Sunday, June 27, 2010

Ghana: The Hope of a Continent

It's been a wild weekend in the World Cup and I figured it was time for an update.  Since my last update about Africa in the World Cup, all but one of the African teams have been shown the door. We've now moved on from the group stage of the tournament to the knockout stage where it is winner goes on and loser goes home. The only African nation to make it to the knockout portion was the Black Stars of Ghana. To add intrigue and interest, Ghana's first opponent in the knockout stage was to be the U.S. of A.

An intriguing matchup, especially as far as I was concerned for a few reasons. First, with my close ties to Africa and the fact that I lived in Ghana for 6 months, I am always backing the African teams and Ghana in particular. In fact, when Ghana defeated Brazil in penalty kicks to win the 2009 Under 20 World Cup, I had to fight back a few tears of joy. Secondly, as much as I love me American friends, I generally cheer against the U.S. sports teams, for reasons that I don't have time to get into here.  You can imagine the build up of emotions I had leading up to the game knowing it was one of my most beloved teams against the U.S. The third reason for intrigue is the fact that Ghana and the U.S. were actually in the same group in the 2006 World Cup, and it was a victory by the Ghanaian's over the U.S. that sent Ghana to the next round and sent the Americans home.

This time around, the result was thankfully the same. The game was only a few minutes old when a turnover and a brilliant solo effort by Kevin Prince Boateng gave Ghana an early lead and gave me a whole lot of hope. The Americans did fight back though and tie the game, causing me a lot of stress and frustration in the process. I'll be honest, when I have so much invested in a game I really have a hard time enjoying it. After 90 tense minutes of action, the game was still tied meaning another half hour was required. Only a few minutes into the extra period, Asamoah Gyan chested down a long ball and sent a screamer past U.S. keeper Tim Howard. It's not sudden death in extra time in soccer so Ghana had to hold on for the rest of the 30 minutes, but hold on they did. When the final whistle blew it was more relief than joy at first for me, but the joy definitely set in as the day went on. Sweet victory to be sure, and one can only imagine the state of celebration that the country of Ghana was in, and might still be in today.

Ghana is the last hope for Africa in this first ever World Cup on African soil and their next hurdle is Uruguay, who they will meet on Friday in the quarter-finals. Another winnable game for Africa's best, but not an easy opponent by any stretch. Uruguay has only conceded 1 goal so far in the tournament and has a dangerous duo up front in Diego Forlan and Luis Suarez who can put the ball in the net with the best of them. It will take Ghana's best effort so far to keep the dream alive, but I am confident they can, the question that remains though is if they will. One thing I know for sure, an entire continent will be behind them.

For those of you that care little about the actual games being played and are more interested in the status of the World Cup beard, here you go. Still not sure if the term "beard" is applicable in this situation.
Day 17

Monday, June 21, 2010

Prospects Bleak for Africa

Well, it's been a rough couple of days for African teams at the World Cup and heading into the last game of the group stage there seems to be little chance for most of the African teams to stay alive and progress to the knockout stage.  All hope is not lost though and I will hold on to every last strand of that hope as long as there is a mathematical equation that leads to  advancement. To kind of give you an idea of what we are looking at, here is a team-by-team break down of what are the chances and what has to happen for any of the African teams to move on to the next stage in the most-watched sports event in the world. What you need to know about the scenarios that follow is that only the top 2 teams in each group will advance.

South Africa
Here is a prime example of a team that is mathematically alive but in reality will need a miracle. They currently sit 3 points behind both Mexico and Uruguay with a game against dysfunctional France upcoming.  Basically they need to get the 3 points for a win (and win by at least 2 goals) and then have either Mexico or Uruguay win the other game by a couple goals. I honestly can't see this happening because Mexico and Uruguay know they just need a draw to both advance so I'd be surprised if their game ends in anything other than a 0-0 tie sending them both through and South Africa and Mexico packing.

Here is a squad that has a legitimate chance. Yes they need to win and get help from another game but it's not out of the realm of possibility. Basically they need to beat South Korea and hope that Argentina beat Greece. If those two things don't happen, then it's over for the Super Eagles. Can it happen? Absolutely. Nigeria can beat South Korea if they bring their A-game, but we also have to hope that Argentina doesn't take it easy on Greece just because they are in first place and may not have a lot to play for.

The Desert Foxes are up against the Americans and it's not a secret that I normally cheer against my friends to the south when it comes to these kind of sporting events. I still love you Yankees, it's just that you win everything and seem to run the world so that's my reason! So mathematically, there is a way that Algeria could advance and knock out both the U.S. and England (can you imagine that?!?) with just a draw and Slovenia beating England, but really, Algeria needs a win. I believe they can pull off the improbable but it for sure is unlikely. My gut tells me that the U.S. will rise to the occasion and triumph by at least 2 goals.

For a team that is leading their group at the moment, The Black Stars are actually still in a rather precarious position. The reason for that is that they only have a 1 point cushion on both Germany and Serbia and are playing against the tough Germans in the last game. Ghana could actually progress with any result in their game but realistically they need to get at least one point, that would put them through for sure. Can they possibly beat the Germans and advance at the same time as eliminating one of the world's powerhouses? Sure they can, but it won't be easy.

Cameroon is unfortunately already eliminated. They played well against Japan and Denmark but just fell short both times and are playing their last game just for pride. It's too bad really because this squad has a lot of talent and if they got going at the right time could definitely have done some damage.

Ivory Coast
Another team here that is only barely still alive in some abstract, mathematical equation that is unbelievably unlikely. Because Portugal thrashed Korea DPR today 7-0, the Elephants are behind the 8-ball. So, here's what has to happen: Ivory Coast has to beat Korea DPR while Brazil needs to beat Portugal. That part seems reasonable right? Well, that would leave Ivory Coast and Portugal both with 4 points and only one can advance. So, the tie-break would go to goal difference. What that means is that whoever has the best difference between goals for and goals against would move on. Right now Portugal is ahead in that respect with a difference of +7, while Ivory Coast is sitting at -2. You see where I'm going with this now? The results we would need to see Ivory Coast through would have to be something like Brazil beating Portugal 4-0 and Ivory Coast beating Korea DPR 6-0. Could it happen? I suppose, but I won't be holding my breath.

So there you have it. To summarize all that, if somehow both Ghana and Nigeria were able to advance to the next round I would be ecstatic. Either way, it will be fun to watch. Enjoy the games everyone!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Beards for Africa, An Update

Well, every team in the 2010 World Cup has now played their first game and a few have already played their second so I figured it was time for a couple updates for you guys. First I want to give you a quick update on each of the African teams in the World Cup which I am so closely following, and then I figured a beard update was in order. Since I know some of you just want to see how poorly my beard is coming along, go ahead and scroll to the bottom, take a peak at the picture but then come right back up here to read about the African teams...I'll wait for you.

Alright, did you get your laughs in? Now back to business. Here's a quick blurb on each of the African teams in reverse order, starting with the team that played their first game most recently and so on.

Ivory Coast
The Elephants were possibly the best-looking African side in the first round of games. They played a great game against Portugal and deserved to win but came out with a 0-0 draw. They had the bulk of the chances and looked dangerous in creating opportunities on goal but just couldn't put any of them away. I was happy with the way they played though and have given me confidence that they can advance out of the group stage. Their key game will be when they play Korea DPR. They need to win that game to have any chance of advancing in the tournament.

The Indomitable Lions (one of the best nicknames in the Tournament) ran into a tough and well-prepared Japanese team in their first game and fell 1-0. That being said, Cameroon played quite well and aside from the one short defensive lapse that led to Japan's goal, probably was the better team overall. They are in a tough group though and with games upcoming against Denmark and The Netherlands, it seems to be a long shot for advancement.

This is the team I have the biggest connection to. I lived right next to the small country of Ghana for 6.5 years, and lived in it for 6 months. So, naturally I was pretty excited for their opening game against Serbia. I got even more riled up when the pre-game commentators were writing off the Black Stars before the game even started saying that they wouldn't be able to overcome Serbia. You can imagine how proud and happy I was when Ghana pretty much was in control the whole game and scored the winning goal with just a few minutes left to seal a 1-0 victory. With their next game against Australia, who looked pretty bad against Germany, Ghana can all but guarantee their spot in the next round with a victory. The Black Stars are quite possibly Africa's best chance for an African team to go far in the first ever World Cup in Africa.

The Desert Foxes have a really cool nickname but are easily the African team I have the least interest in. They lost their first game to Slovenia 1-0 on a really week goal let in by their keeper (not quite as weak as Robert Green's gaff against the U.S. but close) and now are up against it with their two remaining games being against England and the U.S. They may come away with zero points to their name when all is said and done.

Tonight the Super Eagles took one on the chin. In their second game which was against Greece, they scored the opening goal and looked on their way to a crucial victory when soon after one of their players received a red card and was sent off. Being a man short for the rest of the game was too much to handle and they eventually fell 2-1, despite putting up a good fight. Now with 2 losses to open the tournament, they are all but out. They need to win the last game and got a lot of help in order to pull off the miracle.

South Africa
The host team, Bafana Bafana, definitely have their work cut out for them. After an impressive draw with Mexico in their first game, they suffered a defeat in their second game against Uruguay and now need everything to fall just right in order to advance to the next round. Basically they need to beat France and hope that Uruguay lose to Mexico so they have a chance to get through based on goal difference. 

And how about that beard? Well, not sure if that's what you call it but hey, it is what it is, right? It's now the end of Day 7 of the South African World Cup and my beard in support of African football is making progress. I'm almost to the point where it stops becoming annoying and itchy and is just least that's what I keep telling myself.


Sunday, June 13, 2010

To Beard or Not To Beard

What better way to get into the World Cup spirit than to bring a little NHL flare into it? I am Canadian after all. One of the most common things to see in the NHL during the months of May and June are the players putting away the shaving gel and razor and letting their faces do the talking, facial hair style. Take a look at some of the fine examples:

This strange and amazingly cool tradition of growing beards in the playoffs was started in the 80's by the New York Islanders. After their run of success ended in the mid-80's the tradition was lost for a while until brought back by the 1995 New Jersey Devils. As time has gone on though, the tradition has been adopted by a few players in the NFL as evidenced by Big Ben and Jake Plummer, and now the fans of the teams often get into the spirit and let the facial locks flow during the post-season. A good evidence of this is my buddy Dave whose beard was unfairly short-lived because his beloved Red Wings were not up to the task in this years playoffs.

By now you are probably wondering what all this has to do with me and the 2010 World Cup. Well, I have decided to take an NHL superstition and bring it to the biggest sporting event in the world. In the hopes of spurring African teams on to victory, I will not allow a blade of any sort to touch my face until the conclusion of the World Cup. Don't get too excited- I'm not incredibly skilled at beard-growing so there won't be much to see, but oh well, that won't stop me from trying. I had a few days head start on the lack of shaving but that's ok because for me the World Cup had pretty much already begun last weekend.

Here's the "beard" on Day 1 of the World Cup:

And if any of you were wondering what reason you would have to cheer for the African teams, let me just say that if an African team makes it all the way to the championship game I will have a special facial hair surprise for you.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The World Cup So Far

Well, 2 days of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa have come and gone so I thought I should take a few moments to summarize and share with you my observations so far. I could present my findings in a nice, formal, professional kind of way that flows and makes sense and is by the book....or, I could just give you some random thoughts. Which do you think I chose??

Best game to watch
Has to be the opener, Mexico vs. South Africa with England vs U.S.A. and Argentina vs. Nigeria a close tie for second.  You just can't top the excitement and atmosphere when the home team plays the first game for an African team in a World Cup on African soil. Plus they played pretty well and were unbelievably close to winning.

Worst game to watch
Uruguay vs. far. I should like France because they have 4 Arsenal players on the roster (3 of which started in the game) but I just can't. They just seem to be primed for a big disappointment. On Wednesday I told a co-worker that I think France will play bad and not make it out of the group stage. Based on their first game, I look like a genius.

Ugliest kit so far
In the world of football, the jersey's they wear are referred to as 'kits'. So far the kits have been pretty good with one exception, the United States. Take a look:
The caption to this photo should read, "I really am not thrilled that I look like a contestant in Miss America." Yeah, I get that this is probably supposed to be a throwback to the vintage 1950 World Cup kit but I think this is a throwback that they should throw back.

Best moment
This is an easy one. It has to be the opening goal by South African midfielder Siphiwe Tshabalala. A beautiful build up by Bafana Bafana led to a brilliant strike by Tshabalala. It was the picture perfect opening for the first World Cup on African soil. Check it out:

Best word
Another easy one, it has to be the South African noisemakers called 'vuvuzelas'. These are the horn things that about 75% of the people at the games seem to own. When they are all being blown in unison the sound that is created is like the stadium has just been engulfed by a giant swarm of bees. They might get annoying by the end of the tournament but either way, it's a fun word to say. Go ahead, try it.

Game I'm looking forward to the most right now
That would have to be Ghana vs. Serbia on Sunday morning. Ghana is arguably the best team in Africa and the best chance for an African team to go far in this world cup. Plus I lived in Ghana for 6 months and right beside it for another 6.5 years so I definitely have a strong rooting interest. Go Black Stars!

As always, thanks for reading and please be sure to enjoy yourself some World Cup!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Who Is Your Favourite Handegg Team?

Mine is the San Francisco 49ers. Wait a minute, you say. Even for those that aren't big sports buffs, most people know that the 49ers play in the NFL, aka the National Football League. Those are the same 49ers that I m referring to.

So, there is something that needs to be cleared up right away. The biggest sporting event in the world is set to get underway this Friday; the World Cup, the tournament that decides which nation is the football champion of the world. What this means for me is that I am gearing up for a solid month of early bedtimes so I can wake up for the first match of the day at 5:15 AM local time, as well as avoiding all human contact for the rest of the day so I can go home after work and watch the the other two games of the day that I have taped and hopefully not heard the results for. (This will be a daunting task, but if anyone can pull it off, I believe I am that person.) But the other thing that this means is we need to clear up the debate about what we call this sport and who gets to claim the title of 'football'.

Living in North America we tend to have a very 'America-centric' view of the world. Because of this, when we hear the word 'football' we think of big men wearing body armour and crashing into each other and chasing a funny-shaped brown ball around the field. But for one brief moment let's remember that we live in a very big world, a world in which we are the minority when it comes to this debate. So once and for all, let us set the record straight: there is only one game called football.

Let's all enjoy the great game of football over the next month. And come the fall, I'll be dialed in cheering my 49ers on in another exciting season of handegg action.