Mabilala in particular played a nightmare of match, fumbling away the ball at the back to very nearly provide the Menas with two stunners. Mbokani and LuaLua missed FIVE golden opportunities to bulge the back of the net by my count, and that was only in the opening half! Mulumbu screwed another close-range gimme wide from just inside the 18.

Contrary to what one reads in various post-match write-ups, the Leopards did not look—to me at least—like a “boring” team. Additionally, I found them neither “amateurish” nor “languid”. The short passing game clicked crisply. Amkiadi and Kanbangu excelled at placing the ball directly on the tip of their forward striker’s boot.

My immediate reaction upon witnessing the “near misses” wasn’t “what poor finishing!” To my eyes they were historic plays that failed to materialize either because of a top-class performance from Menas keeper Kassally or some sort of stubborn inconsistency on the Port Elizabeth pitch.

Damn. Hate to go digging for excuses, but I’m just so bloody sullen. The Leopards aren’t going anywhere…and they should have been. Damn.

13) Morocco (Previously #9) 
From Group Favorites to Group Flops all in one match. Belhanda was deemed fit enough to start, enabling the Atlas Lions to return to their preferred 4-4-1-1 formation with the Montpelier man serving as the anchoring striker.

It mattered not. They blew it big time. Throughout the first 45 they looked downright flummoxed, pinned back in their defending third and limited to a few meek distance efforts. El Hamadoui was nowhere to be found. More alarmingly, Baradda, Amrabat, El Ahmadi, Belhanda, and Assaidi managed perhaps one touch among them.

Witnessing such high-caliber players like Assaidi and Arambat being pulled so early was nothing short of bizarre. Belhanda’s removal after his dangerous challenge bodes further ill for a team that now finds itself in full-blown crisis mode. Don’t let Taoussi’s casual downplaying of his team’s chemistry issues fool you. Too many egos flare up with frustration and insult. It will take an Al Pacino-like locker room motivational address to restore this team’s cohesion.

For the second consecutive tournament, the Atlas Lions look like safe bets to implode in the first round despite fielding one of the talented teams in the competition.

14) Niger (Previously #16)
Well, we’re out of the basement. The Maestro from Offenbach has a simple enough strategy: roll out the same eleven players in the same formation and hope for some tame consolation prizes. Might as well commend the Group B Whipping Boys for thus far killing the Malian buzz and cock-blocking the Congolese.

Next up, we’ll see if they gatecrash the Black Star Party.

For the Menas, the story thus far centers around the superb play of goalkeeper Kassaly Daouda, evidently quite comfortable on the same South African pitches which he earns his living. Moussa Maazou and Modibo Sidibe have furnished their own appealing flashes of brilliance.

Perhaps they’ll have one or two more in store for us before heading towards the exits. Mostly, however, I’m just looking forward to seeing this spoiling team towards the door. They slow the matches down with a yawn-inducing neutral zone trap and loads of desperate tackling. Time to go. 

15) Ethiopia (Previously #6)
And we are…outta here. Can’t say I didn’t see this one coming.

From CAN 2013—Round Two

“The road only gets more arduous now for the Underdog Antelopes. It’s highly doubtful I’ll be composing such a glowing review come next round”

It might have all been different. If only Shimelis hadn’t struck the bar. If only Grima hadn’t suffered that debilitating injury. If only Assefa had converted that spot kick. Oh well. It’s all over now. Nothing left to do but show some heart against the Super Eagles. Don’t let them overtly use you as a stepping-stone.

16) Algeria
They’re gone! Gone I say! LIBERTY! The hostage-taking desert dwellers have officially been eliminated. Despite all of the fear they instilled in me during the qualifying stages, they’re finished. Despite fielding the team with the greatest pedigree for the second year in a row, they’re done!

Good riddance I say. Allah be praised.

Welcome to the SEVENTH installment of “Your friendly bookie doesn’t much care to expend too much energy on North Africa”.

Let’s Rock some Lines!


Morocco vs. South Africa


Are we ready to proclaim faith in the Igesund army? Reluctantly, this bookie concedes that he hasn’t much of a choice. Even with Majoro carried off on a stretcher, logic dictates that even if this injury proves to be something other than a melodramatic ploy…Tshabalala remains available. Bet on momentum. Roll in with the tide.

THE LINE: South Africa +1 Goal

Editor’s retroactive notes:
RESULT: Morocco 2, South Africa 2. What a firecracker! Nearly 50,000 frenzied Bafana enthusiasts packed into Moses Mabhinda Stadium in Durban to watch this furiously competitive match. In all likelihood, not one spectator utilized the full amount of space furnished by the bleachers. (Er….that would be my overly-esoteric way of telling you that “Everyone was on the edge of their seat!” or “The fans paid for an entire seat, but only needed the edge!”

Clichés haunt sportswriters. They remain the reason we often need hours to compose a simple write-up. ; ( ; ( Nothing quite like a “Linear Lead Game”. One defines such an encounter as a match in which the favorites score the anticipated goal, only for the underdogs to pull it back and keep matters on level terms. Further intrigue found itself piped into Durban via the simultaneous upset victory of Cape Verde over Angola. More on that later. For now, let’s discuss this gem.

Isaam El Adoua put Bafana behind early with a beast of a header in the 10th minute. There are “glancing headers” and “emphatic headers”. There are “whipped headers” and there are “lashed headers”. El Adoua’s header defies such perfunctory description. The Moroccan Midfielder crashed an Abdelaziz Barrada corner so hard downward into the turf that it sprung up to rebound in off the crossbar. 

South Africa kept the Atlas Lions from expanding their lead on several ensuing occasions. Captain Bongani Khumalo stood tall with a precision tackle on Youssef El Arabi’s worthy effort while keeper Itumeleng Khune bravely rushed 45 yards out to sprawl tackle a breakaway run from Kamel Chafni. He also brushed aside a wicked little swerve from Chahir Belghazouni as the Moroccan onslaught continued.

After the teams emerged from the locker rooms, Thuso Phala did his utmost to restore parity with a very technical curved free kick from approximately 35 yards out, but Lamyarghi proved equal to it. On the other side of the pitch, Khune again had to come rushing outside the area when El Arabi again broke through unchallenged and attempted to flick an effort past the lone player left to oppose him. 

After a veritable slew of chances left the Bafana faithful sighing, May Mahlungu finally broke through in the 71st. After the resourceful Tokelo Rantie (a starting choice advocated by many of us amateur commentators) cleverly drew off the defense and cut back for the totally unmarked Swedish League Superstar. Maylungu took two deft touches before bending in a gorgeous arc that sent the whole audience into convulsions.

The “Lions of the Atlas” would reclaim the lead within ten minutes. Substitute Abdeliah Hafidi chested down a precision cross from his fellow substitute Zakaria Begdich. The former then proceeded to slap in an lovely finish that was every bit as precise as the cross from 13 meters out.

The Bafana hordes needn’t have despaired as Siyabonga Sangweni would soon supply the equalizer a mere four minutes later. The Orlando Pirates defender collected the ball after a fortuitous broken tackle. He spun this straw stalk of good fortune into gold with a cheeky backwards first touch that threw off the contesting three defenders. He then made good use of the space with a crisp finish off the turn. Tie game.

As exciting as the closing minutes of this game were, practically all of us found ourselves glued to the final minutes of the Cape Verde match…..which we shall now discuss.

Cape Verde vs. Angola


It’s in the interest of both sides to play for a draw. Ferrin and the Sable Antelopes may very well put their best eleven forward, but they’ve shown no ability to produce a convincing win. Anticipating a squeaker here.

THE LINE: Angola +1 Goal

Editor’s retroactive notes:
RESULT: Cape Verde 2, Angola 1. We weren’t supposed to be watching this “B-Match”. In drew us in at the most inopputune of moments. As a first-half of Angolan dominance drew to a close, everything appeared to be proceeding according to plan when Nando inadvertently kicked in an Amaro cross intended for Mateus in the 33rd.

The Blue Sharks were not to be denied, however. Babanco, Platini, and Julio Tavares were quick to respond with quality attempts that came agonizingly short of the sought-after equalizer. Manucho and Lama achieved the extremely rare “Double Clearance off the Line” after a freakish corner left Djaniny with a wide-open chance. Heldon Ramos nearly attained the scoresheet with some nifty set-piece work. It still wasn’t to be.

The dramatic equalizer came nine minutes from time. Lama couldn’t quite punch away a Marco Soares corner. Diniz attempted a halfhearted clearance, but the lurking Toni Varela went ahead and delivered an outstanding header. Advancement was eventually secured via a rather flukish sequence of events. A Marco Soares cross deflected off the feet of Manucho. Lama fluffed the easy grab and Heldon Ramos torpedoed the rebound home.

It was brutal. Cape Verde secured passage in the 91st minute. We got a squeaker, though not in the way that any of us could have forseen. 


Initial Group Projection (1/18/2013)

1) Morocco 
2) South Africa 
3) Cape Verde 
4) Angola 

Final Group Projection (1/26/2013)

1) South Africa 
2) Angola 
3) Cape Verde 
4) Morocco 

Editor's Retroactive Notes:

Actual Group Standings

1) South Africa 
2) Cape Verde 
3) Morocco 
4) Angola 


Niger vs. Ghana


Finally time for the Black Stars to shake it into high gear. We’ve all had enough of this calculative buildup. To reiterate: The Mubarak suspension means NOTHING. Assante or Annan takes his place…and all is well.

THE LINE: Ghana +1 Goal

Editor’s retroactive notes:
RESULT: Ghana 3, Niger 0. The Black Stars wasted no time in pouncing all over their outmatched opponents. Adomah, Afful, Atsu, and Asamoah Gyan all poured forward on the break in the 6th minute. Adomah controlled well on the right flank. He then picked Gyan out of his preponderance of options. The oft-capped international swatted in a perfect finish that would have made his dearly departed mother proud.

The Menas had their legitimate chances to restore parity, but ended up ceding little than menacing Ghanian counters courtesy of some serious defensive lapses. One such instance allowed the Black Stars to double their advantage in the 23rd. Mohammed Soumalia dumbly attempted a blind back tricycle kick just shy of his team’s attacking half. 

Christian Atsu gratefully accepted the gift and charged forward with a full head of stream before serving up Gyan with a forward ball on the left side. Gyan then waited for Atsu to carve out some space in the center before hitting him square in the chest with a beautiful return cross. Trailing defender Kourouma Fatoukouma scrambled to catch up, but could only trip over his own feet. Atsu coolly chested down and poked home a lovely finish off the volley.

John Boye dashed any hopes of a comeback early in the second half after Mena keeper Kassaly Daouda couldn’t hang on to a forceful header that Gyan sent in off an Afful free kick. The flustered keeper could only direct the rebound directly in Boye’s path. The score thus stood 3-0 four minutes after the restart. Gyan failed to tie a bow on his monster game when he flat-footed a cross that left him all alone in front of goal ten minutes later. Gyan’s fluffed chance would prove to be the last memorable moment in a match that then slowed to a crawl.   
Congo DR vs. Mali


We’ll allow the Eagles their “off game”. A repeat of the comatose performance of N’Diaye and the two Traores is almost inconceivable. Conversely, Mbokani and LuaLua have already played their best match of the tournament.

THE LINE: Mali +1 Goal

Editor’s retroactive notes:
RESULT: Mali 1, Congo DR 1. Plenty of excitement in this one even if both goals were scored early. Claude Le Roy must have given one his most impassioned pre-game speeches. His Leopards came flying out of the gate. Lomana LuaLua struck with brilliant intent inside of the first minute and was unlucky to see his curling shot carom off the far post. Mali failed to clear their lines and new starting forward Yves Diba Illunga was charging back into the danger zone within thirty seconds. 

The beaten Mohammed Sissoko threw out a late foot to trip him up. Ilunga might have embellished matters a tad, but the referee showed no hesitation in pointing to the spot. Mbokani converted the 3rd minute penalty for Congo’s second score from the spot in the tournament. After receiving dubious attention for his patented “ass slide celebration”, Congolese keeper Muteba Kidiaba treated us all to an encore. ; )

At the time of this particular match, Ansar Dine was still pushing southward and had just occupied the historic city Timbuktu. Strife-torn Mali needed a hero. It took a scant ten minutes for two to arise. Adam Tamboura did well to pounce on a loose ball that resulted from a inconclusive 50-50. He did even better to keep the ball from going beyond the near post touchline. He did better still to cut back adroitly in the area of surging Mahamadou Samassa. The Serie-B-based striker allowed the delivery a propitious bounce before lacing in first time. Sharp breakaways and solid lateral play on both sides kept the remainder of the first half entertaining until the whistle.

 Samassa was the first to fire a warning shot after the restart, stinging the hands of Kidiaba with a blistering effort from 20 yards out. Mbokani was in the mood at the other end, winning a hard-fought aerial challenge but directing the finish just wide. West Brom midfielder Youssouf Mulumbu had a go from 25 yards out, rifling in a scorcher that Mahamadou Samassa acrobatically dove to keep out. Mulumbu is in the midst of a monster season for WBA. It’s a damn shame we won’t be seeing him in Brazil this summer ; ( ; (

“Les Aigles” had the better chances as the match wound down. Coulibaly produced a fine header off a Seydou Keita corner that whizzed inches wide. Chieck Diabate later had the keeper beat, but—still under pressure from two defenders—could only muster a poorly angled effort that hit the outside of the post.

That was the last we shall see of Congo DR for quite some time. The languid Leopards couldn’t get out of the second round of CAF qualifying and were unfortunate enough to draw Cameroon and Cote d’Ivoire in the Group Stage CAN 2015 Round. After sacking Claude Le Roy (again) and bringing in Jean-Santos Muntubila (again) the Congolese National team finds itself in an awkward transitional period. It’s doubtful we’ll be hearing from them anytime soon.


Initial Group Projection (1/18/2013)

1) Ghana 
2) Mali 
3) Congo DR 
4) Niger 

Final Group Projection (1/18/2013)

1) Ghana 
2) Mali 
3) Congo DR 
4) Niger 

Editor's Retroactive Notes:

Actual Group Standings:

1) Ghana 
2) Mali 
3) Congo DR 
4) Niger 


Burkina Faso vs. Zambia


The Burkinabés finally have the privilege of hitting the sweet spot. Even though we can anticipate that the Stallions will rest Alain Traore, D. Kone, Dah, and Kabore…Pitroipa must remain on the pitch. No one can best him; not at this point anyway.

THE LINE: Burkina Faso +1 Goal

Editor’s retroactive notes:
RESULT: Burkina Faso 0, Zambia 0. Belgian coach Paul Put opted only to rest Dah and even then threw him in the mix as a halftime substitute. It did no good as we were all treated to a downright feeble goalless encounter that failed to recover from early injuries to both sides (A. Traore’s 11th minute and Davies Nkausu 15th minute). The match turned out to be every bit as ugly and sloppy as the turf in Nelspruit Stadium, itself a factor in both of the injuries.

Tentative play ensued, with the only quality efforts coming from set pieces. Before suffering his injury, Traore telegraphed a marvelous free kick directly onto Benjamin Balima’s boot. Balima whiffed on the easy touch and the tone was set. Collins Mbesuma played an atrocious match. He wasted prime positioning with a lame effort that the goalkeeper didn’t have to move to collect in the 20th. Rainford Kalaba directly another meek header directly keeper Daouda Diakite in the 44th. Once again the Burkinabe net minder didn’t have to move. 

With this fixture turning into an absolute snoozefest, most of us flicked over to the Nigeria-Ethiopia game in hopes of watching some real football. The Highlight reel confirms we didn’t miss much. Mbesuma continued his poor run of form with a header over and Jonathan Pitriopa finally elected to show up and supply us with a bit of dazzle in the 88th. Other than that, it was well worth it to follow the action in Rustenberg instead.

Ethiopia vs. Nigeria


Keshi’s 4-3-2-1 might finally fall into focus….or not. If there’s any chance for him to pick the right players for the wrong formation, that would be right about now. Admittedly, my belief in the Super Eagles inevitable demise was far too myopic. They’ll go down in the knockout round. For now, relax and enjoy the show.

THE LINE: Nigeria +2 Goals

Editor’s retroactive notes:
RESULT: Nigeria 2, Ethiopia 0. Keshi deployed the above-noted 4-3-2-1, though at times it looked more like a 4-1-4-1. Moses was the more active of the two midfielders, setting up Ambrose. Elderson, and Uche for first half near-misses. On the left flank, Emmenike finally found himself in space near the end of the first half, but could only boot one way over.

In all of the post-tournament approbation, one tends to forget that the Super Eagles were actually on the verge of elimination until ten minutes from time. A draw would have seen the Zambian Copper Bullets through, bookings in this case constituting the third-string tiebreaker. Ethiopian defender Alula Girma made a clumsy late challenge on Victor Moses on the left side of the are in the 78th and Chelski’s “magic man” converted the spot kick with no difficulty.

Things got plainly weird five minutes later when Moses drew a second penalty. Ethiopian keeper Sisay Bancha slide tackled the sprinting Moses just inside the area. He was promptly sent off on double yellows. The Antelopes couldn’t even send in their backup keeper, having already used all three substitutions. After a five minute delay, central midfielder Addis Hinsta donned a new jersey and slipped on the gloves. Hinsta demonstrated he knew nothing about saving penalties by guessing the right way, yet showing a moment’s hesitation and allowing Moses to slip in a ground effort.

Hence, an emphatic result was achieved in the final ten minutes of normal time. Every Championship Run requires at least one lucky escape. The Super Eagles got themselves one here. 


Initial Group Projection (1/18/2013)

1) Zambia 
2) Burkina Faso 
3) Nigeria  
4) Ethiopia 

Final Group Projection (1/18/2013)

1) Burkina Faso 
2) Nigeria 
3) Zambia 
4) Ethiopia 

Editor's Retroactive Notes:

Actual Group Standings

1) Burkina Faso 
2) Nigeria 
3) Zambia 
4) Ethiopia 


Algeria vs. Cote d’Ivoire


Nothing much doing here. Both squads will test their reserves. One country is guaranteed a place in the quarterfinals while the other needs to collect its first-class plane tickets. In the case of the Desert Foxes, that means giving Ryan Boudebouz a look. With respect to Les Elephants, it means giving Drogba a last hurrah. Anyone wish to venture a guess where this is going?

THE LINE: Cote d’Ivoire +1 Goal

Editor’s retroactive notes:
RESULT: Algeria 2, Cote d’Ivoire 2. Lamouchi conferred upon Drogba the royal treatment, leaving him all alone up front with midfielders Wilifired Bony, Soloman Kalou, and Barabari Kone clearly directly to stay back in support. Boudebouz’s trial start couldn’t have gone worse with an early missed spot kick, abject failure to establish possession throughout the match and ultimately a 62nd minute substitution in favor of more reliable personnel.

Replays confirmed Ismael Traore had a paw on Dynam Zagreb winger El Arbi Hillel Soubrani after he executed a nice turn and broke through into the area. However, replays also confirm Soubrani’s theatrical overreaction to the unclenched hand could have easily been designated a dive. Boudebouz sliced a brisk penalty toward the right post. The effort turned out to be too brisk and no significant injustice was perpetrated.

Drogba later drilled a similarly hypersonic free kick from 25 yards out that also proved to have too much pep. Two wide efforts were thus the only talking points as the teams shuffled inside for halftime. Bosnian coach Vahid Halilhodzic sent in Feghouli for Boudebouz shortly after the hour mark and the Valenica man would take a penalty for the Desert Foxes within one minute. This time there would be no controversy as Arthur Boga flagrantly handled an Islam Slimani cross. Feghouli finished emphatically.

Slimani would manage to work in an exquisite forward cross for Soudani approximately seven minutes later, and the Foxes looked to cruise to a 2-0 consolation. Drogba and Razak had other plans. In a cross-header combo that nearly mirrored events on the other side of the pitch, Cote d’Ivoire’s indefatigable hero pulled one back in the 77th. Bony had Les Elephants all level four minutes later after banging one in off the side of Djamal Mesbah’s face. Bony clearly knew nothing of the felicitous deflection, but attributing an own goal to Mesbah would have been very harsh.

Togo vs. Tunisia


In the dogfight for second place, my money is on Adebayor. Call it a fascination if you must, but the only true quixotic fascination a German could hold for an African football club lies many lines above. If I were to bet with my heart, I would have set a higher line for the Angolans and Mateus. No other way for a German to pronounce “Mateus” than “[Matthäus]”. Adebayor will score again here. My beloved Tottenham will miss out on the top four after his lionhearted efforts. I just know it. Call me a gypsy. 

THE LINE: Togo +1 Goal

THE WORD (On Group D): Allah be praised

Initial Group Projection (1/18/2013)

1) Algeria 
2) Cote d’Ivoire  
3) Tunisia  
4) Togo 

Final Group Projection (1/26/2013)

1) Cote d’Ivoire  
2) Togo 
3) Tunisia  
4) Algeria 

Editor's Retroactive Notes:

Actual Group Standings 

1) Cote d'Ivoire 
2) Togo 
3) Tunisia 
4) Algeria 


Editor’s retroactive notes:

RESULT: Togo 1, Tunisia 1. Tottenham Hotspur did indeed juuust barely miss out on the Premiership’s top four (and by extension the Champions League). Nevertheless, I don’t purport to be a seer for making that call. Anyone can make that call. It happens every bloody year. I can maintain pride, however, in the prediction that the Sparrow Hawks would upset Tunisia and make the Knockout Stages, even if the line didn’t strictly hold up.

An extremely poorly officiated match appeared primed for controversy as South African referee Daniel Bennett had a nightmare day. His atrocious performance notwithstanding, a just result was attained. Adebayor engineered the early opening goal with a nice bit of slice and dice that began at the halfway mark and ended with a layoff for Serge Gapke (after the big man drew five Tunisian defenders towards him.) Gapke allowed the ball to roll in front of him before twisting himself for a splendid first-time hit that left the keeper without a chance.

Bennett’s first questionable penalty call came at the half hour mark. Amid all of the jostling in the box as the players awaited a corner, Dare Nimbombe gave Walid Hichri a little shove in the back. The E.O.C. Center Back unequivocally embellished matters a bit with a flailing-armed fall. The borderline decision led to a Khaled Moulhi penalty. Togolese keeper Kossi Agassi allowed himself to be duped by the old “stutter-step move” and we were all level.

Traoui tried to draw another shortly after the restart when Vincent Boussou made a jack-knife like tackle on the ball from behind, but this time Bennett wasn’t having any of it. A match in which players start easily going to ground generally indicates that they’ve lost respect for the ref. Try as he might, the first official will have great difficulty regaining control of proceedings unless he pockets the whistle. He was likely right to allow play to proceed after Adebayor (once again in the box) stumbled all too easily in the 58th. Still he should have absolutely given Adebayor the benefit of the doubt in the 70th, with Tunisian keeper Ben Cherifa not even pretending to look at the ball.

Our suddenly quiet ref spontaneously opted to insert himself back into the match in the 78th, whistling down Nibombe again for supposedly clipping Saber Khelifa from behind. Replays showed suspect contact and Klinsmannesque simulation. Ugh. The Sparrow Hawks players understandably went apeshit. Three of them received bookings for their roles in the protests that followed.

If Jonathan Ayite, Adebayor, and Agassa accomplished anything by slowing the match down with their legitimate grievances, they might have iced Mouehli. The Tunisian midfielder exhibited none of the confidence he exuded when he initially stepped up to the line in the opening half. In point of fact he looked quite frazzled. After attempting a halfhearted emulation of his previous stutterstep move, he chipped a weak effort off the post.

Fresh-legged substitutes Zouheir Dhaouadi and Fahkreddine Ben Youssef produced some worthy chances in the final twelve minutes, but the Sparrow Hawks held on for the draw that would secure their passage into the next round. Bennett also managed to hold on to his whistle.