I am eagerly awaiting the Bafana v Nigeria AFCON and 2010 SWC qualifying match this weekend. I was part of the squad when Bafana first played against Nigeria, at the Surulere Stadium outside Lagos back in 1992. It was a 1994 World Cup qualifying match, South Africa's first since isolation, and we were on the wrong end of a 4-0 hiding.
My claim to fame was warming up for about 10 minutes during the match when Bennet Masinga got injured (because I thought I might go on as his replacement). I was only told after I had raised a decent sweat that although dressed and ready for action, I wasn't on the team sheet! Screamer Tshabalala made everyone in the squad get dressed but only five of the 11 reserves could be listed on the team sheet. You live and learn.
I was fortunate enough to play in the return leg at Soccer City six months later where we earned a creditable 0-0 draw, although this was not enough for us to qualify for USA 1994. I even 'scored' a late winner, only for the ref to wrongly disallow for offsides. TV commentator Thabiso Thema takes much glee in mentioning my disallowed goal at every SA v Nigeria match!
Help and support
But this weekend's match is as important a match as Bafana will ever play. A lot of this Nigeria team have just come back from winning silver at the Beijing Olympic Games. They are a very good team. They are also top of the qualifying group and unbeaten with no goals against. Bafana on the other hand have had a poor campaign and are on the brink of not qualifying for the 2010 Nations Cup tournament in Angola. To summarise: They need all the help and support they can get in their attempt to beat the Super Eagles of Nigeria.
Our National Football Association has decided that this important match will take place at the EPRU stadium in PE. That none of the national team players have played at this venue for a number of years means it is not exactly a 'home ground' and therefore no advantage is gained other than having the majority of the local support. Bafana coach Joel Santana pleaded to have the game moved to a better stadium with a better pitch. Safa turned him down. It seems they are more interested in making the politicians in PE happy, than doing whatever it takes to beat Nigeria.
After a much-improved performance against Australia and the return of Benni McCarthy, plus an overdue recall for Matthew Booth, Bafana seem to be building some momentum, and we need local fans to get behind them. We need to take every advantage we can so that we increase the positive mood around the team and it saddens me to hear that the officials who run the game do not have the team's best interests at heart! I hope I am proved wrong and that Bafana get the right result, even if it means Safa can tell us all to stick our opinions about the choice of stadium.
United take over City
You can't make this stuff up, honestly. A group called the Abu Dhabi United Group (ADUG) are in the process of taking over Manchester City. Firstly they have the word 'United' in their name, and so by simple word association, United have taken over bitter rivals City. Perhaps only United fans will understand and share the mirth!
The first word 'Abu' is also an acronym for a term used to describe those fans that dislike United. It stands for 'Anyone But United' and was coined in the late 1990s after United's domination of the Premiership.
ADUG have promised to buy any player that manager Mark Hughes wants and have already mentioned a $135m fee for Cristiano Ronaldo - if he wants to join the biggest club in the world! ("We've got the biggest car park in the land - Citeh are a massive club" as the song goes!)
ADUG are also richer than Roman Abramovich! They are worth an estimated 800 billion pounds. And so to announce their take over they moved swiftly in the transfer market and bought Robinho for an estimated 32.4 million pounds. This is a player that was 'not for sale' a few days ago according to former club Real Madrid. Apparently they were unhappy with Chelsea advertising Robinho jerseys on their club website before the deal was done and to spite them, they held out for a lot more money from ADUG.
Robinho is on a reported $300 000 a week salary making him the best paid player in the world. Who will follow him to the City of Manchester Stadium? Seems ADUG have a wish list of all the 'who's who' including Thierry Henry, Lionel Messi, CR7 and MacBeth Sibaya (ok, I made the last one up!)
Someone might want to mention to them that you can only have so many superstar strikers in the team.
It makes for interesting times in the EPL this season. All eyes will be on Citeh to see how things develop on the pitch and to see who is joining the queue for the big pay cheques (anyone need a former international striker with one knee?)
Other insignificant transfers
The action at Citeh meant that all other transfer news was relegated to the side bars. I'd like to go through a few of them that might be worth a few bonus points if you play fantasy league football.
The Brazilian-Portuguese superstar has made a great start to his EPL career with two goals in his first three games. Deco has great touch, passing ability, great at set-pieces and can win games. I think he is a great signing for a Chelsea midfield bristling with strength and power but possibly lacking in craft and cunning. If Chelsea win the league, Deco will have a lot to do with it.
The Bulgarian ace finally signed his deal with United for a reported 30.75 million pounds. The additional seven million that United paid after their first offer of 23 million seems to have helped Spurs forget their complaint to the league about United's dodgy transfer dealings. Berbatov will be the glue that holds Rooney and Tevez together and turns them into a more potent attacking force (more potent!!). Whether Fergie plays all three at the same time remains to be seen, but he is a class act and will certainly add to United this season.
The little French midfielder has started like a house on fire. A goal in the Champions League and another on opening day in the league has given us all a glimpse of his pedigree. Another astute signing by Wenger. Nasri will give Arsenal an attacking option that went missing with Rosicky's injury last year. He might struggle in the physical conditions of an English winter.
"Who?" I hear you say! The 20-year-old Belgian was part of the Olympic team that reached the semi-finals, losing to Nigeria. Fellaini was sent off in the match against Brazil giving a glimpse of his rough edge. Manager David Moyes has obviously seen something in the giant midfielder and his recent performances for Standard Liege against Liverpool in the Champs League justify his Belgium record transfer fee of 15 million pounds to Everton (also a club transfer record). At 20 years old, this could be money well spent in the not too distant future.
George is Media24's Mr Soccer.
The little man left Manchester City a few seasons ago for the bright lights of London and the big pay cheques at Chelsea. However, he had limited game time. Now he's back at Citeh again, back among friends and family and has already got himself on the score sheet (two goals v Sunderland). The presence of super star Robinho will take the pressure off him, and I believe he could be one of the best signings of the season.
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