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Africa’s Long Road To 2010 W/Cup

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“The World Cup is coming to Africa, I can’t believe it. It just makes me believe that anything is possible.”

The words of a female DJ as I listened to the radio in Lesotho just recently. An attitude which encapsulates the wonder many are feeling across Africa, still incredulous that the planet’s biggest sports event is coming to the continent.

To the only continent never to have hosted the Olympics nor the World Cup. Until now that is.

For those living in South Africa itself, the incredulity goes even deeper. Twenty years ago, hosting the World Cup was an impossible dream. Still under the grip of apartheid, South Africa was a pariah state, banned from football by Fifa, and the prospect of playing any match, let alone hosting the world, was a mere flight of fancy.

But now we are less than 20 days away from a tournament which many, including former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, fully expect to change Africa’s poor global standing, broadly known for such negative images as war, famine, HIV/Aids corruption – while the more football-minded simply hope a new playing generation will shine brightly in 10-15 years’ time, as those who grew up inspired by Africa’s first World Cup hit maturity.

“I’m hoping an African side can do really well, perhaps even win it,” says former South Africa defender Mark Fish. “Then we can ask Fifa why we can’t have seven, eight, perhaps even nine teams representing Africa in future World Cups.”

That the World Cup is in South Africa is largely thanks to the efforts of Fifa chief Sepp Blatter and former anti-apartheid activist Danny Jordaan, who has been working relentlessly since 1994 to get the unlikely dream off the ground.

Yet the foundations were laid many years ago. The 1966 World Cup is not the most obvious turning point but that year Africa boycotted the finals in protest at the allocation of one place between Asia and itself at the ‘World Cup’.

The dramatic move,  which came exactly 100 years after the continent’s first recorded football match, worked, for Africa had its own representative at the next finals.

1974 was also a significant milestone. Not at the World Cup though, where the maiden sub-Saharan appearance was a disaster as Zaire (now DR Congo) lost all their matches with a 0-14 goal record.

However, the real nadir came when Mwepu Ilunga infamously ran out of the wall to hammer away a Brazilian free-kick, the African champions attracting widespread ridicule for not knowing the rules.

But that year, Joao Havelange used dozens of African votes to win the Fifa presidency off Sir Stanley Rous, and the game changed forever, booming commercially.

The Brazilian had promised the continent its own prizes in return, which came as the World Cup expanded to 24 teams in 1982, meaning Africa now had two places, while Fifa’s inaugural youth tournaments were held in Tunisia (the U20s in 1977) and Nigeria won (what is now the U17 World Cup in 1985).

Had a certain Mr Dempsey not come along, Africa might already have staged the World Cup but Blatter acted decisively following that voting failure in 2000.

One month later, he oversaw the installation of Fifa’s rotation system and one year later, Africa was chosen to start the new policy, which explains Blatter’s rare popularity here.

“We’re very grateful to Fifa and Blatter,” says Fish.

“The journey of African football has been a long one and South Africa, from the apartheid era to the democratic elections of 1994, has also come a long way. Now it’s a massive step to be hosting the world’s biggest sporting event on our continent.”

Africa has displayed its enormous passion for football time and again, and many more tales will emerge during what could be the most colourful World Cup to date. And with the finals providing the greatest 31-day commercial for the continent, pride will swell from Cape Town to Cairo and from Dakar to Dar-es-Salaam.

In a land crippled by nepotism and corruption, football is a rare meritocracy, an area where an individual can rely on his own talents to move up in the world. By coincidence or not, it’s also one of few areas where Africa does not just live with the best but beats them too.

The life story of George Weah, who rose from a Monrovian slum to be crowned the world’s best footballer in 1995, is still an inspiration to many.

Football even had the capacity to briefly stop his homeland’s civil war since Liberia matches in the 1990s would, to quote the current president, ‘bring sudden voluntary ceasefires between the warring factions’ as they joined their enemies to watch the games.

“It is in our hands to unite our country, our continent and the world in a footballing feast,” South African President Jacob Zuma said recently.

Now where’s that damned vuvuzela?

Edwards is with BBC Sports.

 

Piers Edwards

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2021/2022 NPFL Season  Starts, Dec 17

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The 2021/22 Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) season  is expected to  kick off on December 17th across 10 centres.
Defending champions, Akwa United, will start their title defence  at home in a Match Day 1 fixture against Kano Pillar at the Godswill Akpabio Stadium in Uyo
Elsewhere,  Gombe United hosts Shooting Stars Sports Club to the Pantami stadium in Gombe in both teams’ first game of their returned season to the top flight.
The Pride of Benue, Lobi Stars, will host Rivers United at the Aper Aku Stadium, Makurdi with the club’s Manager, Eddy Dombraye, leading his side against his state for the first time in many years.
The first oriental derby match of the new season is among the opening fixtures with Enyimba FC playing host to their arch-rivals Abia Warriors in Aba, while Enugu Rangers travel to Katsina to face the Changi boys, Katsina United.
Niger Tornadoes will welcome Plateau United at their temporary home ground in Kaduna while there will be a reunion, sort of in Akure when Sunshine Stars face their former manager, Kabiru Dogo and Fuad Ekelojuoti who are now with Wikki Tourists at the Ondo Sports Complex, Akure.
Another matchday one fixture will see Kwara United host Dakkada in Ilorin. Kwara United almost won the league title last season, before Akwa United secured the title with seven points gap, while the Olukoya boys, MFM FC, will host regional rivals, Remo Stars, at the Agege Stadium.
The Solid Miners, Nasarawa United will travel to Owerri to face Heartland in another opening day tie.

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Delta Principals Cup: Sponsor Splashes Goodies On Finalists

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The sponsor of the on-going Delta State Principals’ Cup football competition, Zenith Bank, has promised that loads of goodies will be given to the finalists of the annual event.
The competition,  now in its 5th edition, is a developmental football competition organised for all secondary schools in the state.
Zenith Bank’s Group Managing Director, Ebenezer Onyeagwu,  said that the last four teams will be rewarded with various ranges of gift items as part of the final day activities.
“We are very committed to developmental pro-grammes in various ways. For sports, we believe in our catch them young initiatives, of which the Delta Principals’ Cup is one of them.
“I congratulate all the finalists for the 2021 event and wish to show that they are all winners, all of them will go home with attractive gift items on final day next week,” Onyeagwu said.
Stephen Keshi Stadium, Asaba, will host the final match between Osadenis Mixed Secondary School and  School of Com-merce  on November 30.
Alaka Grammar School, Ozoro and Ovwor Mixed Secondary School will clash in the Third Place match billed to be the curtain raiser before the final match involving the defending champions, School of Commerce and Osadenis Mixed School.

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US-Based Okorie Plans Maiden South-East Sports Festival

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United States-based Nigerian former athlete, Victor Okorie, is planning to stage a maiden Southeast Sports Festival in 2022 to prepare athletes in the region for the national sports festival billed to hold in Asaba, Delta State.
Okorie, who is the Performance Director of the Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN), said he would meet with governors and some stakeholders in the region soon, as part of his arrangements for the event.
Before his emergence as the Southeast zonal representative on the AFN board during the elective congress held in Abuja on June 14, Okorie had sponsored a competition for track and field athletes through his pet project, the South East Sports Foundation.
The competition, which held in Enugu, saw athletes from Abia, Anambra, Imo, Enugu and Ebonyi compete for prizes in sprint events, throw and jump.
The foundation also plans to organise competitions for the physically challenged athletes in the zone in line with Okorie’s view of taking physically challenged athletes in Southeast away from the streets, as well as integrate athletes in volleyball, handball, wrestling, and other sports on the same level with their foreign-based counterparts.
Speaking with newsmen, from his base in Tennessee, USA, Wednesday, Okorie, who won a silver medal for Nigeria at COJA 2003 All Africa Games in Abuja, said that the maiden Southeast Sports Festival would give the states chance to raise formidable squad for Asaba 2022.
“Sports are one major avenue governors in the southeast states can use to empower youths in the region,” Okorie said.
“I will meet with them and other stakeholders soon, on how we will stage a successful Southeast Sports Festival, which will serve as selection ground ahead of Asaba 2022 National Sports Festival. There is the need to re-awake sports campaign in the Southeast zone. Maybe, the next host of the national sSports festival will come from the Southeast after Asaba 2022,” he added.

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