Didier Drogba celebrates one of his two goals against D.C. United on September 26, 2015. Photo: Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports
In the twilight of a great football career, 37-year-old Didier Drogba is now delighting fans and making a big impact in his inaugural Major League Soccer (MLS) season.
The former Ivory Coast captain signed with the Montreal Impact on July 27, 2015. He didn’t make his first start for Montreal until September 5, 2015, and talk about sudden impact.
Drogba became the first player in MLS history to score a hat-trick in their first league start.
The still powerful striker immediately showed his versatility as he recorded “a perfect hat-trick,” scoring one goal with his left foot, one with his right foot and one with his head in Montreal’s 4-3 victory over the visiting Chicago Fire.
In his first six matches for Montreal, Didier Drogba has scored seven goals and proven to be “an absolute revelation,” words used by MLSsoccer.com after the African star was named MLS Player of the Week on September 29, 2015.
Drogba, though, has revealed his stellar skills all over the world since signing his first professional contract with the French club Le Mans in 1999.
Didier Drogba in action against British star Steven Gerrard of the Los Angeles Galaxy, another international player in his first MLS season. Photo: Ringo H.W. Chiu / AP
He retired from international football in 2014 as Ivory Coast’s all-time leading scorer with 65 goals.
The rugged Drogba earned his most fame at Chelsea, scoring 164 goals in all competitions for the London-based club. After one-year stints for clubs in China and Turkey, Drogba returned to Chelsea last season and was rewarded with his fourth English Premier League (EPL) title.
Chelsea fans cheered for Drogba as he was carried off the field after his final match for “The Blues,” the club’s nickname that is reflected in the home uniform of royal blue shirts and shorts.
Drogba is wearing blue again for Montreal and earning more cheers as he makes his maiden season in MLS a memorable one.
As I reflect on Deng’s first visit to our Voice of America headquarters, it’s hard not to sing a few more verses in praise of the Miami Heat forward.
Miami’s Luol Deng puts up a shot during a game against the Chicago Bulls, his former club. Photo: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports
I last talked with the 30-year-old Deng a few years ago when he played for the Chicago Bulls. I met him in the lobby of Chicago’s team hotel before a regular season game against the Washington Wizards.
What impressed me from that meeting was Deng’s humility and his love for Africa. And those impressions carried over during his visit to the VOA.
Deng wore a South Sudan Unite T-shirt to visibly promote unity in his homeland, Africa’s newest country and one that’s been striving to achieve lasting peace. In an interview on the VOA’s Africa 54 TV program, Deng talked about his humanitarian work in South Sudan; playing in the NBA’s first game in Africa; and he looked forward to the upcoming NBA season.
As we heard in my interview, Luol Deng says he thinks he “still has a lot of years ahead of him” in the NBA and there’s still “a lot he wants to accomplish” before he leaves the league.
Among his accomplishments and career highlights: Deng is a two-time NBA All-Star (2012-2013) and he won the NBA’s Sportsmanship Award in 2007 and the J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award in 2014.
The NBA’s Citizenship Award is given to those who show outstanding service and dedication to the community. Dikembe Mutombo, who Luol Deng has described as a role model for his own humanitarian efforts, is the only player to win the award twice. The 49-year-old Mutombo retired from the NBA in 2009 and he’ll be officially enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame on September 11th.
One of the defining characteristics of the 2015 Major League Soccer season has been the massive influx of talent from across the Atlantic.
New York City FC, a new franchise playing its first season in the league, has led the charge. Before the season, NYC signed former Barcelona and Spanish national team striker David Villa to head their attack and solidified their midfield by bringing in US national team member Mix Diskerud. As the season progressed, Diskerud was joined in the midfield by former Chelsea and England captain Frank Lampard, as well as Andrea Pirlo, who led Italian club Juventus to the UEFA Champions League final in June.
Kei Kamara (L) dribbles in a match against the Chicago Fire. Photo: AP
With all of these big names grabbing the headlines, the Columbus Crew’s signing of Sierra Leonean forward Kei Kamara was not a big story, but as the season has progressed, and Kamara has proceeded to score goal after goal, people have started to take notice.
Kamara, who began his career with Columbus in 2006, returned to MLS this season after a one year stint with English club Middlesbrough and immediately got off to a hot start, scoring in the Crew’s home opener on March 14 and getting nominated for the Player of the Month award in April.
Kei Kamara (R) controls the ball in game against the Chicago Fire. Photo: AP
His scoring barrage has continued into the summer as Columbus has risen to second place in the tough Eastern Conference, putting the playoffs well within their sights. Kamara now leads the league with 15 goals in just 21 appearances and will deservedly be playing in his first ever MLS All-Star game in Denver, Colorado. With this new position of prominence, Kamara is working to bring attention to a cause that literally strikes very close to home.
Kamara’s hometown of Kenema had Sierra Leone’s first reported case in the 2014 Ebola epidemic that killed almost 4000 people in the country and caused untold amounts of damage to the west African nation’s economy.
In December last year, Kamara was featured in a video alongside other African stars Yaya Toure and Fabrice Muamba as part of a joint effort by UNICEF and the US Centers for Disease Control to raise funds for aid workers in west Africa.
Kamara has also joined with fellow Sierra Leonean MLSer Michael Lahoud and the Schools for Salone program to help with the rebuilding effort in his home country.
In early June, construction workers in Sierra Leone’s capital, Freetown, broke ground for The Kei Kamara, Michael Lahoud Education for All Primary School, which is expected to be operational by October and should provide education for more than 225 children at a time.
The MLS season gets back underway after the All-Star Game against Tottenham Hotspur on July 29th.
If Kamara can keep scoring at this torrid pace, he has a chance to join Mamadou Diallo, of Senegal, as the only Africans to win the MLS Golden Boot and could lead Columbus to their first major trophy since 2008.
Kei Kamara (L) in action against the Montreal Impact. Photo: Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports
But winning the MLS Cup will not be the only thing on Kamara’s mind as the season progresses. Sierra Leone still requires a lot of help to recover from the effects of the Ebola epidemic, and the recovery effort will not fix things overnight.
But the work of people like Kamara is starting to make a difference. As Kei’s countryman Michael Lahoud put it, “we’re not only rebuilding education, we’re rebuilding hope.”
(This blog post was written by VOA Intern Jonah Haskell)
“Part of being optimistic is keeping one’s head pointed towards the sun, one’s feet moving forward.” – Nelson Mandela
After a rainy morning, the sun broke out in Frederick, Maryland, the venue for an enriching and educational Mandela Day program.
The United Nations formally declared July 18th, Nelson Mandela’s birthday, as a day to honor South Africa’s late President and anti-apartheid icon through volunteering and community
Sonny and Kathy Sledge
I spoke in Frederick on a four-person panel that discussed Mandela and sports and music as cultural conduits for unity. Sitting beside me was Kathy Sledge, of “Sister Sledge,” whose 1979 hit song, “We Are Family,” gave a dance beat to family unity:
“We are family / I got all my sisters with me / We are family / Get up everybody and sing / Everyone can see we’re together / As we walk on by / (FLY!) and we fly just like birds of a feather.”
“We Are Family” is a song brimming with optimism, and when I said it also was the theme song for the 1979 World Series baseball champion Pittsburgh Pirates, Kathy Sledge smiled and nodded her head in agreement.
Nelson Mandela once said, “It is music and dancing that makes me at peace with the world,” and in my mind’s eye, I can see him dancing to “We Are Family” the same way he danced to Johnny Clegg’s “Asimbonanga.”
Nelson Mandela also viewed sports as a unifying force. Here’s a Mandela quote that I read at the Frederick conference:
“Sport has the power to change the world…it has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair. It is more powerful than government in breaking down racial barriers.”
South African President Nelson Mandela (L) shakes hands with Springboks captain Francois Pienaar after 1995 Rugby World Cup final. Photo: Reuters
In terms of breaking down racial barriers, two other panelists mentioned Nelson Mandela presenting the trophy to South Africa’s white captain, Francois Pienaar, after the 1995 Rugby World Cup final in Johannesburg.
The mostly-white crowd at Ellis Park cheered loudly in what’s being described as one of the greatest moments in the history of sports. I pointed out at the conference what Mandela was wearing in the stadium – a Springboks rugby jersey and ballcap.
While some Presidents might be dressed in suit and tie for such an occasion, Nelson Mandela used his attire to be part of, not apart from, in a show of sports unity and solidarity.
Festus Ezeli dunks in a playoff game against the Houston Rockets. Photo: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
The Golden State Warriors will play their first National Basketball Association Finals game in over 40 years on Thursday night in Oakland, California.
While their historic playoff run has been headlined by stars such as Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Andrew Bogut, back-up center Festus Ezeli, of Benin City, Nigeria, has quietly been putting together a solid postseason of his own.
Festus averaged only 11 minutes a game during the regular season and did not see much playing time in the first two rounds of the playoffs against New Orleans and Memphis.
That changed in the Western Conference Finals against the Houston Rockets. He averaged nearly 16 minutes a game, peaking in the series winning game five, when he played 28 minutes, scoring 12 points and grabbing nine rebounds as the Warriors advanced to the Finals with a 104-90 victory. The Warriors reserve also scored 10 points while playing 18 minutes in Golden State’s 115-80 romp over Houston in game three.
Festus Ezeli and the Golden State Warriors are bidding for their first NBA championship since 1975. Photo: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
Ezeli’s NBA success would have come as a shock to anyone who knew him 10 years ago. He lived in Benin City, Nigeria, until the age of 14, when he was sent to live with his uncle in the United States.
While his parents wanted him to become a doctor, Ezeli found a different passion as a result of his move: basketball. Having never played before, it took a while before Festus had the rules of the game down, but once he figured them out, his 6 ft. 11 in. (2.11 meters) frame and athletic ability took care of the rest.
His performance in front of scouts at the 2007 Reebok All-America camp earned him a scholarship to Vanderbilt University, where he played all four years of college while majoring in economics. Late in the first round of the 2012 NBA draft, Golden State selected Ezeli and he’s been a reliable back-up since. Maybe his postseason performance will get him off the bench for good.
Festus Ezeli dunks over Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard. Photo: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
Festus figures to be an important part of the Warriors team that will take on LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the best-of-seven game NBA Finals.
Ezeli and starting center Andrew Bogut, who is from Australia, will have to use their size to contain Cleveland’s Russian center Timofey Mozgov, who stands 7 ft. 1 in. (2.16 meters) and has averaged nearly 10 points and eight rebounds a game this postseason.
Unfortunately, Ezeli missed practice on Saturday due to an illness and is listed as day to day, but the Warriors are hoping that he’ll be 100% in time for the series opener on Thursday night. If he is, then fans will want to add one more name to their list of players to watch in this star-studded series.
This blog post was written by VOA Intern Jonah Haskell.
Sonny interviews Coach Attuquayefio in Accra in 2001. Photo: Rod Thomas/VOA
The Sonny Side of Sports remembers one of the pillars of Ghana football, Cecil Jones Attuquayefio, who died May 12th of throat cancer at age 70.
Attuquayefio had a long and distinguished coaching career. I had a chance to interview him in 2001 in the capital, Accra, where he led a squad of locally based Ghanaian players to a 0-0 draw against a heavily favored Nigerian team in a World Cup qualifying match.
In 2000, Attuquayefio guided Accra’s Hearts of Oak club to their first continental title in the African Champions League.
In addition, Attuquayefio was in charge of Benin in 2004 when the country qualified for its first Africa Cup of Nations tournament.
Cecil Jones Attuquayefio
And he was an assistant coach on Ghana’s team when it won Africa’s first Olympic medal in men’s football, a bronze, at the 1992 Barcelona Games.
Attuquayefio also represented the Black Stars, the nickname of Ghana’s national team, as a player and won the Nations Cup in 1965.
The current Black Stars captain, Asamoah Gyan, wrote on Twitter that Attuquayefio was a legend, a great coach and an inspirer who handed him his first chance. Gyan played under Attuquayefio in 2003 with Accra’s Liberty Professionals club.
The Ghana Football Association also paid tribute to the man who served as a vice-president of the GFA in the 1980s and 1990s.
A GFA statement said: “Attuquayefio’s contribution to football in our country touched the lives of many people not only in Ghana, but also in many countries in Africa. The GFA is immensely hurt by the loss of such a talented footballer, coach and administrator who shaped the lives and careers of many Ghanaian footballers.”
Sonny and Bright hold a Special Olympics soccer ball.
When I met Brightfield Shadi at Special Olympics headquarters in downtown Washington, D.C., I asked him, “Do you know what the weather report is today? It’s Bright and Sonny!”
Bright smiled and laughed, clearly enjoying a little humor as well as his visit to Washington as one of 12 Special Olympics athletes selected as Sargent Shriver International Global Messengers for the next four years.
Bright and Sonny at Special Olympics headquarters in Washington, D.C.
According to Special Olympics, Bright and the other International Global Messengers will serve vital roles in Los Angeles, where they’ll “participate in the Opening and Closing Ceremonies, attend and give speeches at various events, cheer on their fellow athletes and interact with honored guests.”
The Honorary Chairs of the 2015 Special Olympics World Games are U.S. President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama.
Approximately 7,000 athletes and 3,000 coaches from 177 countries are expected to attend the big event, which will feature competition in 25 sports throughout the Los Angeles region.
After a long winter here in Washington, spring is in the air and you can see more than a few runners getting in their miles on the National Mall near our Voice of America headquarters.
Some are running for their own personal health, while others are training for upcoming races. The Washington area has a vibrant racing scene, and many of the competitions raise money for charity.
On May 20th, I’ll be joining 14 of my VOA colleagues for the 34th running of the ACLI Capital Challenge. The three-mile road race in Anacostia Park benefits the Fidelco Guide Dog Foundation, which provides trained guide dogs and services to blind and visually impaired people.
From left to right: VOA’s Eric Phillips, Karin Zeitvogel, Sonny Young and William Scottt after the 2014 race.
In addition to many members of the media, the charity race features teams led by Senators, Representatives and other top U.S. government officials.
Race Director Jeff Darman says the event “promotes healthy living in the shadow of the Capitol as many physically fit Washington luminaries set an excellent example on race day each year.”
Dathan Ritzenhein waves the American flag after qualifying for the USA’s 2012 Olympic team in the 10,000 meters. Photo: AP
Each year, Darman brings in a celebrity runner to help showcase the race.
President Obama and Stephen Curry at the White House. Photo: Courtesy of Nothing But Nets
Golden State Warriors basketball star Stephen Curry met this week with President Obama at the White House here in Washington, where they discussed the Nothing But Nets anti-malaria campaign.
President Obama, who is a big basketball fan, has described the 26-year-old Curry as the best shooter he’s ever seen, and the Golden State guard is using those skills to help support the fight against malaria in Africa.
For the past three National Basketball Association seasons, Curry has donated three insecticide-treated mosquito nets for every three-point shot he makes during games.
Two years ago, Curry set the NBA record for three-point shots made with 272.
He met with President Obama one day after making five three-point shots, and scoring a game-high 32 points, in Golden State’s 114-107 victory over the host Washington Wizards. Curry talks about his role in preventing malaria in this video.
Stephen Curry is the son of Dell Curry, who also was an excellent shooter and who played in the NBA from 1986 to 2002.
The younger Curry has been active with malaria issues since attending Davidson College in North Carolina.
Stephen Curry celebrates another basket. Photo: AP
In 2013, he traveled to Tanzania as part of the United Nations Foundation’s campaign and helped distribute 38,000 mosquito nets.
Stephen Curry has captured the attention of many basketball fans in his sixth NBA season.
He was the overall leading vote-getter for the 2015 NBA All-Star Game, and he set a record in winning the All-Star weekend’s Three-Point Shooting Contest.
As far as AFCON tournaments went, this one was as good as any.
Despite instances of fan violence, costly refereeing mistakes and a finale that almost fell short of its promise, this year’s Africa Cup delivered fantastic goals, a colorful audience and most importantly, underdogs.
That fact was reaffirmed by the redemption of a 35-year-old outcast goalkeeper turned national hero, Boubacar Barry, who led the Les Elephants to victory and an end to their drought on the continental stage.
After 3 weeks of uninterrupted action with the finest football in Africa, we look back at some numbers that defined this year’s competition.
That’s the total cost of hosting the tournament, according to some sources. Equatorial Guinea took on the costs of hosting and organizing following Morocco’s refusal last year to host the tournament citing fears of Ebola. The nation that co-hosted the tournament two years ago with Gabon stepped in and delivered a decent event with only two months’ worth of preparations. Of course, there were some issues…
That’s the amount in fines that was imposed on two federations: Equatorial Guinea and Tunisia. Equatorial Guinea got hit with most of that amount, for its inability to control fans in the semifinal game against Ghana. Tunisia got slapped with a $50,000 fine after players went on a rampage following their quarterfinal loss to Equatorial Guinea. The Tunisians were irate about a controversial, late-game penalty that resulted in Equatorial Guinea tying the match in extra time, before going onto win it all. The Tunisian team damaged their stadium locker room.
That’s the total number of goals scored in the tournament, which works out to 2.13 per match. Thatfalls well short of the record 99 goals scored in 2008 when Ghana hosted the tournament, but if spectacular goals get any extra credit then this tournament has surely delivered. Christian Atsu’s wonder strike and South Africa’s Mandla Masango’s looping volley against eventual finalist Ghana take our awards for best tournament goals #1 and #2 respectively.
The age of Boubacar “Copa” Barry. The substitute who only came on because the first choice goalkeeper was injured saved two penalties and converted the winning one to become an instant national hero. In a team surrounded by proven goalscorers such as Wilfried Bony, Yaya Toure, and Gervinho, no one expected the sidelined keeper to singlehandedly earn Les Elephants a trophy they’ve desperately sought out for over two decades. (Whether Bony, Toure and Gervinho played up to their full potential is another discusiion altogether of course.)
Here’s how Didier Drogba, one of the finest Cote D’Ivoirian players of his generation, reacted upon Barry’s winning goal:
The age of the player voted to be Man of the Tournament: Christian Atsu. The Chelsea winger scored two goals, including the goal of the tournament, to lead Ghana to the finals. If his presence on the national team is any indication, Ghana will definitely get more chances to take the continental cup in the future, if not other trophies. For now, Atsu’s future lies with Everton, for whom he’s playing on loan. Judging by the current performance in the Premiership, they’re probably desperate for his return.
The number of penalties taken in the final game. That’s only two short of the record 24 penalties taken in Senegal in 1992 to decide the winner between…you guessed it, Ivory Coast and Ghana. Les Elephants won the shootout 11-10.
The number of countries currently in contention to host the 2017 tournament. Libya had been scheduled to host, but that country’s continuing instability has CAF organizers casting around for an alternate host: in the running are Algeria, Egypt, Gabon and Ghana.
We hope you enjoyed our light-sided coverage of AFCON 2015. Thanks to Sonny Young for letting us crash his Sonny Side of Sports blog for a few weeks.
If you have complaints or questions about VOA’s coverage, or if there other sporting events you’d like to see us cover– in Africa or elsewhere– leave a comment and let us know!
Until next time!
Guillaume Soro, the speaker of Ivory Coast’s National Assembly lifts a trophy with team players after winning the African Cup of Nations final match against Ghana in Bata, Equatorial Guinea. (AP)
Raised in Ethiopia, Teff Teff has played the game for as long as he remembers. He is a huge Manchester United supporter who tries to emulate his heroes the best way he can, on FIFA or at the local park. He is a multimedia producer for the Africa Division at VOA, where he spreads the football gospel to anyone who listens.
Sonny Side of Sports is an energetic and action-packed look at both world and African sports, broadcast on radio, TV and the Internet. Since the show’s creation in 1999, host Sonny Young has delighted listeners and viewers with a lively presentation that combines humor, props, sound effects and correspondent reports from Africa and all over the globe.
The Sonny Side of Sports is broadcast Monday through Friday at 1630 and 1830 UTC/GMT. And on Fridays at 1730 UTC/GMT, Sonny has an expanded 30-minute sports show.
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