Tuesday, January 31, 2017

CAN 2017--Semi-Finals

Ke Atako Syndicate Members,

CAN 2017
Your friendly “Mzungu” bookie here with an announcement of highly salient political and societal import. Prepare yourselves for a presentation of linguistic and intellectual legerdemain that will permanently elevate humanity’s combined cerebral consciousness to heights previously thought unattainable. 

Our Global Scholarly Discourse shall never be the same following the publication of this statement. An historic “game-changing” proclamation awaits. Ready brothers? Minded? Framed? Set? Rigged? Hyped? Psyched? Good…I shall now proceed.


* clears throat *

* takes a sip of water *

* cracks knuckles *

Look…are we really ready for this or not?

That’s what I thought!

* dramatic hand movements *

* ultra-mentum-focused jawbone positioning *

* fierce eye-contact *



One more time!


Hell’s to the yes. Gentlemen of the Syndicate, I give you South African football play-by-play announcer Sizwe Mabena. Here’s some of his finer work:

Sizwe MabenaWhere has this gem been in all our years of watching football together? Why have we been listening to likes of John Motson and Martin Tyler reticently remarking “1-nil” when we could have been treated to the broadcasting equivalent of “Bring me my Machine Gun”? Even the seizure-inducing Japanese announcers can’t top the literal seizure that is Sizwe. He could make the MLS All-Star Game entertaining. I want this genius to call every mundane and monotonous task that occupies me as I pass through this sad Veil of Tears known as “life.” 

I want him commentating on Dishwashing, Staff Meetings, Ironing, and Vacuuming. I want him filling the meaningless void of hours I spend on hold with Health and Car Insurance Companies. I want him to inject vibrant commentary into every last suicidally-boring conversation, power-point presentation, and panel discussion I’ve ever had to sit through! I also want to er…”Shoot the Boer”. Not entirely sure why I want to that. Another matter entirely ; )

Sizwe’s talent is by no means limited to one amazing catchphrase with conspicuously loose ties to the Apartheid Resistance. He is a marvelously eloquent fellow who weaves his way through a match with an unrivaled elegant flow. He’s a hidden master of English Diction and Prose! Wow!  Such a pleasure to meet “Bwana Mabena”. My gratitude to Syndicate Members 1-F, 18-M, and 128-M for doing the legwork and sending me some samples. Asante Sana, mates Football viewing will never be the same ; )

The Quarters, while captivating, didn’t exactly deliver a truly spectacular fixture in the same way the 2013 and 2015 Knockouts did. We’re still waiting for the encounter that we’ll remember offhand after the festivities conclude. The 2015 Quarters gave us that epic six-goal “Congolese Derby”. In 2013 we knew that South Africa vs. Mali and Nigeria vs. Cote d’Ivoire were instant classics.

Cautious play from all eight teams involved this year. Only the Burkinabés left everything on the field. We’re in need of “One for the Ages”. Your friendly bookie senses one coming this Round. Accordingly, we’re once again going to skip over the “Mailbag” he’s been sparingly and painfully working on in favor of the enticing football.

Syndicate Member 160-M earns “Riff of the Day” honors.  

Related image
Reader: MZUNGU!!    

Vicey: Mzungu wenyewe, you purist prick!

; )

Here are my updated stats:

Spread: 13-15
Straight Up: 13-8-7

Goodbyes Section

8th Place—Tunisia

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Knew I couldn’t trust this team. It was always something. A wretched inability to deliver quality crosses. Failure to establish proper midfield rhythm. Cynical flailing simulation from players like Youseef Msakni, Naim Sliti, Aymen Abdennour, and Ferjani Sassi. Though the free-kick gifted to Bancé that ultimately ended up killing this team wasn’t exactly fair, neither was the routinely shifty play from Hamdi Nagguez, the deplorably cheap cahllenges from Yacoubi, or the unforgiveable attempts at the “clever Wop-Flop” from Wahib Khazri! 

Poetic justice was served. Take a closer look at Nagguez’s insanely flagrant shirt tug on Issoufou Dayo if you’re not convinced! Kharma comes home.

We bid farewell to the “Carthage Cats” for the fifth time in Syndicate History. In both WM Years they never made it past the Group Stage. In both AFCONs, they were eliminated in the Quarters. Plenty of sympathy was in order for them after a poor-officiated elimination back in 2015. No such empathy is deserved this time. This was a bad team that played bad football.

Khazri looked gassed throughout the entire competition. Msakni seems to have lost quite a bit. Akaichi and Sliti were….somewhat difficult to phrase…they were “nowhere”. That’s all I can say.

Qualification for 2018 shouldn’t prove too hard. Kasperczak, likely to be retained, has an unwritten obligation to present us with a squad capable of playing more attractive and honorable football.

7th Place—Morocco

Shirt badge/Association crestBy all means it should have worked. Mendyl and Dirar did their job. Your friendly bookie found himself thoroughly impressed with Roman Saiss’s performance as a defensive midfield “flight director”. He really worked well with Manuel da Costa in terms of short-passing, though their partnership felt like a misbegotten attempt by Herve Renard to beat the Egyptians at their own game. It was a well-selected lineup that made perfect sense…except for the inclusion of Youssef En-Nesyri of course. What? A Nineteen-year-old kid as your lead striker? Even this bookie wasn’t that confident.

Fajr and Bouhaddouz came oh so close. El Kaddouri did excellent in relief. A truly satisfying “team effort” doesn’t ordinarily end with a spot in the “Farewell Section”. So goes football. It seemed so obvious that Bouhaddouz and El-Arabi would picklock the Egyptian Defense readily and quickly. That’s why we play the matches, gentlemen. ; )

The Atlas Lions will surely return next Summer, based on their current qualifying position. Keep a watchful eye on Mendyl, Alioui Bouhaddouz, and…yes….En-Nesyri. Loads of young talent on this team ; )

6th Place—Congo DR

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Plenty of scrap from our beloved Leopards. They played with rapacious pride, even as the Ghanaians resorted to professional time-wasting tactics down the stretch. Another spirited effort from Kabananga—a name we surely haven’t heard the last of. Had Dieumerci Mbokani not made a hash of that 6th minute chance we’d be discussing a different result. 

In point of fact, Ibenge’s athletic and entertaining lads generated far more noteworthy chances than the side that ultimately defeated them. Kabananga might have had put them up 3-nil had it not been for some heavy touches he booted to far forward on his unnatural left side. Oh well. Thanks for the memories, mates!

Once must concede that the penalty awarded to Andre Ayew in the 78th was total nonsense. Atsu sold his simulation well. Lomilisa barely touched him. Nevertheless, the V-Club fullback did commit an egregious foul twenty minutes prior. FC Ingolstadt’s Marcel Tisserand was guilty of a nasty slider as well. Overall, the penalty was earned even if the call was off.

The fun continues for fans of the Premiership/Championship. Maghoma, Mbemba, Kebano, and Mulumbu all play for Championship Clubs very much alive in the promotion hunt. Mbokani suits up every week for relegation-embattled Hull City. One has to delve a little deeper to find Jeremy Bokila and Gabriel Zakuani, but their organizations scale the ranks as well. This Football Hound will be keeping close tabs on all of them.

Ibenge deserved to take this team to the semis, just as his domestic predecessor did two years ago. One wants to see him retained as the DRC continue to cruise toward their first World Cup Qualification next year. Meanwhile, your friendly bookie resolves to watch at least one TP Mazembe match before 2017 is out. The Congolese, after South Africa, have one of the continent’s best domestic leagues. Can’t wait to give it a look

5th Place—Senegal

Ach…so close!! Wouldn’t want to be in Sadio Mané’s turbulently maelstromming head at the moment. It’s a long flight back to Anfield and even a surfeit of Business Class Cocktails won’t abet his attempts to put that horribly soft penalty behind him. Ouch! The emergent favorites exit despite a brilliant run and hard-fought last-minute efforts from Keita Balde, Idrissa Gana Gueye, Kouyate, and Moussa Sow. I honestly thought they had it in the last second of normal time. How the hell did that effort end up in the side netting?!?

The Terrangans progressed further in this tournament than they had in over a decade. Oh how one wishes to declare their prolonged dormant period over. Regrettably, the long latent Lions are currently fighting for their very lives in a tough 2018 Qualifying Group that also features South Africa, Burkina Faso, and Cape Verde. Now 31-years-of-age Moussa Sow shows signs of slowing down considerably. Diouf’s best days are likely behind him as well. A core group of players—notably Cheikou Kouyate, Idrissa Gana Gueye, kara Mbodj and Henri Saviet—have either reached their peak or just passed it.   

Mané will continue to flourish and Keita Balde Diao is an excellent long-term prospect. The obstacles this team has to overcome over the next eighteen months will simply prove too daunting. I’ve no clue when we’ll see these proud Lions again.

Depressing stuff. Time for a stiff drink and commiserate phone call to Syndicate Member 103-M. ; ( ; (

Football can really break one’s heart at times. “Thems the breaks”. ; (

Wednesday, February 1st  

Burkina Faso vs. Egypt

Burkina Faso vs. Image result for Egypt flag small

Should prove entertaining, though it’s hard to envision the Egyptians taking many risks. A confident start from the Burkinabés is needed to get us up and running. A genuinely spectacular Knockout-Phase Game still eludes us. Hope to get one here.   

Your friendly bookie could once again lament the tendency of the Pharaohs to “win ugly”, but the defensive effort they’ve put forth does deserve some written appreciation. Elmohamady still knows how to captain a compact defense. His clearance off the line in the 60th minute of Sunday’s match showed discipline, concentration, and class. Fathy has been solid as well. He can defend any position, whether it be defensive midfield or securer-of-the-flanks. Say what one will about the misfortunes of struck crossbars, barely mistimed headers, or bizarre bounces on poorly-kept pitches: This Egyptian team is yet to concede ONE solitary goal.

The system, however, remains easy enough to discern. Someone has to figure out how to hack it before this competition draws to a close. Hafez, Hegazy, and Gabr will not stray. Hamed and Said essentially function as defenders too. Mohsen doesn’t even want the ball. Mahmoud Hassan ball-watches like a chump. Hecter Cuper does not possess real offensive weapons at his disposal. He possesses literally nothing if Mohsen can’t get it together in time. The loss of El-Nenny wasn’t really apparent against Morocco as Fathy did a fantastic job filling in. Asking him to replicate that feat asks too much.

The former undisputed “Kings of Africa” may yet dream of reaching their first Final in seven years as they face a battered and beleaguered opponent. Should they stick to their suffocating defensive system, they might yet squeeze out the Burkinabés and “win ugly” once again.

The Stallions have their fair share of problems. Injuries continue to plague the hard-luck Etalons. Making matters worse, four of Paulo Duarte’s remaining key players enter the match on yellow-cautions. The manager must select his squad with the final in mind. Irrespective of whatever “one-match at a time” dictums he’ll offer in reassurance, the Stallions stand an excellent chance of capturing the Continental Crown should they advance beyond this match. Countries posing the greatest tactical threat have conveniently been eliminated. Participants in the other semi-final may emerge exhausted what may be a 120-minute marathon.

The pharaohs will deploy their usual conservative approach in an attempt to frustrate and tire out Razack and Bertrand Kabore. Expect a slow-temp physical match full of moments where vexation invariably leads to clumsy challenges. It’s simply too risky to start Yacouba Coluibaly or Prejuce Nakoulma. Putting Bancé up front in a more traditional 4-4-2 remains an option. The fans would love it. This bookie nevertheless sees that as an early gamble unlikely to yield early results.

Here’s how your friendly bookie sees it shaking out:

Alain and Bertrand Traoré move into striker positions. Not inconceivable. Bertrand has been doing it all year for Ajax. Alain used to excel in the role for Lorient. Duarte wasn’t afraid to deploy Diawara alone up front against the Gabonese. I wouldn’t at all be surprised to see him lead a 4-5-1 this time, but his inability to make well-timed cuts were quite noticeable. He’ll do better in a pocket role behind the two vets.

Abdou Razack Traoré has been mostly been paired with captain Kabore over the course of this tournament. The two were practically joined at the hip throughout the group phase. The Portuguese trainer boldly experimented with placing A.B.R. ahead of the Captain in the Tunisian match, and the separation worked. The young, hitherto unknown Blati Touré proved an apt counterpart. Who will partner with A.B.R.? Why not Cyrille Bayala? The young forward worked the flanks well in the 2014 African Nation’s Championship—a separate Continental Championship for African Youth Squads.

Patrick Malo switches to left back to cover for the endangered Yacouba Coulibaly…and we’ve got ourselves a lineup specifically designed to take this match AND the Final!

Yes sir. Nakoulma, Bancé, and Y. Coulibaly off the bench in the event that the Burkinabés need a late push. They may not even need one. I’ve witnessed tremendous hard work from the young players on this squad. Bayala in particular demonstrated an athletic prowess indicate of an impending “breakthrough moment”.

Let’s do it, 1-X-M…the only one still following me after those wonk-slang-laden paragraphs.

; )

Projected Lineups:

 “The Stallions”—(4-4-2) 

   Alain Traoré   Bertrand Traoré
              Banou Diawara
   Cyrille Bayala   A.B.R. Traoré          
     Blaiti Touré    Charles Kaboré
P. Malo B. Koné I. Dayo S. Yaago                  
               Kouakou Koffi

 “The Pharaohs”—(4-5-1) 

                  Mohammed Salah      
  Mahmoud Hassan  Abdallah Said                             
                     Tarek Hamed
    Ibrahim Salah           Ahmed Fathy                 
M.A. Shafy   A. Hegazy  A Gabr. A. Elmohamady             
                   Essam El-Haday   

THE LINE: Burkina Faso +1 Goal

Prop Bets (as always, feel free to offer your own)

Over/Under—3 Goals   
120 Minutes—2 to 1
Penalty Shootout—3 to 1

Thursday, February 2nd    

Cameroon vs. Ghana

 Cameroon Flag vs. Ghana

Two great coaches square off in a fairly even fixture to be decided by whom makes the right moves at the right time. Intriguing on many levels. Not easy to pick a winner. Expect no fewer than 2,345 “sideline shots” of Avram Grant and Hugo Broos intently surveying the field. The prevailing side will enter the Final as favorites.

Broos floored us all with a completely unconventional 4-2-3-1 that featured neither Clinton N’Jie nor Vincent Aboubakar. He placed a great deal of faith in Robert Tambe and Karl Ekampi, two unknwons with a mere twenty caps and one National Team Goal between them. Staples Aboubakar and Mandjeck didn’t even enter the match until the 102nd minute. Truly some courageous moves from a coach presiding over one of the youngest teams in the competition. Way to throw down the gauntlet!

Encountering a lineup so drastically removed from his forecast, your friendly bookie initially saw the ten changes as an indication that “Les Indomitables” weren’t playing for the win. How wrong he was! While no player could be said to have turned in a standout performance, the boys defended as a compact collective, wearing down their worthy adversaries with steady tacking from Adolphe Teikeu and Michael Ngadeu-Ngadjui.

By contrast, the attack sputtered throughout most of the 120. Bassogog and Moukandjo spend most of the match hamstrung by Aliou Cisse’s rigid 4-5-1. Siani and Fai were similarly precluded from asserting themselves much on the right. Zoua produced his customary one quality chance, but spent most of the match in obscurity.

Before falsely assuming that the Cameroonians have a low-octane-offense, one must take into account that Aboubakar and N’Jie remain firebrand talents. Slotting Siani back on the left and starting Mandjeck means they’ll once again find themselves on the receiving end of well-paced balls from Moukanjdo & Co.

The team we saw on Saturday constituted a deviation from the eleven that Broos is putting together for the title run. This bookie projects a return to a more aggressive approach come Thursday.

Avram Grant picked a serviceable eleven on Sunday, once again proving that the Israeli Legend knows full well what he’s doing. The Ayew brothers were given a clearly delineated lane whilst Acquah and Atsu were charged with drawing coverage to give them enough space. One never felt the absence of Asamoah Gyan. Wakaso and Partey were dually deputized to fill his role; a part the two Spain-based midfielders played quite well. The “Gold Coast Playas” have now advanced to their sixth semi-finals in as many tournaments. They’ve accomplished this historic feat absent their talismanic fullback and experienced captain. Kudos.

With Gyan returning, betting against this team looks a scary proposition. They remain vulnerable enough to be beaten, however. Especially along the left flank. As predicted, Atsu’s form dropped considerably. This bookie also Acheampong napping and playing catch up on a few occasions. For all of his sagacious skill, Grant hasn’t managed the minutes of his star players all that convincingly.

Fatigue has to catch up with players like Amartey and Boye eventually. Should the Indompitables be able to deploy their First String attack, opportunities to pierce the back line will abound.    

Don’t expect it to happen right away, but the Lions will find a way through.

Projected Lineups:

 “The Indomitable Lions”—(4-2-3-1) 

                         Vincent Aboubakar                      
                       Benjamin Moukandjo          
         Clinton N’Jie         Christian Bassogog
          Sebastien Siani     Georges Mandjeck  
A.   Oyongo M.Ngadeu-Ngadjui A. Teikeu C. Fai                      
                             Fabrice Ondoa

 “The Black Stars”—(4-3-3) 

              Jordan Ayew    Asamoah Gyan                       
                           Andre Ayew                          
            Christian Atsu   Wakaso Mubarak             
            F. Acheampong            H. Afful                          
               John Boye     Daniel Amartey     
                            Brimah Razak     

THE LINE: Cameroon +1 Goal.

Prop Bets (as always, feel free to offer your own)

Over/Under—3 Goals   
120 Minutes—Straight Up
Penalty Shootout—Straight Up