By Fred Kaweesi
2014 World Cup qualifier (TONIGHT)
Senegal v Uganda (11 pm)
South Africa v Botswana
As the momentum to Cranes’ World Cup qualifier against Senegal tonight gathers pace, there is an interesting coincidence in the choice of referees for at least two of this weekend’s fixtures.
Now this is not in any way meant to undermine FIFA, its associate body CAF or influence the thinking of an ordinary fan.
But is it a coincidence that South African referee Daniel Bennett had to be assigned to handle Senegal’s qualifier against Uganda, on the same day that Senegalese Badara Diatta (right) would be dictating proceedings during South Africa’s epic clash against Botswana?
Is it still a coincidence that the two men in charge have been involved in questionable incidences in the past?
It is easy to interprete this as a case of ‘Scratch my back, I scratch yours’.
The thinking already making the rounds is that Badara (Senegal) was appointed to ‘fulfil a job’ in Durban, where Bennett’s South Africa will be battling Botswana and that Bennett would return the favour in Senegal’s match against Uganda.
Yesterday, FIFA communicated that Cranes’ qualifier would be delayed by an extra hour. The game, which was originally supposed to start at 10pm, will now kick-off at 11pm, with no clear explanation.
You only need to look back through the terrains of African football and stained history of the referees in charge to understand the ‘politics’ behind.
During the 2013 Africa Nations Cup finals in South Africa, Bennett was criticised for mishandling Togo’s group fixture against Tunisia, where he booked the wrong player, awarded two soft penalties and denied another obvious spot kick.
How about Diatta? The pains from his dubious performance in Abeokuta, where he controversially cancelled a legitimate Cranes equaliser against Nigeria, are still hurting.
Of course, if Ethiopia win their game against Central Africa Republic, then South Africa’s result will be irrelevant.
But the problem is that the man appointed for Ethiopia’s game, Algerian Mohamed Benouza, equally has a stained past that puts his choice under scrutiny.
On May 11, 2012, the Algerian Referee Commission (CFA) suspended Benouza for the rest of the season over suspicion of ‘corruption’. He was punished for the worst officiating seen in Algerian football in a local match between Setif and El Harrach that ended 3-2.
All said, the refereeing puzzle discussed above is simply food for thought.
Back to the business proper. The Cranes set foot in Marrakesh on Thursday and had a feel the 45,000 capacity Marrakesh Stadium at 11pm yesterday.
“We will carry out demonstrations on how we are supposed to move around the pitch and each player will be briefed on the strengths and weaknesses of their direct opponents,” Micho told New Vision Sport.
The Serbian tactician’s plan will, aside from danger man Dame Ndoye, have to highlight the menace of players such as Sadio Mane (Salzburg/Austria), Moussa Sow (Fenerbahce/Turkey) and Mame Birame Diouf (Hannover/Germany).
Sow a threat!
Micho has kept reminding his charges on the need to avoid conceding free-kicks within 35 yards of Denis Onyango’s goal.
If Cranes review the first meeting against Senegal, they will discover that among the areas of concern was Ndoye’s threat in set-piece affairs. It will be less of a worry if Onyango doesn’t venture off his line and if the back four keep mistakes to a minimum.
West Ham midfielder Mouhamed Diame, who established himself in the English Premiership with Wigan, is the other threat.
He has thunderous shots and must be closed down as soon as he takes charge of any balls around the box.
But the man that Cranes’ central defenders will need to neutralise is the gangly Moussa Sow. The 27-year-old striker, who was top scorer in Lille’s 2010-2011 French Ligue 1 title-winning season with 25 goals, has good movement and has the ability of finding space in a crowded penalty area.
His first touch is exemplary and his goals to chance ratio is superb. He troubled Premiership side Arsenal during the two-leg Champions League qualifiers last month and will do the same against Cranes tonight.
“We will research on each player and get the right formula,” Micho added.