By Robson Sharuko
Harare – When Egyptian superstar Mohamed Salah was forced out of the UEFA Champions League final in Kiev on Saturday by an injury, millions of Africans started flooding the internet with abusive messages aimed at Real Madrid captain Sergio Ramos.
Amid fears that the shoulder injury could rule out Salah, whose heroics had powered the Pharaohs of Egypt to their first appearance at the FIFA World Cup finals in Russia later this month, the fury from millions of African football fans was understandable.
While African football fans are usually divided when it comes to the European teams that they support and are passionate about their national teams, they also seem to throw their weight behind those countries who would have qualified for the World Cup finals from the continent.
Some analysts have claimed this is rooted in the repeated failure by African representatives to win the World Cup, despite the phenomenal success of their youth teams at the FIFA Under-17 and Under-20 World Cups, and the desperation to see one nation from this continent finally break that duck.
When Ghana’s Black Stars did very well at the 2010 World Cup finals and reached the quarter-finals after blowing away the United States in the second round in South Africa, scores of millions of African fans adopted the team as their own and openly supported their adventure.
In South Africa, where the World Cup was being held, millions of fans of the host team, Bafana Bafana, also adopted the Black Stars as their team once their men fell in the group stages of that tournament.
The Black Stars were even nicknamed BaGhana BaGhana by the South Africans in reference to their own team, Bafana Bafana, who had fallen by the wayside while the West Africans powered all the way to the quarter-finals of the tournament.
“Ghana have to do it for Africa and we must support our new adopted team called BaGhana BaGhana,” Nomvula Mokonyane, who was then the Gauteng premier, told an informal media briefing.
That African spirit, in terms of supporting teams that come from this continent at the World Cup, which ensured that Cameroonian legend Roger Milla became a continental superstar by starring at Italia ’90, remains alive to this day.
Millions of Africans will be rooting for Egypt, Morocco, Senegal, Nigeria and Tunisia at the World Cup in Russia even though when the countries are rivals of their national teams and might have eliminated their countries from featuring at the global showcase.
“The World Cup is a different ball game when it comes to Africans and the countries that will be playing at the tournament from this continent,” Zimbabwe National Soccer Supporters Association leader Eddie “Mboma” Nyatanga, told The Southern Times.
“When we went to South Africa, we only followed the African teams at that World Cup and we were lucky that some of the best players in the world, like Lionel Messi, played against some of our teams like Nigeria in the group stages and we were able to see them in action.
“We tend to be bound by our continent when it comes to the World Cup and will support each and every African country that will be in Russia until the last one falls and, hopefully, one of them will end up being the winner for a change.
“It’s not easy, of course, the competition at the World Cup is very high but Ghana should have gone into the semi-finals eight years ago and, from there, anything would have happened but Luis Suarez chose to use some unorthodox means to ensure that didn’t happen.”
Passions run high in Africa when it comes to the World Cup and an Egyptian lawyer said he was filing a £1 billion compensation for the “physical and psychological harm Ramos gave Salah and the Egyptian people” after the Real Madrid’s challenge ended the Egyptian’s show in the Champions League final.
Lawyer, Bassem Wahba confirmed on Egyptian national television he was filing a lawsuit against Ramos.
“Ramos intentionally injured Mo Salah and should be punished about his actions. I’ll ask for compensation, which could exceed €1 billion, for the physical and psychological harm that Ramos gave Salah and the Egyptian people.”
Soon, the drama will move to the field with Egypt in a group that features hosts Russia, Saudi Arabia and Uruguay while Morocco are in a group that has Portugal, the reigning European champions, Spain and Iran.
Nigeria will have to clear a group that features Messi and Argentina, Iceland and Croatia while the Senegalese return to the World Cup for the first time in 16 years to play in a group that has Poland, Japan and Colombia with Tunisia battling England, Panama and Belgium in their group.
Brazilian football legend Pele, who was 17 when he won his first World Cup medal in Sweden in 1958, once said that an African country would be crowned kings of the globe before the turn of the millennium.
However, his prediction did not come to pass and, ahead of the 2018 World Cup, he has been giving out his thoughts on the tourney again and its African connection.
“I said so because it’s amazing how many talented Africans are playing around the world, but when the time comes for national teams, then problems begin,” Pele told RT.
“It’s hard to say why so because there is no special reason for that.
“Africans play leading roles in all positions, with the exception of goalkeepers. And the teams do not show themselves that way.”
It is unlikely that Africa’s long wait for the World Cup will end in Russia but that will not stop millions of Africans from hoping, praying and believing that this could be the tournament where they finally strike it rich.