Malawi and their new coach Tom Santifet were hoping for a successful beginning to this scrutinised partnership. Unfortunately for Mr Santifet, things couldn’t have gotten off to a worse start. Malawi went a goal behind to Zimbabwe in the opening quarter final within 15 minutes. In the 43rdminute Santifet could only watch on as his big centre half, James Sangala, inexplicably dived in 2-footed near the touchline, leaving the referee with little option but to show him a red card.
In fairness to Santifet, he must have said something right as Malawi came out looking like a completely different team in the second half. They were pressing Zimbabwe back, and although Zim had numerous great chances to extend their lead, the score remained at 1-0. Time was starting to run out for Malawi, when, in the 86th minute, the Flames launched a hopeful ball high and long into the box. It was one the keeper should have claimed easily, but it slipped through his fingers and dropped in over the line. The game was heading to penalties. For those who read my previous blog, you will remember how impressed I was with the penalty taking in the Presidential cup final. Unfortunately the Flames players could not replicate this as they crashed out missing 3 out of 4 penalties.
The other quarter finals were contested by Zambia versus Mozambique, Angola versus Lesotho, and South Africa versus Namibia. Zambia and South Africa were both clear favourites to go through, and obliged without too much fuss. Angola, who would normally be expected to beat Lesotho, had sent an U-23 squad to the tournament, with a view to giving their youngsters valuable tournament experience. Despite this youthful side – which included two 16 year olds – Angola were still firm favourites, but a resilient performance from Lesotho saw them gain a 1-1 draw and defeat Angola 5-4 on penalties.
For the first time in the COSAFA, the defeated quarter finalists entered into a Plate tournament, where Malawi faced Angola, and Namibia faced Mozambique. Despite leading twice against Angola, Malawi ended up succumbing to a late goal thanks to poor marking from set plays to see Santifet’s side lose to the odd goal in 5. Two defeats out of two was not what the new coach would have had in mind. Mozambique overcame Namibia in the other game to set up a Southern Africa Portuguese derby in the final. The final was a tight affair, between the Mambas (Mozambique) and the Black Leopards (Angola). There were few chances in the opening period, but then 2-minutes from time the Mambas scored what proved to be the only goal of the game.
In the main tournament Zambia – as expected – beat South Africa whilst Zimbabwe eased past Lesotho to leave us with a repeat of both the 2005 and 2009 finals. Zimbabwe won both of those and Zambia, who started as favourites on their home turf, were out for revenge. It didn’t take long for Zambia to edge in front either, scoring in the 4th minute. Zambia, despite what the Zimbabwe coach said, were the better team for most of the match. When Zimbabwe did manage to break down the Zambian back line they demonstrated the poor finishing that nearly cost them against Malawi, and has blighted them throughout their World Cup qualifying campaign. Zambia wrapped up the victory for their wannabe film star manager Herve Renard (See photo, he looks like he should be in a film with Matthew McConaughey) in stoppage time with a second coming from a free kick.
The football on show was at times woeful throughout the tournament; there were certainly no future superstars on show, but it did yield a record of 57 goals, working out at 2.7 per game and 2 penalty shoot outs. Overall thoughts? Entertaining, but lacking in quality.
One other big story that has been doing the rounds over here is the scandal in Nigerian football. Two games, 146 goals (103 of those coming in the second halves) and now lifetime bans. Plateau United Feeders and Police Machines started their respective games on level points with Police Machines having the slightly better goal difference. But with Plateau Feeders defeating Akurba FC and the Police Machines only (!?) managing a 67 goal victory over Bubayaro Plateau were left to claim the Promotion Playoff spot. The chair of the Nigerian Football Federation described it as a “scandal of epic proportions”. All four clubs have been banned for 10 years with a number of officials and players facing lifetime global bans. On slightly better – and much less publicised news – Cameroon can begin to get their game back in order after FIFA lifted sanctions following government interference. A Normalisation Committee has now been introduced to restore infrastructure and most of all pride to the Indomitable Lions and their domestic leagues.
Moving on to slightly more Newcastle United related news, big Shola has been called up for the Mandela cup, a friendly match between South Africa and Nigeria. Shola seems to split opinions amongst fans, with probably the majority thinking he is a useless lump, and a waste of space and money. Personally, I think that is hugely unfair on the Fenham Eusebio. He burst onto the scene as a teenager; I fondly remember him squaring up to Desailly on his debut. Unfortunately for him, he has been blighted by injuries, and has always been squad backup, with him rarely getting a good run of games; an understudy to Shearer, Bellamy, Martins, Owen, Viduka, Ba, Cisse to name a few. No players develop without regular play, and Shola has sacrificed his career, much like Harper did, to serve a club that he obviously holds close to his heart. Yes, he has never been world class, and is regularly inconsistent, but every manager since Bobby Robson has wanted to keep him. Not many players would have given up playing for their country in a major tournament to stay just in case his club needed him. He may leave this summer, although with the speed with which we sign players, we may need him for another year. If he leaves (and I hope for his sake he does) he will go with my thanks and best wishes. If he stays to play second fiddle, then he will be demonstrating huge commitment to this club at the risk of missing out on a World Cup place next summer. That is something that should be appreciated in my eyes.
Despite that, I still feel we need two strikers “over the line,” and that is without losing anyone. Two strikers, with one able to play as a wide forward, is the minimum requirement. I’m fairly certain that the whole point of bringing in Kinnear was to speed up and improve the transfer process. Well, he has now been here 6 weeks, and ….. There are less than 6 weeks till the window shuts now, and we are still labouring over bids. It would have been great to have gotten any new players in by the start of pre-season but as long as we manage to get those two players, and hopefully some stronger backup before the window shuts, I won’t be too displeased. The friendly results have been a mixed bag so far, but the early games are all about getting match sharpness, and I am not too interested in results. Vuckic has looked good, and hopefully this is his year. After him, I feel that almost all of our academy graduates need farming out. Particularly, I want to see good loans for Campbell, Streete and Mbabu. Send them to clubs such as Boro, Crewe, Ipswich where they have a reputation for bringing youngsters through and developing them. Keeping these three in the development group for another year or two will serve very little purpose.
Finally, I can’t leave without bringing up the bizarre story of Mick Harford. I think the role the club was looking to create is a great move, and one I would be in support of, but the person they asked to fill it? It is another example of the ‘cronyism’ that has been the main part of high profile staff recruitment since Ashley’s arrival; Wise, Jimenez, Vetere, Llambias, Pardew, Kinnear (twice). Not only that, but Harford has zero experience of scouting or spotting talent. Fortunately for us, he knew that only too well, and decided to take a role he is suited to: lower league coaching. Is it too difficult to first keep this sort of nonsense out of the media, and second appoint people who have track records and have proven they can fill that role? I bet Ashley wouldn’t run Sports Direct this way, so why does he with Newcastle.
Cheers, hopefully in 2 weeks time I will have a new signing to discuss as well!!
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