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XINHUA NEWS SERVICE REPORTS FROM THE AFRICAN CONTINENT

 
Ghana football impasse likely to weigh down World Cup chances

ACCRA Ghana (Xinhua) -- The seeming impasse between the Ghana Football Association (GFA) and the Ministry of Youth and Sports, if unresolved, may affect the country’s chances of sealing qualification to the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

All has not been well between the two bodies since the disappointing last World Cup in Brazil two years ago, resulting in the setting up of a Presidential Commission to probe Ghana’s first round exit.

The Black Stars failed to make it past the first round after they picked up just a point from three group games played against the United States, Germany and Portugal.

Many thought both the FA and the sports ministry would put the past behind them and forge ahead for the common goal of making it to the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia.

But that has not happened, as accusations and counter-accusations continue to fly over the local airwaves from time to time.

For example, the ministry ordered Black Stars coach Avram Grant to review his squad and pick domestic players for the game against Rwanda because it would not be able to fund the plane tickets of foreign-based players.

This compelled the deputy captain, Andre Ayew, to purchase tickets for some of the players while others fully paid for their plane fares to honor the match.

Again, the issue of reduced winning bonuses for the team has been lingering for the past few months but the GFA officials insist they are not aware of any variation in the bonuses.

But the ministry has always explained that government’ s inability to provide for the other sporting federations are as a result of over-spending on football activities.

Some soccer enthusiasts appear frustrated over the lack of cordial working relations between the two institutions.

While Ghana’s opponents for the World Cup qualifiers like Egypt and Uganda are busily fine tuning ahead of the qualifiers next month, the Black Stars officials are yet to come out with concrete programs for the west African country to put a seal on qualification.

Another critical bone of contention is that while some believe the Sports Minister has the right to take certain decisions in relation to the management of the national team, others think this will amount to an interference which is frowned upon by world football governing body, FIFA.

The feud between the Sports Minister and GFA President Kwesi Nyantakyi has taken an absurd turn in the last couple of days, with both men trading insults at each other.

Soccer enthusiasts fear the disagreements, which are mostly about the management of FIFA and other cash that come to the GFA, could weigh down the Black Stars’ quest to qualify for their fourth straight World Cup appearance.

Enoch Teye Mensah, a former sports minister, called for a very good collaboration between the two bodies to resolve the challenges that have come to exist between them.

A Ghanaian legislator, Kwadwo Baah Agyemang, has therefore called for a truce, saying the petty issues may have a general effect on Ghana’s football and chances of qualifying for the World Cup in Russia.

Presently, the Ghana premier league is without a sponsor, a situation that has partly been blamed on the tension between the GFA and the sports ministry.

The above issues may have to be resolved sooner or later to ensure Ghana’s qualification to the next World Cup tournament in Russia.

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ELSEWHERE:

Germany: Still one of the big sons

By OLIVER TRUST BERLIN Germany (Xinhua) -- Despite the retirement of five key-figures in the last two years, Germany is still one of the big guns in international football and the big favorite for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

German head coach Joachim Loew will have to start the qualification campaign against Norway in Oslo this Sunday evening without Bastian Schweinsteiger (Manchester United) and Lukas Podolski (Galatasaray Istanbul) but can still rely on a squad that exudes outstanding quality.

Schweinsteiger and Podolski have retired from international duty as have Philipp Lahm (Bayern Munich), Per Mertesacker (Arsenal) and Miroslav Klose (Lazio). But Loew and the 2014 world champion are far from having to make fundamental changes.

Looking at Loew’s decision as to who will follow Schweinsteiger and his predecessor Lahm as captain, it is proof of Germany’s inexhaustible reservoir of talented and experienced players.

No less a player than probably the world’s best goalkeeper, Manuel Neuer, will lead the German team alongside the highly experienced players like Mats Hummels, Jerome Boateng, Thomas Mueller (all Bayern Munich), Toni Kroos (Real Madrid), Mesut Oezil (Arsenal) and Sami Khedira (Juventus Turin) who are backed up by the promising youngsters Leroy Sane (Manchester City), Max Meyer (FC Schalke 04) and Joshua Kimmich (Bayern Munich).

The new German team seems to be full of confidence after the changes in the squad but still has to prove their determination in a rather easy qualification group with smaller football nations like Northern Ireland, Czech, Azerbaijan, San Marino and Norway.

The new leader Neuer expressed the his team’s intention to successfully defend the 2014 World Cup title by demanding "full speed ahead" for the upcoming qualification campaign for Russia.

"We have to and we want to be more dominant in qualifying than we were for Euro 2016 in France," said Neuer when demanding four victories in the four games up until the end 2016.

After the Germans encountered greater problems than they had bargained for after the 2014 World Cup, Loew seems determined to open a new chapter in German football history.

The 56-year-old expressed his intention to defend his World Cup title - a feat only achieved twice in World Cup history. In 1938 Italy successfully defended the title they won in 1934 and Brazil won two successive titles in 1958 and 1962.

"It’s our intention to defend the World Cup title has never been done before by a German team," Loew said.

"We have a clear plan for the route to Russia.

"Of course we want to qualify with a good performance.

"In 2017 we want to use the Confederations Cup as a stage for our younger players.

"We’ll give some of the experienced ones a break to recuperate.

"Three tournaments in a row are too much looking at the many games some players have with their clubs," continued Loew.

By expressing his concern regarding the country’s club football, Loew is trying to ease the rising tension between the German association and the major clubs like Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund.

Oliver Bierhoff, general manager of the national team, has replied to the attacks made by Bayern Munich’s chairman Karlheinz Rummenigge and Borussia Dortmund’s CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke who accused the German association of using their players to gain attention and money.

Rummenigge and Watzke both said that the many international games would prove to be a disadvantage for the bigger clubs.

"We pay the players a huge amount of money and we see they are burdened with many games in the national team and can’t recover properly," Rummenigge said.

On top Rummenigge and Watzke threatened to cut the number of players that will be released by the clubs for the national team.

"Our biggest rival in sponsoring is not Borussia Dortmund but the German national team," Rummenigge said.

"During the France tournament our players had to do many sponsoring activities with Mercedes whilst our sponsor partner Audi played no role. There has to be changes in the future."

Borussia Dortmund’s CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke said the club has the power to stop such situations and may well use it.

"We have to reduce the enormous amount of sponsoring activities by the national team," Watzke said.

Both Rummenigge and Watzke were counter attacked by national team manager Oliver Bierhoff, who said:

"The popularity of the players is growing with every game in the national team. Players become famous all over the world by playing for their national team and not through overseas tours for their clubs in the pre season."

While the arguments are ongoing, German head coach Joachim Loew is trying to find the best possible squad for the start of his World Cup campaign.

As striker Mario Gomez (VfL Wolfsburg) and defender Jerome Boateng (Bayern Munich) are both out injured as are Ilkay Guedogan (Manchester City) and Marco Reus (Borussia Dortmund), the head coach might start with Manuel Neuer in goal and a four-man defense (Joshua Kimmich, Mats Hummels, Benedikt Hoewedes (FC Schalke 04) and Cologne’s Jonas Hector. Sami Khedira and Toni Kroos are expected to form the midfield partnership with Julian Draxler (VfL Wolfsburg), Mesut Oezil, Thomas Mueller and Mario Goetze up front.
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EARLIER REPORTS:

Schweinsteiger’s tear an indication of Germany’s future

By Oliver Trust BERLIN Germany (Xinhua) -- Germany’s 2-0 win over Finland was nothing football fans would call a festival. But nevertheless it was a memorable game.

The country’s past met its future as a player like midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger bid farewell in his 121 international appearance while 20-year-old defender Niklas Suele made his debut alongside several other youngsters that will from now on secure their nation’s football future.

Football fans witnessed emotional moments as Schweinsteiger could not hold back his tears before kick-off in his last game in a German shirt.

The crowd gave the midfielder a standing ovation and applauded him whenever he touched the ball.

Before the game, Schweinsteiger talked in an emotional press conference about his 13-year career in the German national team that culminated in winning the 2014 World Cup final against Argentina by 1-0.

It perhaps fitted the script that 20-year-old Max Meyer of Schalke 04 put Germany 1-0 up by the time Schweinsteiger was substituted in the 67th minute by 20-year-old midfielder Julian Weigl from Borussia Dortmund.

Meyer and Weigl are two of the German youngsters that will be a vital part of the German team in the future.

Mesut Oezil of Arsenal scored the second German goal.

Loew has to be aware that he will have to change not only his team’s game style but his squad too.

Two years after the World Cup 2014, the 56-year-old rewarded his world champion players with the guarantee that they would be a part of the German squad or even the starting eleven.

But Euro 2016 has shown the 2014 World Cup title is history and titles in football are history as soon as they have been won.

Loew will have to develop the courage to invest more trust in younger players.

Leroy Sane who recently joined Manchester City from Schalke for almost 50 million euro did not play a big role during the tournament in France.

Now Loew seems to have heeded the warning signs indicating the need for an update.

The tournament in France made two things obvious.

The Germans were too strict in following the keep-ball and total game control dogma.

It was coupled with the problems changing gear after losing or gaining the ball. Loew named them by saying, "we have to be quicker, when we gain the ball", meaning the German game will have to be more vertical and direct instead of control dominated.

Added to the problem was another which Loew called, "the missing effectiveness in the last third of the pitch." He meant a lack of inventiveness to create enough chances in front of the opponent’s goal.

And when they did they were not effective enough in turning the chances into goals.

Schweinsteiger and Lukas Podolski have read the signs and have decided to retire from the national team.

Now it will be Loew’s job to fill the gap with new names, new ideas and new passion.

Next to Schweinsteiger’s farewell appearance, the new German generation Meyer, Julian Brandt, Niklas Suele were all part of the German Olympic team that won the silver medal in Rio. Kevin Volland stands for the new German generation Loew will have to rely on.

Jonathan Tah, Leon Goretzka, Lukas Klostermann and Jeremy Toljan are among the many German talents emerging on the horizon.

Loew will have a tough job on the road to the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

He will have to find a way to make experienced players like Jerome Boateng, Manuel Neuer, Thomas Mueller work well together with the youngsters and new faces of German football.

Right after Euro 2016 and the defeat in the semifinal against hosts France, it took Loew some days to make up his mind if he wanted to continue in charge for the next two years.

The 56-year-old thought about the personal motivation he will have to invest. Loew and his advisors realized they had to make radical changes in the squad.

A change Loew was not willing to make before the European Championships despite many pundits demanding quicker changes.

This Sunday, Loew’s new team will face their first challenge when facing Norway in their first qualifier on the road to Russia 2018.

Then the German head coach will have to announce his decision as to who will follow Bastian Schweinsteiger as captain.

According to rumors it won’t be one of his youngsters but 30-year-old keeper Manuel Neuer.

Schweinsteiger by the way left the pitch with a broad smile on his face.

Next to the German bench, Joachim Loew was waiting giving him a big hug, knowing at the same time that a new chapter in German football had just started.
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Finland friendly Schweinsteiger’s last dance for Germany

By Oliver Trust BERLIN (Xinhua) -- Germany’s friendly-game against Finland this Wednesday evening most likely won’t be a thrilling experience for football fans.

For 32-year-old Bastian Schweinsteiger though it will be an unforgettable game as it will be his last for Germany.

A few days ago, the Manchester United midfielder announced his retirement from the German national team after 120 games and over 12 years.

After Schweinsteiger conquered football’s peak by winning the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, his career has nosedived.

The Finland game will now be his last dance on the international stage.

Schweinsteiger’s last appearance in a German shirt is accompanied by the question whether it will be his last concert in professional football as his future at his club doesn’t look bright to say the least.

ManU coach Jose Mourinho announced his intention to sideline Schweinsteiger who joined United when Louis van Gaal was in charge.

"It’ ll be extremely hard for him to come back," Mourinho said.

The German has to train with Manchester’s reserve team.

While Mourinho was criticized by Schweinsteiger’s former club Bayern Munich and former Bayern Munich coach Ottmar Hitzfeld, the Portuguese is obviously convinced Schweinsteiger’s career is on the wane.

Hitzfeld called Mourinho’s decision "disrespectful", saying: "Bastian Schweinsteiger is a personality in football and one that deserves a different kind of treatment," when interviewed by the Berlin-based newspaper "Die Welt".

Hitzfeld continued, "Bastian knows how quick things change in professional football.

"I’m sure he is still capable of being a key figure for a big club."

Hitzfeld additionally expects Schweinsteiger to fight back and regain a place in a top team’s squad, either at his present club or elsewhere.

Recently Schweinsteiger announced his intention to finish his career in Manchester and rejected a move to another European outfit.

Juventus Turin was said to be interested in Schweinsteiger.

Now rumors are growing that Schweinsteiger could join Major League Soccer in the USA or the Chinese Super League next winter.

Schweinsteiger himself talked about "respectful talks" with Jose Mourinho.

"I know his point of view and his goals," Schweinsteiger said.

"I won’t stop playing football, no matter what happens to me in Manchester."

The midfielder pointed out that he will most possibly make a decision to leave Manchester in winter.

"For now I want to see how things develop.

"My dream is to help Manchester to achieve their goals.

"I want to show the ManU fans what I can deliver," Schweinsteiger said.

"I feel well at the moment and as I said, I won’t join another club in Europe."

Meaning only the USA or China are an option should he decide to leave Manchester.

While Hitzfeld attacked Mourinho, German head-coach Joachim Loew called Schweinsteiger’s decision to retire from the German national team a "good decision" at the "right" time.

He indicated Schweinsteiger made this decision in order to concentrate at his club at the age of 32.

"We want to say good bye to Bastian and thank him for all he has done for German football and the national team."

Loew knows exactly about his captain’s injury problems. During Euro 2016 in France, Schweinsteiger lost his place in Germany’s starting eleven precisely because he wasn’t fully fit.

After returning to Manchester, for the most part he could not attend the training sessions due to his knee problems.

A year before Schweinsteiger left his club Bayern Munich after 13 years, Pundits said it was because he had lost his place in Bayern’s midfield and was threatened with the bench.

After Schweinsteiger’s farewell, Loew though will have to announce a new captain.

Bayern Munich defender Jerome Boateng, currently out of the game with a minor injury, and Bayern Munich keeper Manuel Neuer are the two favorites to lead the German team on its way to the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

Loew indicated that his decision has been made already but that he will wait until after the Finland friendly to announce the new leader as the spotlight should be on Schweinsteiger in his last match.

Schweinsteiger made his international debut in a match against Hungary on June 6, 2004.

"I was sent onto the pitch well into the game.

"Since then I’ve had many beautiful moments in my career.

"I just love this sport, but at a certain point it’s time to step back and ask the younger ones to take over," Schweinsteiger said.

"I’m happy about every single game my country’s shirt.

"I still feel passion for football and it will be a very emotional moment for me when I play my last game for Germany," Schweinsteiger said.

           

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