Southern African World Cup jinx continues

By Andrew Bonani Kamanga

Watching the FIFA World Cup qualification match between Nigeria and Zambia on 7 October 2017, gave me that sinking feeling and confirmed my previous assertions in this column that Southern African football is inferior to that of North and West Africa.   

Although the scoreline was a respectable 1-0 in favour of hosts, Nigeria, who qualified for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, the match could have gone either way. Zambia failed to take their chances and the players seemed to have stage fright and could not come out of their shells to play their free flowing football.

A cursory look at the players of both teams would reveal that Nigeria has a good number of players plying their trade in the big lucrative leagues of Europe and China. Zambia’s players are mostly from their domestic league and some playing in South Africa. Although that was not very obvious because of the great fighting spirit of Chipolopolo.

My very good Nigerian friend, Idy Uyoe, a brilliant sports marketing and media executive is obviously over the moon. Idy Uyoe is happy that, obviously, the dear gun powder of Chipolopolo was wet yesterday. They were not firing. However, when one looks closely at Zambia’s demise in Nigeria, it is not a one-off incident, it is a trend that has been developing over the past three decades.

Most Southern African teams fail to get over that final hurdle when they are faced with North or West African opposition in their penultimate or deciding matches. It is really sad that Zambia has never been to the FIFA World Cup. Zambia should really be given the ignominious title of the “Best African Team That Has Never Gone to the World Cup”.

Sometimes I feel that if Kalusha Bwalya, with his mercurial talent and his brilliant team mates could not get the great Zambians to qualify for the FIFA World Cup, we are asking too much from the current crop of players.

As they old adage goes, “For one to be declared a big fish, you have got to swim with the sharks”. This saying also applies to the world of sport and in this case, football. For you to be deemed great, you need to play with the best, not just on the African continent but at world level.

There is no doubt that the lucrative football leagues are the ultimate measure of success for any aspiring footballer. Whilst other parts of Africa remain fairly represented in the big leagues, Southern Africa has fallen way behind with only a handful of players competing with the best in the world. With regard to the English Premier League, the best marketed in Europe, Southern Africa has no representatives. The last meaningful representative was Steven Pienaar, who played for Tottenham, Everton and Sunderland. He is now back in South Africa, playing for Bidvest Wits FC in more or less semi-retirement mode

It is now a fact that Southern Africa does not have world class players at the moment. The development structures in the several of the country of the region are not simply producing respectable talent that can get coaches, agents and scouts from Europe excited.

Gone are the days when Southern Africa was represented in top leagues in Europe by the likes of Bruce Grobelaar, Kalusha Bwalya, Lucas Radebe, Benny McCarthy, Adam Ndlovu, Peter Ndlovu, and Benjani Mwaruwari. These were outstanding performers who could fit into any team in world football.

The decline of Southern African football is also illustrated by the fact that no team from the region qualified for the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil. The qualifying   rounds for the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia are almost done. The only Southern African team still in contention due to mathematical possibility are South Africa.

Sadly, Bafana Bafana have struggled terribly, losing both matches recently, away and at home against a determined Cape Verde side. It is a fact that Southern African teams are ill-equipped to compete with the best in Africa, let alone in the world.  The reasons for this malaise are quite obvious to any football lover.

The football leaders do not provide dynamic and visible leadership for the acquisition of skills at a tender age through well-structured grassroots programmes. Furthermore, the adoption of modern scientific means of talent identification and development is alien to most of the various football administrations.

For the afore-mentioned reasons, Southern African teams will continue to struggle to qualify for the Africa Cup of Nations finals and more importantly, the FIFA World Cup. It is up to the football leaders to be visionary and work to change the trajectory of football development in the region.

As the legendary US Basketball player, Kobe Bryant rightly, stated, “If somebody is not obsessed with what they do, we do not speak the same language”

October 2017
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