Category Archives: Africa

African footballers in the Premier League, La Liga, Ligue 1, Serie A and the Bundesliga.

African footballers in the Premier League, La Liga, Ligue 1, Serie A and the Bundesliga.

With the Africa Cup of Nations a fading memory and the European leagues back in full swing I thought it would be interesting to take a look at the Africans represented in five of Europe’s top leagues: Premier League, Serie A, La Liga, Ligue 1 and Bundesliga.


Despite their non qualification for the Africa Cup of Nations 2013, Senegal have the most players playing in the five European leagues mentioned in the introduction. 32 Senegalese players play in these leagues. Twenty-nine different nationalities are represented in these leagues from Morocco to Mauritania.


With much of Africa being Francophone and many French born players opting to play for the countries in the Maghreb it’s unsurprisng that Ligue 1 features so many African footballers.

Number of African players used so far in the 2012/2013 league season.

Number of African players used so far in the 2012/2013 league season.

French teams dominate the list. Every single one of Ligue 1’s twenty sides have fielded an African footballer during the current 2012/2013 season. However, it’s Rennes who are the club who have used the most African players. They’ve used an impressive eleven different African players so far this season. Brilliantly this is enough to field a whole first XI of African players:

Possible Rennes first XI

Possible Rennes first XI


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Posted by on March 6, 2013 in Africa, Statistics


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Youthful exuberance proves key to African success

The 2013 Africa Cup of Nations finished last weekend. All of the players are back with their respective clubs, their focus now on club glory rather than on the international arena. It’s a good time to take a short look back at some of the statistics that came out of this enthralling tournament.
Perhaps the biggest story of this years Africa Cup of Nations was the failure of Ivory Coast’s “golden” generation to lift the trophy that had almost seemed their birthright. For many players this was likely to be their last continental competition and the stats certainly bear that out.
Of the players that took the field for each nation in South Africa, it was The Elephants who fielded the oldest set of players. The average age of an Ivorian in this competition was 29 years old. When you consider that Nigeria’s average age was 24 you can see that there’ll certainly be a large amount of rebuilding work to do for the Ivorians before the World Cup. It was the eventual winners Nigeria who fielded the youngest players during the tournament.

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The youngest player to play at the Africa Cup of Nations was Niger’s

who was born in October 1994. There were also seven players who were born in 1993 who played during the tournament, they were Ilídio José Panzo (Angola), Mukuka Mulenga (Zambia), Kenneth Omeruo (Nigeria), Salif Coulibaly (Mali), Emmanuel Mbola (Zambia), Behailu Assefa Gobeze (Ethiopia) and Alula Girma Mekonnen (Ethiopia).

The oldest player to play in this year’s competition was the ebullient Congolese keeper Robert Kidiaba who celebrated his 37th birthday on the 1st February this year. Kidiaba entertained the world with his famous bum-shuffle goal celebration but unfortunately for Claude Le Roy’s charges the celebration wasn’t seen too often as his side left the competition during the group stages. Morocco keeper Nadir Lamyaghri is only a few days younger than the DR Congo shot stopper and it’s likely that he’s also seen his last Africa Cup of Nations.

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Posted by on February 13, 2013 in Africa


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Africa Cup of Nations 2013: The players

With the Africa Cup of Nations 2013 almost here I thought I’d take a look at the players who make up the sixteen squads taking part in the competition. Some of the graphics are interactive, so feel free to have a click around.

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The above graphic was made with and the data came from the ever reliable wikipedia.

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Posted by on January 11, 2013 in Africa, International


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World Cup 1978: Tunisia

World Cup 1978: Tunisia

In 1990 Cameroon were rightly lauded for their swashbuckling run to the quarter-finals of the FIFA World Cup. Their flair, power and pace impressed and surprised in equal measure. Many regard Cameroon’s excellent World Cup in Italy as the breakthrough moment for African football. However, that doesn’t tell the whole story as in the late 1970s Tunisia, one of the best teams in Africa, played some wonderful football in Argentina’s 78 World Cup. Their short pass and move game may have been world’s away from the powerful game Cameroon adopted twelve years later but it was almost as effective.


Thirteen years before Italia 90, Tunisia were preparing for their final World Cup qualifying match against north African rivals Egypt. After picking up four points from their games against Nigeria and losing away in Cairo, Tunisia knew that only a win in Tunis would be enough to seal their place in the World Cup Finals as sole African representative. And win they did, in style, defeating the Egyptians 4-1 in front of a partizan crowd. Those who feel atmosphere at football is calmed negatively by an Athletics track should take a look at the celebrations following Tunisia’s 3rd that effectively qualified the nation for their first ever World Cup Finals. The track merely gave players a place to celebrate and for cameramen to frolic in.


Tunisia in 1978 were only the fourth African side to play in a World Cup Finals – after Egypt (1930), Morocco (1970) and Zaire (1974). None of these sides had performed particularly well in their outings, the only bright spot a Moroccan draw with Bulgaria in Mexico 1970. The Carthage Eagles would record a couple of firsts for Africa in this tournament. They were the first country to be managed by an African at a World Cup (Abdelmajid Chetali) and they also became the first African nation to win a game at a World Cup Finals when they came from behind to beat Mexico by three goals to one.


Despite winning their first match the Tunisians were always going to find qualification to the next stage tough as they found themselves not only up against current world champions West Germany but also Poland who had finished third in the previous World Cup. Tunisia’s second game was against a Polish side including Lato and Boniek and as expected they lost, but only narrowly by a solitary Grzegorz Lato goal to nil. There was certainly no shame in this defeat, as the mighty Brazil had lost in the World Cup ;74 third placed match by the same scoreline (to the same goalscorer). However, the Tunisians will always wonder what could have been. Late in the game they almost scored what would have become an all time classic World Cup goal. Unfortunately the ball hit the underside of the bar and bounced the wrong side of the line.


The unfortunate Tunisians came up against the current World Cup holders West Germany in their final group game and gave a good account of themselves. A sterling 0-0 draw with goalkeeper Mokhtar Naili making some fine saves wearing what appear to be brown leather gloves. The scoreless draw wasn’t enough for Tunisia to progress to the next stage but it was enough for the Tunisians to cement their place in African football history. West Germany and Poland qualified in first and second place.


The 1978 World Cup goes down as Tunisia’s best World Cup performance to date. Inspired by 1977 Africa Footballer of the Year Tarak Dhiab the side almost managed to shock the world by sneaking through the group stages. Dhiab played over one hundred times for Tunisia and played his last international in 1990 as a 36 year old, captaining his country against England  who were warming up for Italia 90. Just like West Germany twelve years before, England didn’t heed the African warning and were almost undone in the quarter finals by the Indomitable Lions. Despite often playing in differing styles the threat from north Africa remains just as strong as from the sub-Saharans.

Flickr Photo Credit: philippelemoine

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Posted by on November 21, 2012 in Africa, International


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Ghana and Congo to gain extra places in CAF continental competitions?

Ghana and Congo to gain extra places in CAF continental competitions?

With the 2012 CAF Champions League and CAF Confederation Cup competitions almost over I decided to have crack at calculating which African nations are rising through the co-efficient to gain that all important top 12 continental spot. Let me explain…

Each nation in Africa is given two spots in continental competition. One for the premier competition, the CAF Champions League and another for the CAF Confederation Cup (the continent’s version of the Europa League). However, if the country is ranked in the top twelve in Africa on their club’s performances over the previous five years then they are permitted to enter four sides (two into the Champions League and two into the Confederation Cup). A fuller, more detailed explanation can be found on wikipedia.

Congo's AC Leopards upsetting the odds in this year's CAF Confederations Cup.

Congo’s AC Léopards “doing it for the co-efficient”

The African footballing calendar differs to Europe in that each CAF Champions League competition takes place within the same year (beginning in February and ending some time in November). Due to the vagaries of leagues around the continent (to give an example Kenya’s league finished on the same weekend Tunisia’s began) the entrants for the 2013 CAF continental competitions are almost already decided. Clubs in leagues need to know what places they are fighting for during the season, therefore the number of places  each nation is permitted for the 2013 CAF Champions League and Confederation Cup is based upon performances of a nation’s club sides between 2007 and 2011.

So, as the 2012 CAF competitions are nearing their conclusion, and assuming that CAF continue to use the same calculation as they did last year, we can calculate which nations will be permitted entry of four sides  rather than the regulation two.

I have calculated the CAF 5-year ranking for the 2014 CAF competitions below. Now, please be aware that these figures were calculated by an amateur (me) so they’re far from binding and there’s no guarantee that CAF won’t come up with another way to calculate these rankings.

Please be aware that I have also made some assumptions:

  • Espérance (Tunisia) will defeat Al Ahly (Egypt)  in the second leg of the CAF Champions League final.
  • Djoliba (Mali) will defeat AC Leopards (Congo) in the CAF Confederation Cup final.
  • That Tunisia will still be awarded a point for Etoile du Sahel’s qualification into the group stages of the CAF Champions League (they were disqualified)
(It should be noted that none of the assumptions above will change the nations who will be included in the top 12 for 2014)
CAF 5-year ranking for 2014

CAF 5-year ranking for CAF competitions 2014

So, for the analysis. Firstly Congo appear in the top twelve for the first time since the inception of the CAF Champions League. The 2011 Congo Cup winners AC Leopards’ heroic run into the CAF Confederation Cup final means that their nation will now have four entrants in 2014. Congolese clubs have a lot to thank Leopards for! Similarly, Ghana make the top twelve after a great CAF Champions League run this season by an “Emmanuel Clottey inspired” Berekum Chelsea. The two sides who will miss out in 2014 are a crisis ridden Zimbabwe and Ivory Coast who will only be allowed to enter one club into the CAF Champions League and one into the CAF Confederation Cup.

Another interesting thing to note is the (terrible) performance of South African sides in continental competitions. Despite being a very well funded (in comparison to other African nations) professional league they’ve not managed to get a single side into the group stages of either continental competition in the last five years.

Flickr Photo Credit: ennaimi

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Posted by on November 15, 2012 in Africa, Featured, Statistics


Africa Cup of Nations 2013 preview

Africa Cup of Nations 2013 preview

The draw for the Africa Cup of Nations 2013 took place in Durban on Wednesday. Sixteen teams from across Africa, from Algeria in the north to South Africa in the south, Ghana in the west and Ethiopia in the east were placed in four groups of four. The tournament kicks off on the 19th January 2013, the first game will be between hosts South Africa and debutants to continental competition Cape Verde.

As with all major tournaments there’s always a rush to label one of the groups as a “Group of Death”, for AFCON 2013 it appears that Group D has been chosen to be awarded that particular moniker. I thought I’d do some basic analysis on the groups using the much derided (though broadly accurate) FIFA World Rankings. I’ve run two separate metrics on the groups. The first one is to find the average world rankings of the sides contained in the groups. The other is to calculate the average world rankings of each country’s opponents.

FIFA world rankings for AFCON 2013 competitors (as of October 2012)

FIFA world rankings for AFCON 2013 competitors (as of October 2012)

The above table shows the current (as of October 2012) FIFA world rankings of every Africa Cup of Nations 2013 competitor. The four “seeds”, South Africa (hosts), Zambia (holders), Ghana and Ivory Coast are all in bold/italic. What’s interesting from the above is that African powerhouses Ghana aren’t the top ranked side in their group, instead it’s Mali. Perhaps more interestingly hosts South Africa aren’t the top ranked side in the group either. That honour for top ranked side goes to Cape Verde Islands.

Cape Verde will be competing in their first Africa Cup of Nations in their history. Whilst many are viewing the South Africa vs Cape Verde game as a home banker a quick look at the respective countries recent form will show you that Cape Verde have some notable scalps under their belt  (if that isn’t too much of a mixed metaphor). with victories over Mali, Burkina Faso and Cameroon in recent months.

The rise of the Blue Sharks (yep, Cape Verde are nicknamed the Blue Sharks, so that’s another African football sobriquet for you to remember) isn’t particularly surprising. They can draw from a deep pool of talent from across Europe and have players playing in the Portuguese, French and Dutch top flight. Ze Luis, a 21-year old attacker, has already played at Old Trafford in the Champions League this season. They’re no mugs. Cameroon have already seen their teeth, South Africa won’t want to feel their bite in January.*

Cape Verde may find that 2013 is the year that they finally become a football nation in their own right rather than “where Nani comes from”, though I’m sure the fact that their defender Carlitos is Nani’s cousin may get a couple of mentions before the tournament kicks off. During the last Africa Cup of Nations in 2012 it was Equatorial Guinea who surprised many when their rag-tag bunch of lower league Spanish players made it to the last eight. I can certainly see Cape Verde making a similar impact to the Equatoguineans, and whilst Cape Verde may not be hosts like Equatorial Guinea were I think they have a lot more talent available to them.

Average FIFA world ranking of opponents in group stages

Average FIFA world ranking of opponents in group stages

Togo (or Emmanuel Adebayor’s Togo as you’ll see most European outlets describe them as) have landed themselves with the toughest draw of all. The average FIFA world ranking of the sides they will face is 28. Despite the current incumbents of number 28 in the FIFA world rankings being Ireland, I still think this means they’ll have a tough job on their hands in January. It’s defending champions Zambia who face the weakest opposition in their group.

Average FIFA world ranking of countries in each group at Africa Cup of Nations 2013

Average FIFA world ranking of countries in each group at Africa Cup of Nations 2013

As you can see from above it’s Group D that is way ahead of the others in terms of the average FIFA world ranking of the sides. Therefore it’s Group D that can perhaps best be described as the “Group of Death”.

* – it’s important to get the shark references out of the way before the Africa Cup of Nations begins in January 2013.

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Posted by on October 26, 2012 in Africa, Featured




In October 1978 the Zambian national side undertook a tour of England. They played five matches in a fifteen day period against Shrewsbury Town (9/10/78), Wigan Athletic (11/10/78), Workington (16/10/1978), Marine (17/10/78) and Bristol Rovers (24/10/78). It’s likely that the tour was arranged by Englishman, and then Zambian manager, Brian Tiler (a former Wigan Athletic player). The match at Gay Meadow against Shrewsbury Town is probably the most interesting of the lot as it featured a rather well known figure by the name of Bobby Charlton, playing in the last game of his career. Why he found himself playing at Shrewsbury is a question that may never fully be answered, though it has been suggested that Charlton had a link to the town as he and Duncan Edwards undertook their national service there.


Bobby Charlton had retired from football two years previously after a short spell in Ireland with Waterford United. However, he was convinced to play in this one off tie and to don the famous blue and amber stripes of the Shrews. The programme details some of Charlton’s team-mates that day and they include players who went on to forge successful managerial careers in the lower leagues such as Graham Turner and Ian Atkins. In fact, Turner is now managing Shrewsbury Town in League Two, very apt considering he answered Shrewsbury Town reserves to the “what’s your favourite other side” in the programme.

Shrewsbury Town take on Zambia at Gay Meadow

Shrewsbury Town take on Zambia at Gay Meadow

The player profiles of the Shrewsbury players are fascinating and give a real insight into late 1970s football in the UK. Not only are the players’ positions and main attributes listed, we are also informed of the marital status of the player and the car they drive. So we have: Steve Biggins (single, Ford Escort), Carleton Leonard (single, Hillman Avenger), Graham Turner (married with three children, Vauxhall Chevette), Michael Roberts (single, Volkswagen “Beetle”) and so it continues…

The player profiles in the programme of the Zambians also make interesting reading (though they do unfortunately omit their marital status and the car they drive). Goalkeeper Vincent Chileshe “rated the best Goalkeeper in Africa” and nicknamed the “Black Cat” is featured as is Godfrey Chitalu, a centre-forward from Kabwe Warriors. It says in the programme that Chitalu had turned down offers to play in England and the United States to stay in his native Zambia. It certainly wasn’t uncommon for Africans to be playing abroad at this time, Aston Villa featured two Zambian internationals in the 69/70 season (Fred Mwila and Emment Kapengwe) so there may be something in that tale.

As for the game, Zambia lost 4-0. The tour was to be a difficult one for the Chipolopolo, the next few games didn’t get much easier as they lost to Wigan Athletic by two goals to one and also lost to Marine by four goals to nil.

Zambia’s manager went on to become the managing director of AFC Bournemouth where he helped oversee the club’s promotion to the Second Division. Tiler was tragically killed in Italy when the car he and (then Bournemouth manager) Harry Redknapp were travelling in collided with a minibus on the way to the England versus Cameroon World Cup Quarter Final in 1990.

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Posted by on March 9, 2012 in Africa, Featured


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African football weekly review 21st February – 27th February 2012

Herve Renard’s cheeky grin, bright white shirts and furious bawls at perenially offside strikers are now a distant memory. Nevertheless, the wheels of African football continue to grind along, domestic leagues are in full swing from Lubumbashi to Nairobi, and the heroes (and villains) of the Cup of Nations are back with their respective European, Asian and African clubs. So, here we are, Spirit of Mirko’s second weekly African football review (most likely to return at the start of April as a monthly review!). In the review we take a look at some of the unsung African heroes around the footballing globe.

Team of the Week

African team of the week

An unlikely hero wins a place in goal for the team of the week. Ismail Kouha who plays for Moroccan side Maghreb Fes started the game on the bench for his club in the CAF Super Cup final, but was called into action when Anas Zniti was injured in a collision with an opposition forward. The Moroccan custodian became an unexpected hero with the Moroccan CAF Confederation Cup winners winning a penalty shootout against the CAF Champions League winners Esperance of Tunis.

Ibrahima Gueye scored KSC Lokeren’s fifth goal against KV Kortrijk. The 34 year old Senegalese defender only came on in the 83rd minute but made a quick impact scoring two minutes into injury time.

Tunisian defender Aymen Abdennour scored the opening goal for Toulouse against relegation threatened Sochaux. Toulouse won the game 2-0 and are now 7th in Ligue 1 only six points behind Lille in the third Champions League place.

In the Champions League Senegal’s Souleymane Diawara kept a clean sheet against Italian giants Inter. His French club Marseille won the game 1-0.

Moving into the midfield and we have Monaco’s Morroccan midfielder Nabil Darir. He scored the equaliser for the Ligue 2 side against Laval in the 32nd minute. His club went on to win the tie 2-1 with a goal 8 minutes from the end. It was a much needed victory for Monaco who are struggling in France’s second tier this season.

In the second tier in Germany Marcel N’Djeng scored a late third goal for Ausburg angainst Hertha Berlin in a 3-0 victory for the German side. It was the Cameroonian‘s first goal of the season.

Back into Belguim, and back to Lokeren where South African Ayanda Patosi scored for Lokeren in their win over KV Kortrijk. Patosi opened the scoring in the 16th minute, six goals were to follow in what turned out to be an entertaining 5-2 victory for his club.

As usual we’re spoilt for choice when it comes to African stikers making their mark on the footballing world. And moving back into Africa, a familiar face makes it into the team of the week. Benni McCarthy of Orlando Pirates scored a marvellous overhead kick for his club in a rip-roaring 4-3 victory. The South African is playing back in his homeland of South Africa.

Nigerian international Peter Odimwinge is another obvious choice in the African team of the week. He scored a goal in each half for struggling West Brom against Sunderland at the Hawthorns.

Another Nigerian (this time making waves in France) is John Utaka. His solitary stirke was enough to see Montpellier claim all three points at home to Bordeaux. His side find themselves in a surprising first place in Ligue 1 with a dozen or so games left of the French season.

And completing the line-up is Andre Ayew who scored a late, late goal for Marseille against Inter in the Champions League this week. The Ghanaian international scored in the 3rd minute of injury time to hand his side a narrow 1-0 advantage to take into the second leg at the San Siro.

Goal of the Week

It would have been very easy to have awarded the goal of the week accolade to Benni McCarthy’s overhead kick. However, I feel it’s more worthwhile to bring your attention to Egypt’s 5-0 victory over Kenya and in particular the Egyptian’s fifth goal. It was scored by Ahmed El-Zaher, and I like to think he meant it.

Egypt’s fifth goal against Kenya

List of the week

African clubs with “Sugar” in their name

  1. Kagera Sugar (Tanzania)
  2. Mtibwa Sugar (Tanzania)
  3. Fincha Sugar (Ethiopia)
  4. Metehara Sugar (Ethiopia)
  5. Wonji Sugar (Ethiopia)
  6. Chemelil Sugar (Kenya)
  7. Sony Sugar (Kenya)
  8. Kinyara Sugar (Uganda)


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Posted by on February 28, 2012 in Africa


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African Football weekly review 13th February – 20th February 2012

Welcome to Spirit of Mirko’s first ever weekly review of African football. It’s likely to be skewed somewhat towards the more obscure, it’ll be an interesting experiment nonetheless. I hope you enjoy it.

Team of the Week

Africa Team of the Week

In goal we have Joslain Mayebi who plays for Wrexham of the Conference National (fifth-tier in England). Despite his relatively lowly position in the pyramid he’s hoping for a Cameroon call-up. His side are currently looking to re-enter league football and are second to leaders Fleetwood Town. They beat Hayes & Yeading 4-1 at the Racecourse last weekend with Mayebi between the sticks.

Experienced Tunisian defender Karim Haggui scored the opening goal for his club Hannover 96 in a 4-2 victory over VFB Stuttgart in the Bundlesliga on Sunday. It was the former Etoile du Sahel player’s second goal of the season.

Rwandan defender Edwin Ouon played and scored for AEL Limassol in a 2-0 victory over Ermis in Cyprus last weekend. The victory has consolidated the club’s lead at the top of the Cypriot league and a possible chance of Champions League football.

In defence the only way is Essex for Bilel Mohsni who scored Southend United’s only goal of the game against Crewe Alexandra. The Tunisian‘s goal has put the Shrimpers top of League Two (fourth tier) in England. He and his Congolese team-mate Jean-Paul Kalala are in with a good shout of being promoted with the Essex side this term.

Despite his retirement from international football it’s hard to ignore Kevin Prince-Boateng‘s marvellous goal for Milan against Arsenal in the Champions League during midweek. Fans across the world have sat back and wondered how the Ghanaian talent ever played for Portsmouth…

Panathanikos midfielder Simão Mate Júnior scored in the Greek side’s 2-0 victory over Ergotelis. The Mozambique international is a seasoned campaigner in Greece having joined the Athens club in 2007.

After an impressive but ultimately unsuccessful Africa Cup of Nations Moroccan playmaker Younès Belhanda returned to Montpellier and played in a top of the table clash in Ligue 1 against (and I believe I’m contractually obliged to write this) money-bags PSG. Belhanda scored in an entertaining 2-2 draw, Montpellier’s other goal was scored by Nigerian star John Utaka.

Another player returning to France after Africa Cup of Nations duty was former Leeds United winger Max Gradel. The Ivory Coast winger quickly got back into the swing of things at St.Etienne scoring the club’s fourth goal (to no reply) against Stade Rennes.

Stand out performance of the week came in Bundesliga 2 where Algerian striker Karim Matmour scored a hat-trick for Eintracht Frankfurt against city rivals FSV Frankfurt in a stunning 6-1 victory.

Other African strikers doing the business in Europe this week included Guinea‘s Abdoulaye Diallo who scored a late winner in Monday night’s Ligue 2 clash for leaders Bastia against fallen giants AS Monaco. Diallo scored twice against Botswana in Guinea’s 6-1 victory over Bostwana in the Africa Cup of Nations.

Completing the team is Mouhamadou Habibou who hails from Central African Republic. He scored a brace against Standard Liege in a surprise 4-2 victory for his side Zulte Waragem.

African Club of the Week

The African Champions League re-started this week so it seems appropriate to present this inaugural award to a side competing in the competition. With that in mind it’s very hard to look past Angolan champions CRD Libolo who defeated South African giants Orlando Pirates 3-1 in Johannesburg. Orlando Pirates were expected to put up a strong challenge for the African Champions League this season after signing both Benni McCarthy and more recently Luis Boa-Morte. However it appears that they are likely to fall at the first hurdle. It will take an outstanding performance in Angola to turn this tie around.

Other notable performances in the Champions League came from Chadian side Foullah Edifice who held the Algerian side JSM Béjaia to a goalless draw. This may seem like an unspectacular result on first inspection, but Tourbillon of Chad lost 10-0 at the same stage last season to Raja Casablanca.

Congratualtions to CRD Libolo of Angola and Foullah Edifice of Chad for upholding both nation’s footballing pride.

Quote of the Week

“One of my good friends told me that a prostitute and the devil had a baby and named it football. This game is unpredictable but that is why I love football so much”

– Milutin Sredojevic, Rwanda coach
(Above quote from a great inteview on with Rwanda’s Serbian coach Sredojevic)
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Posted by on February 21, 2012 in Africa


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Zambia – Champions of Africa

Eighteen years after eighteen of Zambia’s footballers were killed off the coast of Libreville, Stippola Sunzu scored the eighteenth penalty of a marathon shootout to win his country their first ever Africa Cup of Nations.

During the shootout the Zambian players could be heard indulging in communal singing in support of their team-mates as they faced the dreaded walk to the penalty spot. It was this team-ethic that had seen Zambia storm towards the final. This sense of teamwork and fighting for one another stretched from the pitch all the way to the touchline as the wonderful Hervé Renard became a virtual 12th man during their battles to the final.

Renard has come a long way since his unsuccessful stint as manager of Cambridge United (it’s interesting to note at the time the Cambridge board wanted to replace him with Dion Dublin, a man who has become more famous for inventing his own musical instrument than his managerial abilities since), and has come even further since he ran his own business cleaning offices in Paris. His screams of “MAYUNKAAA!”, directed at eventual winner of the Golden Boot, via virtue of assists, Emmanual Mayunka became a running amusement amongst fans on twitter during the tournament.

His methods may have often seemed unconventional, during the final he could be heard shouting for his supposedly less illustrious team to “keep the ball on the floor”, whilst he also only used two of his three permitted substitutes despite an enregy sapping period of extra time. However, no one can dispute his decision making skills after this magnificent victory.

Incredibly in the minutes after the cup was awarded Renard managed to enhance his reputation further. Firstly by carrying injured fullback Joseph Musonda down the touchline to allow him to join in the celebrations with his ecstatic team-mates, Renard’s white shirt gleaming under the Stade d’Angondjé floodlights. Secondly, by giving his medal to Kalusha Bwalya, the head of the Zambian FA. Bwalya is considered Zambia’s greatest ever player and was a part of the ’93 squad that were tragically killed in the plane crash, but was luckily not on the plane as he was heading back to his club in Europe. If you’re after symbolism and stories, there are few games of football that will ever match this one.

The game was littered with moments of sportsmanship, from Didier Drogba consoling the tearful Musonda after he had to be substituted early on (Drogba remains a legend and a much loved figure in Africa despite his image in the UK) to Ivory Coast’s goalkeeper Boubacar Barry shaking the hand of fellow keeper Mwenee after conceding a penalty during the shootout. The final was a much needed tonic for football’s soul after a sour weekend of Suarez/Evra hand-shake shenanigans.

For all the talk of Ivory Coast’s golden generation of Didier Drogba, the Touré brothers, Solomon Kalou and Gervinho it was the ‘Copper generation’ of Zambia that truly deserved their victory. They had seen off African heavy-weights Senegal, Ghana and Ivory Coast to win the cup whilst the highest ranked side the Ivorians had met during the competition were Burkina Faso (ranked 14th in Africa).

Furthermore the Zambians contained a side with only three or four players who play outside of Africa, and only two who play in Europe (one in Switzerland and the other in Russia). For many this may be a surprise, but a quick glance through the history books shows that each winning squad from the last five Africa Cup of Nations (Egypt 3, Tunisia 1, Zambia 1) has been based primarily in Africa. You have to go back to Cameroon’s victory of 2002 to find a squad that was based mainly in Europe.

It will be interesting to see whether sides packed with European stars like Senegal, Ghana, Nigeria, Ivory Coast change their method because as the wise man once said:

All that glitters is not gold, sometimes, just sometimes, it’s copper.


Posted by on February 15, 2012 in Africa, International


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