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

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Senegal’s Badara to officiate Ghana-Lesotho tie

Stop nonsense... Diatta Badara
World football’s governing body, Fifa, has appointed Senegalese referee Diatta Badara to handle tomorrow’s 2014 Fifa World Cup qualifier between Ghana and Lesotho at the Baba Yara Stadium in Kumasi.

Badara, 41, is the most experienced referee in Senegal and has officiated at the last five editions of the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon).

A teacher by profession, Badara also handled the Ghana-Botswana clash at this year’s Afcon which the Black Stars won by a lone goal, courtesy of John Mensah. Badara was then in charge for the final between Zambia and Ivory Coast, which Chipolopolo won on penalties.

While it the first time Badara will officiate a match involving Likuena he has had presided over several Ghana games.

In November 2009 he the Ghana-Mali 2010 World Cup/Afcon qualifier in Kumasi which ended 2-2. Prior to that, he was the man in the middle as the Black Stars thumped South Africa 3-0 in a 2006 FifaWorld Cup qualifier in june 2004, also in Kumasi.

Badara is expected to be assisted by compatriot Camara Djibril and Rwandan Kabanda Felicien. Gueye Daouda, also of Senegal, will serve as the fourth official.

Kenya’s Titus Kasuve will act as the Match Commissioner.

Likuena - Time To Shine

Likuena... Time to shine
It is the worst draw we could have had.

Even African champions Zambia on the first day would have been better.

Ghana, at home, in Kumasi – a football-mad city – is a daunting task if there ever was one.

Add to that, the Black Stars are still smarting from their supposed 2012 Africa Cup of Nations under-performance and, looking to redeem themselves, are hell-bent on qualifying for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. No doubt then, Ghana will regard Lesotho as the best possible opposition to get off to a flying start.

Fifa’s rankings would certainly support this notion. Ghana is ranked second in Africa and 22nd in the world while Lesotho is 43rd on the continent and 163rd worldwide. Lesotho’s last sojourn into Fifa’s World Cup qualifiers in 2008, meanwhile, didn’t go so well. Six games, six losses, two goals scored and 18 conceded was Lesotho’s rather depressing rap sheet.

So, is there any hope for Likuena?

There is always hope.

One thing I would start by saying is Likuena’s players have to view this World Cup qualifying campaign as a once in a lifetime chance to be noticed, and thus hopefully advance their football careers.

The fact Steve Komphela, coach of South African Premiership side Free State Stars, was reportedly in attendance during last Wednesday’s friendly against Botswana is testament to the fact that throughout this six-game campaign, which starts tomorrow and ends next September, interested eyes will be peeled on matches involving Lesotho.

Ghana for sure is a renowned team with several players currently being chased by the biggest clubs in the world – Kwadwo Asamoah, reportedly coveted by English giants Manchester United, is a prime example. It is therefore not far-fetched to assume representatives of the world’s top club sides will either be in Kumasi tomorrow evening, or at least watching the Black Stars-Likuena showdown wherever it will be broadcast.

For Lesotho’s players then, this is an opportunity to hijack the world’s attention. For Bokang Mothoana for example, who until recently was a regular in North Africa’s top leagues, this is a chance to perhaps make the breakthrough across the pond to Europe.

Kwadwo Asamoah, one of Ghana's litany of stars
That is the first motivation.

The second is to make history.

Tomorrow’s game will no doubt be a physical one.

Speaking to Likuena coach Leslie Notši a while back, he spoke of how tough Lesotho’s last visit to Ghana was. On that occasion, another World Cup qualifier, the score was 3-0 to the Black Stars in a match played in Accra in 2008. Likuena’s opponents were quick and strong, and furthermore, tried to intimidate Lesotho, Notši, then an assist to Zavisa Milosavljević, said.

This is to be expected.

It is the way in Africa – it is not only the survival of the fittest but of the bravest.

Likuena’s players have to be prepared for this facet of the game.

Nevertheless, regardless of their physical prowess, home advantage and various other perceived positives in Ghana’s favour, there are factors that put the hosts in a disadvantageous position.

Ghana simply hasn’t had a lot of game time since February’s Afcon. This will be the first game under new coach Kwesi Appiah and added to that, Ghana only started training last Monday.

There is an opportunity here.

Although Lesotho’s recent results have sapped confidence, losing to Sao Tome in January and last week’s 3-0 loss to Botswana, one peculiar phenomenon is that Lesotho’s performances away have generally been ‘better’ than those at home. Burundi last November and the 2009 Cosafa Senior Challenge in Zimbabwe immediately spring to mind. This was also true of Notši’s giant-killing Makoanyane XI side which went unbeaten away from home, disposing of Kenya and South Africa along the way, en route to qualifying for last year’s Caf African Youth Championship.

Yes, last week’s 3-0 loss to Botswana has raised eyebrows, but lessons will have been learned.

Take your chance... Lehlomela Ramabele
Tactically Notši will no doubt change things up a bit. Whether that means a compact counterattacking approach or tit-for-tat chess, Ghana’s squad looks like it can be rattled a bit. By freshening up the Black Stars squad – Appiah handed out call-ups to seven debutants and nine local based players to his preliminary group – the new Ghana coach has also left his side exposed to potential frailties.  

Even though Ghana’s final 24-man squad announced on Saturday is predominantly filled with European players, experienced names such as Andre Ayew, Michael Essien, Asamoah Gyan, John Mensah and John Paintsil amongst others are conspicuous by their absence.

The fact Ghana is expecting a win means the longer tomorrow’s game goes without the realisation of this reality, the more restless the crowd and therefore team will get. Lest we forget, the pressure is all on Ghana; and Lesotho can use this to its advantage in the hope of causing an upset.
But for any of this to come to fruition calm heads on the side of Lesotho will be needed. Likuena simply can’t afford to go down to ten men like they did last week against Botswana. Discipline is vital.

To finish off; Lesotho’s players just have to believe that anything is possible.

Life is too short for what ifs. Every time you step out onto a football field, especially for your nation, immortality always awaits.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Classic Moment

The Treble
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer scores an injury-time winner against Bayern Munich in the 1999 Champions League final to hand Manchester United the Treble – Camp Nou, May 26, 1999

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Pirates PSL Champions!

Golden Arrows………...(2) 2 (Sheppard 27, Mashego 29)
Orlando Pirates………...(2) 4 (Lekgwathi 26, Sangweni 40, McCarthy 61, 93)

Orlando Pirates... Champions again!

Benni McCarthy is a football genius, and he proved it once again today – and again on the biggest stage.  Many times throughout his wonderful career McCarthy has been written off, but he has just kept on keeping on. Form is temporary, class is permanent they say.

McCarthy’s two second half goals this afternoon sealed a thrilling 4-2 win over Golden Arrows and in the process clinched the Buccaneers’ second straight Absa Premiership title. It is also the second successive season in which the Sea Robbers have won three trophies, an unprecedented feat in the professional era in South Africa.

McCarthy’s goals have been crucial throughout the season, but he serves Pirates in so many other ways. In today’s match he was without doubt the player of the game.

McCarthy got his first goal after 61 minutes when he got in ahead of his marker to head past Arrows keeper Helton Da Rocha from a long throw-in special by Rooi Mahamutsa. The former Porto and Blackburn star then grabbed his brace in the third minute of added time, curling a wonderful free-kick from the edge of the area in the top corner. Bucs needed all three points to seal the title ahead of Moroka Swallows and things had looked somewhat dicey with the scores tied at 2-2 at halftime.

Gordon Igusund’s Swallows no doubt fought until the bitter end, beating Maritzburg United 1-0 in their final match of an entertaining PSL season. But in the end the Birds fell just short thanks to Pirates’ great team effort, and some Benni McCarthy brilliance.


Golden Arrows (4-4-1-1): Da Rocha; Zwane, Tom, Johannes, Mvalo; Ngobeni, Khuboni, Mlotshwa (Mbesuma 54th minute), Sheppard (Hadebe 84th minute); Nkosi (Van Heerden 70th minute); Mashego.

Orlando Pirates (4-4-1-1): Josephs; Matlaba, Mahamutsa, Sangweni, Lekgwathi; Segolela, Manyisa, Jali, Klate (Chansa 74th minute); Mbuyane (Rantie 96th minute); McCarthy.

Orlando Pirates
Moroka Swallows
SuperSport United
Mamelodi Sundowns
Kaizer Chiefs
Free State Stars
Bloemfontein Celtic
Ajax Cape Town
Platinum Stars
Maritzburg United
Bidvest Wits
Golden Arrows
Black Leopards
Jomo Cosmos

Friday, May 18, 2012

Game time: Bayern Munich v Chelsea

The comprehensive Champions League final preview

Game Time!
The Uefa Champions League final is the biggest stage of them all in club football – the Grand Theatre where a player can forge immortality.

Few ever get this opportunity, and this year the privilege goes to the players of Bayern Munich – the hosts, coincidentally, for this year’s championship game – and English survivors Chelsea, who few would have expected to get this far.

As is always the case on such occasions, it’s the want of those in the know to predict who the favourites are. In this regard the German hosts have to be favoured, even with Chelsea’s heroics this season.

Both sides, though, go into Saturday’s grand finale substantially hamstrung by suspensions to key players.

In all, seven players will miss the final. Bayern are missing exciting leftback David Alaba, German international centreback Holger Badstuber and midfield workhorse Luis Gustavo. Chelsea, on the other hand, will be without inspirational captain John Terry, Branislav Ivanovic, Ramires as well as Raul Meireles – all of whom have been critical in the Blues’ unlikely run to the Allianz Arena showpiece.

For Chelsea, Saturday’s showdown – with its accompanying suspensions – is fraught with strategic riddles in the chess-match that is always a Champions League final.

Chelsea simultaneously not only have to employ a form of counterattack, but also have to somehow impose their style if they are to have any hopes of claiming victory.

As former Chelsea boss Avram Grant said in the build-up, this final will come down to who takes their chances and this truer for Roberto Di Matteo’s side, as most question marks surround them.

With so many suspensions and injuries doubts it has, for example, become a point of interest whether Didier Drogba and Fernando Torres will start up-front together. It has been mooted that Di Matteo has tried this in training. For the record, Drogba and Torres haven’t started together in the 19 games since Di Matteo took over at Stamford Bridge. In total the two have been on the pitch simultaneously on only seven occasions – for a total of 132 minutes.

That stat aside, it would represent a significant risk on the part of Di Matteo to experiment with two out-and-out strikers, especially in what is essentially an away match.

It is more likely he will go with a variant of Chelsea’s tested 4-3-3.

Will Michael Essien step into Chelsea's midfield?
With both Ramires and Meireles out it’s intriguing how Chelsea’s midfield, where the game could be won or lost, will shape up. One would suspect Michael Essien will return to the fold, with Mikel sitting in front of the back four and Frank Lampard the furthest forward of the central midfield trio.

Mikel has been outstanding since his reintroduction into the team by Di Matteo and Chelsea’s rise can quite reasonably be linked to his commanding form. Teams have cultures, and Chelsea is the team of Claude Makelele fame. In his time Jose Mourinho established a blueprint that this current group of players are most comfortable with – that is, a midfield three with an anchorman at its defensive base.

This is always Chelsea’s most prudent option.

Having Essien in there as part of this trio will also assist leftback Ashley Cole.

The right flank is probably Bayern’s most productive channel with Philipp Lahm and Arjen Robben forming a world-class wing combination. If Juan Mata is, as expected, posted out on the left, consistently reliable protection for Cole will have to be sourced from somewhere within Chelsea’s setup. Mata is a responsible footballer but he doesn’t enjoy defending. When he does he isn’t a natural defender and could give away fouls in dangerous areas.

Mikel and Essien in tandem would also, crucially, allow Lampard to enjoy a less restricted role, a role that requires a little less defensive responsibility. Let’s face it, the deeper pair of Chelsea midfielders is unlikely to venture much, and if Lampard is one of the two it will diminish his strengths.

The defence is the real crisis area for Di Matteo.

All logic says David Luiz and Gary Cahill will start in central defence, even if they’ve both been struggling with hamstring injuries. There are simply no other viable options for a game of this magnitude. Of course, a worst case scenario would be starting both Luiz and Cahill and then 30 minutes into the game being forced into substitutions, a makeshift defence – with only one more change available over possibly 120 minutes.

But it’s a risk Di Matteo has to take such is the offensive power and mobility Bayern possess. Makeshift centrebacks are not an option.

The key for Chelsea at the end of the day is Didier Drogba. 

The King... Didier Drogba
Can he give Chelsea an out-ball? Can he occupy the Bayern last third, like only he can? And, can he score? Drogba is back to his beastly best because he has once again found a Chelsea manager that totally believes in him. At his best Drogba offers so much flexibility because of his unique ability to establish a point of attack from virtually any situation, and his selfless work on the defensive side of the ball-game.

Like Messi and Cristiano, Didier on his day in unplayable. He is a devastating physical phenomenon.

And he is Chelsea’s man for the big occasion. Starting with that final group game against Valencia through to the last 16 second leg tie against Napoli and to the semis against Barcelona, Drogba has been Chelsea’s match-decider.

Although Bayern have inconvenient selection posers of their own, they still are the favourites.
The absences of Basdtubber and Alaba do mean Bayern boss Jupp Heynckes will have to rejig his defence.

Experienced Ukrainian utility-man Anatoliy Tymoshchuk seems the first choice to step into defence, though Daniel Van Buyten, who recently played in a reserve match, could make a surprise return. The return of Van Buyten in place of Badstuber in fact wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing for Bayern. He is a big, rugged defender and doesn’t mind the physical stuff while Badstubber is a more refined defender, the type which Drogba thrives against in his close-quarter battles.

Heynckes, bidding to become only the fourth man to win Europe’s top club crown with two different clubs - joining Ernst Happel, Ottmar Hitzfield and Jose Mourinho - also has the option of playing Diego Contento in Alaba’s place or switching skipper Philipp Lahm to the left and starting Rafinha at rightback.

In midfield, the absence of Gustavo will likely mean a midfield base of Bastian Schweinsteiger and Toni Kroos, with Thomas Mueller in behind top-scorer Mario Gomez, and Franck Ribery and Robben on either flank.

That “front four” of Gomez, Mueller, Ribery and Robben are on their day is as potent as any in world football. They are the munitions room where slow, methodical moves crescendo in football explosions. Bayern love to work triangles in attacking areas and put in crosses for their big man Gomez, and with so much uncertainty over Chelsea’s line-up this cohesion alone gives Bayern a big edge.

Robbery... The dangerous duo
Gomez by the way has an amazing scoring record, with 80 goals in 90 appearances for club and country over the past two years and 12 goals in the Champions League this season. Those stats would frighten even a fully fit defence.

Finally, who will win?

The match is almost impossible to call, especially in what has been one of most unpredictable European season in recent memory. There are so many intangibles at play that it really would take a brave soul to call a winner.

It really will come down to who takes their chances. The first goal will be vitally important. History tells us that the scorer of the opening goal on such occasions more often than not wins.

It needs no reminding too that discipline and composure are imperative on occasions such as this. The last team to score first and fail to win was Arsenal, but they were down to ten-men. Chelsea, as the away team certainly can’t afford that on Saturday.

Bayern will have more of the ball, it has become their way. The German side have evolved into a cultured team that perhaps is only behind Barcelona in terms of their strategic and meticulous use of the ball. The orchestrator of this symphony is Schweinsteiger and it may be down to Lampard, or whoever is the furthest forward of Chelsea’s midfield three, to disrupt him. Mikel similarly will have on put the brakes the slippery Mueller.

Or Chelsea?

This is a theme you may have noticed. Chelsea no doubt will have to be the disruptors. They have to diffuse the emotion from game and frustrate Bayern. They have to plant the seed of doubt in Bayern, who can be rampant once they are in the groove, as their 7-0 demolition of Basel in the last 16 stage demonstrated, but vulnerable when the script turns, as their 5-2 German Cup final defeat to Borussia Dortmund illustrated.

All the cards, though, seem to be in the hands of Bayern Munich. They are at home and have a more settled feel. They are young, hungry and talented and will be looking to write Bayern’s name into football history by winning a fifth Champions League title.

But if there is one team that can do the impossible, it is Chelsea.

This is a Hollywood movie script – the last chance for this wonderful group of Chelsea lion-hearts to capture the Holy Grail.

Yebo, it’s game time!