By Andrew Bonani Kamanga
Africa’s performance at the 2018 FIFA World Cup has been discussed by football lovers on the continent in millions of animated conversations.
There is no doubt that African football lovers and sport enthusiasts, in general, are more than disappointed by the regression that was witnessed in terms of performances by African representatives at the FIFA World Cup in Russia.
From a purely technical perspective, it is important that a technical group put together by the Confederation of African Football (CAF), has gathered in Rabat, Morocco, to undertake a critical evaluation of Africa’s performance at the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia.
Kalusha Bwalya (Zambia), Daniel Amokachi (Nigeria) and some other former football greats are part of the high-level group.
The fact that African teams are always ill-prepared to compete with the best in world football is now a matter of public knowledge. When one looks at the talent that Africa has contributed to world football, especially in European leagues, there is no reason why Africa countries should not perform well and compete effectively at the FIFA World Cup.
When one looks at football development globally, Africa continues to seriously lag behind. Administrator training and coach education programmes are in short supply. Very few development programmes are supported by CAF on the continent.
If it were not for FIFA and Sepp Blatter, most African football associations would not have a proper headquarters or national technical centres.
This is a serious concern considering that there is nothing stopping CAF from using its enormous leverage on the continent to mobilise resources to support football development, especially among the so-called “smaller nations”.
Europe and South America have always been ahead of Africa in terms of football development, but now even Asia is overtaking Africa.
There is no doubt that the performances of Japan in Russia provided a lot of hope and inspiration to young players in Asia. Japan fought with everything they had against Belgium and were unlucky to go against one of Europe’s big football powerhouses.
The motivated performances of even South Korea against Spain showed that even though their chances of progressing were slim, they still played for pride and represented their country well.
All five African representatives, Egypt, Morocco, Nigeria, Senegal and Tunisia failed to make it out of the group stages of the tournament.
Their spectacular failure was not due to lack of talent but poor preparations. Poor preparations resulted in dismal tactical awareness and failure to perform.
The physical fitness of African teams compared to other such teams such as Croatia was well below par.
The Croatians could outrun and outfight almost every team in the tournament. Their preparedness for this high-level competition was simply admirable.
The hosts, Russia, were not too bad in terms of physical fitness and readiness for the competition.
Mexico, too were courageous in their displays and performances, showing that they had not only the creative flair but also the determination and grit to fight and advance to the later stages of the tournament.
When one looks at a small country like Croatia, one would not give them a chance against the traditional giants of the game.
However, they played very well at the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia causing lots of upsets and surprises along the way. This is good for the game.
African countries need to copy and improve on what Croatia did in Russia. Croatia got to the final, an improvement on their best performance in 1998 when they got to the semi-finals only to be eliminated by the brilliance of two goals from legendary French right back, Lilian Thuram.
Croatia, who started participating in the FIFA World Cup in 1998, have accomplished what African countries, with all their proven brilliance, have failed to accomplish.
Cameroon, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Morocco, Senegal, Algeria, South Africa and Tunisia have all represented Africa several times at the FIFA World Cup.
Apart from quarterfinal achievements in 1990, 2002 and 2010 by Cameroon, Senegal and Ghana respectively, there is really nothing to write home about in terms of the African presence at the FIFA World Cup.
When the great Brazilian football legend, Pele, predicted that an African country would win the FIFA World Cup by 2000, he also might have probably thought that there would be some sort of seriousness and organisation in how Africans would conduct their football business. Alas, his prediction has not come true.
In fact, Africa is falling behind at each and every World Cup tournament. Pele’s prediction has become like a curse or jinx on African countries. The prediction is now like an albatross hanging on the necks of African countries.
African countries have no one but to blame but themselves for the regression in terms of the standard of performances at the FIFA World Cup.
Hopefully, the technical group, meeting in Morocco, will come up with meaningful recommendations that can be implemented by African countries who are lucky to qualify to represent the continent at the FIFA World Cup. The preparations for the 2022 FIFA World Cup have already begun!