| 1994 and 1998 have
been the worst World Cups for Africa since 1974, considering the winning
percentage (wins/game with draw=0.5 win). Nigeria twice made it to the
last 16 but their 1998 campaign as was the 1994 of Cameroon was marred
by arguments over player bonusses while Morocco was just unlucky.
Africa had been predicted
a golden future but suddenly the upswing seems halted.
The progress Africa has made
in the last three decades. Some points
The progress Africa has made
in the last three decades lies in the information on the game more than
in the skill how to play it. 2 Also the adaption of the
idea of winning a football game by goals instead of having fun by playing
and watching playing became a fact of modern African football. It went
that far that it even damaged the African game for a moment when Nations
Cup matches became defensive struggles.
Africa did not have
TV when people in Europe already had. There was no cinema to watch football
games in. There were only stories and rumours. So when an African side
had to face an intercontinental match or tournament it was a bigger adventure
than anybody in Europe can imagine. Most players were homebased, the stars
in Europe took on the nationality of the country they played at. Most famous
example is Eusebio from Mozambique who became a star for Portugal.
So most of these home
based players had not ever seen an European match before traveling abroad.
Nobody could guide them. Africa did not have a coaching tradition. Because
of colonialisation by Europeans nearly all African countries did not exist
before 1960. So no players had international or intercontinental experience.
There was no generation who could pass on their experiences. The Europeans
had not been interested in building 'national forces' and International
friendly matches especially on another continent could hardly be afforded.
And so football as an international competition began late and slow for
Africa. The well known example is the world cup desaster of Zaire 1974.
First possibility to
qualify was 1966 but FIFA did not grant Africa more than one joint berth
for one single team together with Asia. Africa boycottet. So, with the
exception of the long Egypt tradition 3 , African World
cup history began 1970 with Morocco. The North African states, closer to
Europe, with better facilities and better organisation did better than
Zaire would do four years later. The Zairians were confronted with the
less positive sides of German hospitality. The home press and the home
fans seemed to like the Zairians fit well into their desired racist metapher
of stupid, monkey-eating half-animals who did not even know the rules.
Zaire had a terrible World Cup that was not representative for the standard
African game and that even was not as bad as the results suggested. Their
failure seemed to confirm all prejudices and espacially in Germany, the
1974 host, made Africans the clowns of football until Anthony Yeboah in
the early Nineties regained the respect for African football. The people
saw what they wanted to see and they felt confirmed in their racism. Unlike
in the big colonial powers, especially in France, the interest for Africa
and Africans was zero.
Even Germany's 1:2
loss to Algeria 1982 and the 0:0 against Tunisia 1978 were not seen as
a sign of strength of the Africans but as a lack of concentration against
the minnows. And it had been North African teams. The Cameroon world cup
campaign of 1982 (Cameroon went out undefeated in the first round only
by scoring a goal less than Italy, the later world champion) was not paid
the necessary attention to.
1982 was the real coming
out: Cameroon and Algeria had made 7:5 points total in their group matches
and had not lost even one of the matches against the later world champions
(Cameroon-Italy 1:1), runners up (Algeria-Germany 2:1) and third (Cameroon-Poland
0:0). They had been eliminated unlucky by the seeding before the draw (as
'minnows' they were guaranteed stronger opponents while favorites are usually
guaranteed weaker opponents), inexperience (Cameroon were too shy especially
in the first match fearing the Zaire experience), tough luck (the mode
allowed Germany and Austria the famous 'fake' game and Cameroon was not
allowed a clear goal against Peru).
So for the European public
the real wake up bang came in the opening match 1990. Cameroon beat Argentina
and played a formidable World Cup. Everything now was turned downside up.
Africas possibilities were seen as great. Players from Africa came into
every league and young talents were hunted by modern slave traders.
Everything was put into a
different context. Although from the win-per-game point of view the 1994
and 1998 World Cups were the worst for Africa since 1974, their World Cup
contingent was expanded to five starters. A little compansion for the era
when Africa was put at a disadvantage and limited in its development (see
Africa is beginning
to have coaching tradition, information and a self-confidence that is grounded
on success in the game. This is the big progress Africa made and that was
the big difference of the World Cup campaigns of Cameroon 1990 and Nigeria
1994. But this does not necessarily be valid for all African teams as the
following points will make clear.
When you look at a
Nations Cup competition African football power relations seem structured
similar to the European ones. A similar number of countries, a similar
number of superpowers, a similar number of medium weights and a similar
number of outsiders.
But having only one
or two World Cup starters despite doing well, (espacially when compared
to Asia and apart from 1974), it was difficult for a particular team to
develop. Imagine, Europe had only two starters, for example the first two
of the European Championship, England had not had been seen at a World
Cup for thirty years. So here was Ghana. They won the African Cup of Nations
four times but never were allowed to learn and experience at a World Cup
Big steps were taken
in the late Seventies and in the Eighties.Youth teams were built and the
national teams improved. But this development seems to have slowed down
or even has been inverted by economical pressures. African states are in
a bad economical situation and so are the Football Associations. Arguments
over money, gouvernment interferences, rotten facilities and so on. The
youth teams get neglected, the best talents already scouted by European
football club farms. Countries pull out of competions because they run
out of money and can not afford to pay the travel costs for away matches.
From this point of view Africa now is more on the way down than on the
way up. At least it needs help.
On the other hand a
generation of African players established itself as professionals in Europe
and is getting closer to European knowledge and standards. They are able
to help and teach at home in the future, to guide their national teams
now. From this point of view, Africa is on the way up. But these players
have to be integrated in the system.
Also you can not Africa
see as one. There are differences, espacially between North Africa and
the rest but also among the others. Think of Chad that cannot play any
internationals. Think of South Africa with top facilities.
There are the better
organised campaigns of North Africa. North Africas semi professional clubs
dominate the African club competitions because they are much better organised,
not because Tunisian individual players are more skilful than their Nigerian
Egypt, Morocco, Algeria
and Tunisia all play on a very good level and are able to keep it, but
they don't seem capable to match with a team like Nigeria when Nigeria
reaches its performance peak. But they are more consistent. They are well
organised on and off the pitch while many other African teams alter genius
and dilettantism. This leads to the phenomena that a team like Tunisia
beats talented African teams in the qualification because of its disciplined,
oganised game. But when then confronted with other similar well organised
teams, there have to beat them by their skills.
Teams like Cameroon
and Senegal have started to accomplish some combination.
It used to be different
when Cameroon 1994 was able to show both faces in one game (against Sweden),
when they were able to make a hughe impact 1990 and lose 1:6 to Russia
only 4 years later.
So you might have read
that Africa has made huge progress in the basic knowledge of the game,
has an army of well educated players, educated and shaped into form in
the professional clubs of Europe. You might have read that in the same
time Africas general problems are reflected in the problems of the football
(associations) south of the Sahara, and while Europes associations further
progessed, in Africa there has been a stagnation in infrastructural questions.
The exodus of players has built a class of travelling players that manage
an African interpretation of the European game. They include some of a
new generation that was already born f.e. at France and then decide to
play for the country of their roots. But when they turn home for their
National teams they face other problems than in Europe.
No question, Africas
way up will continue. But the set back caused by the political and economical
situation will slow down the process. What will boost Africas chances on
the other hand is that the share of starters has increased from 6% until
1978 to 15,6% 1998. This just makes it almost three times as likely an
African team will come through as it has been once then. Simply for mathematical
reasons, unregarding the strength of the teams, the growth of experience
for single teams to be enabled to play back to back World Cups etc.
Africas possible way
to the top 2002 seems directly connected to the taking part at the 'industrial
revolution' of football inside the European clubs in which many of the
African players are under contract. It is also their problem: the administration
of the teams is still run in their home countries in which often a hysterical
reaction to results influences the decisions. Many problems occur from
the gap between the homebased thinking and the 'European professional view'.
Three of five starters
2002 arrive with just having fired their coaches. South Africa nad Tunisia
with a mixed squad from home based players and 'European' professionals.
A closer look on the
five teams you will find
in the second part.