Africa’s SWC chances are good, but not good enough

2018-06-24 06:45
S'Busiso Mseleku

Cape Town - It was some time in the 1980s that Brazilian legend Edson Arantes do Nascimento - popularly known as Pelé - offered us some wisdom and predicted that an African country would win the Soccer World Cup before the turn of the century.

While some took his prediction seriously because of his stature - Pelé is regarded as the best football proponent in history - others took it with dollops of salt and sarcastically said he had "smoked his socks", if not something stronger.

Since then, a number of the former king of football's predictions have been way off the mark.

18 years into this century, an African country is still no closer to winning the highest football accolade.

In fact, none has reached the last four, let alone the final. Sadly, given how the five representatives from the motherland have performed in Russia so far, there is no sign that this will change.

WRAP: SWC 2018 - Group phase

In fact, the current shindig has painted a scary picture - Africa might be regressing in the game of the pigskin, or nations from other continents have opened the gap even wider.

Save for Senegal, who won their first game in style, and Nigeria, who wiped off the cobwebs and woke up from a Rip Van Winkle-like slumber to rip Iceland apart with a 2-0 pasting on Friday, Tunisia, Morocco and Egypt were disappointing in their opening fixtures.

READ: Nigeria beat Iceland to keep SWC last 16 hopes alive

The African game seems to be lagging far behind tactically and technically.

In a nutshell, our 'good' just does not seem to be good enough.

One of the main problems, among a plethora of others, is that most of the players from the continent are individualistic. While Africa has talent, in most cases, her national teams fail to play as a collective.

There are still too many schoolboy mistakes being committed on the field. And for that, other countries, especially European ones, will punish her dearly.

African players also lack the killer instinct. Some of them still dilly-dally too much when presented with a scoring opportunity. A result of this is a serious lack of the art of killing off the game.

For many years, and it's still a trend, African countries have gone against the trend and continue to employ foreign coaches. This sells them short because one of the most outstanding statistics about the World Cup is that not a single country has managed to win it while being coached by a foreigner.

All the countries that have claimed the beautiful game's Holy Grail have done so while being guided by a compatriot.

So, as long as Africa fails to craft her coaches into world-class mentors who can stand their ground against any team in the world, the continent will continue to fall short in international tournaments.

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African football has in the past produced some great players, including Liberian President George Weah, Abedi Pele, Samuel Kuffour, Kalusha Bwalya, Peter Ndlovu, and South Africa's very own Lucas Radebe.

These great ambassadors of the game made huge strides in their day and played in different European leagues.

Weah even received the highest honour when he was named the world footballer of the year in 1995.

However, they have all - maybe save for Bwalya, who became the president of the Football Association of Zambia and made it to the CAF executive, and Jay-Jay Okocha, who is involved in Nigeria's football politics - had little to no involvement in the development of the game after retirement.

It's partly because of this that we see fewer players of their calibre being produced on the continent instead of a conveyor belt that churns out great players generation after generation.

It is all well and good for Africa to ask for a bigger representation at the World Cup, however, I think there is a bigger job facing football leaders on the continent - they must ensure that Africa produces great players who can stand their own against the best in the world.

Until then, Africa will continue to go to the showpiece just to add numbers, and that is just sad.

- smseleku@citypress.co.za

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