AFRICA’S WORLD CUP STAND-STILL

It’s still annoying…even 2 days later: 2 yellow cards…Just 2 EXTRA yellow cards made the difference between Senegal making the World Cup 2nd round and going home. The latter was achieved with Senegal taking the next flight to Dakar instead of progressing in the tournament. As it stands, NO African team is in the tournament anymore…and we had 5 candidates who carried our hopes and dreams. You would think that 2 of them would at least make the next round.

Here’s the picture: Egypt left this tournament with zero points and 3 defeats, and Morocco left with just a point and 3 goals (4 goals…if you add the one they donated to Iran). Only Nigeria and Senegal can boast of a significant win (emphasis on SIGNIFICANT because Tunisia winning Panama doesn’t count) but even with that, both will feel that they could have done better. Both teams blew their chances at the very tail-end of the final games; which is very disappointing and justifies the damning impression that African teams are simply not good enough to challenge the world’s elite in football.

African football has come a long way since Cameroon’s amazing run to the quarter-finals of the 1990 FIFA World Cup in Italy. The good work done by Roger Miller and co. encouraged FIFA to give more slots for Africa countries to participate in the biggest football showpiece. We cannot be thankful enough for that. The decision seemed to be justified (a bit): Nigeria’s showing at the 1994 edition and Senegal’s performance in 2002 showed that the gulf in class between Africa and the rest of the world was closing. African players became attractive and some have gone on to become legends of some of the top sides in Europe (Eto’o at Barcelona, Drogba at Chelsea, Kanoute at Sevilla, Kanu at Arsenal etc.). So it baffles me that in 2018, we still haven’t pushed up a gear. Rather, we’re still in the same position we found ourselves BEFORE 1990. Something is definitely wrong.

First off, I can’t believe we’re still hiring foreign coaches to coach our national teams. IT’S NOT WORKING. In 2018, only Senegal and Tunisia had coaches who are home-bred. It should be noted that Alou Cisse was the captain of the Senegalese national team when they stunned the world at the 2002 World Cup. Today, he leads the team as its coach. Do we not have any home-grown coaches who can lead Nigeria, Egypt, or Morocco? Seriously? In 2018? Rohr is a great coach who has done well for Nigeria but I don’t think he offered anything different from what Amokachi or Oliseh could have offered. What are the African football federations doing about this? What is CAF doing about this? Are there no real strategies for developing coaches in Africa? Or are we just focused on churning players for Europe to keep?

The focus on development is seriously lacking in this part of the world. Hardly do you see African youth sides (that were successful in global youth tournaments) make the step up to the senior sides. Look at countries like Germany, Mexico, Brazil, Spain and even Switzerland. The teams have been together since the Under-17 days and now they get to challenge for the top prizes, because the development was done right. If African countries don’t think like this, we will always be the whipping boys of the World Cup.

It wasn’t about the tactics for me. It was about the sheer lack of commitment for the whole cause. Imagine Morocco and Tunisia giving their best performances…in their LAST group games (which were dead-rubber games anyway). If they showed that same commitment in their earlier games, they would have had a chance. Hell, they would probably be preparing for Uruguay or Colombia by now. On the other hand, Nigeria and Senegal knew the stakes when they walked into their final games. Yet, they took too many things for granted…and they only needed DRAWS to progress. They couldn’t manage that. Giving up so easily is not what Africans are known for; yet that’s what those boys did against Argentina and Colombia respectively. This mental barrier has to be dealt with.

I thought a lot about what the issues were, with these teams, and I think it’s more mental than physical. Everyone else wanted the points more than the African teams. I was more proud of Iran and Australia than I was of any of the African teams. The grit those guys showed was immense and only fine margins kept them from progressing. We are way better than some the teams that qualified for the next round, let alone Australia and Iran. Our players are heroes at their clubs (Salah and Mane are even mini-gods in Liverpool). 2018 should have been the year for these teams to make a real splash. They blew it…and that’s unacceptable. I don’t believe in the words “But we tried”. We didn’t.

Later.

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