Remembering Chieck Tiote

I still remember that goal to this day.  As the minutes ticked away towards the end of a thrilling match, Newcastle were awarded an opportunistic free kick on the right hand side. Barton hovered over the ball as Coloccini, Nolan and others jostled for good positions in the Arsenal box with their markers close at hand. The free kick was unsurprisingly tame; floated in speculatively before being headed away with ease. It sat in the air for what seemed like an eternity as Chieck Tiote made moves towards its downward path. Just knock it back into the mix Chieck was what most fans were thinking but the midfielder had other plans. He connected with the ball brilliantly and before Arsenal could react, the ball flew past Szczesny and into the net. 4-4!! What a comeback. Newcastle had pulled off the comeback of all comebacks. From 4-0 down at half time to level the game in such a fashion is why many consider that match one of the best the league has seen. Tiote’s goal was magical like the player himself which makes his death so much harder to take.

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That strike by Tiote (Image from Tumblr)

Newcastle were full of characters and leaders at the time of the game with Nolan and Barton in particular big voices in that changing room. But it was Tiote who grab that match by the scruff of its neck and shook it violently into submission. His battling spirit and crunching tackles made him a firm favourite with the Newcastle faithful who will remember him for all that he contributed to the club during his seven-year stay.

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Tiote arrived in England following an impressive spell in Holland with FC Twente. A fee of £3.5million was been agreed for the player and in August 2010 he pulled on the black and white striped Newcastle jersey. By that point he was already an international player having made his debut for Ivory Coast the year previous. Tiote would play a key role for his country over the next five years as he amassed 52 caps, not an easy thing to do in a star-studded team like that. His career in the north-east of England was just as fruitful with the player a mainstay in the Newcastle side for the majority of his time there. Injury prevented more appearances for the club but it never seemed to bother Cheick who former boss Steve McLaren (who managed him at FC Twente and Newcastle) described as “always having a smile on his face”. Another former boss Alan Pardew referred to him as a giant and a dream player to have in your squad. Fitting words for a player who meant so much to the club he gave his all for.

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Tiote took pride in representing his country (Image from Tumblr)

Selling Tiote was a hard choice for Rafa Benitez but one he felt made sense both for the club and for the player. A move to China could provide the player with a consistent run out as well as a massively increased pay packet to boot. Tiote could have gone to Russia or Turkey and had his options but the money in China could set his family up for life. Family to Cheick was everything so China was simply too good to turn down. He may have only spent a short time in the Far East at his new side Beijing Enterprises but he had already won over the fans in the handful of games that he played for the club.

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Tiote made his move to China in February 2017 (Image from Tumblr)

In football there are different types of players from the adventurous wingback who loves nothing more than running down the byline or six yard box strikers to seize on scraps thrown their way. But the type I like the most are the workhorses, the grafters who battle for the ball in the middle that break up the play, turning defence into attack. Chieck Tiote was very much a work horse, a  central figure in the Newcastle side whose job was not to be fancy but instead to hassle and harass the opposition midfield. It’s a job he did brilliantly. Much like a pit bull clambering to get its jaws around a juicy bone, Tiote never gave up until he got his prize. That’s the type of player he was.

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Over a seven years period with Newcastle he would make 141 appearances for the club but only score one goal – that strike against Arsenal. Clips of that strike are now doing the rounds on Twitter and various sports websites as fans pay homage to Tiote. But look beyond that game to the other clips that show Tiote at his best – hunting down opponents, biting at their ankles continuously until eventually exhausted they release the ball. He was more than just that goal, he was a fantastic player who will be sadly missed by all those who played with him and all of those who watched him play. Tiote was 30 years old.

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Drogba Joins Foreign Legions Moving To MLS

Immediate Impact - Drogba signs (Image from Getty)When Didier Drogba rejoined Chelsea at the start of last season, many believed it would be his last move with the Ivorian striker now in the latter stages of his career. It seemed to be the perfect end to Drogba’s football story, reuniting with the manager who had put him on the map on a global scale. At Chelsea under the guidance of Jose Mourinho, Drogba became a legend vindicated in 2012 when a fans poll voted him the greatest Chelsea player ever. That was at the end of his original eight year stay where he scored 100 goals in 226 games, making him the club’s fourth highest goal scorer of all time behind Frank Lampard, Bobby Tambling and Kerry Dixon.  Subsequent moves to Shanghai and Galatasaray proved successful but Drogba’s heart remained in London and he secretly pined for a return. So when Jose came calling late last summer, Drogba wasted little time in resigning for the club.

Mourinho and Drogba forged a strong friendship at Chelsea  (Image from Stu Forster/Getty Images )

Mourinho and Drogba forged a strong friendship at Chelsea
(Image from Stu Forster/Getty Images )

The move revitalized Drogba despite the fact that he played a more marginal role than before in his previous spell as Chelsea ran in as English Champions. Knowing he still had something to give and with Mourinho’s blessing, Drogba decided to leave Chelsea again in search of one final swan song. Many anticipated a move back to France with former club Marseille expressing timid interest.But the pull of the ever improving MLS and a chance to sign for Montreal Impact was too interesting to turn down. So Drogba flew to the french speaking Canadian province of Quebec to sign for Montreal in a 18 month deal. Drogba will fill one of Montreal’s three designated player spots on their roster alongside Argentine Ignacio Piatti and one other player still to be named. With the MLS season already underway, Montreal find themselves in sixth place in the Eastern Conference on 24 points  in what is quickly becoming a difficult  and competitive division. Despite being arguably one of the weakest teams in the conference, Montreal are doing ok but have lost too many games away from home to be considered contenders. Drogba should offer Montreal a new threat upfront as a proven goalscorer both for club and country.

Montreal Impact have started well but their chances will be boosted by Drogba's arrival  (Image from THE CANADIAN PRESS/Peter McCabe)

Montreal Impact have started well but their chances will be boosted by Drogba’s arrival
(Image from THE CANADIAN PRESS/Peter McCabe)

His move comes on the back of several other high-profile players joining the league. In the same division as Montreal, newcomers Orlando and New York have been the most active with the Florida side signing Kaka whilst New York snapped up Frank Lampard, David Villa and Andrea Pirlo. Big spending Toronto have continued to invest in their squad, letting Jermanie Defoe leave with Jozy Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco joining as replacements in a move that has helped to balance Toronto’s team. Chicago added Scotland star Shaun Maloney in the close season but despite good form for his country he has failed to reignite Chicago’s fire. Elsewhere Steven Gerrard joined Robbie Keane at Los Angeles Galaxy to continue their run of hiring former England captains whilst FC Dallas chose to look to Mexico with their loan signing of Erick Torres. The addition of these players plus the influx of returning US internationals from Europe has increased the competitiveness of the league overall and with it improved its viewership on a global scale. Drogba’s arrival will help this further given his draw in Africa and in particular at home in the Ivory Coast. Whether he can have the same impact on Montreal though is to be seen.

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Equatorial Guinea’s Fairytale Ends As African Cup Of Nations Draws To A Close

Equatorial Guinea have hosted a good tournament despite the off field drama (Image from Gavin Barker/BackpagePix)It was almost the fairy tale story for Equatorial Guinea in this year’s African Cup of Nations. The hosts came within 90 minutes of a dream final appearance, only to be stopped in their tracks by a rampant Ghana side managed by ex Chelsea boss Avram Grant. Equatorial Guinea, who gained a place in the tournament after they stepped in at the last minute as hosts due to Morocco’s reluctance, had low expectations of what was going to be possible but have surprised many along the way. Placed in a tough group with Congo, Gabon and 2013 finalists Burkina Faso, the home fans would have been forgiven for thinking that their stay in the tournament would be a short one. However two draws and a win were enough to send Guinea into the knockout stages much to Burkina Faso’s frustration who finished the group in last place. Up next was Tunisia who provided stiffer opposition. It looked to be the end of the road for Guinea who fell behind with twenty minutes left thanks to a goal from Ahmed Akaichi. But Esteban Becker’s side rallied and push Tunisia back, eventually nicking the goal they needed in the ninetieth minute to send the game into extra time. With the momentum firmly behind them, Equatorial Guinea now faced a disillusioned Tunisia side who finally gave up in 12 minutes into the first half of extra time, thanks to  a stunning free kick from Javier Balboa who notched his second goal of the game.

Up next was Ghana who had blasted past Guinea in their quarter final match by a score of 3-0. It took their total to seven goals in the tournament so far with Grant side looking more dangerous as the event progressed. Beating Ghana would take a lot of grit and determination with a slice of luck on the side of Equatorial Guinea but alas it wasn’t to be. In an ill tempered match that was marred on several occasions by crowd troubles including two incidents where Guinea fans invaded the pitch. With Ghana coasting to victory after Andre Ayew scored his side’s third goal of the game, Equatorial Guinea fans pelted the visiting Ghanaian fans with bottles and stones which drove them onto the pitch forcing the players to run for the cover of the dressing room in the 82nd minute of the match whilst police tried to restore order. It took forty minutes and a helicopter firing tear gas to eventually subdue to angry Guinean fans so that the game could restart and the teams could play out the last eight minutes. The Confederation of African Football were quick to condemn the troubles, fining Equatorial Guinea $100,000 USD along with forcing the countries FA to front the medical bills of those 36 people who were injured during the riots. They have been warned about further sanctions that will be imposed if crowd trouble starts again in tomorrow’s third place game against DR Congo. Not quite the end to the fairy tale that manager Becker had hoped for.

Ghana will face the Ivory Coast in Sundays showcase with both sides keen to write a new chapter into their already rich histories. The Ivory Coast, who beat Cameroon and Congo to reach the final were beaten finalists in 2006 and 2012 but haven’t won the tournament since 1992. It’s a similar story for Ghana who lost the 2010 final to Egypt and ironically the 1992 final to the Ivory Coast. They have to go all the way back to 1982 to remember the last time they lifted the coveted trophy so are keen to not slip up this time. Both teams featured in last year’s World Cup but neither side lived up to their potential, failing to make it out of the group stages. Packed with star names like Yaya Toure, Wilfried Bony, Andre Ayew and Asamoah Gyan, it should be a spectacular finale to what has been a surprisingly good African Cup of Nations.

Ghana will face the Ivory Coast in Sunday's final  (Image from Getty)

Ghana will face the Ivory Coast in Sunday’s final
(Image from Getty)

Despite the chaos that surrounded the last minute substitution of host and the limited time for re-organization, the tournament will be deemed a success with several of the plaudits going to the host, Equatorial Guinea. It is unfortunate that the latter stages of the tournament will be remembered more for its crowd troubles than the football on show but despite this, Africa’s pinnacle tournament looks to have survived and prospered once again under extremely difficult circumstances. CAF president Issa Hayatou faced much criticism for not postponing the tournament when Morocco pulled out but it appears that his decision has been vindicated much to his own delight.

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The Show Must Go On As The 2015 African Cup Of Nations Gets Set To Start

Who will win the African Cup of Nations? (Image from Getty)This Saturday sees the kick off of the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations with host nation Equatorial Guinea taking on Congo in the opening match. The start of this year’s tournament will come as a great relief to the president of the Confederation of African Football (CAF), Issa Hayatou who has endured a stressful time of late since Morocco spectacularly pulled the plug on hosting the event in an announcement made in October 2014. Originally selected back in 2011, Morocco informed CAF that it refused to host the tournament amid concerns around the Ebola virus epidemic that was gripping parts of western Africa spreading to their country. Their principle fear was that if the virus spread to Morocco it would affect one of their principle pillars of revenue – tourism with visitors staying away as a result. Whilst reassurances were made by CAF, Morocco failed to budge and as a result the tournament had to be relocated quickly. Step forward Equatorial Guinea, who despite the tight turnaround believed that they could host Africa’s biggest tournament.

CAF President Issa Hayatou has had much to ponder of late  (Image from Getty)

CAF President Issa Hayatou has had much to ponder of late
(Image from Getty)

Tight is hardly how to describe the situation that Guinea faced, left with only 8 weeks to organize a 16 team 3 week long tournament. Venues had to be identified and secured quickly, accommodation for all 16 teams established as well as hundreds of other smaller items including match scheduling, ticket allocation and security to name a few. There was little time for this small oil rich central African state to improve on the stadiums so some fall far behind what would be classed as international ready. But Hayatou is hardly in a position to complain having taken the tough decision not to delay or postpone the tournament after Morocco’s exit. Hayatou is also facing the wrath of several national teams and coaches who are highly critical of the facilities in Guinea and its organization in general, citing the federation has done little to help resolve a growing list of problems. Guinea to be fair has done a remarkable job in getting ready, albeit with slight hiccups along the way – some nations are still hunting for additional accommodation as there aren’t enough hotel rooms to go around whilst others who are lucky enough to have rooms have found in some cases a lack running water or rooms in a desperate state of disrepair. Despite the chaos, the tournament will kick off in earnest on Saturday with the football taking the spotlight rather than the circus that has led up to it.

Not all the accommodation options in Guinea have been up to scratch  (Image from Seastravel.com)

Not all the accommodation options in Guinea have been up to scratch
(Image from Seastravel.com)

Algeria enter the tournament as strong favourites after an outstanding World Cup which saw them reaching the last 16 for the first time in their history. Regarded by many as the best team in Africa at the present time, Algeria play an attractive fast flowing game which utilizes many of the same squad retained from the Brazil World Cup. Stand out players Yacine Brahimi, Islam Slimani and Sofiane Feghouli will need to be on form and up for the event when they kick off their campaign against South Africa on Monday. To win the tournament, Algeria will need to first escape from what is by far the hardest group that also contains Ghana and Senegal alongside South Africa. Ghana in particular are keen to put their poor performance at the World Cup behind them and show that they are a dominant force in African football. It has remarkably been 30 years since Ghana lifted the Cup, something the current team is all too aware of and keen to rectify. As too are the stars of the Ivory Coast team who have had to wait 20 years since their last victory. But with Manchester City’s newest signing Wilfried Bony on a rich vein of form coming into the tournament as well as host of other star players around him like Yaya Toure, Gervinho and Salomon Kalou, the Ivory Coast has a very strong chance of ending their run of bad luck. South Africa and Cameroon are considered potential winners as well after strong qualifying campaigns. The two nations, who have a rich pedigree in international football have fallen on darker days of late but are displaying early signs of recovery in their recent form.

Few are giving host nation Equatorial Guinea much of a chance of providing a shock but as history has shown in the past, the winner of the African Cup of Nations is hardly an easy one to predict. Zambia were shock winners in 2012 whilst Burkina Faso almost upset the apple cart last year before being beat in the final by a young and vibrant Nigeria side. Regardless of the winner, the next three weeks will be an action packed hell raising experience for the fans that have made the journey. Whilst not on the same level of stature as the World Cup, the African Cup of Nations is certainly one of the most vivacious in international football. It’s a tournament that showcases the very best of African talent and for Hayatou is the highlight of the calendar year, hence his desire to make it happen.

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Monk Tempted By Astronomical Fee For Bony

Manchester City are now chasing Wilfried Bony (Image from PA)Sources close to Manchester City have revealed that they are in advance discussions with Swansea about signing striker Wilfried Bony for an undisclosed fee. The move is being made by manager Manuel Pellegrini early on in the window to ensure that he gets the man he sees as the answer to his striking issues. Aside from Argentine Sergio Aguero who was in blistering form before succumbing to injury early last month, Manchester City’s strikers have failed to score on a regular basis which has heap further pressure on the teams midfielders like Frank Lampard and David Silva to deliver instead. Indeed the need for goals is so great that City have had to extend Lampard’s loan move from New York City FC to the end of the current season, much to the annoyance of the US club. Despite Aguero returning to light training recently after his knee injury, Pellegrini feels that he needs another option upfront to take the pressure off of his star striker. Bony himself has been in fine form this season and will offer the City a different option either from the bench or alongside Aguero in a new look formation.

Bony arrived at Swansea in the summer of 2013 from Dutch side Vitesse Arnhem for a club record £12 million. The pacy Ivorian frontman wasted little time in repaying Swansea investment by firing 25 goals in his first season ensuring Swansea remained in the Premiership. He has scored 9 times so far this season as Swansea look towards a top half finish. The 26 year old has become a vital part of manager Gary Monk’s team who is unwilling to let him leave unless it is for an astronomical fee. Swansea cleverly renewed Bony’s contract in November, extending it by one year on slightly increased wages but it was removal of the minimum release fee of £20 million that should hand them a bumper pay out. That fee, believed to be in the range of £30 million limits potential suitors to only a handful but City are one of them as they have the financial clout to make the deal happen. With others interested including Arsenal, Tottenham and an unknown German side, City has moved quickly to seal the deal. However they may have to wait until the end of January to get their man as the player has now jetted off to join up with the Ivory Coast national squad preparing for this year’s African Cup Of Nations.

Bony is now away on international duty with the Ivory Coast  (Image from Getty)

Bony is now away on international duty with the Ivory Coast
(Image from Getty)

So if City does land him, is he really the player they need? Former Wales international Jason Roberts is one of a growing list of admirers of Bony. He believes that despite his size (5ft 9in), he has all the attributes that any club would want in a striker. He is powerful with a good first touch, a deft eye for goal and has the ability to hold the ball up well which draws other players in as well. Whilst he doesn’t believe that Swansea should cash in on Bony now, he does feel that they should sell him on whilst his value is high. Swansea learned the hard way last season when they failed to sell Spanish striker Michu whilst is stock was high and several clubs were interested. Now the player is likely to be sold to Napoli, where he is currently on loan for a fee just slightly above what Swansea paid for him in the first place. Selling Bony now will ensure that the club receives the best price and give them the capital needed to replace him adequately.

Michu has not played for Napoli since November  (Image from Getty)

Michu has not played for Napoli since November
(Image from Getty)

However it is a major tactical risk by Monk who if unable to find a suitable replacement in the January transfer window could find himself facing up to four difficult months before the season ends. Swansea are sitting comfortably in mid table but on only 29 points which is not quite enough to ensure their safety. With Bony now away on international duty, Swansea will get a taste of life without him during the next few weeks. This could be a deciding moment in the managerial career of Gary Monk and his ability to craft results without his star player. Its sink or swim time for Monk who must decide to either persuade Bony to stay until the end of the season or let him leave now for pastures new to ensure he gets that astronomical fee he was looking for.

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African Teams Keen To Show They Are Not Just There To Make Up The Numbers

Ghana vs USA 2010 World Cup (Image from afp)

Four years have past since the World Cup was held on African soil for the very first time and it’s safe to say that the buzz in that continent still remains. For the five African nations that have qualified for Brazil, it’s a moment to showcase to the world how football in that region is developing with all five naming exciting squads for the biggest football tournament on the planet. None are expected to win the event but all five have the ability to provide shocks along the way and should be pushing for places in the latter rounds. Nigeria in particular will want to continue to build momentum off of the back of their successful African Nations triumph in 2013 but will be mindful of setting expectations too high given the crash back down to earth the received at the Confederations Cups only months later. Head coach Stephen Keshi has kept faith with the team that won the African Cup of Nations in South Africa last January with Chelsea’s John Obi Mikel likely to play a major role. The recall of Peter Odemwingie and recent addition of former Newcastle striker Shola Ameobi will add experience and options upfront to a fairly young Nigerian side. Last nights friendly against Scotland gave Keshi a better opportunity to assess which 23 of his prelimary squad of 30 will be heading to Brazil and who else will be going home. For the Super Eagles, who often face heavy criticism from various elements back home who want to derail them, it’s a chance to showcase why they are currently the best team in Africa.

Nigeria win the African Cup Of Nations  (Image from Getty)

Nigeria win the African Cup Of Nations
(Image from Getty)

It’s decision making time too for Cameroon who made it to Brazil despite playing poorly in qualification. The ever green legs of Samuel Eto’o carried a lot of the weight and his goals ensure the team qualified. More importantly for Cameroon coach Volker Finke, the issues between Eto’o and several other members of the squad that plagued the team’s qualifying campaign have now been resolved and the group is once again at peace. A freak injury to Pierre Achille Webo during the warm up match against Macedonia is the only fitness concern with Hamburg’s Jacques Zoua already ruled out with injury some time ago. Finke named a 28 man provisional squad and is deciding who to axe before the deadline to bring it in line with the required 23 man limit. One player who has marked his card to go is Lorient striker Vincent Aboubakar who has finished this season in impressive style with a haul of 16 goals. His inclusion alongside the midfield trio of Jean Makoun, Stephane Mbia and Alexandre Song is almost certain but the same can’t be said for Coton Sport duo Cedric Djeugoue and Loïc Feudjou who are likely to be left behind.

Out to Impress - Lorient's forward Vincent Aboubakar (R)  (Image from FRANK PERRY/AFP/Getty Images)

Out to Impress – Lorient’s forward Vincent Aboubakar (R)
(Image from FRANK PERRY/AFP/Getty Images)

The Ivory Coast face one of the easier groups in the World Cup so qualification to the knockout stages is expected. With Didier Drogba still pulling the strings for The Elephants, experience is key for Sabri Lamouchi as he makes his World Cup debut as a manager. Lamouchi will be the youngest international manager at the Brazil tournament and has picked a side packed full of caps to ensure his stay is extended. Alongside Drogba, there are call ups for Kolo and Yaya Toure, Newcastle’s Cheick Tioté, Swansea’s Wilfred Bony and Trabzonspor’s Didier Zokora. The giant Lacina Traoré makes the provisional squad but his place is not confirmed as the Ivory Coast already have a wealth of riches upfront. However the impressive Serge Aurier is likely to make the cut after a fantastic season with Toulouse in the French Ligue 1. How far the Ivory Coast can proceed in the tournament will rest on whether they can fix their defensive problems with an aging yet experienced backline in front of the error prone Baobacar Barry in goal. It will be a major test for Lamouchi who has only been a manager for 18 months so onlookers will be keen to see how he copes with the pressures that come with the tournament.

The youngest coach at the World Cup - Sabri Lamouchi  (Image from PA)

The youngest coach at the World Cup – Sabri Lamouchi
(Image from PA)

Algeria on the other hand name a squad that lacks real international experience with captain Madjid Bougherra as the most capped player on the team with 68 appearances for The Desert Warriors. Algeria’s manager, Vahid Halilhodžić is however highly experienced and will approach this World Cup with the same enthuasism and passion as he has done previously. He will look towards the future and the likes of Granda’s Yacine Brahimi and Valencia’s Sofiane Feghouli for inspiration from midfield. A place in the final 23 is also potentially on the cards for Tottenham’s 19 year old winger Nabil Bentaleb but this World Cup may have come too soon for the talented youngster. Leading the line will be either Dinamo Zagreb’s El Arbi Hillel Soudani or Sporting Lisbon’s Islam Slimani with the latter likely to get the nod. Expectaions are low for Algeria who will struggle to get out of a group that includes Belgium, Russia and South Korea. Progress will depend on the result of their second group game against South Korea where if they are able to pick up all three points, playing for a draw against Russia may be enough to snatch second point in the group.

Lead by Example - Captain Madjid Bougherra  (Image from PA)

Lead by Example – Captain Madjid Bougherra
(Image from PA)

Ghana face a similar situation, placed in a group with Germany, USA and Portugal but few would bet against their progression. In South Africa, Ghana reached the quarter finals only to be knocked out by Uruguay on penalties so Kwesi Appiah and the Black Stars will be hoping to go one or two steps further this time. Former Sunderland striker Asamoah Gyan will captain the side which has a familour look to it with several members of the 2010 team returning like Michael Essien, Sulley Muntari and Kevin Prince Boateng but the rest of the squad is made up of Ghana’s fresh crop if talented youngsters, all of which want to use the World Cup as a stage to showcase their skills. Chelsea midfielder Christian Atsu, who was on loan to Vitesse last year is one such player as is Sparta Moscow striker Abdul Majeed Waris who has spent half of last season on loan at Valenciennes. Ghana also has the luxury of calling upon the Ayew brothers (Andre and Jordan) who both possess an abundance of talent and pace. Attacking options will not be an issue but like the Ivory Coast, Ghana’s biggest weakness is at the back with regular goalkeeper Fatau Dauda dropped to the bench in favour of Adam Kwarasey due to bad form and lack of game time. Appiah may play Essien as a holding midfielder in order to protect his weak back four especially against attacking teams like Germany and Portugal but must get all three points against the US in their opening game to stand a chance of progressing to the knock out stages.

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Will Falcao be mentally ready for Brazil?

Race to be ready for Falcao (Image from Getty)Radamel Falcao has always dreamed about playing in the World Cup and looked set to do so after helping Colombia book their place in this summer’s event in Brazil by scoring nine times in qualifying. But after a clumsy foul in the Coupe de France clash against minnows Monts d’Or Azergues, Radamel Falcao’s World Cup dream lies in tatters. An ill timed tackle from behind resulted in anterior cruciate ligament damage to Falcao’s right knee and has ruled him out for the rest of the season. With the recovery time for this type of injury usually between six to nine months, Falcao’s chances of making the 2014 World Cup are slim. Surgery on his knee the day after the match has given him a slim chance of making it, but even then he might not be ready. Falcao faces an uphill battle to be ready both physically and mentally, with the latter likely to be the hardest test of all. The psychological effects of extended time on the sidelines due to injury can take its toll on any player but the fear of a reoccurrence of the injury can be even worse. Without enough time to get in some practice matches before the World Cup kicks off, Falcao could be dropped into the high octane environment that is the group stages.   

Falcao's World Cup dream in tatters following this challenge  (Image from PA)

Falcao’s World Cup dream in tatters following this challenge
(Image from PA)

Played at a hundred miles per hour with every moment made to count, the group stages of a World Cup have historically been injury laden affairs. England fans will remember the 2006 World Cup where they watch star striker Michael Owen collapse during the group stage match against Sweden after rupturing his cruciate ligament and ending his World Cup.  Having been out injured for a spell before the tournament, Owen was rushed back in order to make the squad that went to Germany as he was seen as England’s best forward option by coach Sven Goran Eriksson. He managed to play the first two games in the group stage but in truth Owen was not fully fit. As he fell to the ground in the 1st minute of the final group game against Sweden, Owen knew that it was a direct effect of not being able to rest before the tournament and fully recover. The injury Owen suffered in the 2006 World Cup was not a career ending one but he never fully recovered the form and speed that had made him famous and eventually retired after several disappointing season back in England. The fear for Falcao is that he rushes back to play and suffers a similar fate as Owen, ending what has been an electric career so far.

Falcao could risk long term problems like Owen if he plays in the World Cup  (Image from AFP)

Falcao could risk long term problems like Owen if he plays in the World Cup
(Image from AFP)

If he can make the tournament, then all eyes will fall on head coach José Pékerman and how he uses his star player. With Colombia pitted in a winnable group against Greece, Ivory Coast and Japan, they could afford to rest Falcao and slowly introduce him into the tournament, preparing him for the knock out stages instead. But if they struggle in their first match against Greece, Pekerman may be forced to turn to Falcao to ensure qualification. Failure to qualify from the group stage for Colombia is not an option and its passionate fans. Having failed to do so in the last two tournaments they competed in (1994 + 1998), Pekerman is keen to have his team progress and was building his team around Falcao. But following the Monaco frontman’s injury, Pekerman has had to put his faith in others like Teófilo Gutiérrez, Jackson Martinez, Carlos Bacca and Luis Muriel. Bacca has been in good form since his move to Sevilla in the summer and could be selected to start in Brazil in place of Falcao alongside either Martinez or Gutierrez. Given the choice though, Pekerman would choose Falcao ahead of all others as he recognizes that he is without question the best striker in the world right now.

Could Bacca replace Falcao?  (Image from Getty)

Could Bacca replace Falcao?
(Image from Getty)

Regardless of where you come from or which country you will be supporting at the World Cup, everyone is hoping that Falcao can recover in time to participate. After all, the World Cup should be about the world’s best teams and in them the world’s greatest players. With Sweden’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Wales Gareth Bale already missing out due to their respective countries failing to qualify, fans will be hoping Falcao won’t be added to this list too.

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England Hold Their Breath As The World Cup Draw Nears

Getting ready for the draw (Image from FIFA)With the World Cup draw happening tomorrow, nerves in the England camp are at an all time high.  England’s fate will be decided at 5pm (GMT) in Bahia, Brazil so in advance BOTN explores what could be England’s worst group.  Using the existing pools (England are in pot 4) and based on the various rules and regulations attached to the draw itself, here is the “Group of Death” for England. It features Spain from Pot 1, Chile from Pot 2 and Mexico form Pot 3 with England filling the final place from Pot 4.

Current World Cup holders, Spain  (Image from Getty)

Current World Cup holders, Spain
(Image from Getty)

The current World and European champions are amongst those in pot one that could pose a real threat to England’s chances. In fact all eight teams, with the possible exception of Switzerland will be a serious threat to England’s qualification hopes. Spain have talent in abundance and are incredibly hard to break down due to their intense passing game. Xavi and Iniesta are likely to dominate the play with Fabergas and Mata as support options. At the back, they have a solid backline with centre back pairing Barcelona’s Gerard Pique and Real Madrid’s Sergio Ramos causing problems for opposition strikers, roaming just in front of Casillas, Reina or Valdes in goal. Upfront Spain’s rich talent pool continues with the likes of Fernando Torres, David Villa, Fernando Llorente and  Roberto Soldado to name a few offering options. Adding to this mix is newly converted Atletico Madrid striker Diego Costa who has been in blistering form so far this season. The Brazilian born striker, who recently pledged his allegiance to Spain instead of his homeland, has forged a successful partnership with David Villa for Atletico. This surely gives Spanish head coach Vicente del Bosque food for thought on whether he should unleash the pair for Spain during next summer’s tournament.

Diego Costa and David Villa  (Image from AFP Getty Images)

Diego Costa and David Villa
(Image from AFP Getty Images)

Chile tested England in their last trip to Wembley just under a month ago as Alexis Sanchez backed up his talking off the pitch with a sublime performance. The Barcelona striker made a sly remark about England’s pathway system for future footballers stating how it was too easy for youngsters to join academies and automatically play for a club in the future. In Chile the academy system is nowhere near as advanced as it is in England but appears to be producing the goods. At Wembley they convincingly beat England 2-0, throwing Roy Hodgson’s plans into disarray. Although England chose to field an altered side for the match allowing them to test some new faces, it was a huge win for the South American’s who have shown with the emergence of star players like Sanchez, Arturo Vidal, Felipe Gutiérrez and Gary Medal that they are a future force in world football.  Pot 3 may be considered to be the weakest pot but within them lies the stinging tail of Mexico who could relinquish all hope for England. With a squad made up of established stars and Olympic winning youthful exuberance, Mexico are considered to be one of the tournaments dark horses. Despite taking a rocky path in qualifying, Mexico’s strength is their desire to succeed which makes them a dangerous opponent.  Upfront, Mexico can call upon Manchester United’s  Javier Hernandez, Valencia’s Giovani Dos Santos or Santos Laguna’s Oribe Peralta to score the goals needed to progress.  In midfield, head coach Miguel Herrera mixes experience in the form of Andres Guardado (who is one game off his century for his country) with up and coming stars like Porto’s Héctor Herrera with some success. He could also spring a few surprises with his final squad selection if Erick Torres or Marco Fabian make the cut. Both players are good examples of the rich talent that Mexico is producing and that England needs to be aware of if they draw them in the World Cup.  

Chile ran out victors the last time they faced England  (Image from PA)

Chile ran out victors the last time they faced England
(Image from PA)

In the World Cup, there is no such thing as an easy team as England have found out in the past. There are various other teams who pose a threat to England’s chances of progression, most noticeably host’s Brazil, a Messi inspired Argentina and arch rivals, Germany. But some of the dark horses could also cause problems such as the Ivory Coast or Ecuador. Ivory Coast has plenty of talent including Manchester City’s Yaya Toure, former Chelsea striker Didier Drogba, Roma’s Gervinho and CSKA Moscow’s Seydou Doumbia. They will be no pushovers, nor will Ecuador who are an improving side and will be a lot tougher than the last time England played them in 2006. Antonio Valencia and Vitesse’s Renato Ibarra are two talented wingers with lots of pace to burn plus with Felipe Caicedo up front, Ecuador could be a real threat. The country is still hurting from the death of legend Christian Benetiz so will be approaching the World Cup with a desire to do well for his memory. The USA are also amongst the group of teams who could be a potential danger as England found out in 2010 in South Africa. Coach Jürgen Klinsmann has spent the past few years experimenting with different players but now has established a nucleus of talent like Clint Dempsey, Jermaine Jones and Michael Bradley that he is building his team around. Added into this the emergence of Brek Shea, Terrance Boyd and Sunderland’s Jozy Altidore, Klinsmann has a strong group that is ready and prepared for the World Cup next year.

Hodgson will be hoping that he is still smiling after the draw  (Image from Getty)

Hodgson will be hoping that he is still smiling after the draw
(Image from Getty)

Hodgson and England will be hoping to avoid such a nightmare by drawing a generous group such as Switzerland, Algeria and Iran. Based on previous draws, England has had luck on their side but can it hold for Brazil? Interestingly one team in pot 4 will be moved into pot 2 just before the draw starts. This is to allow for 4 groups of eight and a somewhat easier drawing process. That said, it is still quite confusing as FIFA will not allow a group to have more than two European teams in it so adjustments will need to be made, ruling out the three European teams in Pot 1 being pulled.  If England were chosen for Pot 2, it could play in their favour or perhaps not. Either way, Hodgson is unlikely to get any sleep tonight as he worries about who his team will face next summer.

Blog by Richard Waterhouse

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Ethiopia Look Towards Zambia For Inspiration

2013 Africa Cup of Nations (Image from Wikipedia.org)With the African Cup of Nations 2013 kicking off in eight days time, all attention is turned towards South Africa to see what country manages to emulate the 2012 surprise winners Zambia and lift the coveted trophy. Competition will be fierce with host South Africa, along with Ghana and Ivory Coast joining Zambia as favourites to win the tournament. However if Zambia’s win has taught us anything, the African Cup of Nations is wide open with all teams capable of causing an upset. Former champions Tunisia and Nigeria will be hoping to reclaim the trophy after a years of disappointment whilst other teams like Togo and Morocco will be thankful that 7 times winners Egypt and World Cup regulars Cameroon failed to qualify for this years event. But for one team, taking part in th African Cup of Nations is the first step in rebuilding pride in football within their country.

Zambia wins last years Cup (Image from AFP PHOTO / ISSOUF SANOGO)

Zambia wins last years Cup
(Image from AFP PHOTO / ISSOUF SANOGO)

After a 31 year absence, Ethiopia are back in the Cup and are looking to make an impact. The winners in 1964 have a relatively inexperienced side, whose squad contains only three players who play in leagues outside of Ethiopia (Yussuf Saleh in Sweden, Saladin Said in Egypt and Fuad Ibrahim in the US), are attempting to follow in Zambia’s footsteps and upset the apple cart by winning the tournament. Having beaten Sudan on away goals to qualify, Ethiopia are out to prove that they warrant their place and are not there just to make up the numbers. Place in a Group C, they face three tough games against Nigeria, Burkina Faso and current champions Zambia with hopes of reaching the second round looking relatively slim.

Ethiopia will face Nigeria in the group stages (Image from FIFA.com)

Ethiopia will face Nigeria in the group stages (Image from FIFA.com)

Whilst expectations are low, Ethiopian football is on the up at the moment with the national team experiencing a good spell. Not only have they qualified for this tournament, they also lead  Group A in the 2014 World Cup qualification. Whilst they still have along way to go, it will give the country a lift to believe that they may qualify for their first ever World Cup appearance. But for Head Coach, Sewnet Bishaw and his team, the focus is 100% on the African Cup of Nations for now. With a host of good young players making up the step up to national team such as striker Getaneh Kebede and fellow striker Saladin Said (the country’s record holder for the highest transfer paid), the future looks bright for Ethiopia. The youngsters are supported by the more experienced members of the squad like Adane Girma and captain Degu Debebe who are looking towards Zambia’s success last time for inspiration. Debebe, interviewed during their latest training session gave his views:

“What matters most is our strength. We saw how Zambia performed in the last Afcon. No one expected them to win the cup. They won because they played as a team and didn’t underestimate any team. We can learn a lesson from them and make possible what seems impossible. We will give our best.”

Youthful team - Ethiopia (Image from Ethiosports.com)

Youthful team – Ethiopia (Image from Ethiosports.com)

Regardless of how Ethiopia perform in this tournament and if they can make the fairytale underdog story come true and win the cup, their country will be proud of what this young team has achieved. With each game comes more experience and the longer these players play together, the better they will become. If they can continue their existing form, then maybe they might just shock a few teams at this years event and help to write yet another chapter in their football history.