Comfy Sofa: Simba Mafundikwa

Welcome to the second ever Comfy Sofa! The best interview spot in the world of football. It is with great pride that I introduce our guest: Senior at SUNY Delhi majoring in Architecture and my little brother, Simba Mafundikwa:

I would like to talk to you about your experience playing collegiate football/soccer at SUNY Delhi. You started as a staff member correct?

Yes that is correct. My first year at SUNY Delhi I was on the swimming team, but always knew I wanted to join the soccer team. I used to go watch their games every weekend and I had a few friends that were already on the team. I used to play with them for fun.

At the end of their season in freshman year which was 2013, the coach organizes practice games in winter, that’s where he asked me to join his team. Unfortunately I did my high school in Zimbabwe and wasn’t allowed to play because SUNY Delhi was still a two year college in sports.

So my coach allowed me to join the coaching team instead, which was good because I was still able to train, in the hope that, the next two years of my college career I would be able to play.

So how did you become eligible to play?

Delhi became a four year college after switching divisions from the NJCAA (National Junior College Athletic Association) to the USCAA (United States Collegiate Athletic Association). So we were facing other four year colleges, while also competing in the nationals tournament that was held in my junior year in North Carolina and my senior year this past semester in Virginia Beach.

Do you remember your first training session?

It was a big difference because this time I spent the summer before my junior year, getting in shape for the season. Knowing this would be my first season actually playing. I had already been to a lot of the games and knew the guys on the team very well.

So the first day I arrived before training which is a week before school starts in August, I received a warm welcome which made me very happy. I was very comfortable from the beginning and the coach put me in the left-back position. I have very fond memories of my first training session.

Was it a major difference practicing as a player instead of a staff member?

The big difference being that I was training for a purpose with playing games in mind. As opposed to training to just stay fit and impress.

The first game. How did that go?

Right before school started we played a preseason game against SUNY Polytechnic in a scrimmage (exhibition game) as they call it in America and I came on at halftime. Looking back, I was plagued with inexperience and youthfulness if you may.

But my first official game was against Penn State Hazleton. I started that game and we eventually won 7-1. Unfortunately I picked up a minor injury in the second-half which didn’t allow me to finish that game. But I was very happy to play in front of my home fans and friends.

Yes the transition from playing socially in Zimbabwe to collegiate level must have been hard. What type of things did you have to overcome?

I have to say that playing socially in Zimbabwe actually prepared me in many ways. But something that I had to overcome was practice sessions everyday. In college you’re in school, your main focus is school. But you still have to practice everyday and you have matches every other day.

So that means you’re going to miss a lot of time that you could’ve been doing work. Also, the style in America is different to Zimbabwe, but Zimbabwe is a lot more physical which gave me an advantage. I already knew how to use my body to gain an advantage, since my position is defense. That is a vital skill to have.

Also the traveling. We had to stay in hotels and different states. Wake up early and play games. That was also an adjustment in America.

There was also a time the coach wouldn’t put you on. What was the reason?

To this day I still don’t know the exact reason. I suspect it was the small injury I acquired during my first game, which meant that I wasn’t able to play the next few games. The coach put somebody else in the left-back position and they did well, so it was much harder for me to get back into contention.

But you did and stayed in the starting eleven till the end of your playing days.

Yes. Towards the end of my junior year season I was back in the starting lineup. The majority of my senior year, I was in the starting eleven except for about two games due to injury.

Let’s talk about your teammates. How was the camaraderie in the dressing room? Did you make new friends?

The majority of my teammates are from upstate New York, with a few of us being from other countries like: Ecuador, Portugal and Equatorial-Guinea. We’re very close, we spend a lot of time together. In team situations there are always going to be cliques between older and younger players, but in my team there were very little. Everyone helped each other for the common goal of achieving success.

Our dressing room was very relaxed with a few team clowns, that would always joke around or play music to psyche us up or calm the nerves. There was always laughter in my team. This came down from the coach. He has a big sense of humor, always joking around. But when it’s time to get serious he gets very serious. It was a good balance between having a good time and knowing when to get to work.

On the field of play, how good was your team? Did you win trophies?

My team was one of the more successful teams in my division, making it to the national championships two years in a row for the first time ever in our history. We definitely played to our potential in a lot of games. In terms of winning trophies, we didn’t win any during my time at Delhi.

Yes it’s a shame when you cant translate good form into trophies. But individually you were a winner: experiencing college football, playing loads of games and being appointed vice-captain.

Yes individually I do feel like a winner. I would definitely say my best experience was being named one of the captains. I will never forget my first game as captain in senior year. Before every game we sing the national anthem and the captains lead the teams out. It was a very emotional situation, but it also made me play differently and with more assertiveness. It made me take care of my teammates especially the younger and newer ones.

Indeed. With your experiences playing, do you have more of an appreciation towards top level footballers, like the ones at your favorite club Manchester United?

Definitely, I appreciate the time that they take to practice, that’s their life to practice everyday, they sacrifice a lot. Also the dedication to improve, get better, be a good communicator. Another thing that I found tough is the traveling, cause you have to travel long distances, be away from home, family, so I definitely appreciate what professional footballers go through. It made me realize what it would take, if I were to go down that route one day.

To wrap up, I want to ask you some quickfire questions. Best performance.

My final game at the national tournament at Virginia Beach against Albany Pharmacy.

Worst performance.

It was against a school called St. Joseph’s. I don’t know if I was low on confidence but nothing was really going my way and I was substituted early.

Best goal.*

I didn’t score any goals in my college career, though I did have some very close chances. Barely skimming the bar with a long range shot and having a half volley blocked on the line.

Best assist.

It came in one of our final games in Boston. I received the ball from Joffre, the play-maker of the team, in the top tier of the opposition half. I passed the ball to one of my defensive midfielders, he ran through on goal and scored. We won that game 1-0. Very vital goal and assist.

Favorite away ground.

Albany Pharmacy. I say that because, I have good memories from the last game we played there last season where we won 4-0. That was our first time winning in Albany as SUNY Delhi and they have great facilities over there, good support, so that’s my favorite away ground.

Away ground you hated visiting.

I don’t recall the name of the school but it was up in the Adirondack area. Honestly, it felt like we were playing a team of brute men, like lumberjacks and that’s exactly the way they played. The pitch was very small and the fans were right up next to the pitch, very hostile.

Thank you for giving us an insight into your football experience. All the best with your graduation in May!

Thank you for having me on your Comfy Sofa! I enjoyed sharing my experience of playing football/soccer in America.

 

*Tongue in cheek ūüôā

 

 

Kylian Mbapp√©: The world is yours

The away section at the Etihad erupted into cheers. The individual responsible for their joy had latched onto a long ball and slammed an unstoppable shot into the roof of the net. His first goal in the Champions League. At 18 years and two months, he became the second youngest French goalscorer behind Karim Benzema in the competition. Take a bow Kylian Mbappé.

On his first start in the Champions League, the young dynamo dovetailed brilliantly with strike partner Radamel Falcao and tormented the Manchester City defense with a combination of pace and fearless dribbling. It was a remarkable performance considering his tender age and has effectively put him on the world stage. The fact that Monaco lost the game 5-3 mattered not, the top goalscorers in Europe had offered their interpretation of attacking football: progressive, incisive passes and clinical finishing.

The English press were full of praise for the Ligue 1 side and most of it was aimed at Mbappé. However, those across the English channel and followers of Ligue 1 have had the player in their consciousness for a while.

Kylian Mbapp√© Lottin grew up in Bondy, part of the northeastern suburbs of Paris. Mbapp√©’s education started at AS Bondy where his father Wilfried¬† coached. He impressed enough to earn a place at the prestigious football academy Clairefontaine, an institution where William Gallas, Louis Saha, Blaise Matuidi, Thierry Henry etc all cut their teeth.

During his apprenticeship, the Bondy native had most of the French clubs on his case. Finally it was AS Monaco who won the race for his signature. The principality club are shrewd operators in youth football. Locally they never had a huge talent pool to pick from, instead they scout the six corners of the hexagon and recruit players from the age of 14 who have already received the fundamental education.

The fact that Monaco gives these youth a chance to challenge for a first team place is also a strong selling point. The likes of Lilian Thuram, Emmanuel Petit, Thierry Henry and Anthony Martial have all benefited from this approach.

Mbapp√© debuted for the seniors against Caen on 2 December, 1998. At 16 years and 347 days he broke Thierry Henry’s record (17 and 14 days) as the youngest “mon√©gasque” to feature in the league. Two months later the record of youngest goalscorer was also taken from Henry (17 years and eight months) by the same culprit ( 17 years two months) against Troyes.

The sale of Anthony Martial to Manchester United had opened a door for Mbapp√© which he has gone through running, especially this season. 12 goals in all competitions so far is a decent return, but it’s¬† the options that he offers to his coach Leonardo Jardim. He can play on the wings, centrally or partner with another striker. His versatility and style has earned him the tag of “new Thierry Henry” though that may be premature considering his predecessors illustrious career.

The young man needs to develop further before talks of going abroad to play at a Real Madrid are evoked. He hasn’t really experienced a major setback in his career yet e.g dip in form, long-term injury or abrupt change of coach and tactics. These are all issues Thierry Henry has encountered and surpassed. Then there is the small matter of Henry playing for the national team and winning the World Cup and Euros.

Though, selection for the senior national team feels like a when rather than an if, looking at the starring role he played at last years U19 Euro triumph with five goals. His father Wilfried who also works as his agent has proven that he can also make sensible decisions for his son by choosing Monaco instead of Real Madrid, even though the Spanish giants and in particular, club ambassador at the time Zinedine Zidane, pulled all the tricks to recruit him.

Whatever direction the Mbapp√© story takes, like Tony Montana, he is at a point where the world is his, even Nike have endorsed him. It’s now up to the lad to keep that success permanent.

Sutton United 0-2 Arsenal: Pie-eating goalkeeper resigns over betting scandal

The weird, wacky and surreal were all present in a fairly comfortable victory for Arsenal. Never mind that Theo Walcott grabbed his 100th goal for the club or that Lucas Perez made it seven goals in nine starts, Wayne Shaw, Sutton’s reserve goalkeeper, is under investigation from the Football Association and Gambling Commission after Sun Bets offered odds of 8-1 against him eating a pie during the match. Shaw has since resigned.

Tipping the scales at 115kg, the 46- year -old “Roly Poly Goalie” had already been in the spotlight before the game, but his stunt which he called “a bit of fun” has backfired spectacularly and cost him his job.

Shaw who was also on the coaching staff, ravenously devoured a meat and potato pie in full view of the cameras, after his team had made all their subs.

The FA states that ‚ÄúA participant shall not bet, either directly or indirectly, or instruct, permit, cause or enable any person to bet on (i) the result, progress, conduct or any other aspect of, or occurrence in, a football match or competition.‚ÄĚ

The Gambling Commission will also be looking at any irregularities in the market to determine if Sun Bet has met its license requirements as an operator. What works against Shaw is that he knew about the bet before kickoff and authorities have to decide whether his actions breached any rules.

The fiasco takes away from a landmark achievement from Sutton who are 105 places below Arsenal in the National League. The band of semipros are toiling in 17th place out of 24 teams, but were flying high in the FA Cup having upset Leeds United to reach the fifth round.

While Sutton will enjoy a £50,000 donation from their opponents and the exposure from the journey, Shaw has to live with one of the most infamous publicity stunts in football history.

 

Warriors left hanging in Gabon

I’ve never been to Gabon, but it’s a country that has indirectly influenced my life. One of my first friends at university was from there and I won a pageant representing the country. Now it is also the first place where I saw my national team compete in a major tournament. Unfortunately, the experience wasn’t pleasant to say the least.

The African Cup of Nations 2017 was Zimbabwe’s first AFCON participation in 11 years. In between that time: coaches aplenty had been sacked, controversial business tycoon Philip Chiyangwa became Zifa president and Fifa¬† banned us from qualifying for the 2018 World Cup because of outstanding debts.

It was in this environment that coach Callisto Pasuwa managed to qualify the nation for the finals in Gabon. Some might say that a group which included the likes of Swaziland, Malawi and Guinea was not the most tasking to advance from, but previous teams had failed in “easy” groups.

So here we are, our first group game against Algeria, beaten semi-finalists in 2015 and the fifth best nation on the continent. The game started with a great chance for Khama Billiat who had his dipping volley brilliantly parried on to the post by Rais Mboli.

But moments later it was the Desert Foxes who would take the lead. Riyad Mahrez the newly crowned African Footballer of the Year was afforded the liberty of Franceville to cut inside from the right and unleash a curling shot past Tatenda Mukuruva.

Now I like Costa Nhamoinesu a lot, he is one of the few Warriors playing at a competitive level with Sparta Prague in the Czech league. He has also experienced the Europa League. But in the Algeria game he was found wanting.

Was it the fact that he was playing centre-back instead of his left-back position at Prague? Did his partner Elisha Muroiwa who looked out of his depth give him too many fires to put out? Or was he simply not good enough? A bit of everything perhaps.

The Warriors did manage to overturn the deficit, first winger Kudakwashe Mahachi angled a low shot into the far corner and Nyasha Mushekwi converted a penalty after Onismor Bhasera was upended in the box. 2-1 to Zimbabwe at halftime.

The second-half had Algeria put the boys in yellow under immense pressure. The lads did not help their cause by retreating deeper and needlessly ceding possession the few times they had it. However they created  two glorious opportunities that would have finished of the game.

First Billiat slalomed into the box, turned Aissa Mandi inside out but found Mboli equal to his shot. Then Cuthbert Mahajila was released in front of goal but instead of squaring to Mushekwi for a tap-in, fired a weak effort straight at Mboli.

Of course Algeria equalized, though Mukuruva made a meal of Mahrez’s shot, parrying it into his own net. Zimbabwe managed to hold on for the point but there was huge disappointment mixed with optimism about the performance back home. If we could take our chances and defend more resolutely against group favorites Senegal we would be in with a shout.

Instead we were dealt a harsh lesson. From the first whistle Senegal dominated in every department. In midfield Cheikou Kouyate and Idrissa Gueye looked a level above Katsande and Marvelous Nakamba. On the wings, Sadio Mané and Keita Balde tormented the Warriors defense at every opportunity. At half time the score read 2-0 to the Lions of Teranga courtesy of goals from Mané and Henri Saivet.

The second stanza was merely a formality, the Lions held Zimbabwe at paws length and could’ve embarrassed the lads if it wasn’t for Mukuruva and some lackluster finishing. Qualification was on the line in the last game, we needed to beat Tunisia and better Algeria’s result against Senegal. We duly crashed out of the tournament losing 4-2.

Casualties in the aftermath included skipper Willard Katsande who retired from international football that same day, passing the guard to the next generation and Pasuwa who was sacked by Zifa three weeks later. Though it was our first tournament in a while, there were issues that compounded the situation.

Money, Money, Moneeey always seems to be a problem with Zifa. Whether it’s a lack of funds to set up a training camp in a timely manner or paying the player’s bonuses, they always seem to come up short. Many people including Zifa vice president Omega Sibanda rounded on the players for striking over money instead of focusing on match preparations. But it resembled a deflection tactic from an organization that has previous in this matter.

Like most institutes in Zimbabwe, Zifa has been rocked with corruption scandals down the years and the public has lost faith in them. Footballers are paid to play football, if you don’t pay them the going rate they are entitled to take matters into their own hands, however bad the timing.

The players and the coach are no clement sons either. When people face adversity you hope that it galvanizes them to give their all, what we got was the leakiest defense in the group-stage conceding eight goals and seven of those came in the first-half of those games. Not once did Pasuwa see it fit to change the members of the back-line.

One can only hope that everyone involved learns from the Gabon debacle as qualification for AFCON 2019 in Cameroon is far from certain. Zimbabwe has been drawn in the same qualifying group as Congo DRC, Congo-Brazzaville and Liberia.  A chance to repair damaged national pride awaits.

 

 

 

 

 

Isaac Chansa helps Zambia beat neighbours Zimbabwe in Zambezi derby

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Zimbabwe were left to rue missed opportunities as they lost 1-0 to Zambia, in their opening match of the 2016 Orange African Nations Championship. After the 2-2 draw between Mali and Uganda, the result leaves the Warriors bottom of Group D, but with all to play for.

The match took place in Rubavu, eastern Rwanda an area full of lush green hills that formed the background around the stadium. The pitch was at odds with the scenery as closer inspection revealed that it was synthetic. Perfect for passing but unforgiving to bare skin that rubbed against it. This competition prides itself on promoting domestic players, but Zambia were able to call on players that had foreign experience.

Captain Chris Katongo and Isaac Chansa boast clubs from China, Germany and Sweden on their CV’s as well as an African Nations Cup triumph in 2012. Warriors coach Calisto Pasuwa may not have such experience at his disposal but players such as skipper Hardlife Zvirekwi and fullback Ocean Mushure feature regularly for the national team.

Much was made back home of the injuries and lack of friendlies scheduled by the Warriors. Zambia had played preparatory matches ahead of the game and were considered to be one of the fittest squads at the tournament. On the pitch, the difference between both teams was closer to the proximity of both countries than the preparation, as Zambia dominated possession and Zimbabwe created the better chances.

However it was the Zambians who created the first opportunity of the game, Katongo’s header missing the target by inches. They were soon on the back foot as Banda parried Chitiyo’s powerful strike, after the winger was released in the box. The bright start to the first half was followed by a period of over hit passes and robust tackles. It was clear that the majority of players were used to playing on grass.

At the end of the half the Warriors had a glorious chance to make the breakthrough, Chirambadare did well to steal in front of Kabamba to hone in on Banda¬† but fired wide with the goal at his mercy. A costly miss. After the interval Pasuwa’s men continued the trend of creating and missing great opportunities. The dangerous Chitiyo controled a high ball in the box, pressurized by Kabamba his lob beat Banda but not the covering defender on the line.

The breakthrough  in the 58th minute was spectacular. Chansa ghosted to the far post and was found with an excellent curling pass, the Chipolopolo star opened his body and steered a right footed volley past Donovan. Cue a mock military salute celebration from Katongo, who served for his country. The Warriors had to respond and they did. Mutuma was brought on to add more firepower and he was instantly involved.

First his throw in was chested into the path of Chirambadare whose drive flashed across goal. Then his through ball played Francisco in but once again Banda was equal to the strikers toe poke. That was to be the Warriors last chance as Zambia safely saw through the final minutes.

Pasuwa will reflect on a match that saw his team have less of the ball (43%) and  still take the same number of shots (on target) as their opponents (5). For Zambia progression to the next round is looking good but their neighbours will have to be more prolific if they are to join them.

 

Sadio Man√© and Victor Wanyama’s futures in doubt as transfer window opens for business

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Vadis Odjidja-Ofoe fell in pain. The culprit Victor Wanyama remained on the ground, resigned to his fate as the referee brandished a second yellow and then a red. The Kenyan’s dismissal was to prove costly as Alex Tettey’s strike insured that Norwich City prevailed over Southampton. Sadio¬†Man√© the other African, was dropped to the bench for a late show to the pre-match briefing.

Both men were linked with moves away from St Mary’s last summer, Wanyama interested Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United were rumored to be keen on Man√©. The Saints boss Ronald Koeman has made it clear that both players are not for sale, but the Norwich game might make him think hard about both men’s commitment to the team.

Southampton have lost 7 of their last 9 matches in all competitions, the 4-0 win against Arsenal a false dawn.¬†Man√© and Wanyama are both starters when fit, but have suffered from a dip in form. The 6’2″ Kenyan is an imposing presence in midfield however, this seasons¬† two sending-offs¬† were a result of accumulation of cards. This hints at a lack of control when playing on the edge.

Man√©¬†at 5’9″ is not as physically intimidating as Wanyama, but has the pace, stamina and quick feet to trouble the most robust of defenses. The Senegalese international scored the quickest hat-trick in Premier League history, clocked at 176 seconds against Aston Villa last season. His impact on the field has been hindered by off field misdemeanors: A no show at a team meeting early last year resulted in being dropped from the starting lineup against Liverpool who won 2-0.

There is a trend when Man√© is dropped from the squad, Southampton lose. It is not inconceivable to think that potential suitors might be put off by the duos comportment, if indeed they’re trying to push a move through. For two of Africa’s hottest stars, the January transfer window could be an eventful one.

 

UEFA Champions League round of 16 draw reaction

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©Getty Images for UEFA

The annual last 16 draw of the UEFA Champions league took place this Monday in Nyon, Switzerland. As can be expected, some exciting ties were drawn out of the bowl in what is likely to be another entertaining round of fixtures.

UEFA Secretary General Gianni Infantino conducted his second draw in three days after Saturday’s Euro 2016 draw, but didn’t seem fatigued as he enthusiastically welcomed and briefed the delegates who were representing the 16 participants.

There was praise for Christiano Ronaldo who top scored in the group stage with 11 goals and in the process, became the competitions all-time goalscorer with 88. A hell of an achievement.

Infantino also welcomed former Internazionale Milano Captian, Javier Zanetti to the stage. The 2010 Champions League winner is this season’s ambassador for the final, which will be held in the San Siro, a stadium that Zanetti knows well.

UEFA Competitions Director Giorgio Marchetti’s arrival, as has in previous years, heralded the beginning of the draw. Here are the matches:

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Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images

The one that immediately sticks out is Arsenal vs. Barcelona. The English team were beaten by the current holders in the 2006 final. They were also knocked out by the Spanish side in the 2009/10 quarter finals and the 2010/11 round of 16.

The match heralds reunions for a few players: Alexis Sanchez  left Barcelona for Arsenal last year. Hector Bellerin a product of La Masia, has the opportunity to play on a pitch he dreamed of walking on when he was younger and former Gunners Captain, Thomas Vermaelen, might face his old side if either Javier Mascherano or Gerard Pique are unavailable.

Paris Saint-Germain face Chelsea for the third consecutive season in the knockout rounds with both teams eliminating each other in the two previous years. PSG lead the French league by 17 points while Chelsea are currently 16th domestically.

AS Roma were a bit disappointing in the group stages. Unable to beat Bate Borisov at home in their last group match, they qualified because of Bayer Leverkusen’s inability¬† to beat a weakened Barcelona. Rudi Garcia’s team must improve if they want to shock 10-time champions Real Madrid.

FC Bayern Munich are always favorites in this competition. But their credentials will be tested by a Juventus side that reached the final last year. Kingsley Coman featured sporadically for Juve, but has flourished this season in the colors of Bayern. Expect him to have a point to prove.

It is the battle of the striped shirts when PSV Eindhoven meet Atletico de Madrid. They met before in the 2008/9 group stages, Atletico won both games. But the Dutch club will feel confident having qualified at the expense of Manchester United.

Two knockout round debutants in Vfl Wolfsburg and KAA Ghent will aim to make history by reaching the quarterfinals for the first time. Wolfsburg may look stronger on paper, but the gutsy Belgians beat Champions League regulars Olympique Lyonnais and CF Valencia to get to this stage.

SL Benfica will meet a familiar foe in the form of Football Club Zenit’s coach, Andre Villas-Boas who coached FC Porto. The Portuguese flavor continues with Zenit playmaker Danny, who’ll want to make an impression when he returns home.

Last but not least we have Manchester City who are relived not to be facing Barcelona again and will view FC Dynamo Kiev as manageable opposition. Kiev knocked City out of the Europa League in 2010/11, a similar victory would be a big triumph.

The dice has rolled and the stage is set. Initial prognostics will change as form fluctuates and fortunes turn. This is when the games will be played:

First legs:
16 February: Paris v Chelsea, Benfica v Zenit
17 February: Gent v Wolfsburg, Roma v Real Madrid
23 February: Arsenal v Barcelona, Juventus v Bayern
24 February: PSV v Atlético, Dynamo Kyiv v Manchester City

Second legs:
8 March: Wolfsburg v Gent, Real Madrid v Roma
9 March: Chelsea v Paris, Zenit v Benfica
15 March: Atlético v PSV, Manchester City v Dynamo Kyiv
16 March: Barcelona v Arsenal, Bayern v Juventus