|A look at the prospects
for the 5 African starters at the World Cup 2002, Cameroon, South Africa,
Tunisia, Senegal, and Nigeria.
Although the repetition almost
makes it a klischee: Africa is not a continent of continuity, stability,
and organisation. This is while some teams quickly rise and quickly fall
again. The potential is high but a persistant development not often seen.
2002 four of the five African
qualificants will arive at the World Cup having fired their coaches after
the successful qualification. Few negative results were enough to dstroy
the little faith in the successful set up and only the teams of Senegal
and Cameroon promise to be composed of a group of players which has played
together in a consistent way at least for two years.
The other three have thrown
over their sand castles and go to the World Cup in some kind of lottery
mood. They hope for a lucky number after having recomposed the whole campaign.
Untypically for African teams at the World Cup level they even arrive with
local coaches as time and maybe reputation had not allowed other solutions
anymore. In the case of Nigeria it is already the second choice, Onigbinde,
after Shaibu Amodu, who had already been considered as the first Nigerian
coach at the World Cup has been fired again.
Thus they will face an exciting
experiment: African improvisation, free of a lot of the usual huge expectations,
will put up the challenge against teams thoroughly grown and prepared,
like in the case of Japan for years with huge expenses and now under an
enormous pressure to deliver.
Yet it seems unthinkable
Tunisia could beat Japan, Nigeria could top Argentina, or South Africa
could withstand Spain but every game has to be played. And maybe one of
the three dices will come up with a 6.
Senegal and Cameroon start
from a different position. They are power teams and the question is only
will they have the form on the day and will they have the necessary luck.
In Senegals case the result might look worse than the performance: they
have been handed a very tough draw, regarding first round and especially
what could follow. But Cameroons group is not as easy as it looks, too.
Those two have the problem that much more is expected from them, especially
Cameroon, while Senegal still have a newcomer bonus. For them it will be
the biggest problem to adapt to the situation (camp scenario in a foreign
Cameroon is in the focus
of the hopes of the African football fans. The lions have played successful
back to back Nations Cup tournaments and defended their African title in
an impressive manor. Although the team has went through a coaching odyssee,
too, the composition of the team has never changed and so there has been
development anyway. With German Winnie Schaefer they have found the right
character at the right time and many have the feeling now it is the time
for the Indomitable Lions.
They are drawn in a tricky
group: there is not much difference between the three group favorites Germany,
Cameroon, and Ireland, so that Cameroon have to put extra attention to
the game against Saudi Arabia. Unfortunately the African style suites much
better for the Saudi Arabians than the German style so that a phenomen
of former tournaments on youth and adult level threatens to repeat: it
has often been seen, Europans with problems against Africans, then beating
Arabians by a clear margin, and to the surprise of the media Africans lose
to Arabians despite being clear favorites.
Fortunately Cameroon have
more means than other African teams. especially when Patrick Mboma returns
to form. For example the long throw ins by Wome and Geremi can force a
lot of dangerous situations.
Later it will be the luck
of who to play when and the role of refereeing: the physical Cameroonian
style has not always been welcomed at World Cup level: Rarely a match Cameroon
has finished with 11 still on the pitch in recent tournaments.
If they have the necessary
luck they will hardly be to beat by anybody.
South Africa does not seem
to have made progress since emerging at the top of African football in
the mid 90's with an impressive blend of African and European style. But
there are a number of talents who could make this team a dangerous one
although they do not have the potential of Cameroon and Nigeria or the
team strength of Senegal. The young talented attackers Nomvete and McCarthy
have had their difficulties at Europe and have not yet lived up to what
they once seemed to promise and midfielder Quinton Fortune still has not
won a regular starter spot at Manchester United.
The loss of development
and condfidence might become a negative factor, might they approach another
But to advance they will
have to stage a surprise against either Paraguay or Spain and will have
to beat the weaker but very smart Slowenians.
The careful style they displayed
at the African Cup Of Nations hardly will get them anywhere, their opponents
will not show as many holes to counter into as African teams normally do
and still three matches without scoring at Mali have put that style into
Starting from such a perspective
it will be essential that coach Jomo Sono can ignite a spirit of believe
especially after the African Cup campaign seems to have suffered from intrigues
at least if one listens to the former coach Queiroz.
Not only the South Africans
do not know what to expect, to their opponents their eventual face might
remain a riddle until the match is played. With confidence they can exploit
that set up.
Tunisia had always profited
from the discontinuity and disorganisation of their opponents while themselves
making the most out of their talents. This had explained Tunisia came up
on top of qualification against chaotic talent from Africa but having little
impact when meeting similarly organised teams from the rest of the world
(Atlanta 96, France 98).
Now they have qualified
again but suddenly find themselves in the middle of a chaotic odysee.
After having not scored
in a huge number of matches recently confidence is at zero and so are expectations.
With sportsbooks Tunisia meanwhile have sunk dramatically from a midfield
to the bottom of all teams, having had their odds multiplied by 10 since
a year ago.
But the return of injured
attackers Zitouni and Jaziri and possibly striker Adel Sellimi (who has
just suffered the frustration of relegation with his German club Freiburg)
might bring a change.
Against Japan and the homecrowd
they might become overpowered but against Belgium and Russia it will also
become important who is able to adapt to the conditions best. Especially
the first match promises a possible bounty for the North Africans if they
only go into it determined enough: Russia will be under heavy pressure
going into the match as favorites.
Nevertheless Tunisia are
outsiders in all three matches.
Senegal have been the cinderella
story of the past three years and probably the best African team 2001.
In a thrilling World Cup
qualifier group that saw performances of three teams as good as any team
in the other groups (with maybe the exception of Cameroon) Senegal came
out on top as lucky winners on goal difference.
From the style of play Senegal
are a role model: their blend of strength, skills, organisation, and commitment
has been formed in France where almost all players of the squad are regular
starters with their clubs. The most famous trio comes from leaders Racing
Lens, among them star striker El Hadj Diouf, the African player of the
year 2001. He is a 90 minutes worker and a perfect agent provocateur who
gives defences no time to breath. By this he constantly animates his teammates
to bite similarly and this is what makes him so valuable, rather than his
goal scoring only.
Coach Bruno Metsu is the
hero of the past two years, having formed a coherent squad making the most
of their talent with a good spirit.
But despite the unbelievable
success of this team he has already felt the hysterical relation of African
fans and media with results.
They have been unlucky to
be drawn against France: their opponents are similarly educated and when
the same philosophies clash the team with the better individual players
are clear favorites. The other two opponents are very dangerous as well:
both are very skilled and extraordinary smart teams, able to work out a
second place in any group, very hard to beat. Senegal must play confident,
but confidence cannot be forced. They will have to imply their relentless
physical style but they will have to watch themselves in the same time,
as refereeing is more harsh at the World Cup.
More unlucky they are because
of the further implications of the draw that sees Group A play Group F
in the round of last 16, which would mean a likely encounter against Argentina
(or England) as 'reward'.
Nigeria and France - they
could meet in the knock out stage if they advance from the group stage.
What are the parallels between
Nigeria and France? Both had a promising young squad in 1994, a unique
generation and were promised a bright future. Within two years time the
teams developed further to win the Olympics (Nigeria) and reach the European
semi-finals after a long unbeaten run only to be eliminated on penalties
What are the differences
between Nigeria and France? Why are France World- and European champions
and why are Nigeria only considered outsiders in their World Cup group
after almost conceding the World Cup spot to a nobody on this stage, Liberia?
Now easy answers are dangerous
because the reality is complex and has many truths regarding to the angle
you take a look at it. So better than direct conclusions only some symptoms
are to be mentioned here:
France are a sample of long
term planning and contnuity. The basis for the individual players strength
has been laid in a sophisticated football education system and this has
not only formed the athletic, tactical, and technical skills but also the
character of the players. This has helped them to be at their best not
only for a few but most of the matches and to cooperate to a product which
is the famous 'more than the sum of the contributing parts'.
Almost stubborn have the
Fench coaches pursued their policy against media who demanded changes after
each small failure, and defying the everyday changing preferences of the
audience regarding the selection of one month shooting stars the squad
is a persistent unit which has a grip on the matches which are then to
be decided by those players who are in their best form on that day. One
match it is Thuram who steps up (1998 semi-final), then Zidane (1998 final),
here it is Wiltord, then it is Trezeguet or Henry.
A consistent match schedule
has preserved the automatisms and kept the friendship among players alive,
especially those now playing abrorad (almost all) and happy to 'meet the
Nigeria seem the opposite.
Apart from Kanu the individual careers have led them away from European
top teams and money and discipline seem to have played their role. As African
players they have always had the additional problem to have suffered from
club versus country conflicts. When competing with similar good players
at the top teams, they have lost their places because their absence and
loss of form.
But even the more straight
players did not have the luck: maybe at a better club with better coaching
Okocha could have ascended to the class of Figo, Zidane, maybe at a different
club Amokachi might have been spared his injury odysee.
The management of the Nigerian
national team is a sample of disconuity. After a victory against Sudan
a coach is a world class coach, after an unlucky extra time loss against
African team of the year Senegal he is fired. The team suffers from political
interference and pulling into different directions all the time. As soon
as there is a failure the direction is changed again and the team never
After all the changing of
coaches there is no consistent squad and even if they have found the right
one now, unlike France there is no idea at all like that of four or eight
years of growing a team.
The legendary bonus wrangles
threaten to spoil each tournament and the Nigerian talent of improvisation
is normally not enough to win through on an adult World Cup level.
And now - the group of death
No chance for Nigeria?
It could be an advantage
that after all the Nigerians are considered as clear outsiders. An 'old'
coach who is unexperienced at World Cup level and has kicked out two of
the most experienced players (Sunday Oliseh who is the only Nigerian with
Kanu to be playing at a successful European top team, Boruissia Dortmund,
and Finidi George, the only Nigerian with Kanu to have won the European
Champions League) is preparing the squad after he has only run the team
for a couple of friendly matches in which he tested several new players
'for the future after the World Cup'.
From all the ingredients
Nigeria look like they could become a copy of the disappointing Cameroon
outfit of 1994.
But sometimes teams can
rally, focus their abilities, create an impact cooperation and rise to
something special. Whether Cameroon 1990 or the DR Congo at the Nations
Cup 1998, there are samples. Maybe the new coach Onigbinde can achieve
what he intends: a different climate and character within the team.
Here we come back to the
comparison with France: the stubborn coach Aimee Jaquet had always refused
to re-integrate Eric Cantona and Jean Pierre Papin which he considered
not to fit with his policy while still admitting them to be the best French
players and the situation a pity.