The phrase “football is in our blood” features as one of the most prominent clichés related to the sport when describing the affinity a region, community or country has with it. However, this cliché does immense justice to the general attitude and affection displayed towards the beautiful game by one and all in Africa. For many a child across Africa, braving the pangs of hunger, extreme poverty and lack of basic resources such as education and healthcare, the ball at their feet and the dusty pitch in front of them is all that promises of a better life. Football is the remedy that momentarily quells the excruciating pain of the aforementioned challenges. It allows a child who possesses nothing more than the torn clothes on his back to pretend as if he is Messi, Drogba, Henry or any of the games’ recent greats. Football is the one ray of hope in a life of trial and tribulation.
The legacy of 2010
Around the same time four years ago, the attention of the world was very much fixated on a much smaller, less well known and inferior to say the least in footballing terms to the next host of the World Cup, Brazil. Being a proud South African myself, I can fairly say that the World Cup has instilled a new belief in the hearts of many South Africans and has facilitated the development of the game all across the country. In the financial year of 2010, the Gross Domestic Product of South Africa increased by a percent more than would have been the case had we not hosted the showpiece, no mean feat when taking into account the massive expenditure on stadiums and other infrastructure, 33bn South African Rand (£1.8bn), to be precise.
Football at grass roots level has also been a major benefactor, with one of the country’s major commercial banks, First National Bank pouring 40 million rand (£2.2 million) into the development of the game. In addition to this, the South African government in conjunction with Nike have established a footballing academy in the heart of Soweto, one of South Africa’s most disadvantaged communities, aimed at protecting the youth from the toils of drug and alcohol abuse and getting them actively involved in sport.
However, the greatest legacy of the footballing showpiece in South Africa is the immense feeling of national pride that is wide swept across the country. The World Cup transformed a country best known for the atrocities of Apartheid and racial segregation into one that can now compete with previous hosts of the tournament. The World Cup changed the perception of South Africa from a wasteland upon which lions and elephants roamed freely to a country that is on par with the worlds best. Whilst the football may not have been the best, South Africa hosted the spectacle remarkably well, with stadiums, fan parks and other infrastructure complete months in advance. The World Cup in 2010 was undoubtedly the proudest moment for South Africans, since Nelson Mandela ascended the steps of parliament and abolished the regime of racial segregation.
Following South Africa’s inability to qualify for the tournament, the nation’s hopes rested firmly on the shoulders of Algeria, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Ghana and Cameroon. In 2010, the main reason behind the general poor showing by the African teams was that they got caught up in the euphoria of it being the first World Cup on African soil, they failed to adopt a pragmatic approach to each game. When contesting on the biggest stage, you have to take the magnitude of the occasion completely out of the equation and simply regard it as a game of ball that you are determined to win. With this in mind, the nations flying Africa’s flag in Brazil were expected to kick on from the experience four years earlier and deliver much more satisfactory performances in the sunshine of Brazil. Below I will evaluate the efforts of each African team.
Cameroon’s World Cup outing had disaster written all over from well before a ball was even kicked. Social media was in frenzy over the Cameroonian National team refusing to board the flight to Brazil due to bonus related disputes. This is a clear indication of the team’s intentions; on the cusp of what must have been an extremely proud moment for the players and their families, representing their nation on the biggest stage, the Cameroonians proved that money truly does talk. Them behaving in this manner refuted the most fundamental principle of African football, passion for the game.
When their campaign finally got underway against Mexico in Natal, a few sketchy calls from the officials saved the blushes of many a Cameroonian, with the Africans lucky to walk away having conceded just the one goal. However, there was nowhere for the Indomitable Lions to hide in Manaus when they came up against a decent Croatia side. An uninspiring showing on the pitch as well as a ridiculous red card for Alex Song led to allegations over match fixing as well as many hilarious Vines being plastered all over the Internet. However, the most disgraceful moment of the Africans short stay in Brazil came when Benoit Assou-Ekotto lashed out at, and head-butted one of his teammates. Assou-Ekotto is no stranger to controversy, and in my eyes he should never don his national team’s colours ever again, simply because your teammate is someone whom you are to rely on, someone with whom you work in order to achieve a common goal. He has done his teammates, manager and fellow Cameroonians an immense disservice. Cameroon’s pitiful stay in Brazil came to an end when they were on the wrong end of a 4-1 drubbing at the hands of the hosts. One word to sum up their entire performance? Disgrace.
The Elephants stumble yet again
Coming into the tournament, followers of the Ivory Coast national team were relatively optimistic about their country’s chances of progressing. On paper, the only team in their group capable of posing a realistic threat was James Rodriguez’s Colombia. The Ivorian’s, boasting the likes of Yaya Toure, Wilfried Bony and Serge Aurier, all of which have enjoyed outstanding seasons at club level showed good character and determination in their opener, coming from behind to defeat the Japanese 2-1. However, a costly mistake by Serey Die in their encounter with the Colombians let Juan Quintero through on goal and the Porto man made no mistake in the one on one, to double the Colombians’ advantage. Despite a stunning effort from Arsenal flop Gervinho, the Ivorians were unable to draw level with the men in bright yellow and left empty handed. In their last encounter with Greece, the Elephants required just a point to progress to the next round. Another defensive mishap saw Greece take the lead however in the second Wilfried Bony put the Ivorians on level terms. In the dying seconds, as the Greek lay siege to the Elephants’ penalty box, the referee awarded a dubious penalty which Georgios Samaras tucked away, to send the Africans packing.
The latest edition of the FIFA World Cup has seen the so called golden generation of football in the Ivory Coast disappoint yet again as Drogba and co have failed to qualify for the knockout stages in three consecutive tournaments. However it is not all doom and gloom for the Elephants as they have in their ranks promsing youngsters such as Serge Aurier and Wilfried Bony, both waiting to make their mark on the European game.
Ghana’s fall from grace
Four years earlier, at South Africa 2010, it was the Black Stars of Ghana who shocked the world by reaching the Quarter Finals of the World Cup. This time around, it seemed unlikely that Ghana would progress to the Round of 16 as they had drawn European heavyweights, Germany and Portugal as well Jurgen Klinsmanns’s efficient Americans in their group. In their group opener, it seemed the Black Stars had rescued themselves a point against the USA, after Andre Ayew scored a quite brilliant goal to cancel out Clint Dempsey’s first half strike. However, some poor defending late on granted John Brooks Jr. a free header which was to be a fairytale moment for the youngster, and a sickening blow for the Ghanains, who now knew that they were to get the better of either one of Germany or Portugal in order to qualify.
During the encounter at Fortaleza, Ghana shocked the Europeans by going 2-1 up in the second half. However the imperious Miroslav Klose scored a hallmark toe poke at the back post to spare the blushes of Joachim Löw and co. The Black stars came away from the encounter with a point to show for their efforts.
Do or die was the name of the game when Ghana came up against Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portuguese, as anything other than a win would see the Africans sent packing. A bizarre own goal as well as some awful defending saw Portugal see off their opponents and capped off a disappointing campaign for the Black stars.
Had their fall from grace been exclusively on the pitch, the African public would probably not have a great deal to complain about right now. However, the attitude that is now being associated with the African game, the attitude of money over the love of football, is evident in Ghana’s World Cup outing as well. The Ghanaian government reportedly sent cash bonuses amounting to a staggering $3million for the team, to settle yet another cash related dispute before they had even qualified from their group. To add insult to injury, two senior members of the team, Kevin-Prince Boateng and Sulley Muntari were guilty of extreme ill-discipline having been sent home after verbally and physically assaulting team directors respectively. The duo has followed in the disgraceful footsteps of Assou-Ekotto, behaving inexcusably and failing to live up to the dignity of representing their nation. The Black Stars have failed to rekindle the passion and verve displayed four years prior and will subsequently return home with a bad taste in their mouths.
Off field dampeners for the Super Eagles
In what was one of the easier groups on paper, Nigeria was expected to qualify and reinforce their credentials as African champions. Their campaign got underway with one of the most dull and dour games of this FIFA World Cup, as themselves and Iran played out a stalemate. Against Bosnia, the Super Eagles were the benefactors of some truly dubious decisions from an officiating point of view, as they were extremely fortunate to come away with all three points. However, their most admirable performance came in their final group match against the Argentines. The Nigerians drew level twice, a fantastic brace from youth prospect Ahmed Musa cancelling out a quite stunning free kick from Lionel Messi. Abysmal defending was yet again to the detriment of the Africans, as Marcos Rojo’s goal finally guaranteed the three points for La Albiceleste. The Nigerians put in a valiant performance against a determined French outfit in the Round of 16, however a rare blunder from Vincent Enyeama saw unwavering French pressure finally pay dividends late on in the encounter.
The Super Eagles can feel satisfied at their exploits on the field, however this satisfaction was to be short lived as the country’s government dissolved the entire football federation, firing its entire executive board and arresting the federation’s president. FIFA have deemed this action incorrect and have suspended the federation from all football activity until the original executive board and president is reinstated. It is a shame that one of the few African nations that performed well is now viewed in a negative light, because of the misconduct of its government.
Algeria’s rise to prominence
The chances of Algeria’s progression to the round of 16 looked slim from the outset of the tournament, owing to the fact that they had drawn established World Cup nations, Russia and South Korea as well as the golden generation of mercurial Belgians. The World Cup looked set for a major upset as the Desert Foxes frustrated Belgium for a large percentage of their group opener, until Sofiane Feghouli’s penalty was cancelled out by Marouane Fellaini, until Dries Mertens’ strike subsequently earned all three points for The Red Devils. However, during this encounter the Algerians looked uncomfortable and awkward, considering the game plan being utilized was not conducive to the fast, powerful style of play the North Africans were used to. The introduction of Islam Slimani in Algeria’s second encounter worked wonders as the bullish front man terrorized South Korea’s back line and the Desert Foxes walked away from the encounter, having ran the Koreans ragged. The Algerians guaranteed their qualification with a hard fought 1-1 draw against Russia, and displayed immense character, fighting back from a goal down to earn their place in the knockout stages. The Desert Foxes fought admirably against Germany in the Round of 16, and forced the now World champions to extra time, during which Andre Schurrle and Mesut Ozil finally put the North Africans to the sword. It can be spoken of with a sense of pride for many an African, that arguably two of Germany’s most difficult games came against African opposition. Algeria’s fast direct style certainly captivated and caught the attention of many football fans all over the world.
Same old same old
There seems to be a common factor in the failures of African teams on the highest level. Too often, these teams are crashing out of the competition as a result of getting caught up in the moment or a lack of discipline or bottle. The quarterfinal appearances of both Cameroon in Italia’90 and Ghana in South Africa 2010 spring to mind. On both occasions, the team from Africa led against much fancied opposition but let it slip late on. What is even more heart breaking and disappointing is the attitude displayed by so many of the continent’s premier footballers. The desire for financial gain reigns supreme over the love of the game, so much so that African footballers are now being stereotyped as money mercenaries who have forgotten their roots. The performances of many an African footballer in the World Cup does not do justice towards the passion for the game displayed by many an African youth. Football is not viewed as a profession, or moneymaking tool, rather it is a way of life, something that can just take all your troubles away. It is an absolute shame that we as Africans have never seemed more distant from a national side that correctly represents our absolute affinity and undying love for the beautiful game.
By Hamzah Ebrahim – Liverpool fan – @