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Africa’s Strongest, Weakest Points In World Cup Participation

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If  South Africans had wanted an omen in the run-up to yesterday’s opening clash against Mexico, they can take heart from the most tenuous of facts – that every time an African team has contested the World Cup opener, they have not only won it, but also made it to the quarter-finals.

Cameroon in 1990 and Senegal in 2002 are the two major highlights of Africa’s World Cup adventure, but what about the rest?

And what about the lowlights? Here are some of African highs and lows in the Mundial.

TOP 10 HIGHS:

The 1966 boycott: One of the highs was, at the time, a considerable low. With Africa awarded half a place at the World Cup by an intractable FIFA, the continent boycotted the 1966 finals. The drastic protest worked as Africa received its own berth for 1970.

Tunisia 1978: Nearly 50 years after Africa first participated in the World Cup, the continent recorded its first victory as Tunisia beat Mexico 3-1 in Rosario (although the Carthage Eagles haven’t won at the World Cup since).

Algeria 1982: Shocks had already rocked the World Cup but no one expected first-timers Algeria to beat the European champions.

Rabah Madjer opened the scoring, West German captain Karl-Heinz Rummenigge levelled, leaving it to the great Lakdar Belloumi to seal a late victory. “Germany had very good players but we also had a great team, with lots of experience and talent,” says Madjer.

Morocco 1986: The Atlas Lions continued North Africa’s pioneering World Cup role when becoming the first Africans into the second round. “Nobody could believe what we’d done because we were taking on Poland, England and Portugal,” says goalkeeper Badu Zaki, whose team topped the group unbeaten. “I think our performances persuaded FIFA that Africa deserved more places at the World Cup.”

Cameroon 1990: The Indomitable Lions’ Italian adventure is Africa’s proudest World Cup memory – headlined by Roger Milla’s goals and wiggling hips. Sub-Saharan Africa announced it could be a football power when Francois Omam-Biyik’s prodigious leap sunk defending champions Argentina 1-0.

Wins over Romania and Colombia followed and in the quarters, Thomas N’Kono, Cyrille Makanaky and co. were just seven minutes away from beating England. No African side has ever been so close to the semi-finals.

Roger Milla: Milla made his mark in 1990 but furthered a personal milestone when netting against Russia at USA ’94. The forward had reset the oldest goalscorer mark at 42 years – a World Cup record that will surely never be broken.

Nigeria 1994: Packing power and flair, the Super Eagles routed Bulgaria 3-0 – Rashidi Yekini pumping his fists through the net in celebration – while Daniel Amokachi netted a screamer against Greece.

Nigeria were then two minutes from the quarter-finals until ten-man Italy equalised. “It’s a shame we didn’t realise how good we were, as we lacked experience,” says Jay-Jay Okocha. “But 1994 helped us win the 1996 Olympics.”

Nigeria 1998: The Super Eagles are the only African side to twice reach the knock-outs. The highlight here was the 3-2 win over Spain, lit up by Sunday Oliseh’s sweet 25-yard half-volley. Okocha was also in sublime form, dazzling with his tricks and flicks.

Senegal 2002: Lightning struck twice as an unfancied African side defeated the reigning champions 1-0 in the opening game – Senegal’s humbling of former colonialists France inspired by El Hadji Diouf’s thrilling display.

Draws with Denmark and Uruguay, and a knock-out defeat of Sweden, took the Teranga Lions into the quarters, where they lost to Turkey. “The only game we prepared for like people wanted us to – having lunch, staying in your room, looking at the ceiling etc. – was the one we lost because mentally we’d already played the game,” laments midfielder Salif Diao.

FIFA’s Rotation Policy: 15 March 2001 was one of African football’s most momentous days for FIFA, who had decided to rotate the World Cup the year before, chose the continent to start the new system in 2010. Of course, 15 May 2004 is more celebrated in South Africa as that was the day the World Cup hosts won the bid.

THE LOWS:

Zaire 74: This display was a disaster as the African champions played three and lost three (scoring 0, conceding 14). In addition, Mwepu Ilunga showed scant regard for the rules when kicking away an opponents’ free-kick. He’s since claimed he was trying to get sent off in protest at the federation withholding money from the squad. “I knew the rules very well but the referee was lenient and only gave me a yellow.”

Togo 2006: Bonuses have been the bugbear of many African campaigns but the Hawks took things to a new level when becoming the first team to threaten to boycott a World Cup match.

With the FA refusing to pay the agreed amount, the players were set to sit out the Switzerland tie until FIFA guaranteed them funds. Later on, FIFA fined the Togolese FA for behaviour ‘unworthy of a World Cup participant’.

The ‘Shame of Gijon’, Spain 1982: This setback denied Algeria an historic place in the second round. Since they’d already played, group rivals West Germany and Austria knew a narrow German win in their contest would take both sides through.

After the Germans’ early goal, both sides made little attempt to score – sparking public outcry and FIFA to ensure that all final group ties were played simultaneously from then on. “We were tricked out of qualification but the anger has gone now,” says Madjer.

The Big-Name Absences: Africans decry the failure of Liberia’s George Weah, Ghana’s Abedi Pele and Mali’s Salif Keita. On this occasion, many fans were also dismayed by the absence of a team, six-time African champions Egypt, meaning Ahmed Hassan and Mohamed Aboutreika would be sorely missed.

The Quarter-Final Barrier: Despite winning the U17 World Cup, the U20 World Cup and the Olympic Games, Africa has never won the World Cup – nor reached the last four. Can the continent’s first World Cup rewrite history?

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Barcelona Open: Nadal’s Comeback Ended By World No 11

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Rafael Nadal’s injury comeback was ended by Alex de Minaur as the 12-time champion waved goodbye to the Barcelona Open for possibly the final time. Nadal, 37, returned to court on Tuesday after a three-month absence, making light work of 21-year-old Italian Flavio Cobolli in a straight-set win.
A day later, Nadal lost 7-5 6-1 to world number 11 De Minaur in round two.
Nadal, a 22-time major winner, has indicated he plans to retire in 2024 if he is unable to compete regularly.
The former world number one, now ranked 644th, has only played five matches since January 2023 because of hip and abdominal injuries.
Nadal is hoping to be fit enough to make a return to the French Open, where he won a record 14 men’s singles titles, next month.
Facing a player of De Minaur’s pedigree was always likely to be a considerable step up, and a truer test of his level than his comeback outing against 62nd-ranked Cobolli.
The 25-year-old Australian tried to test Nadal’s movement by using drop shots early in the match, an effective tactic which helped him move 2-0 in front and tee up another break point for 3-0.
But Nadal survived to hold and improved his level, producing a number of explosive cross-court backhand winners as he fought back to lead 4-3.
Another backhand winner, this time down the line, even drew a clap of the strings from De Minaur and teed up another break point for Nadal.
Taking the chance would have left Nadal serving for the set, but De Minaur recovered and won 19 of the next 24 points to win an opener lasting more than an hour.
After so long out, and with playing on consecutive days, Nadal’s endurance was always going to be tested, particularly against an opponent known for his athleticism.
De Minaur played smartly in a one-sided second set and broke Nadal’s serve three times, silencing the Barcelona crowd in the process, to secure an impressive victory.
Nadal left the court bearing his name – for what could be the final time – to a standing ovation and rapturous send-off.
Meanwhile, British men’s number two Jack Draper reached his 10th ATP Tour quarter-finals at the BMW Open in Munich.
Draper, 22, fought back after a rain delay to earn a 4-6 6-1 6-1 win over
German world number 179 Rudolf Molleker at the clay-court event.

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Leverkusen Chief Backs Alonso To Join Madrid

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Bayer Leverkusen chief executive Fernando Carro has claimed that Xabi Alonso will coach Real Madrid, while also lending fresh hope to Liverpool.
Alonso’s remarkable success at Leverkusen, who clinched their first-ever Bundesliga crown at the weekend, has positioned him as one of the most sought-after managers in Europe, with Liverpool and Bayern Munich previously leading the chase. Despite the interest, the 42-year-old Spaniard has affirmed his commitment to remain at the helm of the Bundesliga outfit for at least one more season.
However, Leverkusen’s leadership acknowledges the challenge of retaining Alonso over the long term, given his burgeoning reputation and the inevitable interest from top clubs across Europe. Among the potential destinations for Alonso, Real Madrid stands out prominently as Carro expressed his belief that Alonso could eventually return to the Spanish capital, where he enjoyed a distinguished playing career.
Speaking to Tidesports source, Carro also suggested Liverpool still have a chance of striking a deal for Alonso one day, as he stated: “I have no doubt that Xabi Alonso will coach Real Madrid at some point. What I am not clear about is when, but that he will end up at Real Madrid I have no doubt, as it is also possible that he trains Liverpool or Bayern.
There are a lot of clubs interested, that’s how it is, which doesn’t mean that in the future he can’t coach some of the clubs mentioned, especially his former teams as a player. But he feels comfortable here, otherwise he wouldn’t continue. We will maintain our ambition to play in the Champions League next year.”
Despite Real Madrid’s current managerial stability under Carlo Ancelotti, whose contract is due to run until 2026, reports suggest that the club’s hierarchy views Alonso as the ideal candidate to succeed Ancelotti when his tenure concludes. The backing of Real Madrid’s board, including club president Florentino Perez, further solidifies Alonso’s prospects of potentially assuming the managerial reins at the Santiago Bernabeu in 2026. Allegedly aware of the esteem in which the club’s leadership holds him, Alonso has opted to remain at Leverkusen, biding his time for a potential return to Real Madrid.
Alonso is focused on preparing Leverkusen for the second leg of their UEFA Europa League quarter-final against West Ham at London Stadium on April 18, following their 2-0 victory in the first leg at BayArena.

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Barca Blame Referee, Panic For Loss To PSG

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Barcelona had a two-goal aggregate lead and were seemingly in control of their UEFA Champions League quarter final second leg match against Paris St- Germain in Spain until it all turned to chaos.
A disaster performance from the referee, panic from Barcelona’s players and an unnecessary expulsion, according to Barca sources, were all blamed on a dramatic Tuesday evening at Estadi Olimpic Lluis Companys as PSG ran out 4-1 winners.
Barcelona centre-back Ronald Araujo’s sending off turned the tide in their Champions League quarter-final as PSG came from 3-2 down in the first leg to win the tie 6-4 on aggregate.
A double from Kylian Mbappe, a long-range strike from Vitinha and an Ousmane Dembele goal against his former club sent Barcelona spiralling out of control – and out of the competition.
As Barcelona turned in a performance riddled with mistakes, referee Istvan Kovacs had a busy evening. The Romanian showed three red cards to the hosts – manager Xavi’s frustrations getting the better of him, before a member of his coaching staff was dismissed for dissent. That only compounded the damage done by Araujo’s red-card inducing challenge on Bradley Barcola early in the first half.
“The referee was really bad. I told him his performance was a disaster. I don’t like to talk about referees, but it had a clear impact in the season and it has to be said,” Xavi told news men.
“We are very upset and angry because the red card was the decisive factor in the match. With 11, we were in a good position, playing well and in command.
“It’s too much to flash a red card in a game like this. There was another game after that… It is a pity that the work of the season was ruined by an unnecessary expulsion.”
Araujo’s early exit allowed PSG to build momentum. The goals flowed; Barcelona collapsed. Joao Cancelo needlessly brought down Dembele in the box, allowing Mbappe to score the first of his two goals from the penalty spot.
“You can’t make mistakes in the Champions League,” former Barcelona striker Thierry Henry said after the game.
“If you make mistakes, you pay the price straight away and that’s why it is so hard to win that competition because you cannot make one mistake.”
Having left Paris with a 3-2 victory, Barcelona got off to the perfect start in their second leg when Raphinha deflected in teenager Lamine Yamal’s cross.
But Barcelona’s lead did not last long and PSG took control in the second half as the cards came from Kovacs.

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