It’s official: South Africa are the worst World Cup hosts ever

(Photo: Getty Images)

(Photo: Getty Images)

The new Fifa World Rankings are out and they don’t make pretty reading for South Africa. Bafana Bafana are ranked 88th, having fallen seven places following this month’s 1-1 draw with Namibia (a team with a school teacher at left back).

No host nation has ever failed to reach the second round but South Africa have been drawn in the same group as France (ranked 8th), Mexico (17th) and Uruguay (18th).

Some South African fans I speak to have been trying to look on the bright side, pointing out that the USA were predicted to go out in the first round when they held the World Cup in 1994, while little was expected of co-hosts Japan and South Korea in 2002. The USA and Japan both reached the second round; South Korea went all the way to the semi-finals.

But I’ve checked the Fifa rankings and none of those teams were anywhere near as bad as South Africa. Ten weeks before they hosted the World Cup the USA was ranked 21st, Japan was 38th and South Korea was 41st.

Okay, the Fifa rankings are not an exact science (Greece are 11th), but it at least serves to underline the scale of the task that Carlos Alberto Parreira and his men have ahead of them. Parreira has described reaching the second round as “like climbing Mount Everest” and to extend the metaphor a touch too far South Africa have so far struggled to find base camp, let alone start the climb.

I still think they will do it. South Africa performed admirably against Brazil and Spain in last summer’s Confederations Cup and none of their opponents will relish playing in front of tens of thousands of vociferous Bafana fans blowing their vuvuzelas.

South Africa will also benefit from the early end of the local Premier Soccer League season. Parreira has already taken the team on a training camp to Brazil and another is planned for Germany. Let’s hope he turns things around. A successful host nation tends to help the whole tournament.

“Beyond 2010, there’s a nation united”

I rather like these South African adverts for BP, inspired by the best football comedy sketch ever (not that the list is that long): Monty Python’s version of Greece versus Germany

“There’s the Ubuntu strategy”

“Some direction there from the car guards”

“Stopping in the middle of nowhere again. That’s got to be a penalty”

(h/t Chris Rawlinson)

The Roundup

Africa’s World Cup hopefuls

"Can we beat Portugal and Brazil? Je ne sais pas"

The Ivory Coast coaching circus is over. The last man standing is Sven Goran Eriksson, whose appointment was announced on Ivorian state television last night. Sven won’t find it easy. For a start, he doesn’t speak French.

But at least he knows his opponents well. Portugal, who Ivory Coast play on 15th June, were Sven’s opponents in his last World Cup match, the 2006 quarter-final which England lost on penalties. Sven’s England team were also dumped out of the World Cup by Ivory Coast’s second opponents, Brazil. And he’s not entirely unfamiliar with their final opponents, North Korea. During his ill-fated time as director of football for Notts County, Sven was invited to Pyongyang to discuss coaching the national team at the World Cup.

Nigeria‘s new coach, Lars Lagerback, has warned his players that “undisciplined” players won’t make his squad. I bet he wishes he had as much control over the officials at the Nigeria Football Federation. Not for the first time they have announced upcoming friendly matches before getting confirmation from their opponents. Proposed friendlies with North Korea and Ukraine have been called off.

Football fans in Ghana will be able to watch the whole tournament for free after a deal was reached to share broadcasting rights between three TV channels.

How are South Africa‘s fringe players trying to get the attention of national team manager, Carlos Alberto Parreira? By text message. Nasief Morris, who plays in Spain for Racing Santander, has been out of the squad since last June. Morris sent Parraiera a text three weeks ago after failing to make his latest squad. ”It was very respectful of him,” said Parreira.

Best of African Club Football

Egyptian champions, Al Ahly, look on course for their sixth title in a row and their 35th in total following a 2-1 win at relegation-threatened ENPPI. City rivals Zamalek kept up the chase with a 2-0 win at home to El Entag El Harby but they remain six points behind with just seven games to play. Al Ahly have a game in hand.

In Cameroon, Cotonsport, are almost certain to regain their title, after extending their lead at the top of Division One to 13 points with just seven games to go. Cotonsport Division One six times in a row from 2003 to 2008 before losing out to Tiko United last year.

African Stars in Europe

Lille’s Ivorian forward, Gervinho, marked his return from injury with the opening goal in a 4-1 win over Montpellier. He now has 12 for the season. Ivory Coast have several big names but Gervinho is one of their most exciting players – a tricky, pacy winger with a good eye for goal. So long as Sven picks him, he will be one to watch in June.

And finally…

Somalia were hammered 6-0 by Tanzania in the African Nations Championship qualifiers. I was there the last time Somalia won a match, incidentally against Tanzania. It looks like it’s going to be a while before it happens again.

“We need nets”

It took me a while to understand this advert. Becks strikes a free kick which hits a man on the head. And this is a metaphor for malaria? Then I realised the net had suddenly disappeared. Ah, so if we don’t have goal nets then unsuspecting people will get hit by footballs. Which is, of course, a great metaphor for malaria. Because, as the advert goes on to point out, the lack of mosquito nets kills “3000 African children every day”.

Being hit with a football = dying. They need to work on that metaphor.

*By the way, malaria prevention is not as simple as providing bed nets.

The Roundup

Best of African Club Football

Al Ahly fans in happier, Champions League-winning, firecracker-burning times (Photo: AFP)

Let’s start with the African Champions League. Two big shocks in the first leg of the second round. Champions TP Mazembe were beaten 1-0 away to APR of Rwanda while Egyptian side Al Ahly, who have won the competition a record six times, lost by the same scoreline to Zimbabwe’s champions, Gunners, in Harare.

Both giants will probably win their home matches (they always do, somehow) but it’s good to see the African version of the Champions League is not quite as predictable as it’s European counterpart.

African Stars in Europe

Kanu's teammates try to hold him up after his creaking legs threaten to give way. (Photo: Tony O'Brien/Action Images)

Nwankwo Kanu is getting on a bit (Harry Redknapp once joked he was 47) but he’s still worth a place on the subs bench. On Saturday he scored Portsmouth’s last minute winner against relegation-threatened Hull. Ivory Coast’s Aruna Dindane didn’t play because a clause in his loan deal would have forced Portsmouth to pay £4m to his parent club, Lens. Portsmouth, in administration and facing almost certain relegation, can barely afford £4, let alone £4m. It looks like Dindane might have to return to France.

McDonald Mariga finally got to play in England. He came on for the last few minutes of Inter’s game at Stamford Bridge, becoming the first Kenyan to play in the European Champions League. Mariga’s international team-mate, Dennis Oliech, is also impressing. He set up both goals in the 2-1 win against Le Mans which briefly put his side top of Ligue 1.

Africa’s World Cup hopefuls

Ivory Coast still don’t have a manager. Guus Hiddink had been favourite but he pulled out last week. It might end up being Philippe Troussier, who was les Elephants’ coach back in 1993, but frankly I’ve no idea. Whoever they chose will have two friendlies (against Paraguay and Japan) to take a look at his players, but crucially both of these take place after the deadline to name a provisional World Cup squad of 30.

Algeria will pay for their shocking loss of discipline during their embarrassing African Nations semi-final defeat to Egypt in January. Nadir Belhadj, who was sent off for a vicious two footed lunge, will miss the Desert Foxes’ first World Cup match against Slovenia while goalkeeper Faouzi Chaouchi, who headbutted the referee, will miss the Slovenia and England games. He’s lucky he wasn’t banned for longer. Algeria had appealed the bans but CAF last week said they would not be overturned.

South Africa won 8-0. Okay, it was a friendly against the reserve team of a Brazilian club side, but let’s not dwell on that bit. Given that they could only draw 1-1 with Namibia, a team stuffed with amateurs and a school teacher at left back, the World Cup hosts will take any victory they can.

Africa’s hopes blighted by poor planning

Will Hiddink have enough time to turn things around for Ivory Coast? (Photo: Eddie Keogh/Reuters)

Africa’s World Cup teams are in trouble. Nigeria and Ivory Coast both sacked their coaches after disappointing performances in the Africa Cup of Nations. Cameroon didn’t sack Paul Le Guen but the team’s tepid performance in Angola hardly augured well for South Africa. Algeria reached the semi-finals but their complete loss of discipline in their defeat to Egypt – which include the goalkeeper, Chaouchi Faouzi, headbutting the referee – means several key players may miss their opening matches.

And then there are the hosts. I was in Durban last week for South Africa’s friendly with Namibia. The new Moses Mabhida stadium looked stunning. More importantly, it was almost full and the atmosphere was fantastic. Everything suggested that South Africa was ready to host the World Cup. Everything, except the football.

Namibia are ranked 111th in the world, but they were ahead at half-time and though Bafana managed to equalise in the second half they rarely threatened to take the lead and the match finished 1-1. In the post-match press conference Namibia’s Belgian coach, Tom Saintfiet, pointed out that several of his side are amateurs and his left-back is a school teacher. The South African press was not happy. “Oh No Bafana” was the headline on the back page of the Sowetan.

I’m still confident that South Africa will reach the second round. Even weak host nations tend to do well (think USA in 1994 and Japan and Korea in 2002). Bafana Bafana’s other advantage is that the local league season has come to an end. The vast majority of the national squad will have only the World Cup to focus on for the next three months. Carlos Alberto Parreira has been able to take a large squad to Brazil for a month-long training session and will do the same in Germany just before the World Cup.

Nigeria and Ivory Coast are a different matter. They have some of the best players in Africa and, on paper at least, are the two African teams with the best chance to reach the quarters. But both sides will be going into the World Cup with new coaches. Earlier this month Nigeria appointed Swede Lars Lagerback, while Ivory Coast are still trying to find a replacement for the unfortunate Vahid Halilhodzic who lost just once in his last 24 matches. Guus Hiddink is the favourite but he will find it a lot harder to turn around Ivory Coast’s fortunes than Chelsea’s last year.

That leaves Ghana as the only one of Africa’s six representatives that hasn’t had to deal with a crisis entirely of their own making – and even they managed to lose Sulley Muntari, their best player, for the African Nations after a row between him and coach Milovan Rajevac.

This World Cup will showcase the very best of Africa off the pitch. At the moment I’m less confident that the same can be said on the pitch.

“Do you know who we are?”

I really don’t know where to start with this. Bad acting, a terrible song and a generous helping of Africa cliches.
Still, kudos to Pepsi for managing to make an advert about the World Cup despite not being able to actually mention the World Cup (their rivals Coca Cola are one of the tournament’s main sponsors).