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Coaching carousel spins ahead of Africa’s World Cup qualifiers

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As the resumption of the 2026 World Cup qualifiers in Africa approaches, a wave of managerial changes has swept across the continent, injecting fresh tactics and philosophies into the high-stakes battle for a coveted spot in North America.

The focus is not only on the players but also on the significant coaching changes that have occurred during the six-month hiatus.

Matchdays 3 and 4 are set to kick off on Wednesday, with several teams debuting new leadership in hopes of securing their path to North America.

The coaching carousel has brought a mix of seasoned veterans and promising talents to the forefront, each eager to make their mark.

Group A: Egypt, Burkina Faso, and Guinea-Bissau embrace new leadership

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In Group A, Egypt leads the pack, but their journey continues under new head coach Hossam Hassan. After a disappointing TotalEnergies CAF Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) campaign, Egypt parted ways with Rui Vitoria.

Hassan, a respected figure in Egyptian football, has vowed to steer the Pharaohs back to prominence. 

“With or without the additional teams, our primary objective is to qualify for the World Cup, and we’re doing everything in our power to achieve this goal,” Hassan remarked. 

He acknowledged the increasing competitiveness of African football, noting that every match is a test of resilience and strategy.

Burkina Faso, another team from Group A that saw a change in their coaching staff, replaced Hubert Velud with Brama Traore.

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Traore’s task is to maintain Burkina Faso’s strong form, having earned four points from their opening matches. 

Guinea-Bissau, meanwhile, welcomes Luis Boa Morte, the former Fulham assistant, who took over from Baciro Cande. Boa Morte’s challenge will be to elevate the team from its middling start.

Group C: Nigeria entrusts Finidi George with the reins

In Group C, Nigeria made a bold move by appointing Super Eagles legend Finidi George as their head coach after Jose Peseiro’s departure. 

Despite reaching the AFCON final, Nigeria felt a change was necessary to boost their World Cup hopes. Finidi George is well aware of the expectations. 

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“The World Cup qualification matches against South Africa and Benin Republic are a collective responsibility for all Nigerians. I know I am in charge now and the heavy responsibility is on me to win the two World Cup matches,” George stated. 

His intimate knowledge of Nigerian football and his experience as an assistant coach should provide the Super Eagles with a tactical edge.

Zimbabwe also sees a shift in leadership, with Jairos Tapera taking the helm on an interim basis after Baltemar Brito’s departure last December. Tapera’s primary goal will be to navigate Zimbabwe through a tough group and keep their qualification hopes alive.

Group F: Côte d’Ivoire’s Resurgence Under Emerse Fae

Côte d’Ivoire, the reigning AFCON champions, look to continue their perfect start in Group F under the permanent leadership of Emerse Fae.

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Fae, who led the team to glory after Jean-Louis Gasset’s resignation, has solidified his position as head coach. His remarkable turnaround of the team’s fortunes has instilled confidence among the players and fans alike.

Kenya and Gabon, also in Group F, face a stern challenge with Côte d’Ivoire’s resurgence. Gabon, under Patrice Neveu, and Kenya, led by Engin Firat, will need to bring their best to upset the group leaders.

Group I: Otto Addo Returns to Ghana

Perhaps the most high-profile coaching change is Otto Addo’s return to Ghana in Group I. After Chris Hughton’s sacking in January, Addo, who previously led Ghana at the Qatar 2022 World Cup, has been reappointed. 

“The aim is to qualify. It will be difficult, especially the away game with Mali. They have a very good squad,” Addo acknowledged. 

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His familiarity with the team and understanding of the pressures of World Cup qualification will be crucial as Ghana seeks to improve on their mixed start.

Other Notable Changes and Upcoming Fixtures

In Group E, Niger is now under the guidance of Ezzaki Badou, while Tanzania has promoted Hemed Suleiman to interim head coach following Adel Amrouche’s exit. 

Both coaches face uphill battles to keep their teams competitive in a tightly contested group.

With numerous fixtures on the horizon, including marquee matchups like Côte d’Ivoire vs. Gabon and Nigeria vs. South Africa, the next round of qualifiers promises to be thrilling.

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As African nations prepare to take the field, the impact of these coaching changes will be scrutinized closely.

-CAF

Kunle Solaja is the author of landmark books on sports and journalism as well as being a multiple award-winning journalist and editor of long standing. He is easily Nigeria’s foremost soccer diarist and Africa's most capped FIFA World Cup journalist, having attended all FIFA World Cup finals from Italia ’90 to Qatar 2022. He was honoured at the Qatar 2022 World Cup by FIFA and AIPS.

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Home grounds of Barcelona, Real Madrid among 11 proposed World Cup 2030 venues

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- Real Madrid celebrate winning the Champions League - Estadio Santiago Bernabeu, Madrid, Spain - June 2, 2024 General view inside the stadium and Real Madrid's Toni Kroos during the Champions League celebration with fans REUTERS/Susana Vera/File Photo

Spain’s soccer federation (RFEF) has proposed 11 stadiums as candidates to host matches during the 2030 World Cup, including the home arenas of LaLiga clubs Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid.

Spain, who will co-host the tournament with Portugal and Morocco as well as centenary hosts Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay, will also have 45 additional grounds as team bases, the RFEF said on Friday.

Other LaLiga clubs whose home arenas have made the list include Sevilla, Malaga, Real Sociedad, Athletic Bilbao, Las Palmas and promoted Espanyol.

Valencia’s Mestalla Stadium, despite being the fifth-largest stadium in LaLiga with a capacity of 49,430, was not included in the list of potential venues.

“In order to define the venues, all the possibilities have been analysed, including the option of expanding to 13, an option that must be taken unanimously by the three federations,” the RFEF said in a statement.

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The tournament will have a maximum of 20 venues, the RFEF added.

Co-hosts Morocco last year announced plans to build a stadium near Casablanca and upgrade six others before the World Cup.

-Reuters

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It’s 28 years since Super Eagles’ worst competitive defeat

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Denmark unexpectedly beat Nigeria 4-1

BY KUNLE SOLAJA

Denmark face Germany on Saturday hoping to recreate their famous victory at the Euro 92 when they secured their first title, although they were the underdogs.

 This day 28 June, a day before their Round of 16 Euro 2024 clash with Germany also brings the memory of their famous Round of 16 win over Nigeria at the France ‘98 World Cup.

Their 4-1 defeat of the Super Eagles remains the biggest defeat that the Nigerians have gotten in a competitive duel in nearly 30 years.

 It was an unexpected result considering that the Super Eagles contributed to the elimination of one of the tournaments favourites, Spain.

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A goal down under two minutes and two down under 12 minutes presented a huge mountain for the Super Eagles to climb.

 What a twist of an event most had thought the Nigerian team would be the dominant side.

The world was awaiting a match-up of Nigeria and Brazil in the quarter-finals.

It was to rekindle the memorable encounter of both countries’ Olympic teams two years earlier when Nigeria famously defeated Brazil 4-3 in a golden goal decider at the semi-finals.

     A rematch at the quarter finals of France ’98 would have brought up a novel match-up of reigning Olympic gold medallists and reigning World Cup holders. It turned out a mere dream.

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 Nigeria’s manager, Bora Milutinović fielded a starting line-up with seven midfielders and no attacker.

Could that had been a new tactical formation in football in a knockout game Nigeria had to score and win? Call it the 3-7-0. Call it overconfidence.

      Even Nigeria’s manager was reportedly half-kiddingly remarked before the match: “We’ve got a very important match coming up in Nantes” – a reference to a possible quarter-final meeting  with Brazil.

  Member of the team, Mutiu Adepoju told Sports Village Square that poor tactical approach cost Nigeria the match.     “The game was taken as a routine one and hence, no special preparation for it.

  “The coaches did not even border to get insight into the Denmark team”, said Adepoju who was called ‘Headmaster’  for his heading skill. It was with an header that he scored Nigeria’s first goal that put scores at 1-1 in a 3-2 defeat of Spain in the opening match.

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  He dismissed a well publicised claim by teammate, Taribo West that the players had busy nights with women prior to the match.

  He however admitted that there was discontentment in camp and that the coaching crew lost control of the team.

  It came light that the players did not sleep all night as the now very familiar agitations for enhanced match bonuses came up.

As published in the on-line version of Al-Jazeera in 2014, Sunday Oliseh was quoted as saying: “We wasted too much energy on the eve of our game haggling over bonus, something like that should not be the focus at a big tournament like the World Cup. “We lost that game off the pitch and not on the pitch.”           

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FIFA awards win to Niger after Congo no-show in World Cup qualifier

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FIFA has awarded Niger a win and the full three points in a 2026 World Cup soccer qualifier with Congo that was postponed this month, the world governing body said on Wednesday.

Congo had refused to travel to Kinshasa, capital of neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo, for their home game after their stadium in Brazzaville was deemed not to have met hosting requirements.

Niger did travel, and were awarded the game 3-0, which leaves them second in Group E on six points, three behind leaders Morocco. Congo are stuck on zero points from their three matches.

Only the top team in each of the nine pools is guaranteed a place at the expanded World Cup in the United States, Mexico and Canada.

“The FIFA Disciplinary Committee has decided to declare the match lost by forfeit 3-0 by the representative team of Congo,” FIFA said in a statement.

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It said the Alphonse Massemba-Debat Stadium in Brazzaville could not have been used until renovations, including the laying of a new pitch, were completed

Congolese Sports Minister Hughes Nguilondile declared the stadium ready in late May, but it was deemed too late to move the fixture. FIFA ordered it to go ahead in Kinshasa as originally planned, leading to Congo’s withdrawal in protest.

-Reuters

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