Algeria, Cameroon, Ghana, Ivory Coast and African champions Nigeria are fronting Africa’s challenge at the World Cup in Brazil. Can the quintet finally make the step up and break the continent’s semi-finals hoodoo?
Given the preeminence of African players abroad and how comfortably they in the ranks of the crème de la crème of talent in some of Europe’s top leagues it is a travesty that no African team is yet to reach the semi-finals of the World Cup.
No, there is no conspiracy against African teams as some will have us believe, just structural problems in the development of the game on the Mother Continent coupled with administrative deficiencies and an abject inability to harness talent. Very few countries on the continent have proper development structures which serve as talent conveyor belts to the national teams.
Africa does not have high profile flagship leagues comparable to Europe so suffers from a talent drain. And because Africa is one of the biggest exporters of talent to Europe and other territories African nations comprising players from England, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, Norway, Denmark, China, Qatar, Kazakhstan, etc will have a fair of struggles in their bid to gel and forge an identity and playing style.
Add to the mix the club-versus-country problem that is the bane of many an African nation. ‘Fearful’ African players view playing for their country as detrimental to their European club careers. The desire to establish themselves at their foreign clubs often trumps loyalty to their countries.
It is not uncommon for star African players to go into self-imposed international ‘retirement’. Invariably coaches are then forced to rely on home-based talent and players earning their keep in lesser foreign leagues for the qualifiers only for the big-name players to come out of retirement for the tournaments proper. This trend means there is no selection consistency and less time for players to bed in as a squad.
Africa’s poor showing at World Cup tournaments is also looking increasingly psychological and attributable to a lack of self-belief. Reaching the semi-finals has become a psychological barrier.
A few African teams came close at recent tournaments, but lacked the belief to kick on.
In 2002, after beating Sweden to become only the second African team to reach the quarterfinals, Senegal will look back at the failure to beat Turkey as a glorious opportunity missed. They had the beating of Turkey and with more self-belief could have made the semi-finals.
After the high of 2002, only Ghana progressed to the knockout stages in 2006 where they were eliminated by Brazil amid some dubious officiating. They also paid the price of inexperience.
In 2010 on African soil in South Africa, it was another wretched showing by African teams. Again, only Ghana came through the group stages, beating US in the last 16 before being denied a place in the semi-finals by a combination of Luiz Suarez’s ‘goalkeeping’ and Asamoah Gyan bottling the resultant spot-kick. Another glorious opportunity to make history was spurned.
Karma, she is a b*tch isn’t she?
Until they stop internalizing their part at the World Cup as that of happy extras in a cast with European and South American teams in starring roles African teams will always go to football’s biggest showpiece to make up the numbers. If they are to make their mark in Brazil they must shed their inferiority complex and begin to see themselves as equals.