2018 FIFA World Cup: Africa’s Low Point

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By Andrew Bonani Kamanga

It is official. African representatives failed to progress to the second round knock-out phase of the 2018 FIFA World Cup. It is, indeed, a very low point in the development of African football. Many difficult questions arise, of which many cannot be answered right away.

Do the African countries have adequate resources and technical know-how to compete at such a high-level competition? Do the African countries prepare sufficiently for a competition of this magnitude? What must be done to improve the performance of African teams at the FIFA World Cup?

Given the popularity of the game on the continent, the aforementioned questions and many others need to be addressed in order to avoid the embarrassing spectacle that unravelled in Russia.

One thing is certain, Africa has an abundance of football talent, which only needs to be properly harnessed for high-level performance.

The presence of talented Africans in all the lucrative leagues in the world is indisputable proof that players from the continent have what it takes and more to compete at the highest level.

There is no excuse for the performances that were delivered by African teams in Russia. It is not enough to justify these performances by pointing out that the mighty Germans also went out in the group stages. Already, there is a grand enquiry in Germany. Heads are definitely going to roll. If he has to go, the national team coach Joachim Low, will not go down alone. However, here in Africa, it will be business as usual, with the exception of former Egyptian national team coach, the Argentinian, Hector Cuper, who did the honourable thing by resigning from his position immediately after the Pharaohs were knocked out of the 2018 FIFA World Cup in the group stages.

Africa’s performance at the 1990 FIFA World Cup prodded FIFA to increase the slots available to Africa from 3 to 5. However, since then, the only highlights are the performances of Senegal in 2002 and that of Ghana in 2010, where both countries reached the quarterfinals of the respective competition.

To be quite honest, Africa has done nothing to show that the continent deserves the five slots at the biggest and most popular sport event on the planet. The reasons for the mediocre appearances are varied.

However, it is important to note the African wise saying which states that, “When a fish begins to rot, it starts with the head”. In this connection, taking into account the dismal and scandalous performance of Africa teams in Russia, one has no option but to check the organisation that heads the football on the continent.

The Issa Hayatou era in the governance and leadership of the Confederation of African Football (CAF) was characterised by decay and stagnation in African football. CAF was characterised by corruption, cronyism as well as lack of innovation and transformation to rejuvenate the game on the continent.

CAF has always been heavily dependent on FIFA resources to develop the game on the continent instead of mobilising resources through partnerships with governments and the private sector.  CAF has not invested meaningfully in the development of the game on the continent.

Given current trends and status of football development programmes, it is indeed safe to predict that very few if no teams from Africa will make it to the group stages at the next FIFA World Cup in 2022 in Qatar.  

African teams are ill-equipped to compete with the best in the world.  The reasons for this malaise are quite obvious to any lover of football.  To begin with, the environment established by the football leaders is not conducive to the development of the beautiful game.

The African football leaders do not provide dynamic and visible leadership for the acquisition of skills at a tender age through well-structured grassroots programmes. Furthermore, the adoption of modern scientific means of talent identification and development is alien to most of the various football administrations.

There is an overwhelming tendency to opt for quick-fix solutions for success by hiring and firing national coaches. A quick survey of the various football administrations will most probably reveal that very few of them have a 10-year technical development for production of players who are capable of competing with their peers on the continent and beyond.

The football leaders think that players like Pele, Maradona, Messi, Drogba and Ronaldo are going to crawl out of the woodwork, somehow, through some kind of astonishing miracle. Well, this is time for a reality check!

Most of the football leaders are quite comfortable to sit back and relax, waiting for the respective governments to utilise public funds to bail them out of their problems.

They do not have viable strategic plans and marketing initiatives to make their associations financially viable. CAF needs to organise high-level think-tanks of African football technical experts to analyse what took place in Russia.

Thereafter, programmes should be put in place to address the shortcomings that were evident in the performances of the African teams. Failure to plan is planning to fail!

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