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Football

Euro 2000 | The greatest football tournament of them all

Italy and Turkey will kick off the 16th edition of the European Championships and in the process kickstart two months of international football that also includes the Copa America, the CONCACAF Gold Cup, and the Olympics. And just when your missus thought football was over for at least a couple of months.

I love these international tournaments. There is very little room for error, which creates tension and drama. In other words, there will be tears. Lots of tears. And few tournaments produced as much drama (and tears) as Euro 2000.

Most of you will have recollections of your favourite international tournament. For many South Africans, Afcon ’96 is an obvious choice. The old-timers are particularly nostalgic about Mexico ’70, the Dutch could speak about Euro ’88 all day. Whilst Sir Alex Ferguson has referred to Mexico ’86 as the last great World Cup.

Russia ’18 was an excellent tournament and is the best World Cup I have watched. But, without a doubt, Euro 2000 is the greatest international championship that I can recall since I began watching football as a child.

It wasn’t just the drama, it was a tournament filled with some of the best footballers on the planet, who were in their prime. And they delivered. Zidane, Raul, Figo, Beckham, Guardiola, Rui Costa, Owen, Totti, Kluivert, Scholes, Del Piero, Sukur. My goodness, the list goes on and on.

Of course, a significant part of the success of Euro 2000 was the participation of the fans. The cheers of ecstasy, or heads in hands after a heartbreaking loss. Oh, don’t forget the tears. Even though the tournament was co-hosted by Belgium and the Netherlands, it was the Dutch fans who were really memorable with their sea of orange at every Oranje match.

If Euro ’20 is anything like Euro 2000, we are in for a treat. Likewise with the Copa America. Better warn your better half.

Golden Boot

5 goals

 Savo Milosevic (Yugoslavia)

Patrick Kluivert (Netherlands)

Player of the Tournament

Zinedine Zidane (France)

Here are the 10 matches that defined these unforgettable championships.

Portugal vs EnglandGroup A

PSV Stadion – Eindhoven

Group A was the proverbial group of death featuring England, Portugal, Germany, and Romania. Thanks to two David Beckham assists, Paul Scholes and Steve McManaman push England out to an early lead.

But the soon-to-be the most expensive player in the world, Luis Figo, and his partner in crime, Rui Costa, takeover proceedings, as Portugal’s much-heralded golden generation finally come to fruition. This would be the first in a series of tournaments in which Portugal shattered English dreams

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iQwKq2yu9-s

England vs Romania – Group A

Stade du Pays de Charleroi – Charleroi

Once again England find themselves in the lead in this winner take all matchup, and rematch from France ’98. But in a case of painful déjà vu for the Three Lions, weak goalkeeping from Nigel Martyn and an 89th-minute penalty concession by Phil Neville send England crashing out in the First Round along with their arch-rivals Germany.

https://youtu.be/PV1vli2zhZI

Italy vs Sweden – Group B

PSV Stadion – Eindhoven

Since reaching the World Cup Final at USA ’94, the Azzuri were seen as a team in decline, as a result, they weren’t on many people’s favourites list. But the new generation of Del Piero and Totti were on a mission to prove the naysayers wrong.

Italy comfortably qualified top of the group, and proceed to knock out their Scandinavian opponents, with Del Piero scoring a late winner to break Swedish hearts.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Upl4Cb1K3OU

Yugoslavia vs Slovenia – Group C

Stade du Pays de Charleroi – Charleroi

What. A. Match. The two former Yugoslav republics entertain the Charleroi crowd with end to end football. Legendary Slovenian playmaker Zlatko Zahovic provides two goals and an assist to give Slovenia a three-nil lead.

Matters take a turn for the worse for Yugoslavia when dead ball specialist Sinisa Mihajlovic gets a second yellow card. But it is substitute and former Aston Villa striker Savo Milosevic who leads the improbable comeback. And exhale.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dvhQQeyH4zc

Yugoslavia vs Spain – Group C

Jan Breydelstadion – Bruges

Defending be damned. 3-2 down with 90 minutes on the clock, and staring First Round elimination square in the face, Spain’s blushes are spared by a Gaizka Mendieta and Alfonso Perez (one of my favourite players of the 90’s). Twenty years later, the Yugoslavians (now Serbians), still don’t know what hit them.

And just when Norway thought they had qualified for the Quarterfinals. To quote a coach, “football will kill you, you’ll die a real death.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Epr84dFCQK8

Netherlands vs France – Group D

Amsterdam Arena – Amsterdam

The most anticipated match of the entire group stages pits the world champions and favourites against the co-hosts.

Although both teams had already qualified for the Quarterfinals and made numerous changes, the contest lives up to the pre-match hype.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G96RD75zak4

Spain vs France – Quarterfinal

Jan Breydelstadion – Bruges

Zidane and Guardiola go head to head in a clash between these fierce neighbours. And it’s the Frenchman who opens the scoring with a zinger of a freekick that gives Canizares no chance.

Zidane’s future teammate, Raul, has an opportunity to send this titanic Quarterfinal to extra time after Spain are awarded a late penalty. But the normally ice-cool Spaniard blazes his spot-kick over the bar, in what is an ongoing theme of heartbreak for Spanish football in international tournaments.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mWhXnXEIZqc

France vs Portugal – Semifinal

King Baudouin Stadium – Brussels

About as star-studded a football match you can find in any international tournament. This was a football match of such breathtaking quality I could scarcely believe what I was watching. A throwback to the France v Brazil Quarterfinal at Mexico ’86.

I will never forget Portugal’s seemingly endless protestations against the awarding of a 117th-minute penalty. All while Zidane stood by calmly with ball in hand, waiting for the commotion to die down. Zizou then crushed Portuguese hearts with a nerveless penalty that signalled the end of the contest as the Golden Goal rule was in effect.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k9Yf3t9BCi0

Netherlands vs Italy – Semifinal

Amsterdam Arena – Amsterdam

One of the best nil nils you’ll ever see. An early red card for Gianluca Zambrotta forces the Italians to retreat into their shell. Incredibly, the Dutch miss two penalties in regulation time, and three more in the penalty shootout to crash out in front of a stunned crowd. Especially after getting knocked out on penalties, two years prior in the World Cup Semifinal against Brazil at France ’98.

It needs pointing out that there is no way Italian keeper Francesco Toledo gets away with being that far off his line in today’s VAR world. Though Jaap Stam’s penalty is still travelling. Still.

France vs Italy – Final

De Kuip Stadion – Rotterdam

Marco Delvecchio seems to be the hero as the Azzuri are mere seconds away from being crowned European champions. But Sylvain Wiltord stuns the Italians with a 93rd-minute equaliser. Salt is then added to Italian wounds as Arsenal bound Robert Pires cuts the ball back to David Trezeguet who comes up with a clean a strike as you’ll ever see.

That Golden Goal (again) means that the French team are the first team in history to be world champions and European champions simultaneously. French captain Didier Deschamp did the honours to bring down the curtain on a phenomenal month of football.

Let us know your thoughts on the tournament and your favourite moments.

Sizwe Luthayi

References:

https://www.uefa.com/uefaeuro/match/64846/

https://www.uefa.com/uefaeuro/match/64849/

https://www.uefa.com/uefaeuro/match/64856/

https://www.uefa.com/uefaeuro/match/64857/

https://www.uefa.com/uefaeuro/match/64861/

https://www.uefa.com/uefaeuro/match/64868/

https://www.uefa.com/uefaeuro/match/65182/

https://www.uefa.com/uefaeuro/match/65183/

https://www.uefa.com/uefaeuro/match/65184/

https://www.uefa.com/uefaeuro/match/65299/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/UEFA_Euro_2000?wprov=sfti1

Categories
Football

Why are Arsenal firing blanks at the moment?

The weather had certainly played its part. Clouds sparsely populated the London sky, but this was a beautiful summer day, that signalled the dawn of a new era for Arsenal Football Club. The man of the moment, Dennis Bergkamp, strode out onto the field sporting an ear to ear grin, flanked by his father and his son. Three generations of the Bergkamp family, held hands while the Arsenal faithful greeted them with rapturous applause.

The non-Flying Dutchman wasn’t the only legend on display. Ian Wright, David Seamen, Patrick Viera, Emmanuel Petit, and Marc Overmars had all donned the Gunners kit one more time, to help mark the occasion for Dennis Bergkamp. On 22 July 2006 Arsenal held a Testimonial Match to celebrate Bergkamp’s eleven years at the club.

But the entirety of the Dutchman’s Gunners career was played at Highbury. Arsenal’s claustrophobic, unwelcoming old stadium. It was a hugely successful period that yielded three Premier League medals and three FA Cups. All six trophies were won under the management of Arsene Wenger.

The opening of the new state of the art Emirates Stadium, to celebrate the occasion, was meant to keep the club financially competitive with Manchester United. But nearly fifteen years later, Arsenal find themselves in a relegation scrap, rather than a championship charge. The demolition of Highbury has since become a metaphor of the club’s subsequent fortunes.

We’ve previously done a piece of the struggles of Manchester United https://sleb.co.za/what-exactly-is-happening-to-manchester-united-at-the-moment/

Now it’s time to ask the long-overdue question. How did English football’s third most successful club end up in this quagmire?

The Emirates Project

During the 1990s, vice-chairman David Dein, and Arsene Wenger felt Arsenal were at a financial disadvantage to Manchester United, simply due to Old Trafford having a larger attendance capacity than Highbury.

Arsenal even played their Champions League fixtures at the old Wembley Stadium, at the turn of the century, to try and maximise profits. The end result was the 60 000 all-seater Emirates, which increased the club’s match day attendance by nearly 22 000. But new stadiums ain’t cheap. Despite a naming rights deal with airline juggernaut, Emirates, that has netted the club over £250 million, loan repayments from the stadium development project have been prioritised over player transfers.

Not only did Arsenal struggle to compete financially with United, but they had to contend with the emergence of the nouveau riche at Chelsea and Manchester City, and a resurgent Liverpool. This has meant Arsenal have slowly regressed over the last fourteen years. You need to only look at the previous transfer window and see how Frank Lampard was backed compared to Mikel Arteta. The Covid19 pandemic has certainly compounded the situation, to the point that Arsenal mascot Gunnersaurus was let go.

Arsenal are expected to finalise their loan repayments later this decade, at which point they’ll begin to fully reap the rewards of a larger stadium. But until then, Arsenal are unlikely to be title challengers. A sobering thought for the Arsenal supporters.

Indiscipline

The numbers speak for themselves. Seven red cards in the last twelve months. Three of which have come in the last five Premiership fixtures. This surely cannot continue.

Mikel Arteta needs to get this situation under control. Premier League football is an unforgiving arena as it is, but Arsenal unnecessarily shooting themselves in the foot just makes it that much more difficult.

Blunt Attack

Again, the numbers reflect poorly on Arsenal. Jokes aside about the Gunners firing blanks, this is a very serious situation. If you cannot create opportunities, you will not score goals. And creating chances is proving to be rather difficult for the North London outfit.

Arsenal are currently ranked 16th in the league for shots and shots on target. And have created fourteen big chances. That’s essentially one big chance a match. As a result, the goals have dried up for star striker and club captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Though he did break his duck against Southampton.

The optics don’t look good, as the goal drought has come in the aftermath of a lucrative new contract. It seems if Aubameyang doesn’t score, Arsenal don’t score. Which is a damning verdict on Alexandre Lacazatte.

Brazilian winger Willian registered three assists on the opening day against Fulham but has not provided any since. And the less said about the £72 million man, Nicolas Pepe, the better. It’s hard to believe Arsenal signed Pepe over Wilfred Zaha.

And it gets worse. The only central midfielder who has an assist is Real Madrid loanee Dani Ceballos, who has a single assist to his name. If only Arsenal had a top-class creative player on their books.

N.B. Stats are for Premier League only

Arsenal Fan TV

In this digital age, footballers have learnt to live with social media criticism from fans. It’s near impossible to avoid. Open up Twitter/Facebook/Instagram, choose any player, and read the comments on one of their posts. Yep.

But one fan channel has stood out above the rest. And not for good reasons. Arsenal Fan TV. Their colourful opinions of their team’s performance is highly entertaining, and usually draws hundreds of thousands of views per post on YouTube.

Whilst players for other clubs rarely comment or react to the opinions of their fans, Hector Bellerin has felt the need to speak out against the popular forum. Even Gary Neville feels Arsenal Fan TV is a distraction the club can do without.

As for regular Gunners supporters, they seem to be split, with some who feel as though Arsenal Fan TV is an embarrassment to their club. But blaming fans for a team’s poor performance is beyond ridiculous. Whatever your thoughts are, fan channels on social media are here to stay.

https://youtu.be/qkOr9E5IetY

Mesut Ozil

Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta has stated that playmaker Mesut Ozil has been dropped for football reasons. But I’m not sure I buy that statement. For football reasons? What does that even mean?

Previous Manager Unai Emery made it clear that Ozil wasn’t suited to a high pressing game. Even going as far as questioning the players work ethic. It didn’t help Ozil’s cause that he only had two assists for the entire 2019/20 season.

There have been off-field issues too, that may or may not have contributed to the current situation. Ozil’s criticism of the Chinese government for the persecution of the Uighur Muslim population, led to inevitable pushback from China. Arsenal’s match against Manchester City was removed from Chinese television. Ozil’s jersey became unavailable for purchase in China. And Arsenal released a statement distancing themselves from Ozil’s comments.

Further damaging his relationship with the Arsenal hierarchy, Ozil refused to take a pay cut of his £350 000 per week salary during the pandemic shutdown. He claimed he wasn’t the only player to turn down a pay cut, but his refusal was the only one made public.

And then, of course, Ozil offered to pay the wages of Gunnersaurus, after the mascot was made redundant. Which proved to be an embarrassing episode for the club.

Whether Ozil is done at the club, we’ll have to wait and see. He is not part of Arsenal’s 25 man squad, therefore he is unavailable for selection despite the club’s creativity struggles. But Arteta can register Ozil in January. If not, the Germans time at The Emirates will surely be over.

https://youtu.be/FQEQ74pPpD0

Mikel Arteta

Every time the music stops, the Manager is the one left without a chair. If matters don’t improve, the blame will fall squarely on the Manager. Of course, there are others who should share in the responsibility. Majority shareholder Stan Kroenke seems to be indifferent to the situation, or at least that’s the way it appears, as he hardly says anything. The American mogul isn’t going to sack himself, is he?

Graduating from the Pep Guardiola school of football, Arteta has Arsenal playing a possession-based brand of football. But instead of Kevin de Bruyne, he has Granit Xhaka. Just kidding, though Gunners fans are probably short on a sense of humour at the moment.

As I’ve mentioned already, creating chances is a very big problem. Arsenal have completed 6 798 passes this season. And have attempted 133 shots. That’s an average of 51 passes per shot. With the pace of Aubameyang and Lacazette, Arteta needs to have his team playing more direct football. That’s easier said than done.

The key is to find a consistent playmaker, just like United did with Bruno Fernandes. Ozil has been frozen out. Ceballos is not a long term option, as he’ll probably return to Los Merengues at the end of the season. Xhaka and Mohamed Elneny are not good enough for Arsenal. Thomas Partey is struggling with injuries.

Olympique Lyon midfielder Houssem Aouar has been widely linked with a move to the Emirates. But can Arsenal afford the French maestro? Or maybe Arteta needs to give more game time to the young guns. Saka is the best of the bunch. Nketiah, Willock, Martinelli, Salaba are all big prospects.

From the outside, Arteta doesn’t seem like much of a disciplinarian. But he needs to get a grip on the spate of red cards, and quickly. It’s a point worth repeating.

Is firing Arteta the solution? Or will another Manager face the same issues? I mean could Massimiliano Allegri get more out of the likes of Xhaka and Willian? I can’t see it.

Whatever solution Arteta can find, it needs to happen sooner or later. For his sake, it has to be sooner.

Let us know what your thoughts are in the comments section.

Sizwe Luthayi

References:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dennis_Bergkamp?wprov=sfti1

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emirates_Stadium?wprov=sfti1

https://www.premierleague.com/clubs/1/Arsenal/stats?se=363

https://www.goal.com/en-us/news/why-isnt-mesut-ozil-playing-for-arsenal/d4c7quxeut9o1p0euqbg70y3x

 

Categories
Football

Liverpool FC and the 30 Year Premier League mystery

It’s over Liverpool fans. 30 years of disappointment, anguish, and ridicule has finally come to an end. It hasn’t been all doom and gloom for the red nation in the last three decades, however. Since the club’s previous top-flight championship in 1990, Liverpool has won six European trophies and seven domestic cups(excluding the Community Shield). But the Holy Grail for the club has undoubtedly been the pursuit for the Premier League. Jurgen Klopp’s brand of heavy metal football has delivered English football’s biggest prize to one of the biggest clubs in the world.

Which got me thinking, how does a football juggernaut like Liverpool fail to win a league championship for 30 years? It just doesn’t make sense. Particularly after dominating the landscape during the 1970s and ’80s. Part bad luck, part mismanagement, or simply not being good enough, the failure to succeed is often a complex web that defeats even the brightest of football minds. This is my version of the timeline of events that turned the most dominant force in English football into a punchline.

1986

November 6:

Alex Ferguson is appointed as the new manager of Manchester United. His task is to try and derail the unstoppable freight train that is Liverpool Football Club and end United’s own title drought.

Ferguson famously remarks in an interview:

“My greatest challenge was knocking Liverpool right off their fucking perch. And you can print that.”

But this prophecy fails to materialise for several years, as Liverpool are more concerned with the threat posed by Everton and Arsenal. However, as time will tell, Ferguson will become a big a thorn in Liverpool’s side as any individual.

Had Martin Edwards fired Ferguson in 1989, the odds are Liverpool’s chase for a 19th championship would’ve ended a lot sooner.

1989

April 15:

96 Liverpool fans went to Hillsborough stadium in Sheffield, for a FA Cup Semi-Final, and never returned home. It is a tragedy that casts a dark shadow over English football. Liverpool Football Club is never the same. The players are haunted by the events of that grim South Yorkshire afternoon, followed by heart-wrenching funerals of the perished fans, but it is manager Kenny Dalglish who never fully recovers emotionally, leading to his surprise resignation less than two years later.

1990

December 2:

Arsenal end Liverpool’s unbeaten start to the season with a 3-0 victory at Highbury. A pivotal result in a season that sees the Merseysiders and the North London outfit go head to head for the championship.

1991

February 22:

Kenny Dalglish stuns the football world by resigning his position as Liverpool manager, with the club sitting three points ahead of second-placed Arsenal on the log. Dalglish will later pinpoint the Hillsborough tragedy as a major factor in his decision. After an illustrious career as both player and manager, the Scotsman’s 14-year association with Liverpool is over. Ronnie Moran takes over as the caretaker manager.

March:

Club captain and stalwart, Alan Hansen announces his retirement, after being forced out of action for the last year through injury. Hansen has played an integral role in the success of the club during the preceding decade and a half.

March 3:

Paul Merson scores the winner at Anfield, as the Gunners complete a league double over Liverpool. Arsenal will finish the season as champions despite a two-point deduction for the infamous 21 man brawl at Old Trafford, and the eight-week imprisonment of captain Tony Adams for driving under the influence.

April 16:

Graeme Souness is hired as the new Liverpool manager after a successful stint managing Rangers in Scotland. Souness will be the first of many managers who will try and fail to return The Reds to their glory days. Despite winning the FA Cup in 1992, Liverpool experienced a sharp decline under Souness.

July 19:

Liverpool breaks the national transfer fee record when they sign Welsh striker Dean Saunders from Derby County. Saunders is brought in as a replacement for the soon to depart Peter Beardsley, and eventually the long-term successor for club legend, Ian Rush. Though Saunders manages to find the back of the net 23 times, only 10 goals come in the league. Saunders is sold to Aston Villa, after a single season at Anfield.

1992

June 3:

During an international friendly between England and Finland, in preparation for Euro ’92, John Barnes ruptures his Achilles’ tendon. It takes several months for Barnes to make a full recovery, but the days of the fleet-footed winger who could effortlessly glide past defenders are a thing of the past.

Deprived off the electric pace, Barnes transitions into a central midfielder. Barnes physical struggles coincides with Liverpool’s own decline within the English game. Even the emergence of Steve McManaman fails to arrest the slide. But Barnes is far from finished and provides some of the Premier League’s memorable moments. Such as the bicycle kick against Blackburn Rovers, and that match against Kevin Keegan’s Newcastle United:

“Barnes … Rush … Barnes … still John Barnes … Collymore closing iiiiin!”

Souness resigns as manager after an underwhelming spell. Boot Room alumni Roy Evans is appointed manager. By this stage, Liverpool have fallen far behind rivals Manchester United. Blackburn Rovers, Arsenal, and Newcastle United have all overtaken Liverpool as title contenders.

1995

June 30:

Andy Cole’s record-breaking transfer fee, paid by Manchester United to Newcastle, is shattered when Liverpool purchase Nottingham Forest striker Stan Collymore for £8.5million.

With Rush’s best days behind him, Liverpool have high hopes for a prolific partnership between Collymore and local prodigy, Robbie Fowler. In their first season together, Collymore and Fowler combine for 55 goals, but Collymore’s form takes a nosedive in his second season. And just like Dean Saunders, is offloaded to Villa.

December 15:

The European Court of Justice makes a ruling that alters the football industry forever, by allowing players over the age of 23, who ply their trade within the European Union, to move clubs without consent or a transfer fee received from their old club, once their contract expires. This verdict is unofficially known as the Bosman Ruling. Named after Belgian footballer, Jean-Marc Bosman. In 1999, Steve McManaman uses this ruling to his advantage, when he joins Spanish giants, Real Madrid. Meaning Liverpool not only loses one of their best players but don’t receive a cent for the born and bred Scouser.

1997

April 19:

Second-placed Liverpool suffer a 3-1 defeat at Anfield to league leaders Manchester United thanks to two goals from defender Gary Pallister. The loss effectively ends Liverpool’s bid for a first championship in seven years. Despite having an equal number of points as Newcastle United and Arsenal, the Merseyside club finishes the season in fourth place on goal difference.

1998

November 12:

Roy Evans resigns as joint manager, after almost five years at the helm, leaving Gerard Houllier in sole charge. Evans has a single League Cup triumph on his resume during his tenure.

2001

October 13:

Fresh off a historic treble, and with high hopes of ending a decade-long championship drought, Gerard Houllier is taken to hospital, after complaining of chest pains. Assistant manager, Phil Thompson takes over the reigns until March.

2002

April 27:

With Houllier back in the dugout, and Liverpool chasing the elusive championship, Gus Poyet all but ends Liverpool hopes in a tight contest against Spurs at White Hart Lane. The slim defeat opens the door for Arsenal to clinch the Premiership at Old Trafford. Liverpool’s second-place finish is their highest since 1991.

2004

May 24:

Despite Champions League qualification, Gerard Houllier is sacked. The Frenchman is the latest manager who’s been unsuccessful in delivering the Premiership to Anfield. Rafa Benitez is announced as his successor.

August 15:

Liverpool sells former wonderkid, Michael Owen to Real Madrid. Liverpool will win the clubs first European Cup in two decades without Owen, however, goals are hard to come by in the Premier League. Especially as Owen’s replacement, Djibril Cisse, suffers a horrific injury in October.

2007

February 6:

George Gillett and Tom Hicks complete their takeover of Liverpool Football Club. The duos ownership will prove to be extremely unpopular amongst Liverpool fans, who feel the club regresses during their three-year tenure.

2008

September 1:

Controversial Thai politician Thaksin Shinawatra sells Manchester City to Abu Dhabi United Group Investment And Limited, in a deal that alters the football landscape, and relegates Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich to the second wealthiest owner in the Premiership. This deal will ensure Manchester City become the biggest obstacle in Liverpool’s crusade for the Premier League.

2009

January 9:

With Liverpool sitting on top of the log, manager Rafa Benitez launches an attack on Sir Alex Ferguson at a press conference. Benitez’s statements precedes a costly loss of form that allows United to leapfrog Liverpool.

April 21:

With an impressive 4-1 win at Old Trafford still fresh in the memory, Andrey Arshavin plunders four goals in a thrilling draw at Anfield that effectively hands the Premier League to Manchester United. This is as close as Benitez gets to winning the Premiership.

August 5:

Midfielder Xabi Alonso is sold to Real Madrid. There are rumours of Alonso having personal issues with Benitez. Stephen Gerard later admits he was “devastated” by the transfer. Alonso’s replacement, Alberto Aquilani, will struggle with injuries and make little impact at Anfield, setting Liverpool up for a disappointing season.

2010

June 3:

After six seasons as manager, Rafa Benitez resigns after a disappointing campaign. Roy Hodgson is hired as the new manager.

2011

January 8:

Roy Hodgson is dismissed after a dismal start to the season. Club legend and former manager, Kenny Dalglish is appointed on an interim basis until the end of the season. But will be given the job on a permanent basis.

31 January:

Liverpool reluctantly sells star striker Fernando Torres to Chelsea for £50million. Though this paves the way for the signings of Andy Carroll and Luis Suarez.

2012

May 12:

Kenny Dalglish is no longer the manager after an eighth-place finish. Swansea City manager, Brendan Rodgers is announced as his replacement.

2013

April 13:

Luis Suarez appears to bite Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic. The Uruguayan is charged with violent conduct and is hit with a 10 match ban, that will see Suarez miss the first five matches of the following season.

2014

April 27:

With three matches remaining, Liverpool are five points ahead of Chelsea, and six ahead of Manchester City(who have a game in hand). In a crucial Anfield fixture against Chelsea, Liverpool dominates possession but are sucker-punched in first-half stoppage time after captain Gerard slips to allow Demba Ba to score the opener. Liverpool goes on to lose to allow City and Chelsea back into the title picture.

Note: Our very own Sleb was at Anfield that day.

May 5:

Liverpool inexplicably blows a three-goal lead at Selhurst Park, to draw 3-3 with Tony Pulis’ Crystal Palace. City takes advantage by winning all their remaining matches to become English champions. Since Kenny Dalglish’s first managerial spell, this is the closest Liverpool have come to breaking the Premier League curse.

July 11:

Following a tumultuous World Cup in Brazil, Luis Suarez agrees terms, to complete a transfer to Barcelona. With Suarez gone and Daniel Sturridge struggling with injuries, Liverpool suffers another below-par Premiership season.

2015

July 15:

A public contractual dispute between Liverpool and Raheem Sterling ends with Sterling joining Manchester City. Two-thirds of Liverpool’s front three from the 2013/14 season are no longer at the club, and Sturridge is struggling with injuries. Liverpool now requires a new front trio.

October 4:

Brendan Rodgers is fired as Liverpool manager. Seven managers have now failed to win the Premier League in a quarter of a century. Jurgen Klopp is the new man in the hot seat.

2019

January 3:

In a match full of drama, Liverpool suffers their only Premiership defeat of the season thanks to Leroy Sane. But controversy reigns around City captain, Vincent Kompany, who many argue should’ve received his marching orders for a “professional foul” on Mohammed Salah. City edge Liverpool by a solitary point to clinch Pep Guardiola’s second league championship.

2020

March 13:

Due to the Covid-19 global pandemic, the season is temporarily halted with Liverpool five points away from winning the club’s first championship in 30 years. Uncertainty fills the sports world, and there are some calls to cancel the season. But after weeks of negotiations and proposals, and a blueprint from the Bundesliga, Premier League clubs agree to resume the season in June.

June 25:

Chelsea defeats a 10-men Manchester City at Stamford Bridge, and Liverpool have finally crowned champions of England. Jurgen Klopp and his men have made history. Simultaneously millions of Manchester United fans log out of all social media platforms. There you have it. A summary of how a competition can hang around a football club like a millstone. Arsenal and Manchester United, take heed.

Let us know your thoughts on Liverpool. Are they going to continue with their success or will the other clubs catch them next season?

Please rate and share this post.

Sizwe Luthayi

 

 

Categories
Football

What exactly is happening to Manchester United at the moment?

This ain’t the 80s

Depending on who you are or where you’ve lived, we all have different recollections of the Eighties. For those who are old enough to remember that is.

The Eighties was a decade of considerable transformation. The world witnessed the fall of the Berlin Wall, which sparked the disintegration of The Soviet Union and was the beginning of the end of The Cold War. The United States government declared a war on drugs and Pablo Escobar. The Crack Epidemic was in full swing, putting millions of dollars into the pockets of the Crips and Bloods and turning American working-class areas into war zones. Fashion and music from the era, although sometimes ridiculed, persists to this day.

South Africa was on the brink of civil war. More and more households were buying TVs, albeit in black and white. M-NET made it’s bow and became the fourth channel on local TV screens, after SABC owned TV1, TV2, and TV3. I’m really showing my age here but M-NET was a pay channel, one many South Africans couldn’t afford. To advertise their product to a wider audience, M-NET had a daily 2-hour window known as Open Time that usually aired from 5-7pm. On weekends this would coincide with football from the English First Division (known today as the Premier League). It is during Open Time that I had my first memory of English football. The culmination of the 1989/90 season, The FA Cup Final.

The 1980s was not an easy time to be a Manchester United supporter. The last time United had been crowned English champions was in 1967.

That famous generation managed by Sir Matt Busby, included Paddy Crerand, Nobby Stiles, and the Holy Trinity of George Best, Denis Law, and Bobby Charlton. United would go on to be the first English team to win the European Cup (today known as the UEFA Champions League) in 1968, but soon Charlton would retire, Law would leave the club, and Best would descend into a life of alcoholism. The most important departure however was Busby stepping down as the manager and moving into a directorial role within the club. United’s decline was a spectacular one, suffering the ignominy of relegation in 1974, a mere six years after being European champions.

Even though United would bounce back after 1 season in the Second Division, supporters had to watch as their arch-rivals Liverpool became not only the dominant force in English football but also the best team on the continent. It would be 26 years before United became champions of England and in that time Liverpool racked up 11 championships and 4 European Cups. Anyway, back to the 80s. United didn’t have a bad side. It’s that Liverpool were just so good. In fact, good is an understatement.

Any aspirations that any team had of winning the league ahead of Liverpool, meant that you had to be the best team, not just in England, but in Europe. Aston Villa became European Champions after winning the League ahead of Liverpool. Nottingham Forest won back to back European Cups. This was the bar that had been set for United or any other pretenders. And remember, these were the days when only the champions qualified for the European Cup.

Ron Atkinson took over the reins at United in 1981, and under his tenure the Red Devils played attractive football, finishing 3rd for 2 consecutive seasons and winning the FA Cup in his second season in 1983. Success in the FA Cup meant qualification for the now-defunct UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup. Where the highlight was knocking out Diego Maradona’s Barcelona, before losing in the Semifinals against Michel Platini led Juventus. There was frustration amongst United fans that it had been nearly 20 years since United won the league, but there was optimism that Big Ron’s team were on the right path, and a Championship was on the horizon.

Another FA Cup win followed in 1985 against reigning champions Everton. A match that has gone down in United folklore, firstly due to United being the first team in FA Cup Final history to be reduced to ten men following Kevin Moran’s red card, and second,  Norman Whiteside’s excellent solo goal in extra time to win the FA Cup. It really did seem that it was a matter of time until United arrived at the promised land. But there would be no European football the following season due to Liverpool fan involvement in the Heysel disaster which resulted in a 5-year ban for English clubs in European club competition.

Regardless, Big Ron was convinced his team would not be denied. Winning a club record first 10 matches of the season, at one point finding themselves 10 points clear at the top of the log. But United’s form took a dramatic nosedive in the new year, an injury to talisman Bryan Robson being a key factor. Liverpool, who else, would go on to triumph in the league. United carried their bad form into the next season until in November 1986 United Chairman Martin Edwards decided enough is enough and sacked Ron Atkinson. Aberdeen manager Alex Ferguson was named as his replacement.

This is where current Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer comes in.

Over the last couple of weeks, United’s current predicament has drawn comparisons to Ferguson’s early years at Manchester United. A time when media and fans alike wanted Ferguson out of the club. Are these 2 situations really similar? Let’s take a look at some numbers. Alex Ferguson was 44 years old when he took over the manager’s job at United. Solskjaer was 45 years old. Ferguson had won 10 major trophies in his career before United, including breaking the Old Firm duopoly of Celtic and Rangers in Scotland.

Solskjaer has won 3 trophies. Ferguson had won 2 major European trophies whilst Solskjaer has none. Some might say how can Ole be expected to win a European trophy with Molde or Cardiff City. Well, Sir Alex did it with Aberdeen. Solskjaer took over the reins at United with the club sitting in 6th on the Premiership table, whilst Ferguson found United placed 2nd from bottom.

I’ve been gauging the mood amongst United supporters on social media throughout the season and there seems to be 3 prevailing opinions. The first opinion is that Ole is out of his depth, matters are unlikely to improve, and the plug needs to be pulled sooner rather than later. The second group feels, the problem is bigger than Solskjaer. The issue is Chief Executive Ed Woodward and the owners of the club, the Glazer family. Who’s primary concern is the clubs bottom line rather than success on the field. And the final group feels Solskjaer needs to be given time to work with one of the youngest squads in the league. Just as Ferguson was given time to build a Championship winning team. Rather painfully I might add.

Arriving at Old Trafford in November of 1986, Ferguson replaced a hugely popular manager amongst the players in Ron Atkinson. So popular, that a number of players attended Big Ron’s farewell party. Which infuriated Sir Alex. Priority number 1 was getting rid of the “drinking culture “ that he found at the club with Bryan Robson, Norman Whiteside, and Paul McGrath squarely in his sights. But these were the best 3 players at the club, and selling them would not go down well amongst the supporters. But Ferguson is a strong character, we know that unlikely to lose sleep of what others think about him. So long as the desired result is achieved.

Of the 3, only Robson would remain. His second priority was finding a top-level goalkeeper due to first-choice keeper Gary Bailey struggling with a serious knee injury. Scottish shot-stopper Jim Leighton was brought in. Steve Bruce, Viv Anderson, Brian McClair also found their way to Old Trafford. Perceived “troublemakers “ like Gordon Strachan were also sold. His third priority was a complete overhaul of the club’s youth scouting network, which he felt was inferior to crosstown rivals Manchester City.

United managed to avoid relegation that season and would finish 2nd the following season behind…….. you guessed it, Liverpool. By the beginning of the 1989/90 season, Ferguson was under mounting pressure. Not only had the club not won a trophy during his tenure, but the team had regressed in their chase to catch Liverpool. With Arsenal and Everton being seen as the challengers, despite big money spent to bring in Gary Pallister, Paul Ince, and the return of Mark Hughes. The lowest point of the season came in September 1989 as United were beaten 5-1 at Maine Road by Manchester City. Leading a United supporter to unfurl a banner at Old Trafford that read “Three years of excuses and it’s still crap… ta-ra Fergie!”.

The moment of truth would arrive in January 1990 where United had been drawn against Nottingham Forest in the 3rd round of the FA Cup. To this day, Sir Alex insists his job was not on the line on that cold Nottingham evening. Club chairman Martin Edwards, who was just as unpopular amongst United fans, also claims Ferguson’s dismissal was never a topic of discussion for the board. What we do know is that Mark Robins scored the winner that set a course for a cup run that led to Wembley, Crystal Palace, the FA Cup Final, and the makings of an iconic manager.

The Wembley spectacular also contained it’s own subplots, Mark Hughes scored a late equaliser in a 3-3 draw to ensure a replay. Lee Martin would score the solitary goal in that encounter to hand Manchester United their first trophy in the Alex Ferguson era. But the Mark Robins goal against Forest is the defining moment that began to turn the tide for the Glaswegian tactician. The 1990 FA Cup win marked the birth of an unprecedented run of success for Manchester United. Winning the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup in 1991, League Cup in 1992, and finally, the Holy Grail in 1993. The club’s first league championship since 1967. And well…. We know the rest of the Sir Alex Ferguson story.

Wilf McGuinness, Frank O’Farrell, Tommy Docherty, Dave Sexton, Ron Atkinson are the managers who followed the gigantic shoes of Sir Matt Busby. Managers who tried and failed to win the league at Manchester United. Managers who are associated with the dark times, in some cases unfairly, whilst Lancashire rivals Liverpool flourished.

The post-Ferguson era has brought a new list of names for United fans.

David Moyes, Louis van Gaal, and Jose Mourinho. Red Devils faithful are desperate for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer not to join the list. Things began so well Ole, 14 wins out of the first 19 matches, including away wins against Spurs, Arsenal, Chelsea, and PSG. It wasn’t just the wins, but the manner. It was like the United of old(not 80s old). Blowing teams away on the counterattack, getting the best out of Paul Pogba. United supporters were excited again. Solskjaer was awarded a 3-year contract. Complaints of premature action by Ed Woodward were drowned out. And then there was the trip down south to the Emirates Stadium to face Arsenal.

Ole and the players were confident of victory again, after triumphing a few weeks earlier at the same venue in the FA Cup. But an error by David de Gea and a controversial penalty gave Solskjaer his first defeat in the Premier League since he was the manager at Cardiff City. Originally first thought to be a minor blip, this was the beginning of an 11 winless run away from home. Worse was to follow, losing twice to Wolves in a matter of days. A 4-0 drubbing against Everton at Goodison Park, and humiliation at home against already relegated Cardiff at Old Trafford. Ole promised wholesale changes in the off season.

A 100% win rate in preseason and a 4-0 opening day victory against Chelsea glossed over the issues facing Ole. Money was spent on new signings Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Harry McGuire, and Daniel James; but Fans expected more incomings. Dybala, Eriksen, Bruno Fernandes, Maddison, Sancho, Mandzukic, Longstaff. The speculation was endless. Romelu Lukaku, Alexis Sanchez, Ander Herrara were allowed to leave with no direct replacements. Solskjaer has pointed to the number of young players coming through the ranks that this project is about the long term success of the club.

Tahith Chong, Mason Greenwood, James Garner, and Brendan Williams have all made their debuts under Ole. While Angel Gomes continues to be given more and more game time. But it’s the senior players who have let the Norwegian down. Victor Lindelof has made some costly errors. Ashley Young’s post-2018 World Cup slump continues. Though he could argue he’s being played out of position. Juan Mata and Nemanja Matic look like their best days are behind them. David de Gea has been inconsistent. Paul Pogba has been carrying a foot injury. And the less said about Fred and Jesse Lingard the better.

The supporter’s biggest source of frustration has been Marcus Rashford. Abject finishing, worse free kicks has often left United supporters with their heads in hands. 1 goal from open play this season tells it’s own story. But we need to remind ourselves, he is 21 years old. This is a major issue for Ole. Rashford along with 22-year-old Scott McTominay are seen as senior players. As a point of reference, the much-celebrated class of ’92 had plenty of help along the way, bedding in with established stars like Eric Cantona, Steve Bruce, Dennis Irwin, and Peter Schmeichel. Ole will also be bemoaning the number of high profile injuries that have hit his squad.

Not all fingers have been pointed at the players, however. As the manager, Ole must take the majority of the responsibility. Currently, United must be one of the most boring teams to watch. Never thought I’d say that. A one-trick pony relying on the counterattack, bereft of ideas when teams sit deep. There has been the usual speculation that United will enter the transfer market in January. But Ole may not make it to January. He needs results to improve, fast. And the next fixture is one that suddenly terrifies the supporters, Liverpool. But this ain’t the 80s. Ole is not dealing with a group of supporters who don’t know the feeling of winning the league. This is a generation that has witnessed their club win everything in the last 30 years. Success he has greatly contributed to as a player.

Making the situation worse for Ole is Frank Lampard and Chelsea. Despite losing Eden Hazard and dealing with a transfer ban, Lampard has managed to turn his young team into a free-scoring, entertaining team to watch. No doubt United supporters are looking at the Stamford Bridge outfit with envy. And Frank Lampard has significantly less managerial experience than Solskjaer.

A significant portion of United fan anger has been directed at the executives of the club. Ed Woodward and the Glazers. Fans feel Woodward is clueless about what makes a club successful. A number cruncher hopelessly out of his depth. What fans would give for Martin Edwards now. Calls for a director of football role to be introduced into the club continue to grow. But the hierarchy seems to be happy with the job Woodward is doing. After all, the club announced record revenues in their latest financial figures.

But record revenues are of no help to Solskjaer who is in desperate need of his own Mark Robins moment. The talk coming out of the Old Trafford corridors is that the club is prepared to back Ole’s long term project as he returns the club back to the policy of signing young (preferably British) talent about to hit their peak and are desperate to join United. Hence the reluctance to complete the transfers of Paulo Dybala, and Christian Eriksen. But make no mistake, when the music stops, Ole will be the only one left without a chair. This ain’t the 80s, but will Solskjaer be Ron Atkinson or Sir Alex Ferguson?

If you’re a Manchester United supporter, we’d like to hear your thoughts on the whole situation at the moment & how you think it can be resolved!

Sizwe Luthayi

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References

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manchester_United_F.C.?wprov=sfsi1

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liverpool_F.C.?wprov=sfsi1

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matt_Busby?wprov=sfsi1

https://www.google.co.za/amp/s/amp.theguardian.com/football/2014/mar/18/manchester-united-overturn-deficit-barcelona

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alex_Ferguson?wprov=sfsi1

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Football

Check out the new kits for the 2019/20 Premier League season

The new Premier League season is just under a month away & I think a lot of us football fanatics are starting to look forward with the pre-season games starting and all the transfer speculation heating up, or shall we say fake news. Could this season be as good as the last, it remains to be seen, but let’s have a look at the top 6 kits for the upcoming season!

Manchester City

Home & Away Kits 19/20

Manchester City Home Kit 19/20Manchester City Away Kit 19/20 Manchester City Away Kit 19/20

City has made a kit sponsor change from Nike to Puma. Not a huge fan of Puma kit’s as it is, so can’t say I like the look of these. Their home kit isn’t bad but those 2 away kits are horrible! Don’t think they care though with the amount of money they have!

Manchester United

Home Kit & Away Kits 19/20

Manchester United Home Kit 19/20Manchester United Away Kit 19/20

I’m not a Manchester United supporter but they usually make really nice kits. The home kit for the coming season is decent, just not sure about the black badge. I would have gone with a clear background instead of the black but that’s just me. The away kit is a bit bland. Haven’t been able to find the 3rd kit but I heard it’s black.

Liverpool

Home & Away Kits 19/20

Liverpool Home Kit 19/20Liverpool Away Kit 19/20 

The new Liverpool home kit is alright but reckon they could have done better. The away kits are nice though, especially the grey one! Much better than last season’s away kits.

Spurs

Home & Away Kits 19/20

Spurs Home Kit 19/20Spurs Away Kit 19/20

The Spurs home kit is plain but looks nice, far better than last seasons one. Away kit also quite plain but it’s also a lot better than previous away kits. Nike always seems to make good kits and they’ve done well here. Don’t think they have released their 3rd kit yet.

Chelsea

Home & Away Kits 19/20

Chelsea Home Kit 19/20Chelsea Away Kit 19/20

Chelsea’s kits have got worse and worse. Not sure what Nike were thinking with that home kit! The away kit is alright but looks more like a golf shirt than a football top. Can’t find their third kit, but I also don’t think it’s been released yet.

Arsenal

Home & Away Kits 19/20

Arsenal Home Kit 19/20Arsenal Away Kit 19/20

Arsenal have also changed sponsors, from Puma to Adidas and that home kit is really really cool. The away kit is a shocker though. Not a big fan of yellow kits and this is one of the worst I’ve seen. I believe their 3rd kit has black and blue, but can’t find a decent image of it. I’m sure it’s better than their yellow one.

Looking forward to the season ahead as I’m sure you all are!

Let us know what you think of the kits?

SLEB

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Football

Can Bafana beat the odds in AFCON 2019? Part 1

It has been a difficult couple of weeks for South African sports fans.

Banyana Banyana were knocked out of the Women’s FIFA World Cup without a single point. Amajita departed with a similar record at the FIFA U/20 World Cup. The Baby Boks suffered a disappointing semifinal loss against France at the Junior Rugby World Championships. Our most talented athlete Caster Semenya is involved in a bitter war with the IAAF, and then there’s the Proteas. For a more detailed analysis on them, you can click here to read our previous article.

Our hopes for the remainder of 2019 now lie with the Springboks and………. Yep, that’s right Bafana Bafana. The 2019 African Cup of Nations (Afcon) kicks off on Friday 21 June in Egypt. We will focus on  Bafana and their chances Of success. Or lack thereof.

Previous Record

1996

South Africa’s first ever participation at the Afcon on home soil was a triumphant one. The tournament was originally due to be hosted by Kenya, with SA awarded the hosting rights to the 1998 edition. But Kenya were stripped as hosts by CAF. But the problems didn’t end there, as current defending champions and favourites Nigeria withdrew from the competition due to political turmoil in Nigeria. Led by captain  Neil Tovey and coach Clive Barker Bafana put all that aside to beat Cameroon, Angola, Algeria, Ghana, and Tunisia to ensure that the class of ’96 would forever be enshrined in South African sports folklore.

Final Placing: Champions

1998

With the bulk of the 1996 winning squad and new rising star Benni McCarthy, and with Nigeria banned from the tournament, Bafana were the consensus favourites. However popular coach Clive Barker had been sacked just over a month before the continental showpiece hosted by Burkina Faso, casting some doubt. Jomo Sono took over the reins in what was a massive year for South African football, with the country’s debut at the FIFA World Cup in France.

Bafana began their journey with two draws against Angola and Ivory Coast before Benni McCarthy announced himself to the world by scoring four goals against neighbours Namibia to ensure progress into the quarterfinals. Morocco and the DRC were knocked out along the way before Bafana’s back to back championship hopes crashed at the hands of The Pharaohs, Egypt.

Final Placing: Runners Up

2000

The first Afcon edition of the new millennium was co-hosted by Nigeria and Ghana. Coached by Trott Moloto, Bafana Bafana were now an aging squad but were still one of the pre-tournament favourites along with returning powerhouse and co-host Nigeria. Gabon and the DRC were despatched before a draw against Desert Foxes, Algeria meant South Africa topped the group. Siyabonga Nomvethe scored the only goal in a tense quarterfinal against co-host Ghana in front of a raucous home crowd, to set up a match that was four years in the making.

Nigeria had largely dismissed Bafana’s success in the two previous tournaments because of being banned in 1996 and 1998. Once again the match was played in front of an expectant home crowd. Two goals from winger Tijani Babangida meant Bafana’s journey ended in the semifinals. South Africa beat Tunisia in the dreaded Third Place match on penalties.

Final Placing: 3rd Place

2002

For the first time at an African Cup of Nations Bafana Bafana were coached by a foreigner in Portuguese tactician Carlos Queiroz. The tournament was hosted by Mali. South Africa were slow out of the blocks with goalless draws against Burkina Faso and Ghana, threatening an early exit before winning the final group match against the Atlas Lions, Morocco, meant Bafana were group winners.

However, for the second competition in a row SA were knocked out by the host nation, this time in the quarterfinals. Aside from the teams worst placing in six years, Bafana were hopelessly outclassed by Mali, and many have pointed to this match as the beginning of a downward spiral for the national team that has continued to this day. By the time the FIFA World Cup kicked off in June of that year, Carlos Queiroz was out of a job.

Final Placing: Quarterfinals

2004

Bafana qualified for their fifth consecutive  Afcon to be held in Tunisia. Under coach Styles Phumo Bafana got off to a bright start with a win against Benin, but suffered a battering at the hands of the Nigerian Super Eagles, losing 4-0. Needing a win against Morocco to progress, Bafana could only manage a 1-1 draw. This was the first time SA failed to progress past the group stage.

Final Placing: Group Stage

2006

Hosting rights once again went to North Africa, this time in Egypt. Ted Dumitru, one of the most successful coaches in South African club football history, was at the helm. This signaled a disturbing trend with the South African Football Association unable to stick to a coach for more than two years.

The 2006 edition was a disaster from beginning to end. Played three, lost three, no points, and no goals scored. The less said about this tournament, the better. Failure to qualify for the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany, confirmed what many South Africans feared. We were no longer a powerhouse on the continent.

Final Placing: Group Stage

2008

The tournament returned to Ghana, and South African fans were optimistic of a return to glory days after the appointment of World Cup-winning coach, Carlos Alberto Parreira. But the coaching position of the national team now seemed like a poisoned chalice. For a third consecutive competition, Bafana exited at the group stage with only 1 point. “The Boys “ had failed to win a match for two Afcon’s running.

Final Placing: Group Stage

2013

Bafana had failed to qualify for the 2010 and 2012 tournaments, and qualified for the 2013 Afcon by virtue of being the host nation, leading to jokes amongst fans that Bafana only qualify for tournaments they are hosting. This was the second time Mzansi were hosts after 1996. And much like ’96 South Africa stepped in after original hosts Libya lost the rights due to the Libyan Civil War.

Gordon Igesund was the first South African born coach at the Afcon since Styles Phumo in 2004. In the group matches, Bafana drew against Cape Verde and Morocco but got the all-important win against Angola to advance top of the group. But disappointment soon followed when the team was dumped out on penalties against Mali. By now pessimism amongst local football fans was at an all-time high.

Final Placing: Quarterfinals

2015

Under Shakes Mashaba Bafana Bafana managed to earn outright qualification for the first time since 2008. But that’s where the good news ended, as Equatorial Guinea proved not to be a happy playground as Bafana departed without winning a single match. Defeated by Ghana and Algeria, and a draw against the Teranga Lions Senegal meant more heartache for South Africans.

Final Placing: Group Stage

Qualification

Bafana Bafana were drawn in Group E alongside Nigeria, Libya, and Seychelles. The teams played each other in a home and away round robin format with the top two teams automatically qualifying for the 2019 African Cup of Nations in Egypt.

South Africa began the qualification process with a bang, beating arch-nemesis Nigeria away from home. But then could only manage a goalless draw in Durban against Mediterranean Knights of Libya. As expected Seychelles were easily beaten. But in the return fixture the Bafana we all know and love resurfaced when they were held to a draw against a bunch of part-timers.

Another draw followed against the Super Eagles, leaving a difficult final fixture against Libya away to ensure qualification. The match was played in Tunisia due to political turmoil in Libya. Bafana’s best player Percy Tau stepped up to the occasion by scoring two goals to confirm South Africa’s spot in the Land of the Pharaohs.

The analysis continues with part 2 – Click here

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Sizwe Luthayi

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Football

Can Bafana beat the odds in AFCON 2019? Part 2

Our Opponents

Morocco/Atlas Lions

FIFA Ranking: 47
CAF Ranking: 4
Afcon Best Place: Champions 1976
Player To Watch: Hakim Ziyech Forward/Ajax Amsterdam
Odds: 13/1

Ivory Coast/The Elephants

FIFA Ranking: 62
CAF Ranking: 11
Afcon Best Place: Champions 1992, 2015
Player To Watch: Wilfried Zaha Forward/Crystal Palace
Odds: 11/1

Namibia/Brave Warriors

FIFA Ranking: 113
CAF Ranking: 28
Afcon Best Place: Group Stage 1998, 2008
Player To Watch: Hotto Kavendji Midfielder/Bidvest Wits
Odds: 251/1

Bafana Bafana Squad

Goalkeepers

Darren Keet (Bidvest Wits), Ronwen Williams (SuperSport United), Bruce Bvuma (Kaizer Chiefs)

Defenders

Daniel Cardoso (Kaizer Chiefs), Ramahlwe Mphahlele (Kaizer Chiefs), Thulani Hlatshwayo (Bidvest Wits), Innocent Maela (Orlando Pirates), S’fiso Hlanti (Bidvest Wits), Buhleyeza Mkhwanazi (Bidvest Wits), Thamsanqa Mkhize (Cape Town City)

Midfielders

Bongani Zungu (Amiens), Dean Furman (SuperSport United), Kamohelo Mokotjo (Brentford), Tiyani Mabunda (Mamelodi Sundowns), Thulani Serero (Vitesse Arnhem), Thembinkosi Lorch (Orlando Pirates), Themba Zwane (Mamelodi Sundowns), Hlompho Kekana (Mamelodi Sundowns)

Forwards

Lebo Mothiba (Strasbourg), Percy Tau (Brighton & Hove Albion), Lars Veldwijk (Sparta Rotterdam), Lebogang Maboe (Mamelodi Sundowns), Sibusiso Vilakazi (Mamelodi Sundowns)

Head Coach: Stuart Baxter

FIFA Ranking: 72
CAF Ranking: 14
Afcon Best Place: Champions 1996
Odds: 34/1

The Favourites

Egypt/The Pharaohs

FIFA Ranking: 58
CAF Ranking: 8
Afcon Best Place: Champions 1957, 1959, 1986, 1998, 2006, 2008, 2010
Player To Watch: Mohammed Salah Forward/Liverpool
Odds: 5/1

Senegal/Teranga Lions

FIFA Ranking: 22
CAF Ranking: 1
Afcon Best Place: Runners Up 2002
Player To Watch: Sadio Mane Forward/Liverpool
Odds: 15/2

Ghana/Black Stars

FIFA Ranking: 50
CAF Ranking: 6
Afcon Best Place: Champions 1963, 1965, 1978, 1978
Player To Watch: Thomas Partey Midfielder/Atletico Madrid
Odds: 8/1

Nigeria/Super Eagles

FIFA Ranking: 45
CAF Ranking: 3
Afcon Best Place: Champions 1980, 1994, 2013
Player To Watch: Wilfred Ndidi Midfielder/Leicester City
Odds: 9/1

Algeria/Desert Foxes

FIFA Ranking: 68
CAF Ranking: 12
Afcon Best Place: Champions 1990
Player To Watch: Riyad Mahrez Forward/Manchester City
Odds: 13/1

Bafana Bafana are big outsiders, not just according to the bookies, but the wider football world. The last time SA progressed beyond the group phase outside of home turf was in 2002. And the last Afcon tournament in Egypt was the horror show in 2006. Compounding the issue is the absence of two key players. Keagan Dolly has been ruled out due to injury, and Rivaldo Coetzee will miss the showpiece due to personal reasons. Progressing past the group phase will be the goal for this team, but in their way is two African juggernauts in Morocco and Ivory Coast.

Both teams are full of European based stars and will fancy their chances of winning the competition. The fourth team in the group, Namibia, possesses a number of players who ply their trade in the PSL. The Brave Warriors will know the South African team better than most. Stuart Baxter has been talking up a big game, and time will tell if his players can live up to the Englishman’s expectations. Whatever happens, this will be an exciting couple of weeks that will showcase the continents best players.

Hope you’ve enjoyed my in-depth analysis & enjoy the tournament.

Please rate and share this article.

Sizwe Luthayi

 

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Football

The PSL Top 6 race | Who will have the strongest finish to the season?

A few weeks ago the PSL championship race seemed to be a one-horse race with Pretoria powerhouse Mamelodi Sundowns charging to another championship. But credit must be given to the chasing pack for the fighting spirit that they have shown, and ensure that things will go right down to the wire. Currently, 5 points separate the top 6 teams. The 2018/19 has been unpredictable, and it will take a brave man to pick a winner. Well, time to be brave.

1. Orlando Pirates

P 25 W 11 D 11 L 3 GD 13 PTS 44

It has been an incredibly frustrating season for the Buccaneers fans as well as coach Milutin Sredojevic, popularly known as Micho. Which seems like a strange statement considering they currently occupy 1st place. In the majority of their matches, Pirates have outplayed the opposition, but wastefulness in front of goal has been the theme. 11 draws tells its own story. There’s no better illustration of this profligacy then the Telkom Cup Final against Baroka in December. Despite having 22 shots on goal, two goalkeeping errors gifted Baroka 2 goals. Forcing Pirates to fight back twice, all this despite being reduced to 10 men late in the first half. A penalty shootout loss finally put the men in blackout of their misery. Penalty misery also followed the Sea Robbers in the Nedbank Cup where they were knocked out by Black Leopards at Thohoyandou Stadium. Pirates failed to progress from the group stage in the CAF Champions League. In spite of themselves, the Bucs are still in the running to win the Premiership. The Buccaneers picked up 4 points from their last 2 matches against the other top 3 contenders, Sundowns and Wits. The win against Wits, in particular, was rather fortunate, the winner coming via an own goal in injury time.

My prediction: 2nd

2. Mamelodi Sundowns

P 24 W 11 D 11 L 2 GD 12 PTS 44

Under coach Pitso Mosimane, Masandawana have dominated South African football. 3 Premierships, 1 Telkom Cup, 1 Nedbank Cup, all within the last 5 years, and of course the clubs unforgettable first CAF Champions League triumph in 2016. Questions were asked whether the champions would be able to retain the Premiership after the departure of Player of the Year and Bafana hero Percy Tau to EPL club Brighton & Hove Albion. Not only are the Brazilians still in the mix, but they are also through to knockout out stages of the Champions League where they decimated Egyptian giants Al Ahly 5-0 in the first leg at Lucas Moripe Stadium. Sundowns are not just a South African powerhouse, but an African powerhouse. And they do not show any signs of slowing down, regardless of any changes in personnel. Sundowns still have a tough Tshwane derby against Supersport United to navigate, and you know what they say about derbies, form goes out the window. Bet against the Brazilians at your own peril.

My prediction: 1st

3. Bidvest Wits

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Topsy turvy doesn’t even begin to describe Wits in the last 3 years. Wits won the PSL in the 2016/17 season, with the viral video of coach Gavin Hunt dancing with a beer in hand. Last season, as the defending champions, the Clever Boys found themselves in a relegation battle. Fortunately for the football club, they survived that potential catastrophe. And now, they are back in the title picture. Hunt is an experienced coach and knows what it takes to win the league, having done so 3 times with Supersport United, and as previously mentioned with Wits 2 years ago. Wits are not going to give this up easily, as evidenced by their come from behind win against Bloemfontein Celtic before the international break. But Wits form has taken a downturn at a bad with 3 defeats in their last 5 matches, including a Keegan Ritchie own goal which condemned them to defeat with virtually the last kick (or head) of the game against title rivals Orlando Pirates. Hunt still has to face his old club SuperSport United before the end of the season, who could end up denying Wits the Premiership. Imagine that.

My prediction: 3rd

4. Cape Town City

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It’s hard to believe South Africa’s second biggest city currently only has 1 team in the top flight. Under Benni McCarthy, City have done Cape Town proud, winning the Telkom Cup in 2016, and the MTN 8 last year. City also had a big March, beating both Sundowns and Wits to ensure they are still amongst the contenders. But City will be smarting from their Nedbank Cup Quarterfinal defeat against Kaizer Chiefs. It will be a tough ask for The Blue and Gold Army to pick themselves for the challenges that lie ahead. But Benni McCarthy is as fierce a competitor as anyone, and he will be demanding his team fight till the very end.

My prediction: 4th

5. Polokwane City

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The surprise package of the season. Rise and Shine would have been on most people’s list of relegation favourites, but with 5 matches remaining they find themselves 4 points of top spot. Now the reality of the situation is that Polokwane City need an awful lot to go wrong for the top 4 teams above them. But doing the improbable is what the Limpopo Province outfit seem to thrive on.

My prediction: 6th

6. SuperSport United

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Matsatsantsa have quietly gone about their business, lurking in the shadows, and now find themselves 5 points behind Pretoria rivals Mamelodi Sundowns and Orlando Pirates. SuperSport United are perennial title contenders, enjoying the financial backing of multimedia giant Multichoice. United will play Sundowns in the Tshwane derby on the 7th of April in a match they simply have to win, that’s if they have any ambition of winning the Premiership, which I’m sure they do.

My prediction: 5th

Let me hear your predictions in the comments section below or on Facebook.

Sizwe Luthayi

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Football

The Premier League Top 6 Race Analysis & Predictions

The final international break is out of the way and it is now full steam ahead until the end of the season. Sir Alex Ferguson famously referred to this part of the season as “squeaky bum time.” The race for the championship is down to Lancashire giants Liverpool and Manchester City. Whilst the battle for the Champions League is between London heavyweights Tottenham, Arsenal, Chelsea, as well as another Lancashire club, Manchester United. All 6 clubs are still involved in European competition which is going to further complicate matters. Strap yourselves in for what will surely be a roller coaster ride.

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1. Liverpool

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The Premier League has become the holy grail for Liverpool and their supporters. Ask any Liverpool supporter which trophy they want to win between the Champions League and the Premier League and you’ll get one answer, the Premier League. And that’s because the last time The Reds won England’s biggest trophy was in 1990 when it was still known as the First Division. It’s taken Jurgen Klopp nearly 4 years to put this team together, and in December it looked as though the Merseyside unit was destined to end the clubs wait for a first Premier League trophy when they led Manchester City by 10 points.

But a series of draws have meant that 1st place is currently out of their hands. The swashbuckling all-action style of football we’ve become accustomed to seeing has somewhat diminished as Liverpool try to keep up with the juggernaut that is Manchester City. The goals have been hard to come by recently for last seasons top scorer Mo Salah. Now more than ever Salah needs to reproduce last years form. But Liverpool’s key player this season has been a defensive one, Virgil van Dijk. Van Dijk will surely be on the shortlist for Player of the Year. In a couple of weeks, Liverpool supporters will find themselves in the difficult position of having to support arch-rivals Manchester United when City visit Old Trafford.

The 2 biggest pitfalls remaining will be Spurs and Chelsea, both of whom have to travel to Anfield. It is incredible that Liverpool might not win the league despite only losing 1 match this season. In the Champions League, Liverpool are expected to progress against Portuguese outfit FC Porto, where a semifinal against United or Barcelona awaits. Whatever the outcome, Liverpool supporters are guaranteed some nervy moments. With all that being said, immortality awaits this group of players should they win the Premiership.

My prediction: 2nd

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2. Manchester City 

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After a slight blip during the festive season, Pep Guardiola’s City seems to be kicking into gear at the right time. City are currently chasing an unprecedented Quadruple. The Carabao Cup has already been secured after beating Chelsea on penalties. They will face Brighton & Hove Albion in the FA Cup semifinal and drew Tottenham in the Champions League Quarterfinal. But make no mistake, Guardiola and his players are just as determined to retain the Premier League.

Something that hasn’t been done since Manchester United in 2009. It’s incredible that City are in this position considering they’ve missed Benjamin Mendy, Vincent Kompany, Fernandinho, and last seasons player of the year Kevin de Bruyne for significant portions of the season. It’s the smaller players, Raheem Sterling and Bernardo Silva, who’ve come to the fore. Sterling, in particular, has been different class this season. I don’t think the Citizens will do the Quadruple, but I wouldn’t bet against them.

My prediction: 1st

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3. Spurs

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What to make of Tottenham’s season. It seems every time they get a mention as title challengers, they conspire to find a way out of the title picture. Some Spurs fans fear it’s the Harry Redknapp curse that’s struck. Redknapp was linked to the England job following the departure of Fabio Cappello, whilst he was the manager at White Hart Lane. It was no secret Redknapp wanted the job. But once speculation began, Spurs form took a nosedive, which eventually led to the club missing out on the Top 4. The England job was awarded to Roy Hodgson. In December, following an impressive 6-2 win at Goodison Park against Everton, Tottenham were 6 points behind Liverpool and 13 points ahead of 6th placed United.

Then Jose Mourinho lost his job as Manchester United manager, and then speculation regarding Mauricio Pochettino’s future became the talk of the town. Every press conference there were questions about the possibility of the Argentinean becoming Manchester United’s next manager. Back to back home defeats to Wolves and United, and more recently consecutive defeats to Burnley and Chelsea have seen Spurs sitting 15 points behind leaders Liverpool, and now involved in a dogfight to maintain their place in the top 4. In amongst all that, Spurs were knocked out of the Carabao Cup and the FA Cup in the space of a week leading to Pochettino’s controversial comments that trophies only serve to inflate a coaches ego and that he’s only interested in finishing in the Top 4. Still, Spurs fans will be hoping Poch is still their manager next season. And with good reason.

Tottenham are punching above their weight class. They are not on the same level financially as their top 6 rivals. And yet, year in year out, they finish in the top 3. Spurs are potential kingmakers as they have away fixtures against Liverpool and City. But Spurs focus isn’t on doing anyone any favours, but trying to stop their slide out of the top 4. Tottenham did not sign any new players in the offseason or during the January transfer window, a key factor in their squad being spread thin for spells, also a reason I feel, that the Lilywhites will drop another place on the log. Questions regarding Pochettino’s future will continue. Not just about Manchester United, but also Real Madrid. Their supporters will hope the move to their new stadium, which looks amazing, will bring an upswing of their form. Otherwise, we could see a return of Spurs fans worst nightmare, St Totteringham Day.

My prediction: 4th

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4. Arsenal

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One can joke that Arsenal are sitting in familiar territory, but Arsenal manager Unai Emery deserves credit for the job he has done thus far. Arsenal have exceeded expectations. #WengerOut has become #KroenkeOut. And with no more fixtures against the top 6 for the rest of the season, Gunners fans will fancy their chances of finishing in the Champions League spots. Arsenal are in the quarterfinals of the Europa League, where they’ve been handed a tough draw against Italian club Napoli. The concern for Arsenal is their defense, it is unreliable and somewhat of a hangover from the Arsene Wenger days. But the win over Manchester United will have done wonders for the confidence of the North London outfit. Do Arsenal have the depth in their squad to chase on 2 fronts? Time will tell. But Emery seems to have the fickle Arsenal fans on his side. For now.

My prediction: 5th

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5.  Manchester United

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United’s season so far can be broken down into 2 parts. Mourinho and Solskjaer. Where did it go wrong for the Special One? A good place to start is the July transfer window, where Mourinho’s search for a central defender almost reached comical levels with United being linked with every name under the cold European sun. Mourinho was clearly unhappy with what he felt was a lack of support from Chief Executive Ed Woodward. The club announced a deal with Chivas Regal one day before the transfer window closed which further complicated matters and incensed United’s massive fan base.

To make his point, Mourinho would play Scott McTominay and Ander Herrera in defense at varying times. United conceded 3 goals in each match. But it was the manner of performances that began to turn the tide against the Portuguese tactician. United were outplayed in draws at home against Crystal Palace and Wolves. In a 3-1 defeat against City, United were on the wrong end of 44 pass move for the 3rd goal in with no Red Devils player getting anywhere near the ball. But the final straw was the defeat against Liverpool, so hopelessly outclassed it reminded older United fans of the dark days of the 80s. It didn’t help Mourinho that he benched Paul Pogba for the entire 90 minutes. Solskjaer’s appointment was met with universal optimism from United fans, but skepticism from the football writers after his disastrous spell with Cardiff City 5 years ago.

The improvement in form was immediate, leading to questions about players downing tools under the previous manager. Pogba seems like a player reborn. No more questions about his exorbitant transfer fee and comments about his hairstyles have all but disappeared. Under the Norwegian United have closed the gap on their top 4 rivals, and includes impressive away wins against Arsenal, Tottenham, Chelsea, and PSG. Meaning the question is when and not if Solskjaer will be made permanent manager. But has the bubble burst after recent consecutive defeats? A question that could possibly be answered by Lionel Messi and the Catalan giants Barcelona. It has been a difficult season for United supporters watching their 2 biggest arch rivals fighting for the Premier League whilst another hated rival Leeds United is pushing for promotion back to the Premier League. But Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Mike Phelan have brought the smiles back to the United faces.

My prediction: 3rd

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6. Chelsea

P 30 W 17 D 6 L 7 GD 17 PTS 57

I could devote an entire article to the current situation at Chelsea. And it all began so well. 6 wins from 6 matches had the Chelsea fans loving Sarriball. The style of football attributed to former Napoli manager Maurizio Sarri. With new signing Jorginho, also formerly of Napoli, pulling the strings on the field. But their first defeat of the season at Wembley against Tottenham proved to be a revelation for the rest of the Premier League. Shut down space around Jorginho, and you stop Chelsea from playing. This has been clear as daylight, but Sarri has persisted with Jorginho (whilst playing the best defensive midfielder in the world, Kante, out of position)and his rigid 4-3-3 system, and the predictable substitutions, much to the annoyance of the Blues faithful.

Humiliating away defeats against Bournemouth and Manchester City have heaped pressure on the Italian. The Kepa affair in the Carabao Cup Final further undermined Sarri’s authority. Plus trips to Anfield and Old Trafford are on the horizon. The bad news doesn’t stop there. FIFA have imposed a transfer embargo that covers the next 2 transfer windows. The embargo is currently under appeal. Fortunately, the transfer of American teenager Christian Pulisic from Borussia Dortmund is not affected, due to the signing being completed in the January transfer window. Chelsea’s best player Eden Hazard seems to have an eye on a move to Real Madrid. Whilst the clubs most promising youngster Callum Hudson-Odoi is stalling on a new contract with Bayern Munich already having bids turned down.

Should Chelsea’s appeal be turned down, this could force the club to finally look towards the much vaunted Chelsea Academy with the likes of CHO and Ethan Ampadu leading the way. Adding to all of this is owner Roman Abramovich’s Visa issues, and plans for a new stadium have been put on hold. But Chelsea do have a Europa League Quarterfinal against Czech team Slavia Prague to look forward to. And will fancy themselves to go all the way and win European club football’s second biggest prize.

My prediction: 6th

Let me know your thoughts on the top 6 race in the comments section below or on our Facebook page. We’d love to get your thoughts on how you think it’s going to go down.

Sizwe Luthayi

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