Security Fears Loom Over Africa’s Football Fiesta

AFCON trophy.

 

After overcoming fears of postponement because of the Covid pandemic, the Africa Cup of Nations now faces its next big worry: security.

Host nation Cameroon will ceremonially launch the month-long tournament on Sunday when they face Burkina Faso.

But the authorities are struggling with separatist gunmen in the west and jihadist raiders in the north — and some fear militants will seize the country’s turn in the sporting spotlight to launch attacks.

Security forces in the west are on high alert after armed groups sent threatening messages to teams in Group F, gathering Tunisia, Mali, Mauritania and Gambia.

The four teams are scheduled to play in the coastal town of Limbe, and their training site is Buea, a hotspot of separatist unrest.

READ ALSO: AFCON Games To Be Played With 80% Capacity Crowd

“The threats are very serious,” Blaise Chamango, head of an NGO in Buea called Human Is Right, told AFP by phone.

“On Wednesday, there was an explosion in a takeaway outlet in Limbe. That sent a very powerful message.”

He added: “The government has stationed heavily armed soldiers at nearly all the crossroads in Buea and Limbe. Security and defence forces are arresting and searching everyone they see in some districts.”

Separatist Campaign 

Buea is the capital of the Southwest Region, which with the neighbouring Northwest Region is in the grip of violence sparked by a bid by Cameroon’s anglophone minority to secede from the French-majority country.

After years of frustration at perceived discrimination, separatists declared a “Federal Republic of Ambazonia” in October 2017.

The entity, which has no international recognition, is based on the former British Southern Cameroons, which joined Cameroon after the French colony gained independence in 1960.

More than 3,500 people have died and more than 700,000 have fled their homes. Rights monitors say atrocities and abuses have been committed by both sides.

In his New Year’s message, Cameroon’s veteran hardline president, 88-year-old Paul Biya, warned that while some independence fighters had handed themselves in, the militants “continue to engage in criminal activity, increasing their use of improvised explosives and killing unarmed civilians”.

The government’s mantra is that “safety will be guaranteed” for AFCON, although neither the authorities nor the Confederation of African Football (CAF) responded to AFP requests for information on security measures.

Jihadist Fears

On Monday, the atmosphere in the capital, Yaounde, was more relaxed than in the troubled English-speaking regions some 250 kilometres (150 miles) to the west.

A handful of security agents kept half an eye on final preparations at the brand-new Paul Biya Stadium in the district of Olembe, built specially for the CAN and home to the Cameroonian national squad.

“Security is only really a concern in the Northwest and Southwest regions and I think our defence forces have enough experience to respond adequately,” said James Mouangue, head of the national human rights commission and a professor of public law.

“The security measures put in place are exceptional, given the level of risk, and there were no problems when we hosted the African Nations Championship in January 2021,” he noted.

Separatist militants are not the only spectre haunting Cameroon.

The country’s Far North region, the tongue of land that touches on the troubled Lake Chad region, has in the past suffered cross-border raids by jihadists from neighbouring Nigeria.

Attacks have fallen back since militants from Boko Haram and the West African branch of the so-called Islamic State group (ISWAP) began a bloody internecine war.

But some fear the groups could seek to grab attention by striking in Yaounde, the economic hub Douala or the north itself.

Others, though, say such plans may be too much of a stretch.

“I don’t think the jihadists can disrupt the Cup unless they carry out a really large attack, even though that remains a possibility,” said Guibai Gatama, editor of northern Cameroon’s leading twice-weekly publication, L’Oeil du Sahel (The Eye of the Sahel).

“The stadium in the North where Group D (comprising Egypt, Nigeria, Sudan and Guinea Bissau) will play is located in Garoua, which is very far from their sphere of operation.”

AFP

Guardiola Welcomes Man City Trophy Challenge Despite Fixture Pile-Up

Manchester City’s Spanish manager Pep Guardiola gestures on the touchline during the English Premier League football match between Manchester City and Liverpool at the Etihad Stadium in Manchester, north west England, on January 3, 2019. Oli SCARFF / AFP

 

Pep Guardiola says he welcomes Manchester City’s multi-pronged trophy assault, even though title rivals Liverpool have only the Premier League and Champions League to focus on. 

City face Burton in the semi-finals of the League Cup on Wednesday, days after demolishing Rotherham 7-0 to advance to the fourth round of the FA Cup.

But Liverpool, who sit four points clear of City in the Premier League, have just two competitions left to worry about after a much-weakened side were knocked out of the FA Cup by Wolves on Monday.

“If everyone is fit and not injured we can cope with it,” Guardiola said.

“The problem is if you have 10 injured players, it’s almost impossible. When everyone is fit, it’s better. Without that competition, if we had just one competition to play in, I could play with the same 11 or same 12.

“Now everyone is involved. The players don’t know who will play against Burton. Then after four days, we have another final at home to Wolves.”

Guardiola said he would rather be fighting on multiple fronts as he believes momentum can apply across all competitions.

“I prefer it, definitely,” he said. “I like to be in the four competitions as far as possible. When Wigan put us out of the FA Cup last season I was sad.”

Guardiola revealed conversations are ongoing regarding the possibility of extending Vincent Kompany’s contract. The club captain’s existing deal expires in the summer when the Belgian is also due to a testimonial after more than a decade with the club.

“We are considering it, we are talking about that,” Guardiola said of a possible new deal.

“I would like it. He’s our captain. Eleven years here. We saw in the last two games the huge quality and personality he has to play. The only problem with Vincent is one — his injury problems.

“One-against-one absolutely we are better with Vincent. Every central defender has his own quality but there’s no doubt Vincent has something special with his charisma, winning the duels. It’s incredible. He’s one of the best central defenders I’ve ever seen. The problem is whether he’s fit.”

AFP

Real Madrid Parade Champions League Trophy In Front Of Ecstatic Fans

Real Madrid’s Brazilian defender Marcelo (L) and Real Madrid’s Spanish defender Sergio Ramos hold the trophy at Cibeles square in Madrid on May 27, 2018, as they celebrate after winning their third Champions League title in a row in Kiev. BENJAMIN CREMEL / AFP

 

Tens of thousands of ecstatic fans lined the streets of the Spanish capital to greet Real Madrid’s players as they returned home Sunday after winning their third Champions League title in a row in Kiev.

Elated fans cheered and waved club scarves as an open-top bus carrying the squad and the trophy made its way to the club’s traditional celebration spot, the Plaza de Cibeles.

Some children sat on the shoulders of their parents to get a better look as the bus went by.

The giant white bus was emblazoned with the phrase “Campeones 13” and the club’s crest to mark their record-extending 13th European Cup success.

Team captain Sergio Ramos and other players waved and filmed the crowd with mobile phones from the top of the bus, which was escorted by police on horseback.

Real Madrid players arrive on an open-air bus at the Cibeles square in Madrid on May 27, 2018, to celebrate after winning their third Champions League title in a row in Kiev. OSCAR DEL POZO / AFP

 

Ramos took the walkway set up over the plaza’s fountain and draped the statue of the goddess Cybele with the club’s scarf and flag as the crowd cheered.

He and Real Madrid left-back Marcelo then held up the trophy over their heads as white confetti rained down and the Queen anthem “We are the Champions” blared out from loudspeakers.

“I had to be here and celebrate this win with them,” Ivan Gonzalez, a 23-year-old student who wore a pink Cristiano Ronaldo jersey and a Real Madrid scarf wrapped around his neck, told AFP at the plaza.

‘Pride and ambition’

The bus then made its way to Real’s Santiago Bernabeu stadium where a celebration with fireworks will later be held.

Roughly 80,000 people packed the stadium on Saturday night to watch Real’s 3-1 Champions League final win over Liverpool on eight giant screens.

The crowd erupted in delight at the final whistle, breaking out in familiar chants of “Campeones, campeones”.

Earlier on Sunday at a reception at the headquarters of the Madrid regional government, Ramos joked that winning the Champions League was “turning into a routine”.

“In the difficult moments, when people doubted us, this team showed it has pride and ambition, that it does not get tired of winning,” he added.

“I think this is the key of this success, along with having a great coach.”

Real’s “decimotercera,” or 13th title in the competition, moved them six clear of second-placed AC Milan in the all-time honours list, after lifting the trophy for a remarkable fourth time in five seasons.

Former French international Zidane also became the first coach to win three consecutive Champions League crowns, despite having spent less than three years at the helm.

‘Legendary team’

The squad also stopped by Madrid city hall where they presented mayor Manuela Carmena with a jersey with the number 13 on the back that was signed by the players.

Carmena, who attended the match in Kiev, said Real had won thanks to the “magisterial leadership of its manager and the synergy of all its players”.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, a die-hard Real fan, sent a telegram to the club’s president, Florentino Perez, to congratulate the team for their victory, which he said had “revalidated” the club’s “continental leadership”.

“Thank you for this sporting show that filled all sports lovers with emotion and pride, and for once again taking Spain’s name to the highest levels of world sport,” he added in the telegram, his office said in a statement.

Rajoy had planned to watch the match in person in Kiev but he cancelled the trip at the last minute after the main opposition Socialist party filed a no-confidence motion against his government in parliament.

Real’s victory made the front page of all main Spanish newspapers on Sunday.

“Madrid dominates Europe with a legendary team,” headlined top-selling daily El Pais below a photo of Ramos holding up the Champions League trophy surrounded by the rest of his teammates.

“An eternal Real Madrid,” wrote rival daily El Mundo while conservative daily ABC headlined: “A Real Madrid of legend”.

AFP

Rejuvenated Real Madrid Eye Fifth Prize Of 2017

Real Madrid’s French coach Zinedine Zidane (C) and his French assistant David Bettoni (R) stand on the pitch during a training session two days prior to their FIFA Club World Cup semi-final match at New York University Abu Dhabi’s stadium in the Emirati capital on December 11, 2017. GIUSEPPE CACACE / AFP

Real Madrid can round off the most successful year in the club’s already glorious history by claiming a fifth trophy in 2017 at the Club World Cup in Abu Dhabi this week.

They won La Liga, the Champions League, UEFA and Spanish Super Cup in a thrilling fashion after hitting top form in a four-month spell between April and August, but since then the European champions have faded, understandably fatigued by a heavy schedule.

Madrid trail Barca by eight points at the top of La Liga and finished second to Tottenham Hotspur in their Champions League group, which proved costly as they were paired with free-spending Paris Saint-Germain in a blockbuster last 16 tie on Monday.

However, traces of the Madrid that swept aside the likes of Bayern Munich, Juventus, Atletico Madrid, Manchester United and Barcelona in the spring and summer were back as Real hit five past Sevilla before half-time in a 5-0 rout on Saturday.

Until then Madrid had lacked the same killer instinct as last season with Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema scoring a combined total of just six times in La Liga, while Gareth Bale has made just one brief appearance as a substitute since September.

“We are improving in every sense,” said Zidane after thrashing Sevilla. “If you play well, you will create more chances. We created plenty of chances.”

Ronaldo scored twice at the weekend to celebrate picking up his fifth Ballon d’Or in style and his return to form is timely, as Madrid face Barcelona in their final game of the year on December 23 once their work in the Middle East this week is done.

“It is a reward just to be here,” said Madrid captain Sergio Ramos. “We have the opportunity to defend our title.

“We are preparing with plenty of desire and excitement. After a great game against Sevilla we are very motivated and our confidence is very high.”

– Tactical switch –
Real’s return to form coincided with a change of tactics from Zidane as the pace of Marco Asensio and Lucas Vazquez on the wings produced an instant impact.

However, if the Spanish duo are to keep their places then the French coach has to bench two of his preferred midfield diamond of Casemiro, Toni Kroos, Luka Modric and Isco.

After missing out at the weekend, Casemiro and Isco are expected to feature on Wednesday when Real take on local side Al Jazira, who have already dealt with Oceania’s Auckland City and Asian champions Urawa Red Diamonds to reach the last four.

“We don’t just play as Jazira now, we play for the UAE,” Al Jazira coach Ali Mabkhout told FIFA.com.

“We know Real Madrid are one of the best teams in the world and this is incentive for all the players.”

Yet, after the scare of falling behind to Kashima Antlers in last year’s final before a Ronaldo hat-trick won the competition in extra-time, Zidane warned against complacency and thinking ahead to a potential final with Brazilian giants Gremio on Saturday.

The newly crowned South American champions take on Mexican side Pachuca in the other semi-final on Friday.

“Everyone thinks the game on Wednesday will be easy, but it won’t,” added Zidane.

“We need to think about Wednesday and doing things right to try and win this trophy once again.”

AFP

Federer Celebrates Australian Open Victory

Roger Federer,The Australian Open champion, Roger Federer, has celebrated his ‘fairy-tale’ victory and his 18th Grand Slam title at the men’s Australian Tennis Open championship trophy in Melbourne.

The 35-year-old stayed at Melbourne Park until the early hours of Monday before returning to his hotel.

In an interview, the Champion said:

“It was a long night, but a lot of fun. Everybody was in such a good mood — it was a special day, a special couple of weeks.

“We celebrated in a great way, being silly, having fun, chatting about everything. All the stress went away.

Federer has climbed to 10th in the rankings after his win and says it was his self-belief when he had been trailing 3-1 in the final set that had helped him to victory.

He has won his first Grand Slam title in five years on Sunday, defeating Rafael Nadal in a five-set final, winning 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3.

Rangers’ striker Ofoedu abandons club

Foster Chime the media officer of Enugu Rangers confirmed that Chikeluba Ofoedu has followed in the footsteps of James Okwuosa in seeking greener pastures abroad in the game of football as the Enugu Rangers top scorer Ofoedu has gone abroad for trials without permission, and the management of the club are livid with anger over this.

Information reaching the club states that the striker is believed to be in Turkey with a yet to be known club in the country, all this in the midst of Rangers final NPL game in the season against Sharks this weekend which will either make or mar the club’s position on the league table as league winners or not.

Ofoedu was signed from Enugu-based amateur side UNTH FC at the beginning of the season, and has gone on to become one of the biggest revelations in the league, having scored 12 goals so far and contributed several assists.

The player had previously been linked with a move to Norwegian giants Rosenberg and despite impressing during trials, the move stalled for undisclosed reasons.

Rangers still have a chance of winning the league even though their destiny are no longer in their hands,they however will be hoping to win the game against Sharks by a large score line while hoping their fellow title contenders Kano Pillars and Lobi Stars lose away to both Sunshine Stars and Kaduna United respectively.

A while ago, the captain of Rangers, James Okwuosa, abandoned Rangers during their Federation Cup quest to go on trials in South Africa, and despite earlier threats issued by the management of Rangers to sanction the player, he was eventually ‘rewarded’ with a lucrative three year deal with Ajax Cape Town.

This disciplinary laxity on the part of the management of Rangers now seems to be creating a domino effect of the Okwuosa situation, which may have ‘inspired’ Ofoedu to defy the club, irrespective of their seemingly empty threats to sanction the player.

Expectedly, the club have again threatened to sanction the player by stating that the balance of his sign on fees and other entitlements for the season will be withheld until the player gives them a reasonable explanation for his action.

Fans of the club will no doubt be waiting the see how this new episode of a sad drama will play out.

 

Ferguson promises to redeem champions’ league glory

Sir Alex Ferguson has promised Manchester United fans and ardent followers that last season’s champions’ league campaign of the Red Devils which he qualified to be disastrous will never replay itself again.

Going back a few months ago before Chelsea was crowned the new European champion, Manchester United got eliminated from the competition at the group stage after losing to Swiss side Basel, and that capped off a poor performance in their group, meanwhile the then-defending English Premier League champions were tagged favourites to lead the group, with Benfica and Romanian newcomers Otelul Galati the other teams in their pool.

The Red Devils had previously reached the final in three of the previous four editions of the tournament.

Sir Ferguson has however sent a warning message to Europe that United will not make the same mistakes again in 2012/13, that the club is ready to take back its place because the few year the club has not move far in the champions’ league competition was used an opportunity to groom the young ones coming in the line-up of the club even though last season was the worst of it because changes that were made to the team was just too much and lessons has been learnt from that mistake. He said.

Where we realised our mistake was the game against Basel at home as we could only get a draw due to our careless as we could have gone ahead to seal the game .

Ferguson is confident he has a squad capable of emulating the united teams of 1999 and 2008 by delivering another Champions League crown to Old Trafford next season.