Africa must not revel in underachievement

ANGOLA were obstinate, Ivory Coast were not serious and Togo were simply silly while Ghana stunned the world.


There has been little to convince us that Tunisia, who face Ukraine today, can emulate Ghana and make it into the last

16 of the tournament after their distressing start.


It can only be dishonesty for anyone to claim they were shocked by the first-round elimination of Angola, Ivory Coast and Togo at the World Cup finals — for even the most optimistic had little faith in the competence of Africa’s representatives at the highest level.


In any case, those who felt otherwise only based their faith on jingoism and African camaraderie.


Worse still, most of the teams seemed to have failed to recover from the orgasmic exertions of merely making their maiden appearance at World Cup finals that they did not really look beyond fulfilling the fixtures in Germany.


Still, it’s understandable that Africa is disappointed that the teams we had written off long before the tournament could not go beyond the unanticipated valour and competitiveness they displayed in the group stages.


Gratifyingly, all the continent’s representatives were committed to proving that African football is not all about hocus-pocus and physicality.


They played beautiful football but forgot that a football match is won by goals — scoring and avoiding them — not the slick knocking around of the ball that only won the African teams the gallery instead of second-round berths.


Scoring is the essence of the game that Ghana remembered when they recovered from their cruel 0-2 defeat at the hands of Italy to shock pre-tournament favourites the Czech Republic by the same score-line.


Ivory Coast realised that too when they recovered from two goals down in the first 20 minutes to win their academic match against Serbia & Montenegro 3-2 on Wednesday.


Angola were content with conceding no or few goals, which is why they crammed their defence and left Akwa to fight a lone battle upfront. The moment they changed their approach against Iran, Flavio nodded home their solitary goal of the tournament that, however, was too little too late.


What Germany 2006 exposed, if it wasn’t clear yet, is that African teams can compete as well as do better than traditional football countries in Europe and South America.


But when they struggle against Middle East teams, long perceived to be the weaklings at the World Cup, then it’s quite evident that African football is moving nowhere.


Angola should have beaten Iran, the same as Tunisia who for their dominance in Africa could not get the better of Saudi Arabia — later demystified by Ukraine who thumped them 4-0.


It gets to disheartening levels when we have the African teams themselves revelling in underachievement.


Fine, Angola went into the competition with no one giving them a chance. But is it reason the Palancas Negras can leave Germany with their heads held high when it was clear they failed themselves by failing to beat teams they matched or even outplayed?


Togo, who dominated the headlines for all the wrong reasons, were too happy to lose their first two group matches with “dignity” after their debilitating row over bonuses that embarrassed Africa.


For goodness sake, there was nothing really that could stop Togo from getting points against South Korea and Switzerland.


Ivory Coast, the strongest African team in Germany, were satisfied with pleasing the fans with their attacking flair which regrettably came to no avail.


The Elephants could not utilise the many scoring chances they created, but got lost in the excitement of their slick build-ups that they forgot defence basics.


It reminds me of an old-time joke about a cyclist who got overexcited thinking onlookers were cheering his prowess on the pedals as he attempted to overtake a car, not realising that the crowds were actually enjoying the sight of his uncovered bum.


But seriously, that anyone can chant hosanna over Africa’s feats in Germany can only border on colonial mentality that has regrettably ensured the continent remains subservient to underachievement.


Africa’s tragedy is that we don’t believe we can do better than any European or South American teams. Of course we have had African countries beating those sides, but if those victories haven’t meant anything really then they have been flukes.


For how long will Africa go to the World Cup aiming just to avoid humiliating defeats in the group stages? Or to post shock results that don’t take them anywhere?


The continent boasts world-class players plying their trade in the top leagues in Europe.


Let’s take Ivory Coast, for example, who were touted as Africa’s torchbearers in Germany.


Apart from goalkeeper Jean-Jacques Tizie who plays at Tunisia’s Esperance, the rest of the Ivorian squad members are at European clubs.


Second-choice goalie Boubacar Barry is at Belgian side Beveren, while Gerard Gnanhounan keeps goal at Montpellier in France.


Key defender Kolo Toure has made his name at England’s Champions League runners-up Arsenal, where lively rightback Emmanuel Eboue also plays.


Leftback Arthur Boka is at Strasbourg in France, where fellow defenders Cyrille Domoraud, Blaise Kossi Kouassi and Abdoulaye Meite play for Creteil, Troyes and Olympique Marseille respectively.


The Elephants also boast Guy Demel at Germany’s Bundesliga side Hamburg SV and Marc Zoro who has suffered racial abuse while playing for Messina in Italy.


The midfield also has a strong French flavour with AJ Auxerre’s Kanga Akale, Emerse Fae of FC Nantes, Didier Zokora of St Etienne as well as former skipper Bonaventure Kalou who is at Paris St Germain.


Gneri Yaya Toure, who is at Olympiakos in Greece, and Gilles Yapi Yapo at Young Boys in Switzerland complete Ivory Coast’s Europe-based midfield cast.


In captain Didier Drogba, they have one of the best strikers in the world who was once Africa’s most expensive player when he moved to English champions Chelsea for £24 million in 2004.


Aruna Dindane, scorer of two goals for the Elephants against Serbia & Montenegro on Wednesday, plays at Racing Lens in France, where Abdelkader Keita is at Lille and little Bakary Kone at Nice.


With such a cast of players, why couldn’t Ivory Coast progress beyond the group stage? Because they were in a so-called “group of death”?


No, the Ivorians certainly proved they had the capacity to win against any team in the world — only if they were serious and got the basics right: focus, techniques, tactics, organisation and attitude.


It’s sad that African teams are content to be judged as having “potential” — but until that potential is exploited there is nothing to write home about.


Africa should stop being also-rans at the World Cup and go to the tournament aiming to achieve more than “rubbing shoulders” with some of the world’s best players.


Unless we overcome our inferiority complex — if not colonial mentality — Africa will be embarrassed at “home” when South Africa host the 2010 World Cup finals. We are fed up with perennial underachievement.


For now, we hope Africa will take the classes seriously as World Cup action rumbles on.


dmajonga@yahoo.com

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