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Wednesday, February 29, 2012


So, it was off to Libreville, capital of Gabon, for the Chipolopolo, and also for Côte d'Ivoire, who had defeated Mali 1:0 in the other semi-final courtesy of a goal just before half-time from Gervinho, who had picked the ball up in his own half and ran unopposed into the Malian box before sidefooting the ball past the 'keeper. Didier Drogba and Yaya Touré both saw efforts rebounding off the woodwork, which would surely have put the game beyond a dogged Mali side had they gone in.

Upon arriving in Libreville on the Friday before the final, the entire Zambian team, plus staff, officials and manager Hervé Renard, travelled to the beach where many of the bodies of their predecessors were washed up 19 years earlier following the air-crash, to lay wreaths and pray at the scene.

For Les Éléphants, meanwhile, there was also added motivation to bring the Africa Cup of Nations trophy back to the Ivorian capital, Abidjan. The country was still mentally spilt after the conflict which ravaged the country after seriously flawed elections at the end of 2010, which only ended in April 2011 with the incumbent president Laurent Gbagbo, who had refused to give up power, being arrested and opposition candidate Alassane Ouattara being sworn into office. Over a thousand people are estimated to have been killed during the conflict; Gbagbo is currently awaiting trial for human rights abuses at the International Court of Human Rights in The Hague.

Both teams expressed their respect for each other before the final, one which was eagerly awaited by many. Côte d'Ivoire, with their conservative style of play, were strong favourites to win the Africa Cup of Nations for only the second time in the country's history; the team's only triumph in the competition came in 1992, when they beat Ghana 11:10 on penalties after a scoreless 120 minutes in the Senegalese capital, Dakar. Ghana were fancying their chances of getting their name on the trophy for the fifth time, and for the first time since 1982, but, of course, Zambia had already put paid to that ambition.

Ghana didn't even finish third this time round; Mali defeated them by 2 goals to nil in the third-place play-off thanks to a brace from Cheick Diabaté, one in each half. It was revenge for Ghana's victory over Les Aigles in the group stages, and a deserved victory for the Malians to boot. It could have been by a bigger margin, but Sulley Muntari's goal was chalked off for offside. Black Stars defender Isaac Vorsah was sent off just after the hour mark for a second bookable offence, but the whole Ghanaian team seemed very out of sorts and their minds seemed to be already in the departure lounge at Malabo airport. The third place was Mali's best result in the Africa Cup of Nations since a 3:2 defeat to Congo (then known as Congo-Brazzaville) in the final of the Cameroonian-hosted 1972 edition of the tournament.

That was then; the final this time round took place at Libreville's Stade d'Angondjé, and there was scarce an empty seat in the house. The Ivorian support was evident in the stands, as it was all the way through the tournament, while several hundred Chipolopolo supporters had made their way to Gabon to join the few dozen already there, and had done so on chartered aircraft at a price of some $US2050 a pop (flight and match-ticket included, of course). The locals had thrown their weight behind the underdogs, which didn't go un-noticed given the fraught relationship between the Gabonaise and Zambian governments since the air-crash in 1993. Football was once again showing itself to be a great healer.

Amid all the poignancy of the Zambians intent on bringing honour to their predecessors, and that of the Ivorians looking to bring a little happiness to a country still recovering from years of conflict, one would almost think that it was easy to overlook the fact that there was a football match to be played.

It was not a final which saw an immense number of chances, but the first one came in the second minute when Zambia's Nathan Sinkala, free in the penalty-area after a well-worked corner which saw Kalaba stroke the ball to captain Christopher Katongo, who then passed to Sinkala, saw his low drive well saved by Boubacar Barry in the Ivorian goal.

A few minutes later, Joseph Musonda was injured while making a challenge, seemingly hurting his ankle, and, despite gamely battling on, the defender was in some distress, giving Hervé Renard no option but to substitute him in the 12th minute. It was a pity for Musonda, who had been having a good tournament but, after being sportingly consoled by Didier Drogba, left the field in tears to a standing ovation.

Emmanuel Mayuka headed over a chip from Chisamba Lungu a couple of minutes later as Zambia dominated early proceedings, with a couple of Drogba free-kicks, one of which was comfortably dealt with by Kennedy Mweene in the Zambian goal, all that Les Éléphants had to muster in the first 20 minutes, but the Zambian defence were on panic stations a few minutes later following an Ivorian corner, but the ball was eventually cleared to safety. A warning for the Chipolopolo, and there was another one on the half-hour, when, after a lightning-fast move from the Ivorians, Yaya Touré flashed his shot inches wide of the post.

Nathan Sinkala had a chance to put Zambia ahead from a Kalaba corner but, standing alone in a space as big as a car-park, he seemed to lose his composure, slipped and fell over, swiping not at the ball but at thin air. A lucky escape for the Ivorian defence, who, in stark contrast to their defensive form throughout the tournament, in which they were yet to concede a goal, were occasionally looking shaky and, at times, gifting their opponents too much free space in their own penalty-area.

Sinkala was not the only one feeling the heat; Hervé Renard, his manager, who, in the latter stages of the semi-final win against Ghana, looked as though he was suffering from a mixture of an apoplectic fit and an audition for the Woodentops, was just as animated in this game, stalking the touchline, standing beside the dug-out, and then whacking Davies Nkausu for good measure, telling him to concentrate as the defender was preparing to take a throw-in directly in front of the technical area.

A scoreless first-half, then, and the second half saw Didier Drogba take centre-stage, starting with his receiving treatment for a blow to the back of the head suffered in a clash with Nyambe Mulenga. Drogba was starting to irritate with his mixture of diving and appealing, but this time, he looked pretty dazed. He was back creating havoc in the Zambia box within minutes, missing a half-chance with Stoppila Sunzu in attendance, and heading way over the bar from a Salomon Kalou free-kick, one of the few contributions of note from Kalou, who had been having a rather subdued game, to put it mildly; he would be substituted minutes later.

A game-changing moment arrived in the 69th minute, when Gervinho picked up the ball and hustled his way into the penalty-area, and was nudged in the back by Chansa just as Mulenga was closing in; it looked like one of those "we've seen them waved away" challenges, but not this time. The referee, who was having an immaculate game, got the decision right when he pointed to the spot.

Mulenga was booked, and Didier Drogba stepped up to take the kick, facing Mweene, who had saved Asamoah Gyan's penalty for Ghana early on in the semi-final, and was intent in putting Drogba off by continually talking to him. The man in yellow did his homework; Drogba's attempt wouldn't have looked out of place on any given Aussie Rules oval - it was long, high and wide. Mweene raced out of his area towards Drogba as the Ivorian was standing looking down at the penalty-spot, and prowled round him, waving his hand in front of his face. Drogba could only smile, ruefully, probably reflecting on the fact that history was repeating itself. He had missed a penalty in the 2006 shoot-out defeat to hosts Egypt, and that after missing a sitter with just a few minutes to go in the regulation 90.

There weren't too many more chances after that in normal time, though Max Gradel - Kalou's replacement - could have won it for Les Éléphants late on with an attempt at goal which was just off-target, while a bad bounce and a good, timely interception by Kolo Touré robbed Emanuel Mayuka of potentially swinging the game in favour of Zambia just before full-time.

Extra-time, then, and the two Katongos - Felix, who had come on for Mulenga, and Christopher - combined early on in the first-half for the latter to prod the ball towards Barry's goal, but the Ghanaian 'keeper nudged the ball with his studs, clipping the ball on to the post and away for a corner. Apart from Drogba falling all over the place, Gervinho looking dangerous at times, some good passing movement and one or two more Aussie Rules-style efforts from both teams, plus a couple of last-ditch interventions from Sunzu, there wasn't a whole lot to get worked up about as both teams seemed to be accepting that penalty-kicks would be the only manner in which this game was going to be settled.

No goals in the 120 minutes thus far, and despite there being a lack of shots on target, both teams had played their part in what was, for all that, an engrossing final, and the intent to attack was there, especially from the Chipolopolo. One could have expected more from Côte d'Ivoire, however, not just during the final but during the tournament as well; François Zahoui's team seemed to be too conservative at times. Too late to worry about that now, though; penalties loomed.

In what would become a memorable scene, the Zambian substitutes were singing on the touchline, much more tunefully than Les Éléphants when they were getting stuck into their national anthem before kick-off. Now, Zahoui looked concerned, Renard relaxed, yet determined, in one of his three lucky white shirts.

Cheik Tioté went first for Côte d'Ivoire, dismissed Mweene's attempts to put him off, and scored. Boubacar Barry took his time carefully placing his towel directly behind him, but his attempt at gamesmanship didn't work either. Christopher Katongo levelled things up anyway, rounding off an excellent contribution from the man who led Zambia by example from the first minute of the tournament. (Question: Katongo stuttered slightly during the run-up. Should the penalty have been re-taken?) Successful attempts from Wilfried Bony and Emmanuel Mayuka (the only player in the Zambian squad currently playing in European top-flight football and who is currently a star-turn at Young Boys Berne) left the score at 2:2.

Kennedy Mweene then became Zambia's hero, saving Souleman Bamba's penalty. Hero status lasted just a few seconds, however, as the match-officials spotted Mweene yards off the goal-line before the kick was taken. Bamba executed the re-take with relish. Isaac Chansa put Zambia on level terms. Max Gradel then slotted home the Ivorians' fourth penalty - each penalty (apart from that which had to be retaken) saw Mweene dive the wrong way - before Felix Katongo made it all square.

Didier Drogba was next up, and he atoned somewhat for his miss from the spot during normal time, driving his attempt home. Mweene, who regularly takes penalties for his South African club Free State Stars (he has scored six goals during his career), took his turn and sent Barry the wrong way.

Ten penalties taken, ten scored; Siaka Tiene made it 6:5 for the men in orange, before Nathan Sinkala levelled matters once again. Konan Ya and Chisamba Lungu brought the score up to 7-apiece in what was proving to be an exemplary penalty shoot-out.

Kolo Touré was not having the best of nights, and his evening was to get a whole lot worse as Mweene easily palmed away his effort, going down to his left. Kalaba stepped up to take his place in African football history..but the Zambia man, who had impressed immensely, blotted his copy-book somewhat by hoofing his spot-kick well over the goal. No matter, his team-mates on the touchline were still singing their hearts out.

Gervinho, for your correspondent's money one of the Ivorians' best players during the tournament because of his desire to get forward not to mention some fine play in and around the midfield area, was next up, but he didn't seem to want to be bothered taking part in the shoot-out (having had a heated discussion with Zahoui before it commenced) and his penalty, er, reflected that, missing the target by the rhetorical country mile.

So, it was up to Stoppila Sunzu to succeed where Kalaba failed and deliver the Africa Cup of Nations for Zambia, and he did so in some style, sending Barry the wrong way whilst hammering the ball into the roof of the net. The African Cup of Nations was heading to Lusaka. An historic moment for Sunzu, an historic moment for Zambian football and a poignant moment for Kalusha Bwalya and the families of the Chipolopolo killed in the 1993 air-crash a few miles from the Stade d'Angondjé. The ghosts of 1993 had, for Zambian football at the very least, if not for the families of those who perished, finally been exorcised.

One of the most evocative images (to use a hackneyed old phrase) of the final and its aftermath was Hervé Renard carrying the injured Musonda half the length of the pitch to join in the celebrations in front of the travelling Zambian support with his team-mates, at which point Renard scarpered the scene and headed back over to behind the dug-out to have a chat with a clearly delighted and emotional Bwalya, who was also mobbed by the boys in green and black.

The result was also a vindication of the FAZ's decision to re-appoint Renard; it also signalled Renard's transformation from zero (as far as a large percentage of Chipolopolo fans were concerned) to hero. The website ran this headline the day after the final: "Hervé Renard, Black Magic From the Blonde Sourcerer." The French ex-binman/cleaner has since been given a new contract, conjured up by the FAZ, which will run until August 2014, and, yes, the Zambian government will pick up the bill.

For Renard's opposite number, François Zahoui, the future is less certain, if rumours are to be believed, though as recently as last Friday, at a press-conference in the Ivorian capital, Abidjan, at which the president of the Fédération Ivorienne du Football (FIF) Sidy Diallo, was present, he stated that he was still the man in command and was looking forward to the forthcoming friendly against Guinea this coming Wednesday, a match which, according to a report carried in, would "reconcile my team with the general public after the mishap of February 12 in Libreville." Surely a contract extension is in order for the man many Ivorians call "The Statue;" to finish second in a continental competition is no disgrace, after all, and would hardly be a good reason to sack a manager who, let's face it, delivered.

What price Zambia being named Team of The Year and Renard collecting the Manager of the Year at the 2012 FIFA awards? One man who has already reaped the fruits of the good form of the Zambian team is captain Christopher Katongo. Before the semi-final against Ghana, Katongo, who, in addition to playing professionally in China, is also still attached to the Zambian armed forces, was promoted to Warrant Officer, Class One, by the Zambian president, Michael Sata, "with immediate effect for displaying exemplary leadership and skill in the team."

Warrant Officer, Class One, is the highest rank in the Zambian Army for non-commissioned officers; Katongo previously held the Class Two rank and before that was a Corporal. Not only that, but he will now be the "face of Pepsi" in Zambia after signing a one-year contract with the multi-national soft-drinks company last weekend. The Zambian government has given each team-member a US$59000 bonus for winning the Africa Cup of Nations.

The celebrations in Zambia were long and loud, and started almost as soon as Sunzu dispatched his spot-kick.
Lusaka came to a virtual standstill, while locals in Livingstone were celebrating alongside a large number of Zimbabweans who had crossed the border in the afternoon to lend their support. Sadly, at least two people died and some thirty-five were injured during the celebrations, which went on all night and lasted until well into the following evening, by which time the Chipolopolo had arrived back in Zambia and had attended an open-air ceremony at Lusaka Showgrounds.

All's well that ends well, but that was then, and the Zambian team must now focus on the future. The 2013 Africa Cup of Nations has already begun (more on that shortly), and the 14 winners of the first-round ties will go into the hat for the second round along with the 16 teams competing in this year's finals. Zambia are now the team to beat, and who would have bet on that before the tournament started? This could be the springboard to something good; the second round of CAF qualifiers for the 2014 World Cup begin later this year, and a berth in the finals in Brazil would certainly be something to aim for.

The Chipolopolo, version 2012, are a unified, indomitable, skilful bunch with a team-ethic the envy of most squads, but they will have to be on their guard. Drawn in Group D, they will have to face Lesotho (already eliminated from the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers), Sudan and..Ghana. The Black Stars (not to mention the Sudanese) will be out for revenge, and they will get an early chance to exact it; their second game in the group is scheduled to take place, away to Zambia, on 8/6/12. Zambia, meanwhile, will kick off on 1/6/12 away to Sudan, and their last game will be at home, against Sudan, on 14/6/13.

The third and final round, which is planned for October and November next year, will consist of home and away ties between the winners of the ten group winners from the second round. Will Zambia be in the mix come late 2013? They've got to get out of a rather tricky group first, but they've already shown what they are capable of by winning the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations, and in doing so, paid due honour to their fallen predecessors from 1993. They would have surely been proud of the achievement of the current batch. Who knows, the current team's story may yet run and run..


GOALKEEPERS: 1 Kalililo KAKONJE (TP Mazembe, DRC), 16 Kennedy MWEENE (Free State Stars, RSA), 22 Joshua TITIMA (Power Dynamos)

DEFENDERS: 2 Francis KASONDE (TP Mazembe, DRC), 4 Joseph MUSONDA (Golden Arrows, SAF), 5 Hijani HIMOONDE (TP Mazembe, DRC), Davies NKAUSU (Supersport United, SAF), 13 Stoppila SUNZU (TP Mazembe, DRC), 15 Chintu KAMPAMBA (Wits University/Bidvest Wits, RSA), 23 Nyambe MULENGA (Zesco United)

MIDFIELDERS: 3 Chisamba LUNGU (Ural Yekaterinburg, RUS), 7 Clifford MULENGA (Bloemfontein Celtic, RSA), 8 Isaac CHANSA (Orlando Pirates, RSA), 10 Felix KATONGO (Green Buffaloes), 14 Noah CHIVUTA (Free State Stars, RSA), 17 Rainford KALABA (TP Mazembe, DRC), 19 Nathan SINKALA (Green Buffaloes), 21 Jonas SAKUWAHA (Al-Merreikh, SUD)

FORWARDS: 9 Collins MBESUMA (Golden Arrows, RSA), 11 Christopher KATONGO (Henan Construction, PRC), 12 James CHAMANGA (Dalian Shide, PRC), 18 Evans KANGWA (Nkana Red Devils), 20 Emmanuel MAYUKA (Young Boys Berne, CH)



AUTHOR'S NOTE: Please find below links from some of the media mentioned in the above article, starting with the link to article on Hervé Renard:

"My old man's a dustman.." Link on article concerning Renard on life with the bins:

Link to article on the future of François Zahoui:

Link to article on Hervé Renard's contract extension:

Link to's article on the Chipolopolo's Tanzanian benefactor:

Link to's bust-up between Renard and Clifford Mulenga, which led to Mulenga's expulsion from the team:

CAFOnline, Wikipedia and other named media organisations were also used as sources of reference. Thank goodness for Eurosport as well!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012


Emotional scenes marked the end of the final of the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations on Sunday 12/2/12, when Zambia put their name on the Africa Cup of Nations for the very first time after a pulsating game against Ivory Coast (or Côte d'Ivoire, as the nation's government prefers the country to be known), which took place in the Gabonese capital, Libreville. It was a match which went to a penalty shoot-out after a scoreless 90 minutes and extra-time. Not only that, but it took 18 penalties before Zambia were home and dry and captain Christopher Katongo was able to hoist the trophy.

It was a bitter-sweet moment for Zambians everywhere, coming as it did almost 19 years after, and just a few kilometres from the location where, a military aircraft carrying the then Zambian national team, who were due to play in a 1994 World Cup qualifier away to Senegal, crashed in the Atlantic Ocean some 500 metres off the coast of Libreville on 19/4/93, killing all 30 people on board. Most of the current Zambian squad were of primary school-age when the tragedy occurred, and honouring the memory of those who perished was foremost in their minds.

The fact that the tournament was co-hosted by Gabon (the other country hosting the tournament was Equatorial Guinea) was not the only thing adding to the poignancy of it all; the current Zambian FA president, Kalusha Bwalya, was the only member of the squad due to play in Dakar who was not killed in the air-crash. At the time, he was playing in Europe for PSV Eindhoven and was due to meet up with the rest of the squad in Senegal when he received news of the tragedy.

The Chipolopolo (Copper Bullets) were decimated, but a new squad was hurriedly assembled and almost qualified for the 1994 World Cup finals, only to lose to a late Moroccan goal in their final group match in Casablanca. Zambia are still attempting to qualify for their first World Cup finals.

Try as they might, those who followed the class of '93 were not as successful as those whose lives were lost, one would think, nor did they find a place in the hearts of Zambian football lovers. However, looking at the statistics, the Chipolopolo finished third in 1990 and reached the quarter-finals two years later. Those who took on the mantle of representing Zambia immediately after the air-disaster actually did their country proud, not only coming within minutes of World Cup qualification, but finishing runners-up in the 1994 Africa Cup of Nations, and winning the third-place play-off in 1996.

Zambia had come second in their first appearance at the continental finals in 1974, when they were known as the KK11 - in honour of the country's inaugural president, Kenneth Kaounda, who also attended last Sunday's game in Libreville along with the fourth president of the country, Rupiah Banda, on behalf of the current holder of ofice Michael Sata - losing 2:0 in the replayed final to Zaire after salvaging a 2:2 draw with virtually the last kick of the ball in the first match. They defeated Algeria to finish third in 1982.
The team have qualified for 15 different editions of the Africa Cup of Nations since their first appearance in 1972, and reached the quarter-final stages last time out in Angola, in 2010, so those who underestimated them should have been warned of their potential. The manager back then was Frenchman Hervé Renard, who had been in charge since May 2008. He resigned in April 2010 to take up the vacant Angolan manager's post, a move greeted with consternation by many followers of the Zambian game, some of whom claimed that he was the sort who would sell himself to the highest bidder.

In the qualification tournament, Zambia were drawn against Libya, Mozambique and the Comoros in Group C. The Chipolopolo began their campaign, with the colourful Italian Dario Bonetti at the helm, at home on 5/9/10, by putting four goals past the Comoros in Chililabombwe's Konkola Stadium and Rainford Kalaba, Fwayo Tembo, James Chamanga and Emmanuel Mayuka all getting on the scoresheet, before losing away 1:0 to Libya in Tripoli in early October 2010. Another away game, this time against Mozambique in Maputo at the end of March last year, was on the itinerary, and Zambia came away with a 2:0 win, courtesy of goals from Chamgana and Mayuka.

The return game, played at the start of June at the rather bijou Nkoloma Stadium in Lusaka, saw a 3:0 win for Zambia (a double from captain Christopher Katongo and a goal from Collins Mbesuma), on the same day that the Comoros stunned the African football world by holding visitors Libya to a 1:1 draw at the tiny Stade Said Mohamed Cheikh in Mitsamiouli. A trip to the Comoros was next on the agenda, and another away win, this time by 2:1, was booked thanks to Christopher Katongo and Mayuka, who was hitting form at just the right time, and he scored the winner with three minutes to go to spare the visitors' blushes.

It was a result which left the Chipolopolo needing just a point at home against Libya to ensure qualification for the final stages of the Africa Cup of Nations, and that is precisely what they got. A scoreless draw at the Nchanga Stadium in Chingola on 8/10/11 saw them through, a point ahead of Libya, who also ended up qualifying as one of the three best runners-up in the preliminary stages. 

In spite of the Zambian team's qualification for the Africa Cup of Nations, dark clouds had seemingly been gathering on the horizon. Two days after achieving qualification with his team, Bonetti was sacked. According to a report in the Lusaka Times, several of the players, who spoke to the news outlet on condition of anonymity, had called for Bonetti to be replaced. One of them was quoted as saying that "Zambia's qualification is not because of him [Bonetti] but it is because of the collective efforts of us players."

If Football Association of Zambia (FAZ) president Kalusha is to be believed, his organisation did not recruit Bonetti for the manager's job, but (quoted from an article on the UKZambians website) the Italian "was just handed to us as the coach and in many ways did not respond to our command. You know he respected command from a higher source which I don’t think is a good working relationship."

Kalusha did not elaborate as to who this mystical "higher source" was, but there is a reasonable possibilty that Bonetti was hired by the Zambian government; Bonetti is suing the FAZ for wrongful dismissal, to the tune of some US$1.6 million. Kalusha and the FAZ have maintained from the start that Bonetti left by mutual consent. The country's Sports Minister, meanwhile, told the presenter of a local radio programme that the FAZ should not have sacked Bonetti, and that they had only approached the government to discuss the matter after having the sacking.

The FAZ were told to find the money themselves to pay the next national team manager, who was hired several days after Bonetti's departure. The new man in charge was none other than..Hervé Renard. The Frenchman, who had had a rather undistingushed playing career, had left his post of Angola's national team manager in October 2010 due to what France Football described as (something like) "off-field concerns;" if the Wikipedia entry on Renard is to be believed, these concerns included not being paid and having difficulty obtaining a work-permit. He then headed off to manage USM Alger in January last year on a 2.5-year contract.

He stayed at USM for less than 10 months, taking advantage of a clause in his contract which would allow him to leave the club in order to take up a managerial post of a national team. Zambia came calling, and the rest has become legend.

Renard's re-appointment as Zambian national team boss on 22/10/11 created a veritable stir among local fans; some welcoming him back with alacrity, others decrying him a nothing more than a gold-digger. He had earlier admitted that it was hunger for the folding-stuff that had swayed his decision to go to Angola, and that he had regretted his decision to leave the Chipolopolo to head west. Renard signed a one-year contract with the FAZ, and although public opinion was divided over his re-appointment, the players and staff were more than happy to see him, and he was joined soon after taking office by his right-hand man Patrice Beaumelle.

The Chipolopolo played several friendlies in advance of the Africa Cup of Nations, and there was precious little for those who had opposed Hervé Renard's re-appointment (or anyone else, for that matter) to get excited about; November saw a 2:0 defeat away to Nigeria, which was followed at the end of the month by two wins in India, including a 5:0 win against the Indian national side. A 1:0 defeat away to, irony of ironies, Angola a week before Christmas was not very well received, nor was a 0:0 bore-draw in Johannesburg against Namibia. It was mixed bag of results, one which was not guaranteed to settle the nerves before the start of a major tournament.

Zambia travelled to Equatorial Guinea's second city, Bata, a couple of days before the Africa Cup of Nations kicked-off, and were drawn to play in Group A against tournament co-hosts Equatorial Guinea, plus group favourites Senegal, and Libya. Senegal and Libya were many people's favourites to progress, with Renard's men given almost as little chance of making progress as Equatorial Guinea. They also had to make do without FC Utrecht player Jacob Mulenga, who had damaged his left cruciate ligament (a year after damaging his right cruciate ligament) in a league game against Ajax, in which he scored twice in a 6:4 win for his club.

Bata was the venue for Zambia's first game against Senegal on 21/1/12, and Zambia made light of their underdog status by coming away with a deserved 2:1 win, Emmanuel Mayuka and the pacey Rainford Kalaba scoring for the Copper Bullets in the first 20 minutes. Senegal woke up in the second-half, and when Ndoye Dame pulled a goal back with just over 15 minutes to go, the nerves started to jangle, but the team pulled together to carve out a result, thanks to some gritty defending and a good display from Kennedy Mweene in goal.

Zambia's team-ethic came to the fore in their second game, which took place four days later in an absolute quagmire at the Estadio de Bata, when Libya were the opposition. In spite of the wretched playing conditions, which were ideal for any goldfish busy planning their very own Great Escape, and which saw the start of the game put back from 17:00 to 18:15, the paltry crowd more than got their money's worth with some good football and some, well, fruity tackling from both sides.

It was a see-saw affair from start to finish, with both teams going for the win; Zambia to qualify for the second round, Libya to avoid elimination after losing 1:0 to Equatorial Guinea in their first game. Ahmed Osman put the Desert Knights in front after 5 minutes, but Mayuka bagged his second to draw Zambia level on the half-hour. Osman restored Libya's advantage in the 48th minute, but Chipolopolo captain Christopher Katongo, who was having a good tournament, equalised 6 minutes later. Katongo and Co had to dig deep for the last 20 minutes or so, but they held on for a well-earned draw, which saw them all but through to the second round, at the expense of Libya, and of group favourites Senegal, who suffered a shock 2:1 defeat against Equatorial Guinea, who were appearing at their first major finals.
And so, for the Zambians, who had one foot in the second-round, it was off to Malabo, the capital of Equatorial Guinea to play the Nzalang Nacional in their own back-yard on 29/1/12. Having surprised their Senegalese and Libyan opponents, and the world at large, by coming away from their first two games with maximum points, the Equatoguineans, managed by Brazilian Gilson Paulo, needed only a draw to progress into the second round as group winners.

Much had been said and written in the run-up to the tournament about the Equatorial Guinean team and its contingent of foreign-born players who had no obvious connection with the country, or had even set foot there, but who had been granted citizenship nonetheless. Only two of the team - reserve goalkeeper Felipé Ovono, defender Colin - had actually been born there, but several of the rest of the squad were of ecuatoguineano descent. Regardless of whom the opposition consisted, Zambia needed to win the match to top the group, but a draw would have been enough for them to join their opponents in the quarter-finals, albeit as group runners-up.

With not so much riding on the result, it was hardly a surprise that the game lacked the intensity of those which preceded it, but the co-hosts were playing determinedly and with no lack of skill, while Zambia dominated much of the first-half. The occasional chance came and went in a first-half which ended scoreless, and it was more of the same for much of the second-half, until Christopher Katongo found himself faced with two defenders, but that was no problem for the man playing in China for Henan Construction. He skipped past them both before firing a low shot past the impressive Danilo in the Equatorial Guinean goal.

The Chipolopolo now had their noses in front, both in the game and in the group table, and despite late pressure from the hosts, the Zambian defence once again did not flinch. In the group's other game, Libya defeated Senegal 2:1, but that mattered not as both teams were by now eliminated from the competition earlier than either had envisaged. And so, unfancied Zambia and Equatorial Guinea's hotch-potch collective had finished first and second in the group. Who said that there are no surprises in modern football?

Equatorial Guinea's party did not last much longer as they lost their quarter-final against Ivory Coast (Côte d'Ivoire) by three goals to nil, but they did much better than expected. Mind you, the carrot-on-a-stick which was the promise of a US$1 million payout to the squad for each win from the nation's government was a good incentive for the team to put in a creditable performance; it was also a nice sweetener in the aftermath of elimination.

Someone else whose party was over almost before it began was Chipolopolo midfielder Clifford Mulenga, who was sent home by Renard for breaching team curfew after the Equatorial Guinea game, as did three of his team-mates, John Sakuwaha, Collins Mbesi and Hichani Himoonde, who later apologised for their actions. Mulenga did not repent, however, and for that reason was left at the airport in Bata to make his way back to his club in South Africa. The Bloemfontein Celtic player, whose only contribution on the field was as an injury-time substitute against the Nzalang Nacional, told that he was never asked to apologise to Renard after his unscheduled night out on the tiles. He also alleged that Felix Katongo also took part in the late, late show, and was "shocked" that he was not questioned by Renard.

"I was never asked to apologise for going out on Monday [30/1/12] by the coach..The coach said I was a bad influence on the other players and it was in the team's best interest [sic] that I leave, and at no time was I asked to say sorry," Mulenga added. 

In an interview on South African television station SuperSport TV after the Zambian team's return form the tournament, Renard said that Mulenga "can get another chance to play for Zambia, but not under Hervé Renard. I am not in Zambia forever."

"It was not a difficult decision. We [Renard and the FAZ board] wanted to show the other players that respect was important. You have to show respect for the squad and maybe that was the first mistake, but you cannot repeat the same mistake."

Mulenga's tournament was over, but Zambia were just getting started. Their quarter-final opponents were Sudan, who had finished as group runners-up behind Côte d'Ivoire and their qualification for the knockout stages had also surprised many. They had lost 1:0 to the Ivorians in their opening fixture before drawing 2:2 with Angola and defeating Burkina Faso 2:1 (and condemning them to bottom spot in the group) in front of just 132 paying spectators. Only 200 turned up for the quarter-final against Sudan at the Estadio de Bata, which turned out to be a fairly comfortable 90 minutes as far as the Chipolopolo were concerned.

The Sudanese were appearing in the latter stages of the competition for the first time since they won the competition back in 1970, but were never really in the hunt. Stoppila Sunzu opened the scoring for the Zambians on the quarter-hour with a near-post header, but despite looking in control for much of the first half, they were unable to add to their advantage.

In the 66th minute, however, Sudan's Saif Eldin Ali Idris Farah upended Rainford Kalaba in the penalty-area with what could charitably be called a clumsy challenge, for which he received a second yellow card. Christopher Katongo took the spot-kick, and although Sudanese 'keeper El Hadi Salim Akram saved well, Katongo scrambled the rebound over the line and it was all over bar the shouting. James Chamanga finished matters with a delightful curler from the edge of the area four minutes before time to send Zambia singing and dancing their way into the semi-finals, where Ghana would provide the opposition.

The Black Stars, who were counted as being among those most likely to win this edition of the Africa Cup of Nations, had more or less spluttered their way to the latter stages of the competition despite coming top of their group and luckily defeating Tunisia 2:1 in a bad-tempered quarter-final which was probably worthy of a blog all of its own(with most of the spiteful action coming from the Tunisians in extra-time), would provide the opposition.

The semi-final between Zambia and the Black Stars, which was played in Bata on 8/2/12, was preceeded the day before by a gesture from a Tanzanian businessman, Azim Dewji, who donated US$11000 to the Zambian team's collective purse, and a pledge to donate US$300 to each widow of the players who died in the Libreville air-crash in 1993; it was a gesture which drew wide acclaim from Zambian society in general.

However laudable, the gesture was only conditional on Zambia beating Les Éléphants and it seemed to completely ignore the widows (or families) of the other twelve people - among them were the Zambian team's coaching staff - who perished in the tragedy. They have constantly been dismissed by the media as being irrelevant, or so it would seem.

In 2002, the Zambian government eventually paid out some US$4 million to the families of the bereaved via a complicated compensation payment system, which involved the age of the deceased, plus their work experience and what they could have expected to have earned if they had reached the age of 65. Although an official report from the Gabonese government, dating from 2003, listed pilot error and mechanical failure as probable causes of the air-crash - the plane actually belonged to the Zambian Air Force and was reputed to have been in a state of some disrepair - 19 years on, no Zambian government report has yet been published. A report is due, according to reports, but nobody's holding their breath.

Back to matters football, and the semi-final, as one might have expected, was a tense, tight affair, played before a sparse crowd at the Estadio de Bata. Ghana were overwhelming favourites, and started the game as they meant to go on. They were awarded a penalty after 8 minutes, when Davis Nkausu and Kwadwo Asamoah more or less just bumped into each other in the Zambian penalty-area. Asamoah Gyan took the spot-kick; however, he could only watch as his penalty was well saved by Kennedy Mweene.

Ghana dominated the first half, and Gyan, among others, missed opportunities to put his team in front, while Zambia looked rather dangerous on the few occasions they were able to get forward, with James Chamanga putting his effort wide of the post. The pattern continued in the second half, but the Ghanaians were finding it hard to get through the Chipolopolo defence, and when they did, Mweene was in impervious form.

It was turning into one of those games when it looked as though just the one goal would win it, and it came in the 78th minute..from Zambia's Emmanuel Mayuka, who turned on a sixpence on the edge of the area, and his curled shot went in off the base of the right-hand post. A lovely finish; one which, despite frantic Ghanaian attempts to break Zambian resistance in the closing stages (which also saw a second yellow card for Ghana's Derek Boateng with six minutes left on the clock), was enough to separate the teams and send the underdogs through to the final for the first time since 1994, and for only the second time in the country's history.

There were jubilant scenes in the stadium, and joyous celebrations in Zambia itself followed, but these turned sour as at least seven people were reported to have died and around 50 injured as a result of road accidents and assaults. Many African publications (especially those from outside Zambia itself), meanwhile, seemed to focus as much of their post-match attention on reports that prostitutes were getting in on the act by offering free sex to passers-by in Lusaka as to what had happened on the field of play. No matter, that would soon change..

Sunday, February 19, 2012


The twenty-eighth edition of the Africa Cup of Nations (sponsored by Orange) was held jointly in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon between 21/1/12-12/2/12, and was won by Zambia, who surprised most pundits by defeating pre-tournament favourites Côte d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast) 8:7 on penalties after a scoreless 90 minutes and extra-time also failed to provide an outright winner.

The results and tables are listed below; the Orange CAN 2012 Best XI was published on CAF Online.


21/1/12 Equatorial Guinea 1:0 Libya (Bata)
21/1/12 Senegal 1:2 Zambia (Bata)
25/1/12 Libya 2:2 Zambia (Bata)
25/1/12 Equatorial Guinea 2:1 Senegal (Bata)
29/1/12 Equatorial Guinea 0:1 Zambia (Malabo)
29/1/12 Libya 2:1 Senegal (Bata)

ZAMBIA 3/2/1/0/5/3/7/+2
EQUATORIAL GUINEA 3/2/0/1/4/2/6/+1
LIBYA 3/1/1/1/4/4/4/0
SENEGAL 3/0/0/3/3/6/0/-3


22/1/12 Côte d'Ivoire 1:0 Sudan (Malabo)
22/1/12 Burkina Faso 1:2 Angola (Malabo)
26/1/12 Sudan 2:2 Angola (Malabo)
26/1/12 Côte d'Ivoire 2:0 Burkina Faso (Malabo)
30/1/12 Sudan 2:1 Burkina Faso (Bata)
30/1/12 Côte d'Ivoire 2:0 Angola (Malabo)

CÔTE D'IVOIRE 3/3/0/0/5/0/9/+5
SUDAN 3/1/1/1/4/4/4/0
ANGOLA 3/1/1/1/4/5/4/-1
BURKINA FASO 3/0/0/3/2/6/0/-4


23/1/12 Gabon 2:0 Niger (Libreville)
23/1/12 Morocco 1:2 Tunisia (Libreville)
27/1/12 Niger 1:2 Tunisia (Libreville)
27/1/12 Gabon 3:2 Morocco (Libreville)
31/1/12 Gabon 1:0 Tunisia (Libreville)
31/1/12 Niger 0:1 Morocco (Libreville)

GABON 3/3/0/0/6/2/9/+4
TUNISIA 3/2/0/1/4/3/6/+1
MOROCCO 3/1/0/2/4/5/3/-1
NIGER 3/0/0/3/1/5/0/-4


24/1/12 Ghana 1:0 Botswana (Libreville)
24/1/12 Mali 1:0 Guinea (Franceville)
28/1/12 Botswana 1:6 Guinea (Franceville)
28/1/12 Ghana 2:0 Mali (Franceville)
1/2/12   Botswana : Mali (Libreville)
1/2/12   Ghana: Guinea (Franceville)

GHANA 3/2/1/0/4/1/7/+3
MALI 3/2/0/1/3/3/6/0
GUINEA 3/1/1/1/7/3/4/+4
BOTSWANA 3/0/0/3/2/9/0/-7


4/2/12 Zambia 3:0 Sudan (Bata)
4/2/12 Côte d'Ivoire 3:0 Equatorial Guinea (Malabo)
5/2/12 Gabon 1:1; 1:1 (AET); 4:5 (PENS) Mali (Libreville)
5/2/12 Ghana 1:1; 2:1 (AET) Tunisia (Franceville)


8/2/12 Zambia 1:0 Ghana (Bata)
8/2/12 Mali 0:1 Côte d'Ivoire (Libreville)


11/2/12 Ghana 0:2 Mali (Malabo)


12/2/12 Zambia 0:0; 0:0 (AET); 8:7 (PENS) Côte d'Ivoire (Libreville)


A "Best Of Tournament" squad of 23 players who had participated in the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations was published on the CAFOnline immediately after the tournament's end, and was split into a "starting 11" plus a panel of substitutes.


GK Kennedy MWEENE (Zambia)
D Jean-Jacques GOSSO (Côte d'Ivoire)
D John MENSAH (Ghana)
D Stoppila SUNZU (Zambia)
D Adama TAMBOURA (Mali)
M Seydou KEITA (Guinea)
M Emmanuel MAYUKA (Zambia)
M Yaya TOURÉ (Côte d'Ivoire)
M Kouassi Gervais YAO (Côte d'Ivoire)
F Didier DROGBA (Côte d'Ivoire)
F Christopher KATONGO (Zambia)


GK Boubacar BARRY (Côte d'Ivoire)
D RUI Fernando DA GRACIA GOMEZ (Equatorial Guinea)
M Kwadwo ASAMOAH (Ghana)
M Rainford KALABA (Zambia)
M Houssine KHARJA (Morocco)
M Youssef MSAKNI (Tunisia)
F Pierre Emerick AUBAMEYANG (Gabon)
F Sadio DIALLO (Guinea)
F Cheick Tidiane DIABATÉ (Mali)
F Mudathir Eltaib IBRAHIM EL TAHIR (Sudan)
F MANUCHO (Angola)


FAIR PLAYER TROPHY: Jean-Jacques GOSSO (Côte d'Ivoire)


Tuesday, February 7, 2012


Football has long been by far the most popular sport in Egypt, and it has equally been an outlet for the many frustrations of the country's citizens, as well as oft being a source of joy, at both club and international level. However, on Wednesday night last, it became a source of mourning, not to mention widespread anger, after 74 fans were killed (at first, according to reports aired on CNN, the death-toll was thought to have reached as high as 79) following riots after the final whistle of the game between Port Said team Al-Masry and the most successful club in Egyptian football, with arguably more followers than any other club in the country, Cairo's Al-Ahly. 

Al-Ahly supporters were apparently attacked in the immediate aftermath of the game, by Al-Masry fans, who invaded the pitch in celebration of their team's surprise 3:1 win over the visitors, and were, allegedly, allowed by local police to proceed unhindered towards the away support, causing the Al-Ahli team and staff to flee in front of them towards the, as it turned out, the comparative safety of the dressing-rooms, where a number of Al-Ahli fans had sought refuge, and it was reported that one of those fans had died in the arms of one of the Al-Ahli players. The contingent of players, staff and supporters were, according to a report from the Reuters news agency, eventually rescued from the dressing-rooms by a detachment of the Egyptian Army after spending some five hours locked-in inside.

Flares had been exchanged between both sets of supporters at different times during the match, and fires had been started, both on the terraces, and immediately behind the Port Said stadium. After the match, a number of supporters of the home team were seen entering the stand previously occupied by Al-Ahli fans - through gates which had been left open - and flinging fireworks over the wall at the top as the floodlights were switched off just moments after the game's conclusion.

The majority of those killed were Al-Ahly supporters, though CNN reported that security personnel from Al-Masry and, according to an article published in The Independent, police officers were also among the dead. (This information allegedly came from an employee at a Port Said morgue, interviewed by a member of the Associated Press.) The manager of the El-Amiri hospital in Port Said was also said to have stated that some fans had died from suffocation, while others had died as a result of a stampede, which happened at at least one of the exits from the stands where the Al-Ahly fans were housed; television footage seems to bear this out. Still others had been killed as a result of stab-wounds and being beaten to death with various forms of weaponry, it was reported. Over 400 people were thought to have been injured, some critically. 

It was also reported by the BBC in the early hours of Friday morning that protests from Al-Ahly supporters in Suez and Cairo have led to clashes with Egyptian security forces, and that at least 2 people in Suez and 2 in Cairo have died as a result of the clashes. This was later modified; 2 people were shot dead in Suez, while a soldier died as a result of injuries received in rioting in Cairo. At least 12 people have been killed in riots in Egypt since Thursday.

Accusations have been flying back and forth, in what has been a distressing couple of days for Egyptian football (not to mention the families of the dead and injured), and consipracy theories have been aired, with Islamist groups, and the Muslim Brotherhood, in particular, in what will seem to many as an act of cheap, politically-motivated, points-scoring, weighing in with claims that supporters of the ousted Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak were responsible for the carnage in Port Said, claiming that there was some sort of "invisible planning" behind this "unjustified massacre."

The Al-Ahly Ultras, the Al-Ahlawy, were accused of being involved in the riots in the Egyptian city. They, along with the ultras from Al-Ahly's arch-rivals, Zamalek, the Ultras White Knights, joined forces with the liberal, secular Muslim and Coptic activists in Cairo's Tahrir Square, shortly after the revolution of 25 January, while the Muslim Brotherhood held back.

The Muslim Brotherhood, in turn, finally joined the revolt when it became apparent that the Mubarak régime was on the point of collapse, in an act redolent of Mr Jones' cat in George Orwell's novelette Animal Farm; the cat shirked any form of responsibility, but would reappear at meal-times or when the working day was done..

The Interior Ministry said on Thursday evening that some 47 people had been arrested as a result of the rioting at the game; the Ministry has also become a target of anger from the Al-Ahly supporters, who marched on their headquarters in the aftermath of the game, while others went to Cairo central railway station to await those returning back from the game in one piece.

Two military planes also reportedly brought many of the dead and  critically injured back to an air-base near Cairo; a sombre cargo, indeed. The Al-Ahli team were met at the air-base by the head of the interim military government, Field-Marshal Hussein Tantawi, who said that the tragedy "will not bring Egypt down..These incidents happen anywhere in the world." Calls have been growing since the events of Wednesday and Thursday for the military government to step down.

The derby between Al-Ismailia and Zamalek was abandoned by the Egyptian FA after news of the events in Port Said began to filter through; television pictures showed fires in the stands of the stadium in Cairo, which were thought to have been started by Zamalek supporters angry at the game's cancellation.

For their part, according to the Egypt Independent, Al-Masry's Green Eagles ultras group denied that they were involved in the clashes with Al-Ahly supporters at the end of the game, one saying that they had formed a cordon on the running-track to stop attacks on the Al-Ahly fans, many of who were residents of Port Said and its hinterland. Another apparently went so far as to claim that four buses pulled up outside the Port Said Stadium at half-time and their occupants, many of whom were wearing Al-Masry shirts, entered the stadium.

The group also issued a statement on their Facebook page, which contained a commitment to peacefully supporting their favourites and also alluded to their being approached by unknown individuals who wished to pressurise the Egyptian government into giving them appartments in return for kidnapping the Al-Ahly players from their hotel on the day of the match. The Green Eagles also alleged that ticket-sellers for the game were being threatened by armed individuals on Wednesday morning.

The ultras' statement also contained the following excerpt, which was reproduced in the Egypt Independent: "Our group has nothing to do with what happened. We shall stop our activities as the Masry Ultras Green Eagles in respect to those who were killed for Egypt." A march was held in Port Said on Thursday condemning the violence at the 17000-capacity stadium the previous evening. Several of those killed in the riot as the Port Said Stadium were local Al-Ahli supporters.

Back in Cairo, meanwhile, many of those who, late on Wednesday night, had waited on the trains returning from Port Said took to the streets on Thursday and Friday, where they were joined by Zamalek fans, angry at what had happened, and targeted the offices of the Interior Ministry and converged on Tahrir Square.

Egyptian Prime Minister Kamal El-Ganzouri announced on Thursday that he had dismissed the entire board of the Egyptian FA, along with the governor of Port Said, the city's security director and a number of other government officials, as a result of the tragedy. According to Nile Sports and German football bible Kicker, Al-Ahli manager Manuel Jose requested that the club accept his request to resign his post in the aftermath of what happened.

What will the future hold for the club after what has happened? What about the future for football in Egypt as a whole? In a statement released on Wednesday evening, the Egyptian FA announced a period of three days of mourning, and that football in the top four divisions of the country's football pyramid would be put on hold "for an indefinite period."  A minute's silence in memory of the victims of the riot was held before each of the quarter-finals at the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations.

In a letter dispatched to the (now deposed) EFA president Samir Zaher, FIFA president Sepp Blatter passed on his condolences and described the events in Port Said as "a black day for football." He added that the game of football was "a force for good, and we must not allow it to be abused by those who mean evil." (Time to start a purge of FIFA and the various associations and confederations worldwide then, Sepp.)

FIFA has also requested a report for the Egyptian government on what exactly happened in Port Said, and the following day, at the opening of a CONMEBOL meeting in Asunción, Paraguay, he was scathing about what had taken place (quotes from Agence France-Presse as reported in - meaning the deaths, but also the Egyptian government sacking the entire board of the EFA: "In Egypt, football has been victim of political interference..We cannot accept it. Football is for the people, the youth, to offer emotion and hope. We will never accept that it be used for political ends." Blatter is looking "to have the Egyptian federation reinstated."

Whether the Egyptian government likes it or not, and whether the Egyptian football community at large, still hurting from last week's turn of events, like it or not, Sepp Blatter was actually following FIFA guidelines by attempting to force the EFA and the government to reinstate the recently-sacked EFA leadership; as has been said before in the case of the Belizean football authorities (to give just one example), FIFA takes a rather dim view of political interference in the game of football, and could actually suspend the Egyptian FA's membership of FIFA, thus excluding Egyptian club and national sides from all FIFA competitions if it sees fit. That would hardly be beneficial to football in Egypt. It will be interesting to see what happens.

Off the pitch, the day after the riots in the Meditteranean city, even the Egyptian Stock Exchange, the EGX30, was in a state of flux as a result of events the night before, with shares falling by almost 4.6 per cent in the morning (to a low point of 4469 points at one stage) before recovering to the extent that by 12:00 CET, the index on Thursday was down by around 2.5 per cent on the close of trade on the Wednesday, at 4583 points.

Back to the football now, and not only was Manuel Jose, who himself was assaulted as he tried to reach the dressing-room after the game, thinking of resigning his managerial position at Al-Ahli, some of his charges were also contemplating retirement, at least in the immediate aftermath of the riots. Mohamed Aboutrika told club channel Al-Ahly TV that he would not be playing football again (and lambasted the local police and security forces on duty at the game for idly standing by as events unfolded), while colleague Mohamed Barakat told the reporter that, as far as he was concerned, there would be "no football after today [last Wednesday]", for him, at least.

Another player, Emar Moteab, stated that he would not play again until "retribution for the people that died" was exacted. Jose has since stated that he will, after all, be staying with Al-Ahli. His Al-Masri counterpart, Kamal Abu Ali, however, announced after the match that he would be resigning his post, and added: "This is not about soccer. This is bigger than that. This is a plot to topple the state."

Egyptian football will, ultimately, resume its normal course, but some things will have to change. Firstly, the ultras, and supporters in general, must take a step back from hooliganism, which has plagued football in Egypt for many, many years. During the years of the Mubarak régime, the football stadium was almost the only place where Egyptians could vent their fury at those in control of the country, eventually leading to the formation of ultras groups - not all of who are hooligans, of course; far from it - such as the Al-Ahlawy and the Ultras White Knights. The Green Eagles' decision to disband, is akin to a double-edged sword. Yes, it is a reaction to the events in the Port Said Stadium last Wednesday night, but will it drive the hooligan element at Al-Masry underground?

What of the allegations by Islamist political parties that supporters of the old Mubarak régime were responsible for the carnage in Port Said? One would have to surmise that the Muslim Brotherhood are using the name Mubarak as a type of tonton macoute, a bogeyman, if you like, to evoke fear and anger among the Egyptian population at large.

Another Animal Farm analogy could be drawn here, and this time Squealer, the right-hand pig and chief propagandist to the leader of the animals, Napoleon, springs to mind. In the period after the animals revolted and took over the farm, whenever something was destroyed (or stolen - or stage-managed, for that matter), Squealer would pin the blame firmly on the departed Snowball, who vied with Napoleon for leadership of the animals shortly after the revolution. A little of the "Snowball! He has been here! I can smell him distinctly!" treatment has been liberally applied by the Muslim Brotherhood and company in recent times.

That is not to say that dark forces were not at work; they might not have been supporters of Al-Masry, or even of Hosni Mubarak, but there may have been a rent-a-mob at work if the Al-Masry supporters quoted in various newspapers are to be believed. (One can only guess at Mubarak's thoughts as to what took place.) Who is to say that individuals paid by various "agencies" (for want of a better word) haven't been doing this for years, and who is to say that they won't be indulging in the same tactics for a long time to come? And, who will stop them? Are the military interested enough, or are they indeed in part culpable for what happened on the shores of the Meditteranean?

The hooliganism, ineptitude of those in charge of the Egyptian FA and an apparent lack of infrastructure - including effective crowd-control methods - have been bringing the domestic game down for years, in spite of the national team, the Pharaohs, and clubs such as Al-Ahly and Zamalek triumphing in African continental competitions in years gone by, and it is doubtful that the tragedy will be the catalyst for change. Things are unlikely to improve any time soon, in spite of current public opinion in the country. The will is there - at the moment - but will it be enough?

AUTHOR'S NOTE: Links to some of the sources for the above article are listed below.

Egypt Independent:
Nile Sports:
Daily Mail:
Link to a thought-provoking article in Egypt Independent by journalist and columnist Fayrouz Karawya: