THE greats of African football have been lining up to give their take on what could possibly happen in South Africa 2010 and everywhere the verdict seems to be the same: 2010 is the year something special could happen, and that something special, we are told, will be an African side going all the way to be crowned world champions.
Abedi Ayew Pele says: “This is our best chance of lifting the trophy because if you study the history of the World Cup, Brazil are the only team to win it outside their continent. We definitely will have one African team that goes far and when I say goes far, I mean as far as raising the trophy. When I make this prediction people laugh, but I believe it.
“When I told football officials that African champions Egypt would defeat world champions Italy during the Confederations Cup this year they all laughed. It happened and they had to admit I was right.”
Then there is Ivorian international Yaya Toure, who is convinced his country, alongside Ghana and Cameroon, could shake the foundation of the World Cup.
“People see us as the best team in Africa; that is pressure on its own. I don’t really want to say we will win the World Cup, but our intentions obviously are to win the competition. But I think we should take it one step at a time.
“The media will always have its favourites; we don’t have to base our thinking and our belief on that. We know what we can do, we know what we can achieve. We have been gelling well. In 2006 we had the hunger, but we lacked experience.
“Another thing is we were given a tough group. We don’t know who will be our opponents this time around, but I guess that is something we cannot control. We will have to play against whoever our opponents turn out to be.”
One BBC writer wrote in eloquent terms recently about how the Black Stars will be the best hope of the continent. So in many ways it is not just Africans blowing up talk of an African World Cup win, but the world at large.
Yet I am a sceptic — not because I am no believer in the Black Stars or the African cause, but because I just don’t think there is the playing capacity and the depth required to do so. I say this fully aware of the tremendous progress the continent has made at the World Cup since the days when the then Zaire were making a mockery of the rest of the continent in 1974.
Since then Cameroon have gone on to reach the quarterfinals, beating eventual finalists Argentina on the way. Senegal then reached the last eight too, but it was Turkey that got the better of them. And both Ghana and Nigeria in taking the likes of Italy and Brazil close in second round meetings have demonstrated that along the line this continent will come good.
But those same games that give reason for hope also provide the pointers for realism.
In 1990 Cameroon should have taken out England, and not merely because the referee was biased. For long spells they led, had chances to close the game out and were then caught in the period when most African teams are vulnerable and susceptible to breakdown. It cost them a place in history.
In 2002, can anyone still believe that regardless of how good Turkey were, they beat a Senegal side who had thrilled with their mix of pass, go and powerful football? They lost that quarterfinal meeting before they fell too much in love with the mood on the continent. With wild celebrations in Dakar and beyond, the players partied instead of preparing for Turkey. And on the field the Turks proved they were more up for it.
In 1994, Nigeria suffered the spectacular lapse in concentration. They had Italy on their pulse and yet, instead of burying them, they were doing what we call agoro.
That may have changed and with years of experience in Europe, many of the players will go to South Africa with a better mentality.
The Ivory Coast have been touted as potentially the best prospect from Africa. That is informed largely by the good collection of star players they have. Didier Drogba can win a game on his own. Powerful, talented and brutally strong in the mind, he is the goal-machine Ghana’s Black Stars don’t have. The support cast will include Yaya Toure in midfield. Then there is his brother Kolo at centreback, and the likes of Solomon Kalou, who have all shown on the big stages that they can stand up to the best.
But the Ivorians leak goals. Alongside Toure will be Abdoulaye Meite. Not frightening enough.
Their goalkeeping has been suspect for years. And no matter how easily the names of the Ivorians names roll off the tongue, they don’t match up to the quality that Italy, Argentina, Brazil, Spain and Argentina will come up with.
The other country from the continent touted as potential winners are Ghana. And I love that the continent believes in us.
By Michael ati Odjei
But while Asamoah Gyan and Matthew Amoah may be scoring, they don’t look like the strike-force that will shake the world. The midfield continues to be superbly good, but as we discovered in Germany 2006, you need more than world-class midfielders to thrive in a tournament of the nature of the World Cup.
I would love to see Ghana or another African team win the World Cup. And in South Africa we should hopefully do much better than the continent has in the past.
But I fear that an Ivory Coast side who has failed badly to live up to favourites status in the Nations Cup twice and not advanced beyond the group stages will not do it.
When I look at Ghana I don’t see the depth required to win the tournament. I see the determination, but not the penalty box fox, the super sub, or the strength to go all the way, no matter how much I want it to happen.
And even though in Samuel Eto’o Cameroon will have a world-class striker, and in Achille Emana a fantastic midfielder, they have proven porous at the back, especially if they insist on sticking by Rigobert Song.
As for Nigeria, the manner of their struggle in qualifying says everything. And while the vuvuzela will blur so loud to urge South Africa on, the bare truth is that on the field they are not a force to be reckoned with. There is so much made in South Africa about running Brazil and Spain close in the Confederations Cup, but the truth is there only win came against New Zealand. So we will go and enjoy the warmth of South Africa.
=Michael ati Odjei is KickOff Ghana Editor.