Continental problem? Toronto columnist condemns CAF World Cup efforts


Kurtis Larson isn’t being shy about a controversial topic, burying an entire continent worth of soccer in his new Toronto Sun column.

Claiming that the Confederation of African Football’s representatives performance early in this World Cup is endemic, Larson goes after them from Word One.

The claims begin with Yaya Toure’s infamous birthday acknowledgement problems at Manchester City, move on to Cameroon’s brief bonus-fueled boycott and slide into Alex Song’s red-card rage. In short, Larson says these awful examples show how an underperforming continent continues to disappoint.

From The Sun:

Similarly, neighboring Nigeria was embroiled in an alleged match-fixing scam during an important pre-World Cup tuneup against Scotland, a game investigators red-flagged as one organized crime might have infiltrated.

Those accusations kicked up a notch when Austin Ejide appeared to throw the ball into his own goal midway through the first half that game.

This is a federation full of cry babies, selfishness and alleged cheats.

Strong words, but certainly ones that needed to be uttered now in order to remain safe. Cameroon has been eliminated but Ivory Coast is in still in strong position to advance (having only lost to a Colombia team that looks ready to roar). Nigeria’s sickly performance against Iran may lead to elimination but they could still up-end Bosnia and Herzegovina, while Ghana’s game effort against the U.S. belies consecutive knockout round performances. And Algeria was never expected to do much.

Not saying the corruption talk is silly; it isn’t. And the cited examples are certainly very poor representations of a continent that hasn’t always covered itself in glory… but which continent has? France simply quit in the 2010 tournament, Croatia has had a player suspended from the tournament for inciting Pro-Nazi chants, and England had its high-profile captain sleep a teammate’s wife. The anti-Europe column hasn’t appeared as Spain and England crash out, though.

CAF has put a team in the knockout rounds of each of the last six World Cups, and in the quarterfinals of 3 of 6 (Ghana in 2010, Senegal in 2002, Cameroon in 1990). And while this isn’t the most shining of accomplishments, it’s also far from consistent and horrific failure. And as explored in Ian Hawkey’s “Feet of the Chameleon”, African soccer has met plenty of unique obstacles in its development.

I don’t know Larson personally, and I’ve enjoyed following him on Twitter, so I can’t and won’t accuse him of click fodder. But this seems like a reach to me. Yes, CAF is crooked, like the majority of confederations. To pick out one seems a little forced.

Zlatan announces LA, MLS arrival in bizarre fashion

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Zlatan Ibrahimovic has arrived in Major League Soccer.

The veteran striker terminated his contract at Manchester United earlier this week and the 36-year-old Swede will reportedly signed a two-year deal worth over $3 million per season with the LA Galaxy.

He confirmed that the Galaxy will be his club on Friday by taking out a full page advert in the LA Times in typically sarcastic fashion.

Zlatan kept it short and sweet, as the Galaxy’s new No. 9 will certainly be a blast in MLS, just for his off-the-field antics alone.

VIDEO: Usain Bolt trains with Borussia Dortmund

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Usain Bolt has taken part in his first proper training session with Borussia Dortmund’s first team as he continues to chase his dream of being a professional soccer player.

The eight-time Olympic champion, who retired as a sprinter earlier in 2017 after the World Championships, is on a two-day tryout with Dortmund which many are merely saying is a publicly stunt.

Yet with Dortmund allowing Bolt, 31, the chance to train with first team stars on Friday it may be a little more than just a chance for media members to flock to watch Dortmund in an open training session. Given the fact that Dortmund are sponsored by Puma, the same sponsor Bolt has, many are connecting the dots and it was a laid back training session on Friday as Bolt spent plenty of time signing autographs after scoring a header and a penalty kick.

Remember: Bolt is a lifelong Manchester United and has mentioned many times over the years that he would like to turn to professional soccer.

Earlier this month he announced he will captain a World XI at Old Trafford in a UNICEF charity game in June 2018, with Bolt teasing the planet on social media by saying he had signed for a soccer team. With his speed, power and size, is it really that far-fetched to think he could be a good targetman if he can sort out his hold up play and work on his endurance to last 90 minutes?

Watch the videos below as the Jamaican superstar scored a pretty solid PK, took part in training and obviously had most of Dortmund’s star players, such as Mario Gotze and Nuri Sahin, in awe.

Let’s see what the future holds for Bolt, but this is probably little more than Peter Stoeger and Dortmund having a longstanding offer accepted by Bolt to train with them. Maybe he could turn out for Dortmund’s reserve squad in a scrimmage and go from there?

Pique finds solidarity with criticized NBA players

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There have been a number f outstanding pieces in The Players’ Tribune since its launch, but few as colorful and entertaining as Thursday’s entry from Gerard Pique.

The Barcelona star center back spilled the beans on any number of funny stories in his post, from Roy Keane’s cell phone anger and Sir Alex Ferguson‘s guiding hand to Lionel Messi’s greatness and more.

[ MORE: Zlatan in MLS an auto success ]

But perhaps most interesting was his take on the grief he’s received for supporting the vote for Catalan independence. Pique points out that he’s been proud to represent the Spanish national team, but won’t veer from his democratic beliefs.

And guess what? Even in Spain, athletes rightly bristle at the “Stick to Sports” crowd.

It’s funny, I noticed some people in America have started telling the NBA players to “just shut up and dribble” when they express their opinions on real problems in society.

It’s ridiculous, no?

It’s the same here in Spain. They say, “Just shut up and play football. It’s all you know.”

Sorry, but I will not just shut up and play. It’s not all I know. There’s a lot more depth to footballers than most people realize, and I think it’s important that we express ourselves and our views.

Given relative health, Zlatan’s success MLS is close to automatic

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The only question is his knee at his age.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic is coming to Major League Soccer. Having confirmed his departure from Manchester United, the announcement that the living Swedish legend is joining the LA Galaxy is expecting next week.

[ MORE: MLS Weekend Preview ]

Some have asked whether he’ll cut muster in the league, to which we point to the lead: Few players have arrived to MLS with as dominant a career as Ibrahimovic, and the Swede would need his knee to fall apart in order to fail in California.

The man’s game isn’t based on speed, but it does require his abnormal power and grace. He scored just once for United in very limited time this season, but don’t forget how dangerous he was against Premier League and Europa League defenses last season.

He scored 28 goals with 10 assists last season, with 17 and 5 coming in league play. He was suspended for three matches and injured for seven, meaning this is a 20-goal Premier League scorer arriving in MLS within a calendar year of doing so.

Try putting his resume in perspective: Didier Drogba was extremely good for Montreal but a half-decade removed from his last double-digit goal PL season (Don’t forget that Drogba bagged 11 in 11 to start life on our shores). Robbie Keane was about the same time removed from his run of 10-plus goal seasons in the Premier League. He was good for LA.

The only risk here is that Ibrahimovic never gets healthy and LA takes a bit of a loss on his salary (one which is at least partially negated by the sheer number of Ibrahimovic Galaxy jerseys sold).

Entering this season, Ibrahimovic had failed to score 15 goals once since 2006. He’a also had a fairly religious assist output (10+ most years). With names like Alessandrini, Kamara, and dos Dos Santos, this should be a stand-up double if not a homer for LA and for MLS.

Plus the vicious looks after teammates miss him badly with a pass, let alone the press conferences and paparazzi hits: This should be a lot of fun.