Africa stalled in Brazil
Harare – Africa were not the worst performing confederation at the 2014 World Cup, the wooden spoon went to Asia, but after the heights touched by Ghana in South Africa four years ago, the adventure in Brazil will represent a step backwards for the continent.
The sensational rise of the Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football (Concacaf) countries, which saw little Costa Rica reach the quarter-finals for the first time, also means that any requests for an increase, in the number of slots for African teams at the World Cup, will have to be shelved for the meantime.
Three Concacaf countries – United States, Mexico and Costa Rica – made it beyond the group stages with the plucky Costa Ricans, who topped a group that featured England, Uruguay and Italy, even going all the way to the quarter-finals where they lost on penalties.
Costa Rica bowed out of the World Cup without defeat, something which represented a grand achievement for such a small nation, Mexico staged a solid challenge and the United States showed that it was closing the gap that used to separate it from the best in the world.
While Africa had two teams, in the second round of the World Cup for the first time in the history of this competition, with Nigeria and Algeria both qualifying from their groups, the reality is that Brazil represented a failed mission, for the continent, given the highest scaled in South Africa, Japan/Korea and Italy.
Roger Milla and his Indomitable Lions of Cameroon went all the way to the quarter-finals at Italia ’90, losing a dramatic tie 2-3 against England, El-Hadji Diouf powered Senegal to the quarter-finals in Japan/Korea 2002, losing to a golden goal, while Ghana came very close to reaching the semi-finals in South Africa only for Asamoah Gyan to blow away a golden opportunity from the spot.
But the Black Stars faded badly in Brazil, the Indomitable Lions lost all three games and finished bottom of the pile while Cote d’Ivoire’s ageing side failed in a favourable group and their golden generation, led by Didier Drogba, waved goodbye without any silverware in their cabinet. Ghana can take heart from the fact that they held eventual winners Germany to a thrilling 2-2 draw in a group game but, in a tournament like the World Cup, it is not just one result that matters but what a team can do throughout the tourney. Kevin-Prince Boateng, who was kicked out of the Black Stars camp on the eve of the match against Portugal after fallout with the coach, said their journey to Brazil was “a nightmare from start to finish”.
“The flight from Miami to Brazil lasted 12 hours, and our legs ached from sitting in economy class while the Ghana FA president, his wife and children were in business class,” he said.
“The association gets so much money from sponsors and FIFA – it was certainly not used for hotels, flights, preparations and the team.” Already three of the coaches who were in charge of African teams in Brazil – Sabri Lamouchi of Cote d’Ivoire, Vahid Halilhodzic of Algeria and Stephen Keshi of Nigeria – have already quit, which means that a new coach has to be hired and begin the entire rebuilding process once again. German coach Volker Finke, who was in charge of Cameroon, says he wants to continue but he is unlikely to be given that chance while Appiah has two years left on his contract.
“I don’t think it’s purely down to quality. I think it comes down to organisational problems before the World Cup and during the World Cup,” Arsene Wenger, the manager who has signed more African players than any other top-flight boss, told the Daily Mirror of England.
“I think what hurts football fans both in Cameroon and Nigeria – two big footballing nations – was not that their countries did not reach the quarter-finals, it was the fact that both teams had no solidarity and they had problems that were exposed all over the world before the competition and that’s the main reason.
“Football is difficult enough when you are united but if you are not united at that stage then you have no chance.”