IndependentSport View with Darlington Majonga
FOOTBALL legend Pele had predicted that an African country would have lifted the World Cup by 2000, but even before this year’s finals kick off in Germany next Friday many fear the continent’s five representatives m
ight just be hopeless also-rans.
Naturally we felt it was a refreshing shift of football might when Angola, Togo, Ghana and the Ivory Coast qualified for their maiden World Cup finals at the expense of traditional African powerhouses Cameroon, Nigeria, Egypt, Morocco and South Africa as well as, to a lesser extent, Senegal.
Tunisia, the other African finalists, have always belonged to the continent’s elite although they have never made any impact at the greatest soccer showcase despite posting Africa’s first victory at the World Cup finals in 1978.
But any hope that one of the African nations will fulfil Pele’s fantasy — albeit six years later — will for now remain fanatic optimism.
On paper, all the African teams will need more than a little luck to survive the group phase in Germany.
Realistically, their best wish should be to avoid humiliating defeats.
The mediocre performance of the continent’s representatives — save for the Ivory Coast — at the African Nations Cup finals in January adds to our fears that the World Cup might be too big a stage for them.
But history has taught us a thing or two, and we can perhaps relax and wait till the ball gets rolling.
Cameroon were unbeaten at their debut World Cup in 1982, leaving Spain with three draws in all their first-round matches. The Indomitable Lions were to become a force to reckon with on the world stage as they reached the quarterfinals of the 1990 edition in Italy.
In 1994, Nigeria were a phenomenon at the finals in the United States as they topped their group ahead of tournament favourites Argentina before being knocked out in the second round.
Then Senegal, against all odds, shocked defending champions France 1-0 in their debut match at the last World Cup finals in Japan and South Korea where they finished second in their group.
The Lions of Teranga cruised on to the quarterfinals after accounting for Sweden on the way.
The bonus for the African teams is that none of them are likely to have the overconfidence and complacency that backfired terribly for Cameroon and Nigeria four years ago as they were banking on their past achievements.
Who knows, another surprise from Africa might be in store for Germany 2006.
But relying on luck alone has always worried me. Not that I doubt the massive talent in Africa.
Historically African teams have always been their own worst enemies when it comes to tactical acumen.
Although all of the teams — save for Angola — have experienced European coaches, none of them has really convinced Africa that this time round they will be as tactically astute as the European and South American sides who have dominated the tournament over the years.
Overall, there is nothing really on the ground to suggest Africa will cause a stir in German. Such is the downbeat optimism that progressing beyond the first round will really be a shock achievement.
For now it’s enough to wish all the African representatives the best of luck — and they need loads of it — in Germany. Well, after all, God is for us all.
Let’s take a brief look at the African teams — not necessarily in order of their chances to shine in Germany.
Angola, who beat favourites Nigeria and Zimbabwe to the Germany ticket, make their debut at the World Cup as one of the most prepared teams.
But understandably, the Palancas Negras should be content with avoiding humiliating defeats. If anything, the Angolans will just be too eager to prove that there is more to their country than civil strife.
Coach Oliveira Goncalves said they were not going to Germany to win the cup, but “to fight hard and to make our people proud of us”.
We are sure, though, that Angolans and the whole region are already proud that the Palancas Negras made it to the finals.
Angola were beaten 0-2 by Argentina in their international friendly on Tuesday, and their performance did not give a hint that they may cause an upset in Germany.
The southern Africans, who always struggle against Zimbabwe, will pin their hopes on the shoulders of captain Akwa and Flavio as they face their former colonial power Portugal, Mexico and Iran in Group D.
The Ivory Coast, who lost the 2006 Nations Cup final to Egypt on penalties, are undoubtedly the continent’s best bet.
Chelsea striker Didier Drogba, his bragging aside, is good enough to terrorise even the best defence in the world.
The Arsenal duo of Kolo Toure and Ammanuel Eboue have just proved in the just-ended European Champions League that their defensive abilities are top-class.
With a cast of tremendous players such as Jean-Jacques Tizie, Kanga Akale, Bonaventure Kalou, Arthur Boka, Didier Zokora, Aruna Dindane and Bakary Kone, the Ivory Coast have what it takes to progress beyond the first round.
But the Elephants are in the “group of death” in which they will have to battle Argentina, the Netherlands and Serbia and Montenegro.
Ghana’s 4-1 victory over Jamaica in a friendly on Monday might be flattering, but the four-times African champions will have to literally work out of their skins to prove their mettle on the big stage.
The Black Stars face a daunting challenge against Italy, the Czech Republic and the USA in Group E — and all three countries are far superior to Zimbabwe who humiliated Ghana 2-1 at the Nations Cup finals in January.
However, the return of Chelsea midfielder Michael Essien and the Italy-based duo of Sulley Muntari and Asamoah Gyan will give Ghana stability and proficiency they were lacking in Egypt.
Former Bayern Munich defender Samuel Kuffour, now with Italy’s Roma, will give the Black Stars extra steel at the back, but captain Stephen Appiah remains the team’s trump card.
Togo might only be remembered for the colourful hairstyles spotted by some of their players if suffering defeats is obvious.
Unhinged by a row over the sacking of former coach Stephen Keshi of Nigeria as well as incessant upheavals over bonuses, Togo’s Hawks will need more than luck to fly in Germany.
Their performance at the Nations Cup finals was depressing, and the Hawks will be hard-pressed to prove that their maiden qualification for the World Cup was no fluke.
But in Arsenal striker Emmanuel “Sheyi” Adebayor, Togo have an inspirational star capable of engineering upsets against France, Switzerland and South Korea in Group G.
Finally, it appears Tunisia might want to prove that they are not habitual also-rans at the tournament when they face Spain, Ukraine and Saudi Arabia in Group H.
The first African country to win a match at the World Cup when they beat Mexico 3-1 in 1978, Tunisia will be appearing at the finals for the fourth time.
The Carthage Eagles play slick-passing football that will see them being competitive in the group.
With star players such as Riadh Bouazizi, Hatem Trabelsi, Radhi Jaidi, Adel Chedli, Ziad Jaiziri and Brazilian-born striker Francileudo dos Santos to count on, the Tunisians can have a memorable World Cup.
I hope we’ll all enjoy the action from Germany, but we are not sure if Zesa will spare us power cuts that have become part of our everyday life.
Sadly, even if we are to patronise sports bars with generators, most of us will find it hard to drink as much as we would have wanted considering the “murdering” price of beer. Maybe bars and hotels can give us a reprieve and put beer on special this World Cup.
Unfortunately millions of women might be facing lonely winter nights for an entire month. In fact, they will be football “widows”.
We do not know who authored the following World Cup rules doing the rounds in cyberspace, but we are told it is very crucial to pass on the important advice and recommendations to wives, girlfriends, fiancés, mothers, sisters and daughters — all women in general:
* From June 9 to July 9 2006, you should read the sports section of newspapers so that you are aware of what is going on regarding the World Cup, and that way you will be able to join in the conversations. If you fail to do this, then you will be looked at in a bad way, or you will be totally ignored. Do not complain about not receiving any attention.
* During the World Cup, the television is mine, at all times, without any exceptions. If you even take a glimpse of the remote control, you will lose it (your eye).
* If you have to pass by in front of the TV during a game, I don’t mind, as long as you do it crawling on the floor and without distracting me.
* During the games I will be blind, deaf and mute, unless I require a refill of my drink or something to eat. You are out of your mind if you expect me to listen to you, open the door or answer the telephone.
* It would be a good idea for you to keep at least two six-packs in the fridge at all times, as well as plenty of things to nibble on, and please do not make any funny faces to my friends when they come over to watch the games. In return, you will be allowed to use the TV between 12pm and 6am, unless they replay a good game that I missed during the day.
* Please, if you see me upset because one of my teams is losing, do not say “get over it, it’s only a game”, or “don’t worry, they’ll win next time”. If you say these things, you will only make me angrier and I will love you less.
Remember, you will never ever know more about football than me and your so-called “words of encouragement” will only lead to a break-up or divorce.
* You are welcome to sit with me to watch one game and you can talk to me during halftime but only when the commercials are on, and only if the halftime score is pleasing me. In addition, please note I am saying “one” game, hence do not use the World Cup as a nice cheesy excuse to “spend time together”.
* The replays of the goals are very important. I don’t care if I have seen them or I haven’t seen them, I want to see them again. Many times.
* And finally, please save your expressions such as “thank God the World Cup is only every four years”. I am immune to these words, because after this comes the Champions League, Italian League, Spanish League, Premier League, etc.
Meanwhile, Reuters reports that a British hotel is offering football-free breaks for “soccer widows” desperate to escape wall-to-wall coverage of the World Cup.
Any guest who overhears a member of staff mentioning the f-word — football — will be given a free glass of champagne, according to the report.
“The bookings are starting to stream in,” Mike Bevans, manager of the Linthwaite House Hotel in the picturesque Lake District, one of Britain’s prime tourist destinations, was quoted as saying.
The sport supplements are being taken out of daily newspapers and, instead of blanket TV coverage of the big games, guests will be offered a string of romantic movies on DVD like Dirty Dancing and Pretty Woman.