At this rate will an African nation win the World Cup by the end of THIS century?
Pele regularly demonstrates why he was an infinitely better footballer than pundit, but his famous line that an African team would triumph by the year 2000 is quoted more than any of his other theories.
Watching the exciting Cameroon and Nigeria in the 1990s raised hopes that defensive frailties may one day be improved upon, and a serious challenge for the trophy could be mounted.
Senegal in 2002 and Ghana in 2010 were arguably better teams than the aforementioned, so progress was being made.
But World Cup 2014, on the whole, on the pitch, has been a disappointment in that no quarter-finalists came from the continent. But it would be wrong to call it a failure, because Algeria were stunning, Nigeria’s performances were underrated and Ivory Coast did at least go further than before.
A tougher critique comes from fellow INSIDEworldfootball columnist Osasu Obayiuwana, a man who knows African football inside out, and despairs at the defending at crucial moments that cost all FIVE of their teams dear.
OFF the pitch, there was disgrace. Shambles, And you wonder how much of an effect that had on results.
Cameroon were one of the offenders. Their World Cup performances brought shame for a nation that gave us the indomitable Lions. But their behaviour was wretched. They arrived with arguments about money and bonuses. Now there are allegations of match-fixing against players, subsequently denied by the alleged whistleblower. We are all desperate for it not to be true – but the damage to their reputations is already done.
Then Ghana, also stained by match-fixing allegations. Then a $3 million bonus kitty for players had to be flown in by the Government to ‘keep them sweet’.
Finally two of their best three players were sent home, one for alleged assault of a team official, the other for verbal abuse of coach. Hours before their decisive final group game against Portugal. Which they lost. A good win would have taken them through. Photographs emerged of players kissing wads of cash. The heart sinks. That was one plane you wish hadn’t taken off.
If it wasn’t for the ghastly Suarez the scandal of Boeteng and Muntari’s apparent behaviour would have been given more attention. It is mind-blowing. This is the World Cup. The pinnacle. History will afford them one line at best when the details of the greatest ever tournament are celebrated. In the rogue’s gallery.
Nigeria too, missed a training session over a bonus dispute. Almost unforgiveable.
But let’s not despair either, and let’s remember the positives. Which are considerable.
I watched a re-run of their game against France. Firstly I though they were excellent on the day and unlucky. This after beating Bosnia in what I consider to be the highest quality of the eight groups. The tackling of Pogba and Matuidi in the French midfield that day crossed a line. Neither should have stayed on the pitch.
Stephen Keshi had created history becoming the first African coach to lead a team to knockout stage. We should celebrate that, as some bemoan him stepping down after many months of turbulence with his country’s FA.
We should also remember the terrorist attacks on Nigerian people watching World Cup games. The pain of failing to reach quarter-finals is put in perspective by the suffering of those who lost family in Nigeria.
To Algeria. Wow.
There had been whispers about their quality and form coming into the tournament. From what I’d seen of them I’ve been able to say ‘on air’ for Al Jazeera that their ranking of 22, Africa’s highest, is justified, that the Bosnian coach Halilhodzic is wily, and that the European club football the squad members have been playing has helped them improve. But…
I have only once in 36 years of watching football seen Germany outplayed like that. I am usually prepared to give credit to German resilience and finding a way to win. In this instance that told half the story. They were lucky to get away with it. It was another Croatia ’98 if Algeria, excellent in most areas, had a goal scorer like Suker.
For an indication of the pride their performance gave Algerians, please see the moment Al Jazeera carried news of the final whistle v Russia, and a historic qualification for the knockout stage. Presenter Sana Hamouche, try as she might, simply cannot control her emotions. If you’d seen or heard the effect the match had on her off air, you’ll be wondering how she even made it from the newsroom to the presenter’s seat.
Sana’s team had become the first North Africans to reach a World Cup knockout stage, and the first to score four in an a World Cup game – against Korea.
So depressing are some of the dramas around African teams in Brazil 2014 that I want to end with a ray of light, beyond Algeria’s efforts. The future is bright for them.
Witness this extraordinary moment as Cameroon depart the scene. They could, should have their lions tails between their legs. But a boy asks Samuel Eto’o for a hug. if you haven’t seen it, it will break your heart.
To his team mates we say this: corruption? At a World Cup. Please please let it not be true in any way, shape or form.
Lee Wellings is the Sports Correspondent for Al Jazeera English based in London. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Lee on twitter @LeeW_Sport