2014 World Cup- Disaster for Africa

 

The 2014 FIFA World Cup has just gone past the Round of 16, which was characterised by disastrous performances by the much-fancied African representatives. Most soccer lovers on the continent had expected Cameroon, Ghana, and Ivory Coast to perform much better than they did. The early elimination of the three African football powerhouses is terrible news for the development of the game on the continent.

Apologists might want to justify this occurrence by pointing out that even England, Italy and Spain went home early. However, that argument does not hold water because the three European countries have won the World Cup before. Their elimination suggests stagnation in their football development despite the colossal resources at their disposal compared to the African nations.

There is no doubt that Africa has got talent in abundance, which needs to be developed and exposed at the international stage. In the recent past, Africa had started to dominate the Olympic football tournaments, World Under-20 and Under-17 championships. However, that grip on the age – group tournaments, which saw Ghana, Nigeria, Cameroon and other African countries excelling has now been seriously loosened and eroded. 

It is now time to go back to the proverbial “drawing board” in order to ascertain where the continent has lost its way in terms of football development. For some of us who had predicted the possibility of this type of humiliation at the FIFA World Cup, Africa’s performance is hardly surprising. 

One cannot feel but be envious of “small” teams such as Costa Rica, who have grabbed the tournament by the scruff of the neck and imposed their will on the so-called “big guns” of world football. As much as the 2014 World Cup provides an opportunity, especially for the critics of the Confederation of African Football (CAF) to gloat, beating their chests and saying, “We told you so,” this is not the time for recriminations, witch-hunting and finger pointing. 

There is need to for CAF and its member federations to adopt the Japanese industrial concept of “Kaizen” – the constant pursuit of excellence and renewal.

The CAF President, had before the tournament, rightfully urged African representatives in Brazil to get at least to the semi-finals stages. This is indeed a tall order, which has not been backed by serious technical and material support by the football authorities on the continent. 

However, Africa can console herself that African Nations Championship (CHAN) is now playing a significant role in unravelling and developing talent on the continent. 

This is very important particularly when one looks at the individual performances of the so-called “big stars” from Africa. Their standard of play has been pathetic, to say the least. They simply did not come to the party. Yahya Toure of Ivory Coast, despite being the reigning African Footballer of the Year, was but a very pale shadow of himself. He was different player in Brazil from the energetic mid-fielder who is feared in England as well as generally in Europe. Of course, credit must go to the Toure brothers, Kolo and Yahya, for putting their country first and family second by continuing to play after the news of the death of their brother, Ibrahim. This is patriotism of the highest order and the brothers should be saluted for this wonderful gesture of solidarity with their teammates. Their other teammate, Serey Die also lost his father during the tournament but continued to represent the Ivory Coast, which is highly commendable as it shows great mental strength.

However, the behaviour of Alexander Song can only be surpassed by that of Uruguayan, Luis Suarez. There is only one way to describe it – absolutely disgraceful! Alexander Song would never dare do the same thing in a Barcelona jersey. Why then would he want to embarrass Cameroon, “the Indomitable Lions” like that? It is simply unacceptable. The Cameroon football authorities must make sure that he never plays for the national team again. If I was the Cameroon coach, it is better to give the national team to jersey to a young schoolboy who is obedient and hungry for success than some guy who has a terribly inflated ego and sense of self-worth such as Song.

In addition, the tactical naivety and selfishness of Jordan Ayew was also mind-blowing, not just for his captain Asamoah Gyan but very frustrating for his coach and African football followers as well. In the game against Germany, Ghana could have buried their opponents had the Black Stars striker, Jordan Ayew, kept a cool head and passed the ball to Gyan on the two occasions that he broke away from the shackles of the opposition defence. A rush of blood to the head and quest for personal glory by the young man denied Ghana what was a clear-cut chance to progress in the tournament by beating the much-fancied Germans.

As much as the tacticians and strategists can analyse and critique the African approach to a tournament of this nature, one factor remains absolutely clear, the continent is still very far away from producing winners at this level. This is despite the fact that Africa produces mouth-watering talent which captivates the attention of football followers all over the world. Skill, flair and creativity are simply not enough. You also need discipline, determination, guts   and resilience to succeed at this level. When one watches a   seasoned professional like John Obi Mikel, literally walking like an old man and not running and tackling tirelessly at the heart of the Nigerian “Super Eagles” mid-field, one feels that some of the so-called professionals have come just to make up the numbers.

People might say the CHAN level talent is not good enough but those youngsters deserve to be exposed at this level as well.  What does Africa have to lose anyway? The 2014 World Cup has shown that over-reliance on professional players based in Europe and other lucrative leagues is not good. Home-grown talent, if thoroughly prepared, can also rise to the occasion.

Given the CAF unwillingness to invest, capacitate and promote African National Team coaches, there is absolutely no chance that this dismal state of affairs can be reversed, come the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia or the much maligned 2022 edition in Qatar. CAF must change its laissez faire approach when it come to the development of national team coaches and players by member federations for any meaningful change to be registered.

A luta continua!

July 2014
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