The World Cup, which is the greatest soccer showpiece on earth, is gradually headed to the conclusive stage as four countries; France, Belgium, Croatia and England have emerged semi-finalists in this year’s edition of that epic competition. From the pulsating group stages down through the quarter-final stage of the competition, the world has witnessed tremendous football display; quite a handful of surprises and of course a gradual tail spinning into an epic final early next week. Great teams from legendary soccer playing nations like Germany, Argentina, Spain, Brazil and Portugal have been sent crashing out of this year’s fiesta and some hitherto football minnows showed great flair in this competition. Countries like Mexico, South Korea, Japan and even Iran showed a tremendous football promise that warns of their future threats to football powerhouses.
But the performance of African teams in the competition leaves much to be desired and poses very ominous questions about the future of African football. Africa was represented by five teams in the competition; Nigeria, Egypt, Senegal, Morocco and Tunisia and unfortunately, none of these five teams made it beyond the group stage of the competition! Very damning, you might say, but this is understating the fact that African teams were dismal in the ongoing World Cup. That none of them could lift itself above the group stage is a worrying indictment of African football and this punctures the demand for more African slots in the World Cup, as the world football governing body prepares to enlarge the size of the competition.
In this World Cup, Senegal turned out to be the most successful African team as it showed initial promises to secure a win and a draw in its first two matches before a last-minute loss of nerves made it to toss away perhaps Africa’s brightest hopes of securing a second-round berth in the competition. Nigeria waffled through its legendary preparatory hitches to show a resurgence after it won its second match, after losing the first but recovered its bounce in the third match only to lose it few minutes to a second round qualification. Tunisia, Egypt and Morocco were huge flops that never raised their games to the expected levels as they earned early exits from their respective groups. So from the five African contestants in the Mundial, none was able to walk out from their groups, which is perhaps the worst ever performance by Africa in the World Cup.
Much hopes were placed on the five African teams to excel from the African world record of quarterfinal appearance which, thus far, is held by three countries; Cameroun, Senegal and Ghana. Many soccer pundits predicted that an African team would make the semifinal of this year’s competition given the spurts of promises African players have been showing in all parts of the world. Many bet that at least one of the five African teams would best the standing African record and possibly make it to the semifinal stage and many were ready to wager on this before the competition kicked off. Sure, African soccer stars were shinning and doing well in international team football which ignited the optimism that Africa will show a very strong presence in the present World Cup.
But these high hopes were dashed by the mediocre showing African teams displayed in the competition proper. To say the least, African teams were flat-footed in the World Cup! Let’s face the fact, there were spurts of brilliance in some outings of African teams but these were eclipsed by the lack of team mission and vision which afflicted the five African nations in this year’s competition. There was a general purposelessness that showed in the matches of these African teams. It was obvious, watching African teams in this competition, that there was a general lack of clue as to how best to deliver as individual teams and take the game higher than the notches their rivals were operating on. The competition exposed one general affliction that is the bane of African football and this is the discernable idea on how to rise to whatever occasion they find themselves and deliver the critical results against their opponents. The non-availability of a sense of direction is why African teams scratched results from incredible sources that defy even their understanding. Most times, African teams just badger their ways into victory and this obliterates a reality in football that victory is a result of deliberate, practiced and well-honed efforts and not just occasional happenstance, as African teams are wont to believe.
There is no doubt that football is an art, which must be learned, imbibed and improved upon. This is not to say that victory in football is guaranteed under this outline but that teams work their ways to victory; not through forcing their ways through but being able to read each match and decide what best way to adopt to get victory. This is what separates the most successful football nations like Brazil, Italy, Germany from the other teams and it is not surprising that these three nations have won 13 out of the 20 World Cup competitions ever staged. This report is not postulating that because African teams didn’t win the World Cup, they should be written off. What it rather seeks to advance is that African football must develop to the stage where African teams can work out victories which are not through occasional spurts of brilliance or through the physical exertion of raw strength but through renewable football arts that would be trusted to produce results as is the case in Europe and South America.
The dismal outing by African countries in the present World Cup necessitates the need for African soccer managers to go back to the drawing board to review African football and make critical adjustments to bring it at par with other nations and also give African football the necessary competitive edge to excel. Such review demands a comprehensive attention to football competitions in Africa at both club and national levels. Managers of soccer in Africa need to embark on an important retreat to look for ways to raise our football and prevent such huge embarrassments as we had in the present World Cup. Given the rising importance of football in world affairs, there is urgent need for football in Africa to become really professional and in doing this, there should be deliberate efforts to tap into the advances made in Europe and America to give our football the cutting edge to live up to global expectations. African soccer managers therefore, have an onerous task to declare a soccer emergency which would revolve around how to harness the huge potential abounding all over Africa to build formidable club and national teams that would stand the test of time among European and South American teams.
The next World Cup is four years from now and this is enough time for African soccer managers to sit down and draw the templates of soccer management that would improve on the present poor level of African football and bring all necessary features to make it to pursue parity with football in advanced football nations in Europe and South America. Whatever needs to be done must be done to prevent a repeat of such abysmal outing as Africa had in the present World Cup and also help Africans secure the confidence of the soccer world to give the continent more slots in the expansion plan of the World Cup. The time to act is now!
Peter Claver Oparah.