The black stars of Ghana and Algeria on Tuesday November 19, 2013 picked up the two remaining African tickets for the World Cup following the last round of qualifying matches.
Ghana lost on the night (1-2) to a strongly motivated but weak willed Egyptian pharaohs who scored twice before Ghana’s Prince Boateng scored a late goal. However, the Ghanaians assured their qualification more than two weeks ago in Kumasi when they walloped the Pharaohs of Egypt 6-1. Very few teams on earth can come back from such a score margin but the Egyptians were not giving up easily.
Algeria defeated Burkina Faso 1-0, thereby saving the face of North African teams who usually have some of the best footballing teams in Africa.
The “Arab Spring” revolutions across Northern Africa affected more than the politics of the mostly Arabic countries. Algeria and Ghana now join Cameroon, Nigeria and Ivory Coast that had qualified by last Sunday November 18, 2013. Even without knowing who their various opponents will be, if history is anything to go by, most of the big five teams from Africa will struggle to make any worthy impression during the World Cup finals.
Ghana on paper has the best chance of performing well in Brazil. Here are some of the reasons most of Africa’s representatives might just fail to impress anyone next year.
Last Sunday’s qualification by Cameroon after an impressive 4-1 victory against the Tunisian national team in Yaounde means Cameroon become the first African nation to qualify for a record seventh round of the world cup. However, apart from their impressive first round exit from the World Cup in 1982 (where they nearly knocked out eventual champions Italy), Cameroon’s best world cup performance is now 23 years old. In 1990, Cameroon became only the first African team to get to the quarter finals of the world cup.
Playing with the fire power of a certain 38 year old Milla Roger (recalled from retirement) with support from the Biyick brothers (Omam and Kana) Cameroon began its 1990 World Cup campaign by defeating cup holders Argentina with the redoubtable Maradona in the team. Cameroon was only stopped from qualifying for the semi-finals because of two controversial penalties awarded to the English national team by an apparently biased Hungarian referee.
Since 1990, Cameroon football has been marked by corruption, mismanagement and one of the highest turnovers of national coaches on the African continent. Football in the country is now managed by a FIFA created “normalisation committee” after Iya Mohammed, who has been the national football governing body’s (FECAFOOT) President for the past 15 years managed to win elections from the discomfort of a prison cell at the Kondengui maximum security prison.
Samuel Eto’o Fils, captain of the Lions is a world class player but is also a very divisive leader and will probably still be captain in Brazil. At 32, this will probably be his fourth and last participation in a World Cup campaign with the Lions. The only surprise the Lions can pull on their legions of noisy and vocal supporters will be to qualify for round two of next year’s world cup. That will be good enough for millions of supporters who have hoped the team match and even outperform their 1990 extravaganza in Italy.
Ghanaian football is recording an unexpected resurgence and they are now one of the best teams on the African continent. They are the team most likely to progress into the second and third rounds of the World Cup and they could even match their Quarter final performance during the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
They recorded an impressive 6-1 victory against the Pharoahs of Egypt showing they have the necessary firepower to perform well in Brazil next year. And they don’t have the hangovers of two of Africa’s best known “has been” boys; Cameroon and Nigeria. Team cohesion is evident, discipline is paramount and best of all, they have a local team coach which is proof again that African football federations don’t have to hire expensive foreign coaches to get good results from their players.
Ghana is a forward-thinking country and it’s football federation does not suffer from the ever present disorganised, dysfunctional and corrupt practices that have badly affected Cameroon and Nigeria for more than a decade now.
Until they won the African Nation’s cup last year with local coach and former national team player Stephen Keshi, Nigeria was one of the most disappointing and underperforming African national teams. Still, Black Africa’s most populous nation, Nigeria has some of the best players from the continent from Michel Obi to Joseph Yobo with Vincent Enyeama a worthy goalkeeper.
However, corruption, mismanagement and indiscipline among some of the players have badly affected the game in Nigeria. Since his appointment, Stephen Keshi has brought some order and discipline into the team and a former player himself, he knows exactly how to handle the highly paid and unruly players most of whom play for renowned European teams.
Despite his best efforts for the team, football authorities almost sidelined Keshi to hire a foreign coach after he led the team to its first Nation’s cup victory after a trophy drought of more than 10 years.
Only planned protests and a behind-the-scenes intervention of some top level government officials saved Keshi from being axed. Getting another World Cup qualification is evidence Stephen Keshi can hold his head against any foreign coach. Many other African football federations unfortunately still have to give their own nationals a chance to prove they can manage their teams – sometimes better than any foreign coach. A second round qualification will be good enough for most supporters of the Super Eagles.
Algeria is the only North African team that qualified for next year’s Brazil world cup. They defeated new kids on the block Burkina Faso to pick up their World Cup participation ticket. Like Egypt, Libya and to a lesser degree Morocco, the violent demonstrations that characterised events in northern Africa now code-named the “Arab Spring” badly affected life in northern Africa and this has also demonstrably affected its football. Ghana initially refused to play in Egypt and eventually accepted only after the Egyptian government guaranteed their safety and protection before, during and after the match. In the end, there were no security lapses but the Ghanaians needed to cover their backs in case anything went wrong. Algeria does not have the fire power and renowned players as is the case with Ghana and Nigeria and will most likely be eliminated during the first round.
Ivory Coast have largely failed to impress in the last six years even though they have two of the best known attackers in Africa viz Didier Drogba and Yaya Toure. However, though rated among the teams expected to do well during African nations cup finals, the team has somehow always managed to fail at the last hurdle. Though they have played at the finals sometimes, they have not won any trophy of late.
Ivory Coast are a good example to demonstrate the difficulties of placing the whole strategy of a team around one or two players. What happens then is that when those star players are injured or play below par, the whole team suffers. Didier Drogba is now an ageing star and next year’s World Cup will most likely be his last appearance during a major football tournament. If and when he does retire from football, he will be remembered as one of the players who promised so much for his country but delivered so little.
Ivory Coast is also not widely expected to go beyond the first round of next year’s World Cup.