World Cup: Too early to judge African teams?


FOOTBALL’S biggest showpiece, the FIFA World Cup is underway in Russia. Thirty-two nations have gathered in the former Soviet State to battle it out for the ultimate price.
Social media is awash with updates by football enthusiasts who are savouring some of the best international football display being brewed in the Russian pot.
With most, if not all, major world leagues in hibernation, there is no doubt that the 21st edition of the world’s biggest sporting event is offering an escape route for some of us with unquenchable thirst for the ‘beautiful game’.
At the time I was penning this article, it had only been five days into the one month-long tournament but followers had already been treated to some of the best that the game has to offer.
On day one, hosts Russia opened the floodgates with a 5 – 0 hauling of oil giants Saudi Arabia, while rivals Portugal and Spain have already served us a six-goal thriller in their 3 – all stalemate.
What more can lovers of the game ask for than a fairytale story of Mexico condemning defending champions Germany to a 1 – 0 defeat via a Hirving Lozano stunner.
Favourites Argentina and five-time champions Brazil have all failed to record victories in their opening matches leaving bookmakers and betting fans in awe.
Argentine star Lionel Messi missed a penalty as his side played out to a 1 – all draw against underdogs Iceland while Neymar da Silva and company still don’t know what hit them in their stalemate against Switzerland.
With our beloved Chipolopolo nowhere near Russia, most Zambians have a soft spot for five African representatives, Nigeria, Morocco, Senegal and Egypt and Tunisia.
It has, however, been the same story for Africa teams; so close and yet so far away.
By the time I was putting my thoughts on paper, four of the five teams that are carrying the continent’s hopes had already lost their opening games while one was headed for battle against Poland.
Morocco, Nigeria, Tunisia and Egypt all lost their opening games much to the displeasure of African followers.
Going into to the tournament, Nigeria, Morocco and Egypt were without a doubt the teams that many tipped to fly the African flags high but following their dismal performances in the first game they have left us with doubts.
It may appear to be too unfair to judge African teams after one game, but we have been here before. Africa has always staggered at the global stage and 2018 doesn’t seem any different.
The furthest an African country has gone in the World Cup is the quarter finals, – Cameroon in 1990, Senegal in 2002 and most recently Ghana during the 2010 edition in South Africa.
Decades ago, Brazil legend Pele predicted that that by the year 2000, an African Nation will win the World Cup – it is now 18 years since the turn of the Millennium and we are still counting.
With the way things are moving, that prediction is far from coming to pass.
It still puzzles many that Africa, a land littered with so much talent from Cape to Cairo and many places in between continues to fumble at the biggest stage of world football.
Sports writer Phil Cramer notes that, “It’s not for a lack of talent, because the globalisation of soccer has attracted the world’s best players to ply their trade in the world’s best leagues.
“Many of the African teams are selected entirely from European clubs. Player development has improved, particularly in Cameroon and the Ivory Coast, where soccer academies produce a constant flow of players to European leagues.”
Africa’s underperformance at the World Cup boils to many factors ranging from maladministration to ill tactical discipline by some of our players.
With a slow start to the 2018 campaign for African teams in Russia, it appears that the perennial struggles of our teams at the global stage will continue.
For now African fans will continue to cling to hope like a spider to its web.
The author is a Zambia Daily Mail sports reporter and photographer.

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