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World Cup 2010: Africa’s dream turned nightmare?

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By the time the final of the 2010 World Cup came around, many African football fans – that is Africans who love football and all those who love African football – had long ceased to care about what the outcome would be. This writer includes himself in that number and one has to ask ‘Why?’. After all, this is was the first (and, some think the last) time that the world’s premier football tournament had been staged in Africa. Of the African representatives this time, along with host South Africa and the sole north African representatives, Algeria, all the other African representatives hailed from West Africa – Nigeria, Ghana, Ivory Coast and Cameroon. Normally, that should also have been cause for celebration as is the fact that there were six African countries in the final stages for the first time and that 4 of them come from one region, West Africa.  Inevitably, a lot of the disappointment and deflation had to do with the fact that Africa’s last representative in the competition, Ghana not only went out at the quarter-final stage, but also the manner in which they went – more on that later. A significant aspect of the disenchantment felt by African fans had to do with the woeful performance of the continent’s representatives.

The fact that only the aforementioned Black Stars of Ghana made it out of the group stages, left a bitter taste. After all, this was to have been Africa’s turn to impress the world on and off the football pitch. As regards the latter, there can be little doubt that the tournament was successful, with the South Africans showing that they could put on a tournament like this with infrastructure and organisation of the highest standards. In addition to which, the new stadia built for the tournament should stand as an abiding legacy of the tournament. And yet, it had started so well for Africa. Only the most churlish did not want South Africa to get something from their opening game. So it was that when Tshabalalah launched a rocket of a shot in the opening game to put the hosts ahead, it is safe to say, the whole of Africa erupted in celebration!

Their Mexican opponents, who obviously hadn’t read the script, managed to get an equaliser and dampen the party mood. Nevertheless, the party was up and running! From then on it was mostly tales of woe for the African continent. At times, it was difficult to know which of Nigeria, Algeria, Cameroon and Ivory Coast was the worst – Ghana were exempted as they managed to emerge from the group phase. Perhaps the dubious ‘honour’ should be contested by Nigeria and Cameroon (‘oh, how are the mighty fallen?’). 

The one-Indomitable Lions exited the competition without troubling the points scorers. They scored and conceded 3 goals and got no points for their ‘efforts’. Nigeria managed a solitary point from their three matches. It could have been more had not one of their players, Kaita been responsible for the most idiotic sending-off of the whole tournament (perhaps he thought there was an award for this and wanted to make sure he won something!); he managed to get sent off for kicking out at an opponent over a tussle about who had the right to a throw-in! His side, who were leading at the time, went on to lose the match. In this sort of over-reaction all too typical of African heads of state, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan ‘suspended’ the team from all international competitions. He quickly had to back down on this.

The ‘Why?’ the teams failed so abjectly needs addressing. The reasons are many and varied, but if one wanted to narrow it down, it was either that the teams all found themselves in tough groups or they were just not good enough; or a combination of both of those factors. You could also add into the pot the fact that many of the players, who nowadays ply their trade in Europe, never gave you the impression that they were ready to ‘die for the cause’. Nigeria’s John Mikel Obi declared himself unfit, saying he didn’t want to play and then ended up damaging his long term career. I’m not sure a player with one of the major footballing nations would have taken that decision upon themselves when the team doctors had not declared you unfit. Let’s expand on the point of ‘not trying hard enough’; Samuel Eto’o was quoted in the French media as threatening to withdraw from this year’s competition after some stinging criticism from Cameroon legend Roger Milla, who claimed that Eto’o seemed to save his best football for his club sides, whilst failing to spark for the Indomitable Lions. Eto’o’s retort was that it was easy for Milla to talk having been in a side that contained some of the best footballers to ever come out of Cameroon; players such as the bothers Nkono, Kunde, Omam and Kana Biyik, Stephen Tataw, Cyrille Makanaky and Mfede, to name a few! You could say that there you have it, in a nutshell.

Even though it is always tough to compare teams across generations, for anyone who saw that generation of footballers, the question would come, how many of the current crop would have made it into that team? Based on his international scoring record, it is arguable that perhaps not even Eto’o would have forced his way into that team! An unconvincing series of friendly matches leading up to the competition have not sparked much excitement from their supporters. In their defence, the same was said of that 1990 squad, who lost to some amateur European sides before going on to shock the world by defeating holders Argentina in their first game before going out to England in a tight contest at the quarter-final stage.   In the case of Algeria, the country that gave us Lakdhar Belloumi and Raber Madjer, the present team cannot muster a single player said to be of genuine ‘international class’. Consider this: for my money, Belloumi was one of the most skilful players to emerge from the African continent – he’s in my all-time Top 10. This is the man who led Algeria to a 2-2 draw and then a 4-0 destruction of Sierra Leone’s national team only to get a standing ovation from the Sierra Leone fans as he was substituted. Today’s squad must feel very uncomfortable trying to fill such big  boots. The current Algeria team seem to save all their best performances for their battles against their North African neighbours. One could go on and on; the current Nigerian team lacks a truly creative midfielder in the mould of Okocha. As was also the case with other African countries in previous years, the fashion was not to go to the World Cup with an African coach. Whether this is because many of our players are now foreign-based and no longer think they can’t respect home-based coaches or some other reason, the fact remains that of all the African teams appearing at the finals, only Algeria’s Raba Sadaane was home-based. In the case of Nigeria, they even ditched the home-based coach Amodu, who got them through an albeit very unconvincing qualifying campaign. Teams that are serious about wanting to win or do well in the competition have retained the coaches who guided them through qualifying.  

The way the African teams prepared for the finals, one would have thought the competition happened every four months instead of every four years! They seemed completely unprepared as if the tournament had been sprung on them by surprise. All we heard were a litany of poorly arranged friendly matches, last minute hiring of coaches though thankfully this time, no tales of squabbling over buses. In fact, on the performances of most of the African teams, they owe it to their fans to have paid their air fares back!   So there you had it; a mixture of bad planning, poor performances and bad decision-making (late replacement of coaches) showed that none of the teams stood the faintest chance of advancing beyond the first round. Ghana’s Black Stars managed to redeem some African pride only to go out in the quarter-finals after a penalty shoot-out. Of course, this doesn’t begin to tell half of the story. The Ghanaians had the chance to win the game in the last seconds of extra-time, only for striker Asamoah Gyan, who had been their leading scorer till then, to blast the spot-kick they’d been awarded, on to the crossbar and over.

A golden opportunity missed. Uruguay’s Luiz Suarez, who had handled the ball on the goal line to prevent a certain goal, could be seen celebrating, when his team clinched the deciding penalty in the shoot-out. Needless to say, all lovers of African football were rooting for Spain, who duly put the Uruguayans out in the semis. The tournament had promised so much when it was awarded to South Africa. In the event, what had seemed to be an African Dream instead turned out to be a nightmare as all our dreams crumbled to dust. Not so much a case of Nkosi Sikelel’ iafrika (God Bless Africa) but ‘Nkosi Sikelel’ i’Ghana’ (‘God Bless Ghana’ – if I can take such liberties with the language?). Who won the final? Who cares?!!! Ade Daramy Sports Editor

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