The best piece of journalism on ‘Africa’s World Cup’

Bar none.

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
World Cup 2010: Into Africa – Goal Diggers
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor Tea Party

Why Africa’s teams, Ghana aside, haven’t performed

…finding a common reason that explains Africa’s disappointment is pointless. This was not a continental failure, rather a combination of mistakes on and off the field, difficult draws and a dose or two of bad luck, all wrapped up in a layer of unrealistic expectation.

There was a hope that since this was the first World Cup in Africa then African teams would do well. But that’s all it was: hope. In reality, none of the six teams had suggested that they were capable of surpassing Cameroon and Senegal’s achievement of reaching the quarterfinals.

From my first piece for the New York Times’ ‘Goal’ blog. The rest is here

Africa United is now available in South Africa

Just in time for South Africans to celebrate the first World Cup in Afr – Oh…

Still, drown your sorrows and head over to Exclusive Books and pick up yours. I’ll be handing out prizes to anyone who manages to place copies of ‘Africa United’ in front of Simon Kuper’s Soccernomics on the main World Cup table, thus hiding my main competition.

Observations from Soccer City

Last night was my first World Cup experience as a fan. An Ivory Coast scarf wrapped round my neck, I watched Les Elephants lose 3-1 to Brazil at Soccer City. Some thoughts…

  • South Africans may have bought tickets in large numbers, but are they football fans? Many of those I sat with behind the goal last night were clearly going for the first time. Some were more interested in starting a Mexican Wave after five minutes than watching the football. With 10 minutes to go, and Ivory Coast back in it after Didier Drogba had pulled one back, people started leaving. “Traffic,” muttered one, as I asked why he was going
  • Selling ice creams at a night match during a winter World Cup is not a good idea
  • The park and ride scheme for Soccer City is working brilliantly. It took us less than an hour to get to the stadium after parking at Wits University, while on the way back the queues were orderly, moving fast and there were enough buses to take us all home. We were back at the car park within an hour and 15 minutes of the match ending. (I realise this wasn’t the case in Rustenburg, but then lots of things are worse in Rustenburg)
  • Category 3 is better than Category 1. We couldn’t see much of the action at the other end but it didn’t matter. The atmosphere was great and we got a fantastic view of Luis Fabiano’s first goal (the one where he didn’t handball it twice in the build-up) and Drogba’s consolation. Those in Category 1 (price: $180) had a great birds’ eye view of the whole pitch, but were as far away from the action is one can be. I know which seats I prefer.
  • Luis Fabiano is the new Thierry Henry
  • The Premier League is ludicrously over priced. It cost me $80 (about £55) to watch one of the best teams in the world take on some of Africa’s most talented players at an incredible stadium in a World Cup match. It would cost more to watch Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester United or Tottenham in the Premier League
  • None of my teams (England, Nigeria, Ivory Coast and South Africa) have won yet.

“Do not underestimate the South African achievement.”

Excellent op-ed in he New York Times by Roger Cohen, who spent part of his childhood in apartheid South Africa. It’s worth reading the whole thing but here’s the best bit:

South Africa will probably become the first host nation ever to fail to qualify for the second round. That would be sad but in the end immaterial. This particular World Cup is political. It is an affirmation of a nation’s miraculous (if incomplete) healing, of African dignity, and of a continent that deserves better than those tired images of violence and disease.

“The country is going to the dogs,” — I still hear it as I heard it long ago in different guise. What did I say about statistics? There are plenty of them.

This is still a country where only 60 percent of dwellings have flush toilets, where an estimated 6 million people are H.I.V. positive, and where unemployment runs at 25 percent. High walls — and 300,000 private security guards — testify to high murder rates.

To all of which I say: People have unrealistic expectations. They want to fast-forward life as if it were a gadget. You don’t erase the effects of a half-century of apartheid in a generation. “Non-racialism” — President Jacob Zuma’s commitment — is not the state in which South Africa lives, any more than the United States does.

Still, what I see is grandeur: a country of 49 million people, 38.7 million of them black, 4.5 million of them white, the rest mixed-race or Asian, that has held together and shunned Zimbabwean unraveling or Congolese implosion. Do not underestimate the South African achievement.

England were rubbish – but Algeria are not a bad team

Algeria's Hassan Yebda refusing to let Rooney past (Photo: Lars Baron/Getty Images)

A bit of perspective on the England debacle in Cape Town last night. Algeria may have been useless against Slovenia in their opening match but, as I pointed out on Twitter yesterday, the Desert Foxes blow hot and cold.

At the African Nations they lost 3-0 to Malawi in the opening game but then recovered to reach the semi-finals, knocking out tournament favourites Ivory Coast along the way before self-combusting against Egypt.

Three previous encounters with Egypt in 2009 give an indication of Algeria’s strengths. Egypt are comfortably the best team in Africa, having won the last three African Nations. In last year’s Confederations Cup they beat Italy 1-0 and were unlucky to lose 4-3 to Brazil.

Algeria were drawn in the same World Cup qualifying group as Egypt with only the top team reaching South Africa. The Desert Foxes beat the Pharaohs 3-1 at home before losing 2-0 in Cairo, a result which forced a play-off on neutral territory. Algeria won that match, held in Sudan’s capital, Khartoum, 1-0.

But it was the defeat in Cairo which, in many ways, was most admirable. The team bus was stoned by a group of Egyptian fans on their arrival at the airport. Several windows were smashed and three players were injured. Fifa refused to postpone the match – two of the players, Rafik Halliche and Kaled Lemmouchia, took to the field the following night with head bandages.

At least 90,000 Egyptian fans were packed into the Cairo International Stadium, most of whom had taken their seats six hours early. It was one of the most incredible atmospheres I’ve ever witnessed at a football match and must have been incredibly intimidating for the Algerians. Egypt scored an early goal but struggled to get a second which they needed to force the play-off. It eventually came in the 96th minute.

The Algerians were crestfallen – but four days later in Khartoum they would have their revenge.

The Egypt v Algeria match in Cairo features in the first chapter of Africa United…

Online hatred for Mali’s Koman Coulibaly

Unlikely to be making any travel plans to the US any time soon

Ah, the internet… What’s not to love? The USA-Slovenia match ended less than half an hour ago. Koman Coulibaly, the Malian referee, didn’t have the greatest of games culminating in his decision to disallow a perfectly good winning goal for the Americans. Here’s a selection of the new entries made to Coulibaly’s Wikipedia page:

“If I had my druthers I would love to see this guy hung.”

“I don’t think it’s any coincidence his skin is the same color as evil.”

“Malicious Koman denying white man the goal”

“I think the US should house him in Guantanamo.”

“why is noone talking about how this guy is black…seems obvious to me.”

Wikipedia has wisely noted that the “neutrality of this article is disputed” and has restored its original blandness.