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FIFA World Cup: Africa’s angst and Pele’s unfulfilled prediction | Football News

FIFA World Cup: Africa’s angst and Pele’s unfulfilled prediction | Football News


Sometimes, some stories are meant to be incomplete, but they are riveting, dramatic and symbolic. Let’s turn back the clock to the Soccer City in Johannesburg 12 Julys ago and reconstruct Asamoah Gyan’s story.
With the quarterfinal match tied 1-1 and just a few seconds of the extra-time remaining, Uruguay striker Luis Suarez triggered off one of the most controversial deus ex machina plots in World Cup history with his own ‘hand of god’ moment — stopping Ghana forward Dominic Adiyiah’s goal-bound header and the potential match-winner with his hands.
As Suarez’s expulsion led to the penalty, the arc light fell on Gyan standing only yards away from that momentous touch of triumph and salvation. No African country had ever made it to the World Cup semifinals, and he approached his moment of truth with the weight of the whole continent’s expectations on his shoulders. He missed it and Ghana’s dream ended in tears in the ensuing penalty shootout.

Egypt was the first African country to make the World Cup finals way back in 1934, but it was through Roger Milla’s legendary hip shake and Cameroon’s amazing run to the quarterfinals — including a famous victory over Diego Maradona’s Argentina — that Africa announced its arrival on the game’s biggest stage in 1990.
Senegal too created similar ripples in 2002, starting their campaign with a win over defending champions France, but their campaign again ended in quarterfinals — just like Ghana eight years later.
The last edition in Russia was even worse as none of the five African teams managed to reach the knockout stage for the first time since 1982. Thus, Pele’s prediction that an African nation would lift the World Cup before 2000, remains unfulfilled. Another incomplete story, perhaps.
Cameroon, Ghana, Senegal, Tunisia and Morocco will now carry the African football’s flags in Qatar. But they will continue to live under the shadow of past demons. This leads one to the obvious question: Why have teams from Africa flattered to deceive on the big stage?
The reasons are many and have been there for a long time.

THE HURDLES
Disputes and discords
African football has often grabbed headlines for corruptions, scandals and malfeasance by officials. The suspension of Confederation of African Football president and FIFA vice-president Ahmad on charges of misappropriations of funds could be a case in point.
Disputes over pay have also been at play with footballers having repeatedly come into conflict with their own football authorities. In 2014, Cameroon players reportedly refused to board their flight to Brazil over unpaid bonuses while Ghana government was forced to send a chartered plane with $3 million in cash to pacify agitated players ahead of their group match against Portugal.
Had Ghana won that match, they could have qualified for the knockout stage. Instead, they bowed out with a 1-2 defeat to Cristiano Ronaldo & Co.
In the 2006 World Cup in Germany, debutants Togo created a similar flutter when they threatened to boycott the match against Switzerland over a pay dispute until FIFA intervened and threatened them of serious consequences.
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Underdeveloped domestic structure
As bad results are linked to bad governance, this brings under the scanner the domestic structure or lack of it in most countries.
From Didier Drogba, Samuel Eto’o and Yaya Toure in the past to the likes of Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah now, African players have played for the world’s leading clubs and ruled the roost in European football. But due to political influence and corruption, many of the continent’s domestic leagues still struggle to find investment and proper nourishment, forcing the talented ones to seek greener pastures in Europe and leaving others stranded and stagnant in an ‘underdeveloped’ system, staring at an uncertain future.
Is ‘age’ more than a number?
When it comes to international agegroup tournaments, Africa is a dominant force. Nigeria is the most successful team in the under-17 World Cup history, with five titles while Ghana is the 2009 winner and two-time runners-up in the under-20 World Cup.
Nigeria (1996) and Cameroon (2000) have already laid their hands on football gold at the Olympics, where teams are required to field a majority of under-23 players. So, why are such success stories not replicated at the senior level?
Of many theories associated with it, one points towards age-cheating, giving these teams an unfair advantage. Besides, mismanagement and myopic vision of the federation officials often come in the way of building on the promise and potency of their youth teams.
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Unequal representation
Africa has 54 FIFA-affiliated nations, but only five World Cup spots to play for. In comparison, Europe, with 55 members, gets 13. Because of this anomaly in numbers, we could never see George Weah — the only African player to win World, European and African Footballer of the Year awards and currently the President of Liberia
— lead his country to a World Cup.
While the inclusion of more teams will certainly lead to more opportunities for African teams, this goal can be achieved only through success.
Remember, Cameroon’s dance to the last eight also paved the way for an additional African team in the World Cup four years later.


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