The Descendants of Djemba Djemba

With the news that former Manchester United and Cameroon midfielder Eric Djemba Djemba has signed for SPFL Premiership side St. Mirren until the end of the season now seems as good a time as any to give a nod to some of Scottish football’s most fondly remembered African imports.

quitongo

1. Jose Quitongo

Former clubs: Hamilton Accies, St. Mirren, Kilmarnock, Hearts, Alloa Athletic, Albion Rovers, Partick Thistle, Dumbarton, Livingston, Stenhousemuir, Glenafton Athletic, Lesmahagow, Pollok and Muirkirk.

Any list about African football in Scotland would not be complete without the Angolan Pele/Maradonna/Platini/Laudrup/Charnley. A player with a trickery that seemed to often confuse him as much as it did his opponents who after moving to Scotland decided he loved it so much that he thought he would try to play for as many clubs as possible while his legs allowed him to do so. After starting his career at Benfica he found his way to South Lanarkshire and Hamilton Accies, a club that when all else failed would welcome back Jose with open arms time and time again.

Quitongo was a player who could play hopscotch with the line between terrible and brilliant all in a matter of steps but through it all continue to do so with a smile on his face, even when  blowing out his backside in almost every game he played. He also had spells in Sweden, Poland, Ireland, UAE and Italy but Scotland was where he would always call his footballing home, returning in 2006 with the hope of making it into the Angolan national team for the 2006 World Cup, unfortunately for us all that was one dream that didn’t come true. Towards the end of his career in professional football he was a one man game of ‘Where’s Wally?’ appearing at clubs across the central belt for trials and the odd substitute appearance.

Where is he now?: He’s still in Scotland and sports one of those wonderful accents that only a foreigner living in Scotland can obtain. After a playing spell in Junior football with Glenafton Athletic, Lesmahagow and Pollok amongst others he was this season appointed player-manager of Ayrshire District League side Muirkirk. Jose clearly loves Scotland and I think it’s fair to say we love him a little bit too.

balde

2. Bobo Balde

Former club: Celtic

Bobo Balde was a behemoth, strong in the air, quick on his feet and like all entertaining central defenders prone to moments of blind rage and calamity. A player who is as well know for his dominant displays in over 200 appearances for Celtic as he was for sitting on his bahookie and getting paid a handsome sum to do so. Not since Rangers Basile Boli had Scottish football seen a man who possessed the Guinean’s incredible combination of mass and speed, a skillset that led to Celtic fans chanting the phrase ‘Bobo’s gonna get ye!’ at opponents in celebration of his intimidating presence.

He was part of the successful Martin O’Neill side that reached the UEFA Cup Final only to be beaten by Porto by another man called Jose. Mourinho on this occasion. In Scotland he is without doubt Africa’s most decorated export, winning 5 league titles, 3 Scottish Cups and 2 League Cups whilst playing over 50 times for the Guinean national team. After falling out of favour with new manager Gordon Strachan moves to England failed to materialise and his departure was met with little fanfare or surprise when his contract expired in 2009.

Where is he now?: After leaving Celtic he had spells with Valenciennes and Arles Avignon at the foot of Ligue. 1 in France before retiring from the game.

toure mamam

3. Cherif Toure Mamam

Former club: Livingston

Back in the golden days before Livingston were known for their frequent flirtations with administration they were one of Scottish footballs nouveau riche, well as nouveau riche as you can be in Scotland. A rebranded Meadowbank Thistle moved to that bit of the country between Glasgow and Edinburgh in the hope of attracting new support in the heart of silicon glen. Using their new wealth to move their way up the divisions names such as Oscar Rubio, Guillermo Amor, Rolando Zarate and eh…David Bingham were often seen at the stadium formerly known as Almondvale but none came with as much expectation upon them as the Togolese international.

After trials at Rangers and Fulham, a team who themeselves were going through their own financially backed revolution, the then 20 year old midfielder came with a hype that he never quite lived up to. Sporting the number ’91’ his lucky number and an homage to his basketball playing roots, the ‘Sheriff’ as he was called, until the SFA decide they didn’t like that, had a pedigree to match any young foreigner coming to Scottish football at the time with spells at Eintracht Frankfurt and Marseille under his belt and had a sheer athleticism that had not been seen in Scotland before. Brought in as a player with the potential to be sold on for millions a spate of injuries meant that his potential was never fulfilled and he was released in 2004 as the financial problems we all expected started to rear its head.

Where is he now?: Well he nearly ended up back in Scotland in 2007 but a trial with Hearts was unsuccessful. After being part of the Togo squad at the 2006 World Cup he took the root of many African players and had a spell in the Middle East. Most recently he had a spell with Ghanaian Premier League side Asante Kotoko where even at 33 he was still being billed as the next big thing.

zerouali

4. Hicham Zerouali

Former Club: Aberdeen

The man with the ‘Zero’ on his back is perhaps still to this day one of the most gifted players to grace Scottish football and one of the few successes of the Ebbe Skovdahl era. A menace anywhere in the final third when the mood took him and capable of scoring some quite incredible goals resulting in him becoming an instant hit at Pittodrie. A Moroccan internationalist during his time at Aberdeen an injury towards the end of the 99-2000 robbed him of an appearance at the Sydney Olympics but that didn’t tarnish the memories of Dons fans with a hat trick against Dundee perhaps being the pick of many a highlight.

When looking back at the impact he made it’s not too far of a stretch to say that he blazed the trail for North African talent to find its way to Scottish shores. In the years since his departure players such as Merouane Zemmama and Abdessalam Benjelloun came in often billed as the new ‘Zerouali’ without ever living up to the inevitable hype such a comparison brought. While players such as Majid Bougherra and Ismael Bouzid have left their mark at the other end of the pitch.

Where is he now?: Unfortunately ‘Zero’ is no longer with us. After his contract expired he returned to his native Morroco via the united Arab Emirates where he was killed in a car accident two days after scoring a double for FAR Rabat. His death prompted tributes and a memorial was held in Aberdeen with thousands in attendance. The ‘Morrocan Magician’ to this day is still one of the most gifted players to play in Scotland since the turn of the millennium.

sylla

5. Momo Sylla

Former clubs: St. Johnstone, Celtic and Kilmarnock

If you were to ask the fans of the 3 aforementioned clubs to give a review on the impact Momo Sylla had on their respective clubs you will probably hear three very different stories. At St. Johnstone he arrived as a speedster capable of playing anywhere on the left hand side of the pitch. A bag of tricks with his feet sometimes moving faster than his brain and capable of producing a tackle that sent shudders down the spine of opposing players.

A key part of the Perth side’s success of the early noughties it wasn’t long before the Old Firm came calling with a £650,000 move to Celtic a just reward for a player who seemed to be consistently improving. However, like many players making the move to Glasgow things were not all that they were cracked up to be and as many predicted he struggled to find his place, never being anything other than back up to a team going through one of its most successful periods under Martin O’Neill and he was released when his contract expired. He then was part of Craig Levein’s ill-fated Leicester City revolution, before returning to Scotland for a short and unspectacular spell with Kilmarnock. Although born in the Ivory Coast he played internationally for Guinea although with only 2 appearances he, much like his career post McDiarmid Park, was nothing more than a bit part player there.

Where is he now?: A bit of digging shows that he had a spell in Moldova before seemingly disappearing off the face of the planet only re-appearing once prior to the 2012 Champions League Final to advise that he once told Didier Drogba he wasn’t good enough to play for Celtic. You can’t get them right every time, eh Momo.

Honourable Mentions:

Pa Kujabi – The Gambian Roberto Carlos, was apparently gifted with a wand of a left foot and a deadly free kick, those that attended his performances at Easter Road would beg to differ.

David Obua – Scottish football’s only ever Ugandan, a player who had more positions than the extended version of the Kama Sutra.

Madjid Bougherra – The Algerian Amo. For comment see Bobo Balde without the 3 years of sulking.

Sol Bamba – Now a mainstay of the Ivory Coast national team, during his time in Scottish football he tackled pretty much everyone, including his teammates.

Quinton Jacobs – A Namibian international who once turned down Ajax to play for Partick Thistle in the Scottish Second Division. Somebody must have done a really good job selling the concept of the Maryhill Magyars.

Will Eric Djemba Djemba be looked back on as favourably as some of these greats, only time will tell.

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It’s Obscene not Sportscene

The media is a wonderful thing. It gives information on absolutely everything, whether it be the country where the next opponent to put a Scottish team out of Europe will be from or the average attendance at Borough Briggs in 1923. It creates debate, forces opinion and provides a smorgasbord of avenues to keep up to date with the game we all know and love.

Internet, Social Media, Radio, Newspapers, Apps for your Phone and even television all contribute. Television is, in the case of the BBC, a publicly funded entity designed to provide everybody with fair and affordable access to a wide variety of events. Take The Premiership for example, dependent on how far away the journey to the match is a Saturday morning usually starts with an episode of Saturday Morning Kitchen followed by Football Focus a programme designed for discussing all the big issues across football in the UK that week.

In the afternoon they have Final Score with updates from around the grounds and a couple of ex pro’s , unfortunately including Garth Crooks, giving analysis on the action as it happens. Of course it’s a blatant rip off of the Jeff Stelling Juggernaut on Sky but still a good idea none the less. Then in the evening you have Match of The Day followed by The Football League Show a full three and a half hours of football covering every game in England. The MOTD studio screams, ‘this is a big deal’, the presenter Gary Lineker brings the right level of gravitas and charisma while the established set of summarisers, including the likes of Lee Dixon and Alan Hansen, bring a knowledge and a familiarity that means although not always right their opinions are respected.

The coverage done gives The Premiership that big league feel. Every game has its own moment in the sun whether it be Manchester United mauling Arsenal or Stoke scoring a disputed winner at The Hawthorns. There is a commentator for each match. The coverage itself does not feel rushed but in keeping with the events of the particular game being covered. They have a post match interview with both managers and any key protagonists in the game and then back in the studio it is for further discussion.

It’s not a hard format to replicate. Case in point: MOTD2, aside from its occasional tendency to fancy itself as a light-entertainment show on a Sunday night it too provides all the same things that makes MOTD so great. A host with a drop of charisma, a regular summarising team and discussion on the big points of the day.

The thing is if this is so easy to replicate, as has been proven, then what the hell is Sportscene all about!? There is great debate as to how the SPL is perceived across Europe and in particular down south and after watching the mammoth 45 minutes of coverage on Sunday night  (15 minutes less than the MOTD ‘B’ Show) I was left with the opinion that no one here cares so why should anyone else. I’m not asking for the world here, I understand financially it makes no sense have a Scottish version of The Football League Show. I doubt they would count viewing figures in the hundreds but really is that the best we can come up with for the top level of our national sport.

Lets break it down, the studio looks like somebody has decided to have a go at one of those Big Make’s they do on Blue Peter although I will argue with anyone that the papier-mache Tracey Island is an architectural masterpeice against the current Sportscene studio.

The lead anchors Rob MacLean ad David Currie although passable always seem to be just going through the motions, and some of the questions they dole out to the ‘experts’ beside them leave you wondering, ‘did he just ask that’? Chick Young may talk nonsense 75% of the time but at least you know he cares. The majority hate the english media for its incessant bravado about how ‘The Premiership’ is the best in the world and how England are going to win every major tournament but at least it shows a passion for their product.  Watching Rob and David plod through Final Score and Sportscene you can almost see the cogs turning saying ‘are we done yet?’.

Although they are not helped by what they get given to work with. Footballers in the most part are a pretty lethargic lot when it comes to intelligent conversation, Scottish footballers even more so. No offence to Callum Davidson, a solid full back but absolutely nothing he said enhanced any discussions that were attempting to be made. That’s another point,a discussion is not just two people it’s a conversation. A presenter, who isn’t allowed to have no opinion for the sake of impartiality, and a pundit/player/manager who has one opinion and no one to disagree with. Let’s be honest unless Pat Nevin decide’s he’s got nothing better to do then you’re as well sticking it on mute and doing the summarising yourself with your mates. Bring in a bank of 4 or 5 ex players, managers, referees or whatever with actual opinions and have two on a week to create a livelier programme. At the moment it’s like watching two people round at their Gran’s too scared to ask to turn the volume up.

Saying that it’s not like they actually get a lot to talk about,.I tuned in ten minutes late the other night and missed the ENTIRE highlights package for the Edinburgh Derby. That ten minutes would have included an introduction and some kind of preview package as well. At least that game got a commentator and the managers got to say their piece on proceedings but what about Dunfermline v Motherwell fro example. A six goal thriller covered in 3 minutes with a Jonathan Sutherland voiceover, that right the bloke that reads the emails out. Did we get to hear how Jim McIntyre felt about losing his unbeaten start or how far Stuart McCall feels his team can last the pace> Of course not.  Also is there really such a dearth of Scottish Commentators that Rob MacLean has to do a handover to himself, as is the weekly occurrence for whatever game he was covering.  Conversations like, ‘Hi Rob’, ‘Thanks Rob’, ‘Good Game Rob?’, ‘I thought so Rob’, ‘Bye Rob.’, really do whet the appetite don’t they?

How can the media bang on about how nobody has any pride in the Scottish game when they themselves are responsible for a programme and a format that makes the SPL look like nothing more than an after thought in the minds of the BBC. I understand there are restrictions in place and but that isn’t excuse for poor formatting, poor production and a general malaise that is only reflective of the national feeling about the SPL because there is nothing being done to change that perception.

I’m not a BBC basher, I think Sportsound and Open All Mics are two of the best pieces of sports coverage out there. I also think that Richard Gordon comes across as a knowledgable and intelligent anchor while at the same time not being afraid to muscle in with an opinion if he sees fit. I think the BBC website although lacking in true depth when it comes to the Scottish Lower Leagues is informative and functional and my only real gripe is the removal of 606 because people mistook a public forum for debate as a venue to slag off your rivals.

If I am wrong and people think that Sportscene is fine the way it is then I bow to your opinion. Your wrong but I respect it. The BBC have a responsibility to produce quality television for our licence fee and although the SPL may not have the Aguero’s, Torres’s and Rooney’s of this world, it still has the ability to serve up enough entertainment and debate for people to make it worth shouting about again.

 

Algeria 0 Egypt 4

African Cup of Nations Semi Final, Benguela

Perhaps for the first time in this year’s competition a stadium was full for a game not involving the host nation as Egypt played Algeria for the chance to meet Ghana in the final of the 2010 African Cup of Nations. A fixture littered with history and controversy, from injured team doctors in 1990 to that play off in Sudan with South Africa 2010 on the line. For the fans airlifted to Benguela from Northern Africa the game did not fail to live up to the hype and it was the masters of Africa that eased into their date with destiny in Luanda. After a penalty, three dismissals and a goalkeeper blinded by rage; the Pharaohs gained a measure of revenge for their World Cup heartache and kept alive the hope of becoming the first African team to win the Tournament 3 times in succession.

The game started at an even pace, a stark contrast to the final scenes of the World Cup play off in Khartoum a couple of months previously. Egypt looked comfortable on the ball while the Algerians did their best to harry them and threaten from set pieces. It was that harrying that resulted in a free kick to the Algerians 40 yards out and the first effort in goal. Lazio midfielder Mourad Meghni saw his long range effort dip just too late as it went over the bar.

Egypt continued to press early on and Ahmed Al Muhammadi was their main attacking threat; first whipping a ball along the edge of the 6 yard box from the right where no one was there to take advantage, and then minutes later putting another one across for Mohammed Zidan to see his shot blocked by Rangers defender Madjid Bougherra. Bougherra, scorer of the equaliser against the Ivory Coast then went on one of his trademark mazy runs from the back and saw a 25 yard effort go just wide of the post.

Egypt who were enjoying the majority of the possession were struggling to find a break through and the final pass eluded them as Algeria got bodies behind the ball whenever on the back foot; The Pharaohs seeming happy to make triangles in and around the area without the final incisive ball. 24 minutes in and Egypt forced the first save of the game from Algerian keeper Faouzi Chaouchi. Hosni Abd Rabou played a through ball which found its way to Zidan who chested it down, laying it off for one time Bristol City target Emad Motaeb who placed it towards the corner only for Chaouchi too make a fine save diving to his left.

In what was proving to be a game of few chances Egypt seemed the more likely with both wingbacks get crosses into dangerous areas with both Motaeb and Zidan failing to connect.

However in the 38th minutes the game exploded into life when a wild slice by Algerian centre back Rafik Hallice put Mohamed Zidan through on goal, Hallice, in an attempt to make amends, brought down the striker and the referee pointed to the spot, on replay the correct decision.

Then just as the penalty was to be taken, in a moment of confusion from the overwhelmed Beninese official Codjia Koffi sent off Hallice for the tackle after receiving his second yellow card, after some questionable prompting from the Egyptians. After a long delay Hosni stepped up, stopped, and stepped up again to put the ball into the bottom corner much to the incandescent rage of keeper Chaouchi, who despite chasing the referee halfway down the pitch and then appearing to head butt him only received a yellow card when a red would have been the correct decision. Irrespective of the protests the goal stood and Algeria faced the prospect of coming from a goal down with 10 men.

The rest of the second half became a battle of Algeria trying to hold on until half time to regroup and Egypt trying to ram home the advantage but it seemed destined to go to the break at 1-0 to the Egyptians despite the probing runs of both Egyptian wingbacks.

At the start of the second half Algeria, knowing they needed to score reverted to three at the back and were then immediately put under pressure when Hosni struck from the edge of the area which Bougherra threw his body in front of. The second half continued along the same pattern as the start of the first with Egypt even happier to play keep ball and make the ten men chase. On 50 minutes Motaeb had to come off with a hamstring injury and former Tottenham midfielder entered the game indicating that perhaps Egypt were happy to sit on their lead.

Algeria though were giving the impression of a team not out of the game and a cross from the left was nudged on by Portsmouth’s Hassan Yebda but none of the Algerian attackers could get near it. Just as Algeria were looking dangerous another through ball saw Moawad clean through but the impressive Bougherra did enough to put the full back off and his shot was skewed wide.

Following that the much vaunted Mohammed Gedo entered the fray as Egypt reverted back to two up front, but it was Algeria that created the next opportunity, replacement Ghaly conceded a free kick on the corner of the area and Yebda curled a rasping shot towards the near post that Egyptian keeper El Hadari did well to turned round the post and then followed it up with a massive punch to clear the resulting corner.

Just after the hour Egypt blew a golden opportunity to extend there lead, as Moawad, Hosni and Zidan squandered chances mere yards from the goal and a combination of Egyptian incompetence and Algerian bravery saw the danger cleared. However Pharaohs fans did not have long to wait for the second goal as in the 64th minute Zidan picked the ball up at the edge of the box and guided it into the far corner past the blue necked Chaouchi.

The second goal seemed to knock the stuffing out the game and Algeria’s misery was compounded when Nadir Belhadj went lunging in with two feet off the ground on Al Muhammadi and the referee was left with no option but to send the Pompey full back off. But a minute later midfielder Karim Matmour was nearly though on goal but Egyptian keeper El Hadari was quick off of his line to smother the danger. Algeria continued to create the better of the chances with Ziani next to attempt a shot at goal but shot straight at the experienced El Hadari. Almost immediately Ahmed Hassan was clean through on goal but an onrushing Chaouchi was enough to put the 171 cap man off and his shot went into the side netting.

The game turned into a procession as the Algerians tired with Egypt threading tens of passes together without really going anywhere, slowly winding down the clock and such was the tiredness of the Algerians that Egypt scored a third at what seemed to be walking pace. Eventually the ball was played forward to Zidan and substitute Mohamed Abdelshafi placed the ball over Chaouchi’s shoulder and into the side of the net.

The game of pass and shoot for the Egyptians continued and on the few occasions the Algerians did get near the Egyptian goal they were extremely wasteful. Mohammed Gedo had a chance to score his fourth goal of the tournament but was denied by Chaouchi. But their battle wasn’t over and to compound Algerian misery Chaouchi was finally sent off after a wild swing at the ball when Gedo was clean through on goal. He protested his innocence but replays showed his swinging boot far closer to Gedo’s knee than the ball. Gedo was not to be denied though and in injury time the ultimate super sub scored a fourth for the Pharaohs slotting the ball underneath the body of replacement keeper Mohamed Zemmamouche, who surely would have loved a debut under better circumstances. Gedo’s goal was the final act in an enthralling encounter ad Egypt must go into Sunday’s final in Luanda as favourites to win their 7th crown.

Teams:
Algeria: Chaouchi, Belhadj, Bougherra, Yahia, Halliche, Matmour, Meghni, Ziani, Mansouri, Yebda, Ghezzal
Egypt: El Hadari, Fathallah, Said, Gomaa, Fathi, Moawad, Abd Rabou, Hassan, Al Muhammadi, Zidan, Motaeb.

Goals: Hosni (pen, 39), Zidan(64), Abdelshafi(75), Gedo(90+4)

Sent Off: Hallice, Belhadj, Chaouchi

Man of the Match: Mohamed Zidan – Scored one, had a hand in two of the others.

Moment of the Match: The penalty and the sending off of Hallice ultimately turned the game in Egypt’s favour. Though Chaouchi’s histrionics ran it a close second, there must be something in that blue tape.

Ref Watch: Codjia Koffi – 3/10 Got some big decisions right but also got some big decisions horribly wrong, a potential World Cup official there will be teams across the globe hoping they don’t get paired with the man from Benin.

Blatter’s Baby Blossoms

The vuvuzela’s are still ringing after a Confederations Cup that will have left many wondering whether the real deal in 12 months time will reach the same heights. It started with a whimper but as soon as the Egyptians shocked Italy it roared to new levels that never subsided until the final whistle on Sunday where Brazil were crowned champions. The Confederations Cup has evolved from an exhibition tournament to something of great significance, both as a competition and as a logistical exercise for the World Cup in a year’s time. A quick look at Brazilian captain Lucio with his teammates as he led them in joyous chorus tells you this tournament now means something.

The winners Brazil were enigmatic, veering from brilliant to bland from game to game with even drastic changes in performance occurring within a match. Kaka was poor and it is mystifying why 45 minutes of good football in the final made him Player of the Tournament. If they really wanted a Player of the Tournament from the champions why not top scorer Luis Fabiano or the highly impressive Felipe Melo. The Brazilians though did what they do best, win, and Dunga may have taken some of the flair out of their game but he has improved their organisation and added clinical set piece play to their arsenal. Although they won and will remain one of the favourites for the competition in 2010 there was also a feeling that Brazil are about to become unstuck such was some of the drastic drops in performance at points during the tournament.

The team of the tournament though were USA despite there seeming inability to finish a game with 11 men; they went from the brink of elimination to finalists. The USA showed that their brand of ‘soccer’ (I hate calling it that) could cause an upset in a year’s time; they just have to qualify first. It seemed as though with the pressure off Bob Bradley’s side relaxed and after destroying Egypt they went through the rest of the tournament playing counter attacking football that their eventual conquerors would be proud of. If you couple that with a solid defence and a keeper who is reaching his prime, 2010 could be a breakthrough year for football in the States.

The European giants of Italy and Spain did not fair so well. The Italians struggled to steer their Zimmer Frames and they had the look of the French side that arrived in South Korea in 2002 slow, old and clinging onto the last remnants of their ‘Golden Generation’. Just like France they were shocked by a ‘minnow’ and home before the real business started. Spain flattered to deceive, maybe a long season for many of their players affected them at high altitude but in their first real test of the tournament against the Americans they cracked. Now the FIFA ranked best team in the world have it all to prove again.

The final itself was contested between the two best teams in the tournament and although the USA dominated the first half and rightfully went into the break 2-0 up it is a credit to Dunga and the Brazilian players that they came back at the Americans the way they did. In the end it could be argued that a 3-2 defeat flattered the USA. However maybe more important than the crowning of Brazil as champions and more important than the entertainment in the final itself, the question that everyone was looking answered at FIFA headquarters was how the host nation would perform.

South Africa many have argued would not have qualified for this year’s tournament, an argument readily subscribed to after their dismal tournament opener against Iraq, but perhaps the pressure of hosting got to Joel Santana’s men and their kind draw no doubt helped them ease them into the tournament. By the time they faced New Zealand a win would be all they needed. In the semi final against Brazil for 87 minutes they more than matched the Samba Kings. If their football association can avoid the turmoil that has seen 11 managers in 13 years and repair relations with players of the quality of Benni McCarthy then the South African people and Sepp Blatter will be hopeful that Bafana Bafana can make a positive impact on the tournament next year.

South Africa 2010 is very much Sepp Blatter’s pet project as he looks to make sure that football reaches all corners of the earth and with 2014 set to take place in Brazil it will be more than a decade before football returns to it’s commercial heartland, Europe. Blatter will be satisfied with how the tournament went but issues did occur that Danny Jordan, a man who’s passion and determination that the tournament will succeed continues to impress, will have to remedy. Jordan was quick to point out that even the uber-efficient Germans had teething problems when they hosted the competition four years ago, and he insists that just like the German’s it will lead to South Africa holding an incident free and successful World Cup.

Firstly from a football perspective, the pitches have to be better; often you would see puffs of dust come up from player’s feet resulting in them looking more like the baseline at Wimbledon than a surface for international football. Theses pitches are regularly used for rugby, and it showed as the standard of the pitches were not acceptable for the kind of football that FIFA will want played at their showpiece event. Jordan though has given reassurances that after the South African rugby season is finished all host stadiums will have there pitches resurfaced.

FIFA will also be concerned by the number of empty seats seen during matches; even in the final at Ellis Park you could see the odd gap. This in part can be attributed to the ongoing logistical developments across the country, an integral part of South Africa hosting a successful tournament. It was noticeable from watching games on television that some grounds filled as a match progressed and Jordan and his team will want to make sure that every paying customer is in their seats come kick off at next year’s World Cup. The organising committee made attempts to fill the grounds by lowering ticket prices to make it more affordable to the South African public and South Africa 2010 will be the cheapest World Cup in the modern era, with tickets for low grade games costing as little as £7. The organisers seemed to react slowly to the spaces in stadia and as good as it was to see them giving out tickets to local community groups and schools the feeling is that they were slow to react to a situation they must of known was coming. It would be a major surprise if come next summer stadiums are not filled to capacity and if there was even a remote chance of that occurring then FIFA would be far swifter to intervene.

The safety of the fans has also been a paramount concern of FIFA, with international media being quick to raise concerns, sometimes exaggerating these concerns, about whether South African security forces will be able to cope with the deluge of people. There were incidents such as the theft of personal belongings and cash from the Egyptian team hotel. However any incidents that have occurred have been dealt with quickly and it can be assumed that in a year’s time the South African authorities will be even better prepared.

It is important to note this wasn’t the only major sporting event occurring in South Africa this month as the British Lions undertook there bi-annual tour of the Southern Hemisphere. It is testament then that even with two major sporting competitions going on in the country that no major newsflashes of crime have been reported. The authorities remain convinced that as long as fans remain within the advised boundaries then everyone should experience a safe and enjoyable tournament.

Blatter’s ambitious project has passed its first test and will rightly feel confident of passing the final exam in 12 months time. Everything seems to be in place and with some fine tuning South Africa will put on a tournament that will have a distinctive African feel to it. Until kick off on June 11th 2010 Sepp Blatter and Danny Jordan are on a mission to prove all the doubters wrong.