Quote of the week

“To be a great champion you must believe you are the best. If you're not, pretend you are.” – Muhammad Ali

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Fifa Under-20 World Cup: Opening weekend

Day 1 Results
Friday, 29 July

Group E
Brazil 1-1 Egypt
Austria 0-0 Panama

Group F
England 0-0 North Korea
Argentina 1-0 Mexico

Day 2
Saturday 30
Group B
Cameroon vs New Zealand (Venue, Cali), 00:00 SA Standard Time (GMT + 0200 hours)
Portugal vs Uruguay (Cali), 03:00

Group A
Mali vs South Korea (Bogota), 00:00
Colombia vs France (Bogota), 03:00

Day 3
Sunday 30
Group C
Costa Rica vs Spain (Manizales), 22:00
Australia vs Ecuador (Manizales), 01:00

Group D
Nigeria vs Guatemala (Armenia), 22:00
Croatia vs Saudi Arabia (Armenia), 01:00

Friday, July 29, 2011

From “Ronaldo the God” to “Ronaldo El Gordo”: A Tribute to a Legend

Special by K’homotho Mokhojane

The Real Ronaldo

In this article I honour a truly great player of the game and arguably the world’s first super athlete – Ronaldo Luis Nazario de Lima.

The reason behind this story is to attempt to change people’s negative perceptions about the great ‘El Fenomeno’, loosely translated into English as ‘The Phenomenon’.

I guess to pay a proper tribute to the maestro I will have to start from the beginning... I would also like to highlight that I am a stern Man United supporter and as such came to witness the might of Ronaldo’s ability when we hosted Real Madrid at Old Trafford in 2003.

It was a Champions League quarterfinal tie. We were annihilated by Madrid at home and eliminated from Europe’s top competition. But what amazed me more was that for the first time in living memory the whole stadium was up on its feet to give a standing ovation to an opposition player who had just scored a doubtless brilliant but nonetheless painful hattrick at the Theatre of Dreams.
A Ronaldo masterclass against Manchester United
Old Trafford, April 2003
That night was a special moment in footballing history… all those who didn’t know about Ronaldo before definitely knew who he was after that game.

Eight years on and no opposing footballer has ever received a standing ovation from the Old Trafford faithful as Ronaldo did... The only opposing team to get a standing ovation was Blackpool on the last day of the 2010/11 season, and it was fully deserved, but that’s a story for another day.

During a glittering 14-year spell in Europe, Ronaldo scored goals at a prolific rate for PSV Eindhoven, Barcelona, Inter Milan, Real Madrid and AC Milan before returning to Brazil in 2009. He won the World Cup with Brazil in 2002 (and 1994), won the Ballon d’Or – while it was still the European Footballer of the Year – at the age of 20 (show me anyone younger to have won it, Messi was 22 and Cristiano Ronaldo was 24) and then again in 2002 when he was 26.
The first Brazilian Ballon d'Or winner
Ronaldo is one of only two footballers to win the Fifa Player of the Year three times (Pele and Maradona should shut up because they can’t match that) and was named in the best starting eleven of all time by France Football. 

El Fenomeno was also voted in the 100 players of all time by Pele and, furthermore, was chosen as the footballer of the decade by Goal.com in 2010. Ronaldo is the highest goalscorer in the history of the Fifa World Cup with 15 goals (Pele, Maradona and Muller can all jump off a cliff). He played 97 international matches and scored 62 goals at an average of 0.639 goals per game. At international level show me any current striker in world football who can better that average (Messi 0.266, Cristiano Ronaldo 0.325)… No one.

My point with all these stats is that we need to appreciate how gifted Ronaldo was. How many athletes out there would achieve all Ronaldo did even with half his weight? If Messi or Ronaldo gain excessively as Ronaldo did will they still be as fast?

If Pele gained as much as Ronaldo did he probably in all fairness would still have scored goals at a prolific rate, but that’s mainly because most of the players he faced back then were not as professional as today’s players. Keep in mind that footballers back then generally took football as a part-time job so they were not as professional as today’s footballers where becoming a super athlete is the norm and speed and strength are pre-requisites to becoming a footballer. 

History will hopefully omit the last and tragic chapter in Ronaldo’s career: the decline.
Yet a new fact has shed light on Ronaldo’s earlier struggles with weight: Ronnie suffers from hypothyroidism. Armed with this knowledge we must take a look back at the nasty media criticisms and the supposed sports medicine professionals that failed to notice this problem. Personally after analysing the events that unfolded through his career I find it hard to believe that medical professionals hired by some of the biggest sports clubs in the world all failed to spot the disease Ronaldo had. We shouldn’t forget that while these medical professionals are paid to look after the well-being of the players they also have to look after the interests of their clubs.

Like all top footballers in the modern era, Ronaldo experienced a pattern of club-hopping, so that is nothing abnormal. However, one of the greatest puzzles of his career is why Barca would pay a then record fee to sign him, see him enjoy a glorious year in which he scored 34 league goals, and then immediately sell him to Inter Milan. Granted, he was a 20 year-old World Player of the Year so negotiations for a new contract were difficult, but more sinisterly, did Barcelona know something that the world didn’t? What I’m saying is what happened then with Ronaldo would be like Barca suddenly parting ways with Leo Messi after he has won them La Liga, the Champions League, won the European and World Footballer of the Year and scored 50-plus goals a season for a fraction of what they can really sell him for. Does it make sense why any team would do that? Did Barcelona’s medical staff detect a health problem that was not apparent to the public eye?
47 goals in 49 matches for Barcelona
Ronaldo succeeded at Inter, inspiring them to a Uefa Cup win in 1997, before his knees began to buckle from step-overs. Yet I wonder, how many clubs knew of his hyperthyroidism yet hid it hoping to cash in on a transfer and hoping the other side overlooked the problem during the routine medical? Chances are that Ronaldo’s condition was not included in Barca’s medical history of the player when he was at the Nou Camp, but then Inter’s medical staff should have picked it up as well. Why didn’t they? Or did they pick it up after they signed him and then also chose to withhold the information and then sell him to Real?

Hypothyroidism also may explain his episodic problem the night before the 1998 World Cup final. I did some research on the symptoms of hypothyroidism and guess what… they include rapid heartbeat, irregular heartbeat, tremors, sweating, and fatigue – exactly the same things that caused Ronaldo to have a seizure that night in Paris. Did the Brazilian national team doctors deduce the problem? Did they suspect hyperthyroidism? Did Inter Milan? We may never know. The media never heard a whisper.

The problem was transparency. To me everything points to Barcelona and their selfish dealings, it’s clear they knew Ronaldo had hyperthyroidism possibly after they signed him. But they chose to keep it a secret, even Ronaldo didn’t know and thus his health was put in grievous danger. Had Ronaldo suffered attacks during a game he would not be among the living as we speak. Clubs are selfish when it comes to making the most of a prized asset or making a quick buck from their sale. This situation perhaps sheds some light on what happened to the likes of Marc-Vivien Foe.

For decades the scope and gravity of concussions has been conveniently swept under the rug for example. Teams also fib in their injury reports hoping to gain a competitive advantage for that relevant week with players given painkillers so they can produce the required results. And now we wake up to new revelations about the health of Man United’s Javier Hernandez, things that were prevously withheld by Chicharito’s previous club Chivas de Guadalajara.

Much closer to home the same behaviour ended the career of one of the most talented footballers to play in South Africa in recent years, Thapelo Liau of Ria Stars FC, who spent a whole season on painkillers. The marketplace poses a serious dilemma for any bioethical lens in sports.

"Ronaldo loved the sport"
It was not in Ronaldo’s financial interest to have the disease – it would have decreased his earning power and transfer value. It was also not in any club’s financial interest either – they would recoup less money for a prized asset in the transfer market. This recipe combines with the human element – Ronaldo loved the sport, played with a kid’s enthusiasm, and could optimistically wish away a doctor’s grave but vague diagnosis.

Who doesn’t know somebody in a similar situation? Someone who would simply deny the seriousness of a diagnosis because it threatens to prevent them from doing what they wish... But if the doctors had sat Ronaldo down and explained the disease threatened his life, especially with the recent deaths in football, then he would have quit. No doubt therefore I still maintain that transparency was an issue for Barcelona in the first place.

So this whole time El Fenomeno had hyperthyroidism and either nobody knew or nobody wanted us to know. You will make up your mind; all I am doing is trying to give you the story behind the story.

Now we turn the critical lens on ourselves and the media. The research reveals that one of the symptoms of hyperthyroidism is an enlarged goiter, which appears as swelling at the base of the neck. How many times did you see Ronaldo in a Real shirt and you joined in the Marca catcalls of “Ronaldo el Gordo?”

Ronaldo put it best – “When I score, I’m grande, but when I don’t, I’m gordo.” Pele, that eternal bastion of wisdom, repeatedly criticised Ronnie for his weight. Fabio Capello also called him out. And, of course, I myself am guilty of poking fun at Ronaldo a few years back by calling him ‘Fatso’ (Fatty) or Rakishi (WWE wrestler).
But I want to apologise, Ronaldo’s skill always blew me away and I had no clue he suffered from hypothyroidism. I am sorry for all the jokes and my respect for Ronnie has only grown.

But don’t hold your breath in expectation of apologies from Capello, Pele, or Marca. Hopefully though soccer can find a way to incorporate transparency and players’ health into the current business model. Fans know too well the tragedy that can strike when a heart condition for instance is not diagnosed or treated: Foe, Antonio Puerta and Daniel Jarque.

In terms of the fat Ronnie ridicule we as a society gloss over genetics and point fingers when a person fails to meet a prototype for height and weight. Athletes represent the apex of our glorious body myth. But that itself is a self-imposed deception. Diet and exercise can sometimes shave kilograms off a body but they will never supplant the human genome. So Ronaldo got caught up in this puritanical-anti-excess-kilograms culture of masochism and blame. He also had surgically repaired knees and the long shadow of his past great self to deal with to boot.

So let’s re-write the last chapter of Ronaldo’s career. Ronnie overcame knee surgeries to score wonderful goals and become a world champion. But above that he overcame an undiagnosed medical condition and our unfounded, hateful criticism. And for that alone he deserves our love now more than ever and in my view deserves to dethrone Pele as the greatest ever. Maradona shouldn’t even enter the fray because had he been a modern day footballer he would spend more time fighting Fifa over doping sanctions and suspensions than he would spend on the field causing havoc. Keep in mind that there were no stringent laws about doping and using banned substances when Maradona played.

In the last press conference he made, Ronaldo had this to say: “Four years ago, in Milan, I discovered that I suffered from an under-active thyroid that slowed down my metabolism and that to control it I had to take hormones that weren’t authorised in football as they were considered a form of doping,” he said. “Lots of people must regret having made jokes about my weight. But I feel no anger towards anyone.”

O Fenomeno, is the Brazilian Ronaldo who lit Europe afire with dazzling goals. His goals and titles speak for themselves. His career also has a fantastic counterfactual “what if” moment – only in video games will we ever see a fit and unstoppable Ronaldo run circles around Lillian Thuram and round Fabian Barthez with ease...

Okay, so it would not have been quite like that in real-life… but just ask Oliver Kahn about Ronaldo’s performance in World Cup finals.
The greatest striker that ever lived

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Springbok team vs New Zealand

South Africa team vs New Zealand
Saturday, July 30

Gerhard Mostert will make
his Springbok debut
1. Dean Greyling
2. John Smit (captain)
3. Werner Kruger
4. Gerhard Mostert
5. Alistair Hargreaves
6. Deon Stegmann
7. Jean Deysel
8. Danie Rossouw
9. Ruan Pienaar
10. Morne Steyn
11. Lwazi Mvovo
12. Juan de Jongh
13. Adrian Jacobs
14. Bjorn Basson
15. Patrick Lambie

16. Chiliboy Ralepelle
17. CJ van der Linde
18. Ryan Kankowski
19. Ashley Johnson
20. Charl McLeod
21. Wynand Olivier
22. Odwa Ndungane

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Lesotho hits lowest Fifa ranking

Lesotho has dropped to its lowest ever Fifa world ranking since the rankings were introduced in 1993.

The latest Fifa rankings were released earlier today and they have ensured Likuena will have a difficult draw when the 2014 Fifa World Cup preliminary qualifiers draw is made on Saturday in the host country Brazil.

Lesotho has slipped down six places to 184 in the world and as a result will be in the second pot of teams in the draw.

Closing in... Thabo Masualle, 12, and Bushy Moletsane at the Cosafa
Senior Challenge in 2009 (vs Zimbabwe)

The draw will consist of Africa’s 24 lowest ranked nations and will decide who plays who in the preliminary knockout matches which will be played in the period from November 11 to 15 on a home and away basis.

The winners of the matches will go through to the group stage of World Cup qualifying along with the remaining 28 participating Caf member associations.

The qualifiers proper will consist of 10 groups of four countries each and will take place between June 2012 and September 2013.

The winners of each group will advance to a final round of five two-legged knock out ties, which will be held in October and November 2013 with the last five standing nations advancing to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

The countries in the top 12, and in the first pot in Saturday’s draw, according to the latest Fifa rankings are Mozambique, DRC, Togo, Liberia, Tanzania, Congo, Kenya, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Namibia, Burundi and Madagascar. These teams will play the home leg second, and will face one of the 12 lowest ranked teams – Guinea Bissau, Equatorial Guinea, Chad, Swaziland, Comoros, Lesotho, Eritrea, Somalia, Djibouti, Mauritius, Seychelles and Sao Tome.

Only Mauritania has declined to take part in the qualifiers.

Lesotho hasn’t played a full international match since 2009 and the national team, Likuena, was disbanded last February with the Lesotho Football Association focusing instead on Lesotho’s youth teams.

Likuena coach Leslie Notši
After leading Lesotho’s under-20 side to the Caf African Youth Championship in April Leslie Notši was hired as coach of Likuena last month.

And speaking to BBC Sport yesterday Notši said he was confident that a promising crop of young players were capable of causing a few shocks when the Brazil 2014 campaign gets underway.

“I think we have the players who can surprise a few bigger teams,” Notši told BBC Sport.  “We are always much more comfortable being the underdogs and we always try to encourage the boys that they are good enough to compete.”

Likuena’s possible opponents

Monday, July 25, 2011

Latest Tennis Rankings

Serbia’s Novak Djokovic remained at the top the ATP World Rankings that were released today ahead of Spain’s Rafael Nadal. The rest of the top nine players also remained unchanged.

Top 2... Novak Djokovic first, Rafael Nadal second

The biggest movers in the top 25 were Gilles Simon and Nicholas Almagro. Frenchman Simon made the biggest climb moving up seven places after winning the German Tennis Championships at the weekend where he beat Almagro in the final. Despite the loss Almagro still moved up two places and into the top 10 displacing American Andy Roddick.

ATP Rankings Top 25
Previous Ranking
Novak Djokovic
13 155
Rafael Nadal
11 270
Roger Federer
Andy Murray
Great Britain
Robin Soderling
David Ferrer
Gael Monfils
Tomas Berdych
Czech Republic
Mardy Fish
Nicholas Almagro
Gilles Simon
Andy Roddick
Richard Gasquet
Mikhail Youzhny
Viktor Troicki
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
Stanislas Wawrinka
Jurgen Melzer
Juan Martin Del Potro
Fernando Verdasco
Juan Ignacio Chela
Floria Mayer
Janko Tipsarevic
Feliciano Lopez
David Nalbandian