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Africa and Aboriginal Tuesdays: African Cup No Stranger To Criticism...Notes On Soccer by Luis Bueno

With Africa's largest international tournament underway, criticism from Europe's power brokers have forced two of world soccer's most powerful figures to defend the continent.

But then, what would African soccer be without a little controversy?

FIFA president Joseph "Sepp" Blatter and African federation president Issa Hayatou defended the African Cup of Nations, which is being played in Egypt. The biannual tournament constantly gets slammed by top European clubs that often must make do for one month without a top player or two.

Players such as Sameul Eto'o of Barcelona and Didier Drogba of Chelsea are representing Cameroon and Ivory Coast, respectively, and are among the dozens of European-based players competing for their national teams. European clubs would rather the African federation host this event in the summer so as not to conflict with their domestic schedules.

Hayatou said that is not possible.

"We would not have decent pitches to stage the tournament on," Hayatou told Reuters. "It would be more like water polo than football."

Since 1968 the tournament has been held every two years. That means every other tournament, such as this year's edition, falls in a World Cup year, making it that much more taxing on Africans.

Three participating nations _ Senegal, Cameroon and Ivory Coast _ have all but one of their players on European clubs. Many of the other 13 nations have a majority of their players scattered across the Old World. Still, Africa's importance to European clubs only goes so far, Blatter said.

"They take the best players out of Africa, they are happy to make a lot of money and prestige with them, but when it comes to giving back something to Africa, they don't want to do it," Blatter said during a press conference last week. "This lack of respect is something we have to go over."

Africa Wielding More Power

Blatter said Africa should have more influence on the World Cup than it has already. In 2010, the World Cup will be in Africa for the first time, and Blatter suggested that the continent should be granted an extra World Cup slot.

"I don't need to explain the rules of mathematics," Blatter told Reuters this week.

Of the 32 nations in this summer's World Cup, 14 are from Europe. Africa has five of its nations in the tournament while South America will be represented by four of its 10 nations.

Blatter has made Africa a priority since taking over the FIFA presidency. He vowed to take the World Cup to Africa, and consequently South Africa was awarded the 2010 World Cup despite protests from around the world.

Blatter said South Africa 2010 will bring in more revenue than Germany 2006.

"You have to fight on the pitch and I can assure you that we will continue to fight for a better African representation at the World Cup," Blatter said.

Egypt 2006

For the meantime, African nations are attempting to keep the focus on the field. Host Egypt kicked off the African Cup of Nations with a 3-0 rout of neighboring Libya. All five of Africa's World Cup nations _ Ghana, Ivory Coast, Angola, Tunisia and Togo _ will compete for continental glory.

Ghana is in the tournament's Group of Death as the first-time World Cup finalists were drawn with perennial power Nigeria, upstart Senegal as well as Zimbabwe. Tunisia, which drew a relatively easy group with Guinea, South Africa and Zambia, won the 2004 African Cup of Nations as host.

Matches are being played in Cairo, Alexandria and Port Said. Egypt last hosted the tournament in 1986 and beat Cameroon on penalty kicks in the final. The Egyptians, who have a record four African Cup of Nations titles, last won the tournament in 1998.

This article was distributed by the Scripps Howard News Service.

Luis Bueno

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

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