It is finally time for kick off. The long wait for the English Premier League season is over and African fans, who have long enjoyed and affiliated themselves with clubs from the UK, can’t wait. But who will they be shouting for? And how many will be watching their own tournament, with CAF Champions League semi-final spots up for grabs? Meanwhile, in Congo they will be celebrating a new high and, at under-17 level, contemplating the upcoming World Cup.
Who has Africa’s support?
The number of African players in England’s top flight seems alarmingly low, but has been bolstered by two signings this week. Ivory Coast forward Max Gradel joined Bournemouth from Saint-Etienne, where he was their leading scorer with 17 goals, while Malian defender Bakary Sako has signed for Crystal Palace on a free transfer after leaving Championship side Wolves.
There were few big movers — and stars such as Didier Drogba have left — but that has not stopped the support and the Premier League still captures hearts and minds on the African continent, which is gearing up for the opening weekend.
A recent BBC survey into which clubs Africans tend to support discovered that it goes no further than the traditional big three. In West Africa, Chelsea reigns supreme largely thanks to Drogba’s legacy while, in the east and the north, its Arsenal who they favour. In the South, Manchester United, where South Africa’s Quinton Fortune played, hold sway.
Congo’s new high
The latest FIFA rankings would have made pleasant reading for Claude Le Roy, the veteran coach who has guided Congo to 43rd, their highest-ever position. Congo climbed four places, which was reward for a year that saw them finish fifth at the African Nations’ Cup, their best finish in the tournament since 1992 Congo’s ascendancy created room for another African country — Cape Verde — to move into top 50.
There are now eight in that elite group, even though Egypt (52) and Nigeria (53) have slipped out. Algeria retains the top position among African countries and sits at 19th overall, followed by Ivory Coast, Ghana, Tunisia, Senegal and Cameroon, as well as Congo and Cape Verde.
Under-17 World Cup draw
Nigeria will begin their title defence when they play the opening match of the upcoming age-group World Cup against host nation Chile on Oct. 17. The Golden Eaglets coach, Emmanuel Amuneke, called the prospect of facing the hosts draw “interesting,” and said there would be no easy games for his players, who are also pitted with Croatia and the United States in Group A.
Although Nigeria are the current world champions, they are not the African champions. That honour belongs to Mali, who beat South Africa 2-0 in March to take the title and who have been drawn in Group D with Belgium, Honduras and Ecuador.
South Africa have also qualified and their media had mixed reaction to the draw, which pitted them in Group E, with Costa Rica, Russia and North Korea. One newspaper, The Citizen, called it a “tough draw” while the SuperSport website labelled it a “kind draw.”
Africa’s other team at the tournament is Guinea, who will have a difficult time in Group B against England, Brazil and Korea Republic.
Semis in their sights
Algerian side USM Alger could confirm their place in the final four — for the first time since 2003 — of the CAF Champions League with a win over their countrymen, MC El Eulma.
USMA have won all three group matches they have played so far to open a five-point gap at the top. Remarkably, they have achieved that despite not having had a head coach since May, when Otto Pfister was dismissed.
The other match in Group B sees defending champions ES Setif meet Sudanese side Al-Merrikh. Meanwhile, in Group A, the other Sudanese team still in contention, Al-Hilal, face Moghreb Tetouan knowing that victory will put them on the fringes of the final four. TP Mazembe play Egypt’s Smouha.
– ESPN FC
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