Friday, February 8, 2013

CAN 2013--Goodbyes and Championship Pick

Dear Friends,
CAN 2013

All too often I find myself reiterating the Syndicate’s core purpose: a congregational ground for those of the sharpest wit. It is in this spirit that I’m proud to share with you the most outstanding e-mail I’ve received over the past weeks

Reader: Insofar as I can tell, your blog project is essentially NPR. You provide dry, nuanced information free of charge, and anyone who consume the content gets a free tote bag.

Hehehe. Couldn’t have put it better myself. All loyal members can expect their “Schwag Pack” in the post before the end of the month. Admittedly, it’s one of the more atrocious business models you’ll ever encounter. Such a shame that I’m not business-minded when away from my job. What I am, who I am…is nothing more than a sincere thinker who appreciates company….just like you. Sports that transcend borders have afforded us an opportunity to get together every so often. Isn’t that cool?

Editor’s retroactive notes:
Take note, Syndicate faithful. If you want your place in the mailbag, produce something of the caliber above. 

While The Syndicate isn’t exactly Nikolai Gogol’s Magnum Opus, piecing it all together does necessitate some work. Insofar as I’M concerned, the time invested analyzing obscure statistics, happily hacking away at the keys, setting amateurish lines, coordinating trans-global communication, and spending an inordinate amount of time in line at the Post Office might as well be time spent in heaven on earth.

Ordinarily, such “Goodbye Sections” serve as occasions for an unparalleled set of ruminative thoughts; a chance to bid farewell to treasured acquaintances until the sands of time fortuitously flow. Life is short. The sands of time can go take a running jump off a short cliff. In less than three weeks, we’ll rendezvous again for the World Baseball Classic. Following that, we’ll break until the Summer.

The newfound frequency of the Syndicate doesn’t mean I’m not prepared to pour a drink, crank up a little Randy Crawford, and get entirely too sentimental. I love every last one of you. I miss every last one of you. My deepest gratitude to all of you for staying in touch and playing a role in something truly special to me.

Wherever we find ourselves, whatever petty tribulations we face, at least we have each other. No matter what trivial nonsense dominates our thinking, no matter what daily frivolous and inconsequential problem threatens to send us astray, no matter what inherently shallow need drives us toward the brink of madness…we have each other…and that means everything.

Editor’s retroactive notes:
……and I promised myself I wasn’t going to cry. ; ( ; (

We also have football. Let’s get on with it, beginning with the Consolation Prize:

All lines are calculated personally by your friendly bookie Vicey…..the only man alive to read Walker Percy’s “The Moviegoer” and wonder if he should stop driving a convertible. The correspondence that follows is, as always, crafted with sincere amity for those who appreciate sharp wit and an extra spot of fun in their day. Should you prefer solemnity, drama, and conflict… kindly return to your copy of Thomas Mann’s “Buddenbrooks”.

Third Place Match:

Ghana vs. Mali


The legend ends. The legendary “Eagles” are no longer betting material. After falling to the superior “Super Eagles”, they now face another underachieving squad with everything to prove. We’ll get a sneak peek at the next generation of Black Stars in this one. Atsu, Soloman, and Asante will most assuredly start. Mensah and Rabiu will find their way into the starting eleven. We might even get a look at Daniel Adjei. Happy hunting, young-uns. You’ll rescue some ashes of glory for your country.

THE LINE: Ghana +2 Goals

Editor’s retroactive notes:
RESULT: Mali 3, Ghana 1. Instead of lamented over yet another rotten pick, I’ll utilize this space to lobby UEFA for a Third Place Playoff in the European Championship. The absence of a Third Place Match in Europe’s Grand Gala makes absolutely no sense logically or financially. Europeans are definitely not known for their inability to milk football for all that it’s worth. Furthermore, third place matches are almost invariably always exciting affairs full of goals. The first-stringers are loose. The third third-stringers are pumped up. This fixture proved no exception.

“Les Aigles” ultimately wrapped up this tournament in the same fashion as the previous year’s proceedings; with a victory over the Black Stars in the Consolation Game. After twenty minutes of free-flowing end-to-end action, Mahamadou Samassa crouched down to head in a splendid cross from Adam Tamboura for the 21st minute opener. 

The Eagles doubled up three minutes after the restart with courtesy of a breathtaking individual run from Ousmane Coulibaly. The French Ligue 2 benchwarmer chested forward an uncontested ball, controlled well on a 35 yard dribble, and adeptly slipped a cross past the pesky Richard Boateng. Seydou Keita accepted it with pleasure, rifling home a neat first-time finish.

A light rain began to fall in Port Elizabeth a sloppy interval of ten minutes or so ensued. The Black Stars were thrown a lifeline when Salif Coulibaly was whistled down for a handball in the 56th. Wakaso, up until then perfect from the spot, blasted over his side’s chance to make a match out of it. After a furious twenty minutes of action packed football, Kwadwo Asamoah threw a long-range snipe at goal to pull one back in the 82nd

It may have been a very pretty shot, but Diakate badly misjudged its arc. He awkwardly lunged away from the shot, able only to get a palm back to where he had been standing before. Substitute Sigamary Diarra took advantage of a Malian clearence from behind midfield in the fourth minute of injury time. K. Traore wasn’t trying to hit him, but the AC Ajaccio midfielder took his chance well nonetheless. Another first-time finish left “Les Aigles” undisputed bronze medalists.

Supreme Champion of the African Football Universe—Nigeria vs. Burkina Faso

Nigeria vs. Burkina Faso

The Stallions have proven resilient indeed. Can they possibly hope to snatch victory from the cursed Nigerians in a winner-take-all roll of the dice? Not without Jonathan Pitroipa. His suspension nixes any chance. It’s “Super Eagles” all the way.


It’s finally happening. Over 18 years later, it’s finally happening. You may have missed out in 2002, 2004, 2006….AND 2010. This time you’ll finish first. I’ve no way of figuring out how one says “congratulations” in either Yoruba or Hausa. Irrespective of that…it’s your turn. Get the party started.

THE LINE: Nigeria +1 Goal

Editor’s retroactive notes:
RESULT: Nigeria 1, Burkina Faso 0. They finally won me over, and (much more importantly) won back Africa in the process. The post-match celebrations would find emphasis in the syndicate chapter immediately following this one, and the one that was to follow in the subsequent summer. The Burkinabes, having manage to get Pitroipa’s suspension reversed, didn’t lie down against the superior squad. In the end however, this was an Eagles team destined to capture the continent for the first time since 1994. Keshi starred for that squad. It seemed the most fitting that he revive the glory of the green.

Soccer City Stadium in Johannesburg was packed to the brim with 90,00 spectators. Keshi silenced his critics with an innovative lineup that pitted Uche and Sunday Mba up front, with Brown moved to the left flank in place of Emmenike. Victor Moses was put in charge of most set pieces and he nearly connected with Ambrose in the 7th. A Moses corner two minutes later nearly resulted in another goal for Brown. Both players’ nerves were on display as they both directed their efforts over. Completing a trio of overpowered first half efforts, Bance skyrocketed one high in the 20th. All participants settled down a bit, but no shots on goal resulted from their respective offensive pursuits. Bance and Brown traded two wide misses before the Super Eagles broke the deadlock in the 40th.

The Nigerian attack, spearheaded by the jacked-up play of Victor Moses, spent a large portion of the half in the danger area. Moses served up plenty of delight, but couldn’t quite serve up one of his colleagues with a goal. His energetic play would eventually lead to the breakthrough, albeit indirectly. 

He launched a cannonball of a shot from the right slot in the 40th. Djakarida Kone blocked the effort, but the rebound remained airborne for a full three seconds. That was all the time Sunday Mba needed to come crashing in from his anchoring striker position. After bringing it down with a deft first touch, he used his second touch to volley it over contesting defender Mohammed Koffi and his third touch to lash it first-time into the back of the net. Three brilliant touches to paydirt. Burkinabe keeper Daouda Diakite didn’t even attempt a save. He seemed as surprised as anyone else that a homegrown unknown could work such wizardry with the ball.

Mba’s selection initially raised eyebrows among the “tout le monde” of unfit armchair football commentators. Not that it is at all unusual for African teams in this competition to field a quarter of which is comprised of domestic league players. In point of fact, the Super Eagles Selection featured fewer homegrown stars than most of the other nations in the tournament. What differentiated Keshi was his uncommon audacity in telling such players to lace up for his starting eleven. 

Instead of taking a look at young phenoms Juwan Oshaniwa or Kenneth Omeruo, he chose hitherto unknown Sunshine Stars defender Godfrey Oboabona as his starting right central back in the opening match. He then stuck with Oboabona against Zambia, sitting his more experienced and talismanic captain Joseph Yobo. He continued to rest “sacred cow” Yobo in the critical final group stage match against Ethiopia. Additionally, he deployed Mba in place of more high profile midfielder Emmanuel Igiebor. Mba once again got the call against the heavily-favored Cote d’Ivoire Elephants in the Quarterfinals and again in the semis against Mali.

Keshi slowly gradually worked him into the side whilst simultaneously setting the tone for his players: This was to be a merit-based regiment. Had the Eagles been competing in a longer tournament, Keshi might have had more time to groom Enugu Rangers midfielder Ejike Uzoenyi. He had clearly been trying to work him in via a serious of earlier substitutions, potentially with the aim of having him compete for Onazi’s starting spot. 

Mba and Oboabona. The old warrior’s faith in his untested young athletes reaped enormous dividends, as Oboabona’s stalwart defensive play and Mba’s s magnificent game winning goal proved. The players themselves raked in their own well-deserved comeuppance. Following protracted negotiations Sunday Mba found a new home in French Ligue 2. Oboabona came within a hair of being scooped up by Arsene Wegner, but opted to chose playing time over prestige with Turkish League Club Caykur Rizespor.

Fired up by the Mba goal, the Super Eagles never relinquished their grip on the match. On the contrary, they shifted into even higher gear after the break. Ideye Brown struck a beaut that spanned the goalmouth before going wide in the 47th. Moses twice shook off his markers for fastbreak runs on goal. He may have failed to register a shot in both instances, but he tired out a Burkinabe defense that the Stallion’s desperate trainer just couldn’t afford to burn a substitution on. 

All of Pitroipa’s potential lay dormant in the absence of agile defenders to punt him some useful balls forward. One goal away from a 120 slogfest, Put eventually subbed in Sanou for Rouamba in the 65th. The Japan-based international made an almost immediate impact with a full-force drive that forced Enyeama into a full stretch save in the 72nd. Put waited perhaps to long to pull the trigger on Dagano (82nd) and A.R. Traore (90th). The only other worthwhile scoring chance belonged to the Super Eagles. Ideye Brown really should have put the icing on the cake when Ahmed Musa set him up with a square cross in the game’s waning moments.

It wouldn’t matter. Match referee Djamel Haimoudi ran over to collect the ball from Nigerian keeper Vincent Enyeama and blew the full time whistle. The grateful keeper dropped to his knees and cradled the ref’s calves. The party was on! Even this bookie danced along with the escatic victors. Of course, as a German, he couldn’t dance for shit. Meh. It’s the thought that counts.

And so our first exclusively African syndicate drew to a close amidst all the usual reverie. Regular members phoned in to chat. Others sent long-winded e-mails. The chapter officially ended when your friendly bookie had finally had enough of watching Nigerian celebration videos on Youtube. It took him SIX STRAIGHT HOURS to get his fill.

The novelty of it all constituted a refreshing change from the practice of setting lines for other international tournaments; a process that had become slightly rote. The “Year of the Syndicate” was just beginning. Eight more syndicates would follow. In hindsight this one remains my favorite. Perhaps it wasn’t the most popular, but I certainly enjoyed delving waste deep into the African Game. The African Game features a unique pace and passion that I find myself remiss to adequately describe here. Perhaps that will have to wait until CAN 2015. See you then, mates. ; ) ; )  

It’s goodbye for now. Enjoy the return to normalcy. We’ll meet again. The Syndicate will return. For the time being……

“Go kick a ball with a stranger”

Seriously…go kick a ball with a stranger.

--S.S. P.J.V.