Cameroon were a disaster as they even fought amongst themselves on the field of play. Ghanaians fought at training and in the hotels. Nigerians fought in the bus as they failed to attend the scheduled training. Who is better here? Will the results differ? Ok, forget about about this World Cup. African administrators are skilled in this kind of behaviour. Give me one nation that has never been hit by the players’ strike and over and over again. We thrive in failure. We smell failure and get attracted to it. We are failure magnets. I am not even sure what the word Africa means. It could be something to do with folly. You may think this is being heartless but ‘who needs a heart when a heart can be broken?’ Moreover, how many hearts can one have only to be broken? I am just fed up about celebrating mediocrity and then nursing heartbreak after heartbreak. Leaders of our football just suck and big time. After that, they fire coaches and hire expats.
Let me change the subject. Twenty years ago, Italia ’90, many thought African football has come of age when Cameroon bamboozled the reigning world champions, Argentina, at the prime of one Diego Maradona. The performance led to the famous prophesy by Pele, that Africa will win the World Cup by the turn of the millennium. He had good reason and man of us believed. That team reached the quarterfinals and were in the semis until one referee decided that African participation was enough. England was the recipient of two penalties converted by Gary Lieneker for their 2-1 lead. From an African point of view, there was a cry of conspiracy.
In 1994, Nigeria had Africa’s greatest team of all time. Under the tutelage of Clemens Westerhof, they progressed through the USA ’94 tournament with authority. They attracted the world with their beautiful football. In the quarterfinal against Italy, they fell to a late penalty that took the match to extra time, which they eventually lost. The conspiracy theories flew everywhere, albeit a bit subdued to the excitement the Africans brought.
France ’98 went fairly well, but Nigeria could have had a case to cry foul. Senegal rose to the occasion in Korea/Japan ’02. Germany ’06 was modest and then came South Africa 2010. Ghana went all the way to face Uruguay in the quarterfinals. Before that point, there was already much cry about how Luis Suarez’s Uruguay beat South Africa. That was a huge glaring home-made victory over the hosts. Suarez blocked a last second goal by had to force the match into a penalty shoot-out. Ghana lost.
This is Brazil 2014 and the game has evolved since, with Goal Line Technology ad all. The African demise is static. The continent has leant nothing over time about the game and officiating. This is despite the fact that the motherland saw the rise of its son to be the best player in the world since those days. George Weah remains the only player to win that accolade. However, the French triumph has since been dubbed Pele’s prophesy but I will not go there for now.
At this moment is time, we have the best players in the world as Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. It would be unfair to actually compare anyone with the two. Do not mention Neymar yet. He is a new kid on the block and he still needs to show the world and Europe what he is made of. So far, he has given us an idea of football player ideality. Besides that, the best players in the world in the past five years are African. The best teams in the world over the past ten years depended on the African contingent. They grace the palaces and all high places representing their paymasters. They dine and wine with the kings and queens. Many have adopted countries that feed their families.
Playing in the elite leagues for these great clubs has a distinct advantage of plying their trade with the best and against the best in the world. It exposed them to the live the world envies. They win a lot of respect from peers and foes, referees and coaches. Their statuses remain a beacon of hope for many, but becomes their downfall at the World Cup when they come home to their national teams.
Referees will respect and protect Yaya Toure, Didier Drogba and Samuel Eto’o as long as they play for Manchester City, Chelsea or Barcelona respectively. As soon as they don the Cote D’Ivoire, Ghana or Cameroon shirts, they are on their own. The problem is that they do not see that. They carry their superstar tag on wrong ground. It may not be the will of the officials to act that way. African teams look strong and act robust when in tussles and duels. Their combats are physical and no matter how fair, they attract the wrath of the officials. Some of the referees feel like blowing the whistle just by looking at the muscles. The assistant referees find their hands up for offside even if the ball has not been played or is behind the centre line.
How do players deal with this? Common sense is not common. The referees compensate for these either before or after match-changing decisions. The officials drag the carrots by awarding questionable decisions lie throw-ins and free-kicks at points of the field and of the game where there is no advantage or benefit. They will caution useless opposition players to massage the minds of African players. After receiving those fringe benefits that do not count, they come with the big one. They will award a penalty against the teams where there is minimum contact; give a red-card without merit, well with little but no reasonable doubt.
Basically, the African players from the big leagues get frustrated when they cannot get away with what they normally get away with in European leagues. That naivety leads to basic errors, both in attack and in defence. In attack, a shove at the back when one plays for Chelsea, a penalty is awarded by the officials. In the World Cup, when representing the nation, one may have to be amputated by a tackle to get one. In defence, the speedy and strong tackle to clear the ball will see the officials set the ball on the whitewash, and a bonus red-card of course. It must be remembered that many African strikers have strength and try to stay on their feet despite heavy and brute tackling. Penalties are not awarded for falling, but for committed fouls. Non-Africans commit these fouls against Africans but the officials take it like, ‘You are an African, that shouldn’t hurt, no penalty for you. Play on’.
The conceived violence of these players make referees ignore protecting them. The African players never get the doubt of the benefit from officials. They seem not to appreciate that officials will never give favours in productive areas unless in glaring cases, and even then, once in a while usually before the centre line or in areas that do not threaten the opposition sensitive areas.
All said and done, in the Fifa World Cup, if you are an African, never play the ball square at the back. Short passes should be prohibited, cover and balance at the back are mandatory. It is always fatal to play without support. There is no defending nicely. The ball should stay as far away from the goalkeeper as possible, not some of the time, but all of the time. Iran parked the bus and maybe it is high time African teams parked one and let the world complain. Too much respect of non-African teams because one solicits for the jersey after the match does not work. Africans need to prove that under any coach, and anywhere in the universe, they are the master of the game. They should deliver without with African or European teammates.
As for the leadership of the game, the involved people mess up the spirit of the people, waste the money and hire white European expatriate whom they pay huge salaries to come and fail. For the record, all World Cup winners did so with indigenous coaches. Many African countries qualified or won continental success with local coaches, but none earned as much as the expats. There is still hope in Nigeria and Algeria, but otherwise Africa deserves to shed the tears of their own making at this 2014 Fifa World Cup.